Kashmir
Houses caught fire during a gun battle between security forces and militants in Shopian | PTI Photo by S Irfan
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Thousands turned out Sunday to protest at the encounter sites and clashed with security personnel.

New Delhi: Until Sunday, the Jammu & Kashmir government was looking forward to a peaceful summer in the Valley, where the season has brought deep turmoil since the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in July 2016.

But the prospect seems shaky now. Three encounters and subsequent clashes at Shopian and Anantnag in south Kashmir saw 12 militants, four civilians and three Army personnel being killed on Sunday.

In the aftermath, hospitals in Srinagar were teeming with protesters admitted with bullet and pellet injuries. Civilians were out on the streets protesting in several parts of Srinagar as well. Curfew and restrictions were in place in many parts of south Kashmir and Srinagar.

“The situation is bad in Shopian, Tral and the surrounding areas of south Kashmir,” the Centre’s special representative to the state, Dineshwar Sharma, told The Print. He had visited Tral and met six delegations on 30 March. “I feel pained by the deaths. The youth have to be taken into confidence. Without getting their confidence, we can definitely not normalise the situation,” he added.

Tension in the Valley

More than 30 militants, most of them new recruits, have been killed in the Valley in the first three months of 2018. Since Wani’s killing in Anantnag two years ago, south Kashmir, the hotbed of militancy, has also emerged as the epicentre of civilian protests against counter-insurgency operations.

Thousands had turned out Sunday to protest at the encounter sites, which triggered clashes with security personnel.

“The tensions are a result of the contradictory policies of different agencies, including the central and state governments,” Khurram Parvez, co-ordinator of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), told ThePrint.

The anger among the masses, he said, was “only growing”, adding that the use of force by the state was nothing new. Parvez also blamed the recent encounters on the policy of security forces getting “rewarded” for militant killings, a charge the forces reject.

A big achievement

The militants killed in Sunday’s encounters included two believed to be responsible for local Army officer Ummer Fayaz’s murder last year. In Kashmir on leave, Fayaz was dragged out of a wedding at his uncle’s house and shot in May.

Security agencies have called the current anti-militancy operations, carried out by a joint team of the Army, the CRPF and state police, as one of their biggest achievements.

Lieutenant General A.K. Bhatt, the general officer commanding of the Army’s Srinagar-based 15 corps, said the “kinetic operations against militants will continue”.

Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) inspector general Zulfikar Hassan said the frequency of protests near encounter sites had increased. Appealing to locals to not come out of their homes during encounters, he said the tactic “will not stop” the forces from conducting operations and encounters.

Talking about the ground situation, Shopian superintendent of police (SP) A.S. Dinkar told ThePrint that civilians “exposed” themselves to stray bullets by coming out to protest during encounters.

“We do follow the standard operating procedure and try to engage with people, but why they engage in stone-pelting cannot be answered in one line. There are many factors,” he added.

‘No cause for worry’

Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid sought to dismiss fears the encounters would stoke another summer of unrest in the Valley. “The summer is going to be OK,” he said.

Shopian SP Dinkar added that the situation “is under control”. “We are always alert and not worried about the challenges. We are also in touch with the families of militants and very professional about it,” he added.

While chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has expressed grief about Sunday’s encounters, the opposition has criticised the state government for “causing a rage among the youth” that is leading them to join militancy in increasing numbers.

A shadow of disenchantment

Last week though, at a convention for travel agents organised by the state government to boost tourism, chief minister Mufti said “our country has left us alone”.

“There are many ways to deal with the situation in Kashmir but we are using only one measure — we are fighting guns with guns. However, someone has to treat those wounds that these guns cause as well, and the people of this country can do that,” she was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.

“The chief minister is saying that India has disappointed the people of Jammu & Kashmir…we have heard multiple policies, but there is no synchronisation in their efforts. Police, the CM and the Centre all have different agendas,” Parvez said.

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