The volatile south Kashmir area has been plunged into unrest again following the killing of four civilians by security forces in an encounter in Shopian, that saw two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants killed on Sunday.
This has also derailed any chances of normalcy returning to the area, considered to be a hotbed for separatist sentiments. All the major routes leading in and out of the district have been blocked by gun-toting security personnel who had laid out concertina wires on the roads, bringing back memories of the 2016 unrest.
The wave of civilian killings that became the defining feature of 2016 and 2017 had started to ebb in the Valley, and the embattled state government led by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, hoping for a peaceful summer in 2018, had changed almost the entire top brass of security in south Kashmir in order to restore confidence among the people.
But Sunday's killing of four civilians, who the Indian Army claimed were over-ground workers (OGWs) of militants in the Valley, has undone that.
Mehbooba contradicted the army's statement, saying that the civilians killed in Shopian were caught in 'crossfire', even as she expressed "heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased". This can have a far-reaching impact on the already volatile political situation in the coming weeks and months.
Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s families.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 5, 2018
Two militants, one at the site of the shootout and another in an orchard, and four civilians were killed on Sunday when, according to Defence Spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia, a mobile vehicle check post near Pohan in Shopian signalled a car to stop, but the driver refused to comply.
Colonel Kalia said the army men were fired upon and they retaliated, in which a militant was killed. He said a weapon and a pouch were found near the militant's body and three OGWs were also "found dead". "When police was called in, they found a car some distance away in which another boy was found dead," he said.
Meanwhile, the body of another militant was recovered from an apple orchard in Saidapora area of Shopian some eight miles away from the spot. Police identified the militant as Ashiq Hussain, who was affiliated with LeT. He said the three boys were OGWs and accomplices of the slain militant. "All the killings are related and we are investigating the matter," he said.
But the families of the slain victims refuted the charges that their sons were accomplices or had anything to do with militancy. On Sunday evening, Gowhar Ahmad Lone, a resident of Chitragam village in Shopian district was travelling to his home after a regular medical checkup at a district hospital in Pulwama.
When the car he was driving reached Pinzura, it came under heavy fire and he was hit by at least four bullets. He died inside the car and his body was found almost half a kilometre away from the site where the army said militants fired at a mobile checkpoint. "Another body has been found at a distance from last evening's incident at Pahnoo Shopian," a police spokesman said.
Protests erupted on Sunday evening in entire south Kashmir with locals alleging that all the four killed were civilians, not militants. Shabir Ahmad Lone, a cousin of Gowhar, told Firstpost that the army killed his cousin who had "nothing to with militancy".
"This is the life of a common Kashmiri. They are killed like ants and for them (army), AFSPA is a protection and Supreme Court of India is a judicial backer for murder," Lone, a post graduate in sociology said on Monday morning. "Many people don't understand why we are fighting a lost battle. But this is the reason. The army gives every Kashmiri a reason to fight."
Among the four civilians killed alongside the alleged militant was Sohail Khalil Wagay (22), a resident of Pinjura Shopian who, according to his family, had gone to drop his mother at his sister's home. Mohammad Abbas, the brother of slain youth Sohail, said he had called home 30 minutes before the shootout, saying he had reached Pehlipora after dropping his mother. "After half an hour, we heard about his killing along with two youth. The army is lying that he or others were OGWs."
On Monday, Peoples Democratic Party leader and MLA Shopian Mohd Yousuf Bhat also expressed anguish over the loss of civilian lives in Shopian. He said every civilian killing, notwithstanding how erroneously made, has the tendency of vitiating the peaceful atmosphere.
"When your heart bleeds and you are emotionally amputated, no condemnation is enough. I have no words to condemn these civilian killings as mere condemnation... every time a civilian is killed it (mere condemnation) is not enough and no circumstances can justify these civilian killings," he said in a tweet. Following the Hurriyat's call, a complete shutdown is being observed in Kashmir to protest the killings.
To prevent escalation of tensions after the killings, authorities have taken strict measures. The overnight killings have triggered a serious crisis across Kashmir. The 4G internet services have been suspended across Kashmir as the speed has already been reduced to 2G. The strike has thrown life across Kashmir into a limbo.
#Shopian killings are repeat of what has been happening for long time. Since no punishments have been delivered in past and there is hue and cry over just an FIR, civilian killings will continue to take place. #ShopianKillings are caught now in versions and truth is shrouded
— Shujaat Bukhari (@bukharishujaat) March 5, 2018
The schools, which were scheduled to open on Monday after two-month long winter vacations, were ordered shut and all examinations have been cancelled. In major parts of the Srinagar city as well as major towns and villages of the Valley, restriction have been imposed.
Police on Monday also arrested Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik during a protest in Lal Chowk area of Srinagar.
Updated Date: Mar 05, 2018 19:45 PM