J&K: Shun encounter sites, public told

The restrictions have been imposed under Section 144 CrPC within three kilometre radius from the site.

Srinagar: As the incidence of relocating to encounter sites to make conscious attempts to help militants in breaking security dragnet during counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir has only increased in recent past, the Valley’s district magistrates have started issuing fresh orders restricting public movement in these situations.

The first such order was issued by the DC of southern Shopian district, M.A. Qadri, on Thursday saying that it has been generally observed in a number of cases in the recent past that during the counterinsurgency operations, “a good number” of people from the adjoining localities and areas “tend to move to sites of the operation, thereby putting their lives to avoidable risks.” He said that in view of the trend it has been felt expedient to impose “reasonable” restrictions around the site of such operations “for safety and security of general public” as an anticipatory measure.

The restrictions have been imposed under Section 144 CrPC within three kilometre radius from the site of any counterinsurgency operation for a period of two months.

This comes a day after the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat warned that people in Kashmir who are creating hurdles during counterinsurgency operations will be dealt as anti-nationals and will face “harsh” actions. There have been several instances in the past when militants were able to escape after taking advantage of favourable situations created by local populations at and around the encounter sites, the latest being Hajin in northern Bandipore district where, at least, one militant ran away and the other killed and injured as many as 14 security personnel including two officers before he could be shot dead on Tuesday.

Gen. Rawat had while speaking to reporters in New Delhi after he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday paid last respects to the three of the four soldiers including a major who were killed in separate encounters in Kashmir a day earlier that such pastime will not be tolerated any more.

He said security forces were facing higher casualties due to manner in which the local population is preventing them in conducting the operations and “at times even supporting the terrorists to escape”.

However, his warning has been seen by some mainstream opposition parties and separatist groups as an ‘open threat’ to the people of Kashmir. It evoked adverse reaction also by many Internet savvy people of Kashmir who quickly took to the social networking sites to disapprove of the Army Chief remarks. While some accused him of instigating violence against ordinary people in the Valley, some others said that he may have rightly specified a difficult situation the security forces are faced with in Kashmir yet it would convey a negative political message and also negate the Army’s claim at the local level that it is enjoying support from vast Kashmiri population.

“By Indian Army Chief’s logic, there are 75,00,000 OGWs in Kashmir. About 300,000 of them were present in Tral’s Eidgah on July 9, 2016 (to attend Burhan Wani’s funeral),” wrote journalist and columnist Gowhar Geelani on his Facebook timeline. He also said that Gen. Rawat’s “admission” that people are not supporting Army “clearly demonstrates that in Kashmir the movement is indigenous...he has also absolved Pakistan.”

Jammu and Kashmir’s main opposition National Conference (NC) on Thursday asked the government to engage with Kashmir’s alienated youth and “don’t threaten them through the Army.” It said that it was sad that New Delhi has failed to analyze disenchantment in Kashmir and that “aggressive and hot-headed” statements will compound hostility.

The party expressed disappointment and dismay over what it said were belligerent remarks of the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat about “dealing mercilessly with the isolated and alienated youth of Kashmir”. It said such posturing would compound the situation and increase the hostility in the Valley. In a statement signed by Junaid Azim Mattu, NC spokesperson, and Tanvir Sadiq, political secretary to its working president and former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, the party said it was tragic that New Delhi was still trying to talk to the youth of Kashmir through the defense establishment when the need of the hour was to engage them politically.

“Youth rushing towards encounter sites and incidents of stone-pelting on the forces during encounters are worrying and alarming signs of the sense of alienation and disenchantment in Kashmir. The need of the hour is to understand and acknowledge the deep sense of isolation in Kashmir and deal with it with statesmanship and magnanimity. Threatening and warning youth who are already anguished and irrational to the sense of caring little for their lives will be of little consequence but would only push them farther from reconciliation”, the NC statement said. It added that “aggressive, hot-headed statements would fuel the spurt in local militancy in Kashmir and make the challenge of engaging with the youth insurmountable”.

Kashmir’s Chief Muslim cleric and separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that the “threat” issued by Gen. Rawat “is unfortunate and reflects a tyrannical mindset towards the people of Kashmir”. He said that the Army Chief “needs to ask the executive of his country as to why the institution of Army is being used by it to crush a mass political movement of people, demanding their political right and why do people at the obvious risk to their lives gather round encounter sites? (sic). He them himself answered the second part of the question, saying “Only because they see them as freedom fighters pushed by the arrogance of Indian state which is not willing to address the Kashmir dispute politically and pushing educated youth towards armed resistance”.

The Mirwaiz said that before labelling Kashmiris as anti-nationals, Gen. Rawat should realize that “Kashmiri nation was not fighting any nation or any political party but striving for its just rights which the Indian state had dealt with by martyring tens and thousands of Kashmiris, subjecting over ten thousand people to enforced disappearances, burying thousands in unmarked graves, damaging property worth billions of dollars, harassing people, torturing youth with third degree in interrogation centres, oppression and suppression, arrests and detentions, restrictions, custodial killings and even sending people to gallows in fake cases” (sic).

Independent MLA and leader of regional Awami Itehad Party, Sheikh Abdur Rashid while reacting to Gen. Rawat’s statement said that it was only confession that the Indian state has lost the control in Kashmir. “While New Delhi doesn’t get tired claiming Kashmiris as its own people, the threat given by Gen. Rawat has exposed the claim. His threat is a confession that militants have mass support and calling them terrorists is not the solution”. He added that the Army Chief’s warning could be his “professional compulsion” but New Delhi “must see and analyse it beyond that as while militancy is completing its 30 years, New Delhi has miserably failed to consolidate its constituency in J&K.” He also said that if general masses do not care of the consequences and put their own lives at stake to save the armed militants, New Delhi “must revisit its Kashmir policy and must understand that while General’s words are threat to Kashmiris but not less than an advice for New Delhi, conveying it that J&K is a political problem which has not military solution”.

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