Kashmir unrest: Baramulla, Sopore in North remain calm as South takes lead in anti-India protests

On 28 July and soon after Friday prayers, clashes erupted between government forces and young boys at Jamia Masjid, Sopore in north Kashmir. The youths were prevented from holding a march against the verdict in Machil encounter case. In many other parts of the town, however, despite the call given by separatist leaders to hold a "peaceful protest" against the verdict, the situation was normal as shops remained open and normal traffic plied on the roads. There were similar scenes in other parts of the Baramulla district too.

 Kashmir unrest: Baramulla, Sopore in North remain calm as South takes lead in anti-India protests

File image of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. PTI

Sopore is the birthplace of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the veteran hardliner Hurriyat leader.

Sopore and Baramulla towns were the hub of protests and stone pelting till recently. This was most evident when in 2013 people from the north came on the streets protesting against the execution of Afzal Guru, the 2001 Parliament attack convict. But in the last one year, massive protests, militant support and killings of civilians have changed the dynamics of conflict in the Kashmir Valley. Burhan Wani’s killing may have had brought the entire Valley to a standstill, but afterwards, south Kashmir has seen persistent outbreaks of protests on streets and at encounter sites and an increase in the local support to militancy.

While south Kashmir’s transformation from being a hub of the mainstream political activities to being the focal point of anti-India protests is interesting, even more interesting is that as compared to the south Kashmir’s simmering anger, north Kashmir and particularly Sopore and Baramulla have emerged as relatively calmer places.

Many in the north believe that it was the state police that handled the situation in a manner that things didn’t get out of control. While some say that police also made early arrests of youth to prevent the damage.

Rizwan Geelani, a journalist from north Kashmir, who spoke to Firstpost believes that "security forces played a pivotal role in controlling the law and order situation across the north." He believes that protests took place in Sopore and Baramulla as per Hurriyat’s schedule and preventive measures were taken by police to thwart those protests. "There was an incident in Nadihal in Rafiabad area in which a young boy was killed by Indian Army in September last year which sparked protests but it didn’t last long as police went on an arrest spree to avoid further killings," he said.

However, a police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to Firstpost said, "There is political intervention in south Kashmir, which is comparatively less in the north. Also, there is a lot of religious influence in south Kashmir as compared to the north."

North Kashmir has also seen lesser militant activities, despite usual attempts for infiltration from across the LoC. Media reports suggest around 110 militants are active in the south and 150 militants are active in north Kashmir, mostly foreigners i.e. the Pakistanis. However, the problem is severe in the south despite the lower number because militants usually engage in killing political workers, snatching weaponry and carrying out attacks.

Many believe that militancy has influenced youth in south Kashmir to engage in even stronger anti-India activities. Yasir Rather, a student from south Kashmir believes that situation has become more intense as "there are more than 100 active militants in south Kashmir who deliver sermons openly, mostly in their comrades’ funerals to influence local youth to have a zeal for fighting for their right (Azadi)."

Some residents of north Kashmir that this reporter spoke to say that south Kashmir has seen intense violence and attributed the decline in such activities in the north due to diminished enthusiasm. "Reasons could be like north has become too wary of hartals (strikes) as they don’t think much will yield from this whereas the south is relatively new to this and thinks hartals will yield them something. May be they need to change the strategy," said Manzoor Ahmad, a political science student from north Kashmir.

Tanveer Hussain, a political activist echoing the views, said that the shift of protests has happened due to multiple reasons. "North has actively taken part in Kashmir’s freedom struggle from the early 90s, but if we talk about the present, south Kashmir is active due to the influence of local boys who took up arms against India from last one year," he said.

Hussain believes that the northern part is close to the LoC and the military is very active in these areas unlike south Kashmir. The foreign militants have less influence in the area as compared to the southern part of the Kashmir where local boys have joined militancy in good numbers from last one year. "There are also local religious groups active in south Kashmir and they have a major role in the region. Another factor is Kashmiri nationalism, which has its base in south Kashmir," he said.

Some also attribute the shift in protests from north to south Kashmir as a reflection of the PDP’s ‘betrayal’ of Anantnag and other parts of south Kashmir. In the 2014 assembly elections campaign, PDP had stressed upon stopping the BJP from entering Kashmir Valley. The former was often referred as a soft separatist party with goals to fight for self-rule and autonomy for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after the winning the Assembly elections, the party, however, took a U-turn to join hands with the BJP, which according to many in Kashmir is the reason for intense anger across south Kashmir.

Commenting on the growing anti-India sentiment across south Kashmir, Altaf Bashir, who has done post graduation in peace and conflict told Firstpost, "It is a leaderless movement, or in case there are leaders, they cannot lead due to their persistent forcible confinement. The rebels have no guide to chalk out strategy when to attack and how to go about it."

Multiple explanations aside, it is clear that the prevalence of a relative calm in north Kashmir has come as a relief to the administrative and law and order machinery, which has its hands full battling the militants in the south and dealing with the popular unrest.

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2017 15:41:56 IST