Kashmir unrest: Amid assassinations and bank vehicle attacks, it has begun to look a lot like 1990

The free-for-all obtained in late 1989, and on through 1990, has returned to the Kashmir Valley. The killing of five police personnel and two bank guards in Kulgam on Monday is only the latest indicator of this trend.

The mass stone-pelting at polling booths during the by-election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency on 9 April had returned the Valley to the situation that had prevailed for almost four months from 8 July last year. Violence has escalated since then; the situation has rapidly entered a new phase.

Terror and extortion

The assassinations of the Pulwama district chief of the ruling PDP, and of a prominent lawyer (former public prosecutor) at his home near Shopian, and of popular former panches and sarpanches (also in Pulwama district) before that, have unleashed a reign of terror in south Kashmir.

Hizbul Mujahideen, which attacked the cash disbursal vehicle of the J&K Bank on Monday, has claimed that they were not after the money. It so happens that the cash had already been disbursed, but loot was most likely the motive.

Security forces personnel (above) inspect the site after suspected militants killed five policemen and two security guards while looting the cash van of a government-run bank in Kulgam on Monday. PTI

Security forces personnel (above) inspect the site after suspected militants killed five policemen and two security guards while looting the cash van of a government-run bank in Kulgam on Monday. PTI

Sotto voce, there has been talk in south Kashmir of extortion and ransom being back in play. Many Kashmiri militants indulged in it in 1990, and army-backed 'Ikhwan’ mercenaries (and others operating on behalf of the state) did so too when they entered the fray from 1994 to 1999.

Surreal situation

The current reign of terror manifests subtly, but in every little facet of life. For example, after a wedding feast in Pulwama on Sunday, the groom asked one to stay overnight. A man had been shot in another part of Pulwama that evening, he mentioned in a matter-of-fact tone.

The information had reached him while he was at his wedding, preparing to take his bride home in the dark — to a village that is counted as a major hotbed of militancy.

One felt a touch of the surreal during the 'mehandiraat’ singing amid the beat of 'tumbaknaari’ earthen drums at that village the previous night. It struck one that, far more than in 1990, a dark and threatening cloud hangs over this entire culture — not to speak of the current political establishment.

Multi-pronged challenge

It is good that the by-election for the south Kashmir seat has been postponed again. There would have been a bloodbath if it had been held — either on 12 April, as originally scheduled, or on 25 May, to which it had been postponed. (Ramzan, the annual month of fasting, is to begin just around then.)

Most of the assassinations, and the killing of bank guards and policemen, have taken place in south Kashmir. It is where last year’s uprising was centred, and where alienation against the established regime has grown by leaps and bounds, particularly since the floods of 2014. Most of south Kashmir was inundated by those floods.

North Kashmir too has been affected. A prominent 'Ikhwani' mercenary who had wrought terror in the area in the late 1990s was assassinated in Hajin, an area in the north of the Valley that had been notorious for the 'Ikhwan' gangs from 1994 till the turn of the century.
According to the grapevine, about 60 foreign militants are lurking in the Hajin area. Another 300 are said to be ready to cross the Line of Control when the snow melts, and the passes open. The winter has been uncommonly long this year; although May has begun, most people across the Kashmir Valley still use sweaters, if not phirans, on most days.

The state government has not been able to get its act together. Meanwhile, the Centre apparently views the situation as a law and order challenge. Even while the state government, under severe pressure from the Centre, gears up to try and improve the situation, the situation keeps slipping farther.

Updated Date: May 02, 2017 14:15 PM

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