Army’s new Kashmir challenge: mob violence after braid choppings

The protests over incidents of braid chopping have targeted the army on multiple occasions.
A policeman looks on during a protest over an incident of braid chopping | Source: Al Jazeera video screengrab

There are enough people ready to shoot amateur videos of these mob attacks on the Army and send them across the border for propaganda usage.

People who idolise the soldier may find it quite reprehensive to see the same soldier to be on the receiving end of a mob’s frenzy for no explicable reason.

Braid chopping incidents have spread to Kashmir in the past few days from other parts of India, and have led to irrational responses from people. Some are even putting blame on people in uniform, as if soldiers have nothing better to do.

An Army patrol in the Lidder Valley was accused of taking away an alleged braid cutter and giving him security; a mob tried to forcibly take him from the patrol without heeding warnings, forcing the Army to open fire. Five people were injured in the incident. Similar incidents have occurred in Sheeri, Baramula and Kupwara town.

This is not the first time that soldiers have been targeted by mobs and it is also not the first time that soldiers have responded most responsibly to a grave provocation. Yet such actions by citizens compromise the soldier’s dignity and safety. That is something no officer worth his salt will tolerate.

Is there a pattern or a strategy behind these incidents? Is it a fresh initiative to throw the Valley out of gear again?

There is no denying the fact that the people in the Valley floor areas are hugely alienated. Although the Army has always aimed at maintaining a stable relationship with the population through various soft measures, there are enough rabble rousers on the payrolls of separatists and agencies from across the LoC to ensure that alienation remains alive and kicking.

Targeting other government agencies is comparatively easier than attacking the Army. Yet targeting the Army and its assets without a response from soldiers always appears to give the mobs a high. The Army is always very restrained with no massacres associated with its name. The dividend that the separatists and provocateurs from across the border are looking for is an out-of-proportion response, which will result in large-scale civilian casualties and lead to more triggers for alienation.

The gullible public, comprising mainly high-energy youth, with no sense of proportion or rationale takes part in these events. There are enough people ready to shoot amateur videos, send these across to the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing of the Pakistan Army for professional editing and posting on Indian social media to generate anger among the Indian public.

In the past, there have been various attempts at intimidation with isolated Army vehicles being burnt; an ambulance of an Army hospital at Pattan, which provides medical attention to the general public was burnt down. There was no response from the Army.

The provocateurs across the LoC hope for a glitch in discipline somewhere. The value of that for propaganda is much higher. While the basic ethos of the Army almost guarantees patience, let no one be fooled that the Army will take dishonour of its men without adequate response.

Memory in Kashmir is short and we now have a whole new generation leading things. It has been forgotten that in 2010, the agitation on the streets largely came to an end when Ali Shah Geelani erred in threatening to march and gherao Army camps. A one-line army response in the media warning Geelani was sufficient to deter any such misdemeanor. Admittedly, there are more irrational people in the fray today. If the intent behind the few encounters of mobs against Army patrols is to test patience and see the effect, it would not take time for such a thing to be converted into a strategy of baiting.

The Army, for one, should not take for granted that the response of its personnel will continue to be calm and controlled. It takes one incident for things to go a different way. It will take the better part of the Army’s leadership at all levels to ensure that its rank and file are aware of the adversary’s intent.

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