Peace Eludes, Tension Prevails In Kashmir

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR:  Who is to be blamed for tension in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley? The people here are agitated over at least 11 civilians having been killed last month as police and security forces tried to control demonstrations and rallies. The state’s opposition parties and separatist leaders are trying to exploit the situation by blaming Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah for having failed to control the situation. Describing J&K government as a “failure,” Mehbooba Mufti, President of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said: “The biggest failure of this state government is that there are angry people on the one side, security forces with guns and bullets on the other, and nothing in between.”

Blaming the government for targeting people, Mehbooba said: “The response from the state government has become violent. In other parts of the country also, protesters burn trains and buses, but I don’t see bullets being fired there. Rubber bullets are used to frighten people. They are not aimed at the neck or head to kill people. In the last two weeks, we have lost a lot of young boys. If you investigate, you will find a majority of them were not involved in the agitations. This has added to the alienation of Kashmiris.” In her opinion, the central government is not playing the needed role to control situation. “The focus of the Centre should be to save Kashmir. Instead, they are focused on saving the Omar Abdullah government. This government needs an alibi and so they are talking about Lashkar-e-Toiba, anti-national sentiments, etc. But they are not talking about their own failures,” she said.

National Panthers Party (NPP) chief Bhim Singh has demanded dismissal of the state government, which is an alliance of National Conference and Congress Party. Singh called on J&K Governor N.N. Vohra to express his party’s stand against the state government. He also demanded release of his party members who were arrested in Jammu while protesting against the corrupt, inefficient and authoritarian state government (July 3).

Bhim Singh is also upset at having been denied permission to visit Sopore and Anantnag, where eight teenagers were killed in firing opened by security forces to disperse demonstrators. He wanted to express his condolences to the bereaved families. Singh has demanded judicial inquiry by a sitting High Court judge into these killings.

Strongly condemning killing of innocent civilians and human rights violations, in a statement, Srinagar City Senior Citizens Forum said: “The Khaki clad armed forces are supposed to maintain law and order in the land and provide protection to civilians’ life and property. No law permits them to barge into the houses of civilians, smash doors and widows, beat inmates and ransack their household belongings while dealing with the demonstrators. It has been observed that the security forces operating in Valley while dealing with the demonstrators beat innocents, throw stones on the houses of people and barge into their rooms, invading their privacy and damaging everything they lay their hands on.” (July 2)

Ironically, media has not been spared the government’s rod. Offices of three papers: The Early Times, The Shadow and The Glimpses of Future were sealed last week for publishing “inflammatory reports designed to create communal tension and hurt religious sentiments.” The three newspapers’ editors have, however, described the government’s decision as politically-motivated. Manish Gupta, editor of The Early Times said: “I was writing against the government which did not go well with the people at helm, so they sealed my newspaper.”

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of Hurriyat Conference (moderate section) said that New Delhi must “wake up” to solve the Kashmir-problem. “Kashmir is a political issue ripe for resolution and not a fight between Muslim Kashmir and Hindu India. Resolving Kashmir is in the national interest of India,” he said. Rejecting views of external elements being responsible for violence in Kashmir, he said: “These statements are false and far from the reality. India should stop looking at Kashmir from Pakistan prism. No Pakistani is getting killed in the protests. The young Kashmiris are being killed by police and troopers.”

Meanwhile, the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International has called on Indian government to look into killing of civilians in Kashmir during the past month.  In a statement, the Amnesty said that 11 persons, including eight teenagers were killed last month in shootings by Indian paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force personnel during demonstrations in Srinagar, Sopore and other towns. “The organization is calling on Indian authorities to investigate all the killings,” Amnesty stated. Urging India to “avoid excessive use of force while dealing with demonstrators,” the organization said that “any security personnel, as well as any protesters” involved in wrongdoing should be brought to justice.

Alarmed at tension in Kashmir getting out of hand and providing political ammunition to his rivals demanding his government’s dismissal, Omar Abdullah held a meeting of prominent citizens (July 4). He called on them to make efforts to restore peace and normalcy in Kashmir. “Maintenance of law and order and tranquility is the responsibility of both the citizens and the government,” and “both should complement each other,” he said.  “Peace is a must to enable us to move forward on all fronts whether political, social, economic or developmental,” he said.

Suggesting that demonstrations cannot solve the Kashmir-problem but can have a negative effect on career prospects of young Kashmiris, Omar laid stress on need to be wary of “rumor-monger” who take advantage of such situations and add “fuel to fire.”  Describing Kashmir as a “political problem,” which needs a “political solution,” he said:

“Economic packages can have their role but these alone cannot address the aspirations of the people of the state”, this he said is his firm belief.”

Omar has made his point, so have other Kashmiris, including Mehbooba Mufti, Bhim Singh and Mirwaiz. The question, however, remains unanswered as to why have Kashmiri civilians fallen victim to firing from security personnel? It is hoped that some attention is paid to Amnesty International’s demand for a probe into these cases and the guilty are punished!


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