Srinagar: “If this trade does not stop, we know how to make it stop. There will be a loss of lives… Now, after this, there will no warning but straight action… Lashkar-e-Taiba.”
That’s the threat issued allegedly by terror outfit Lashkar on pamphlets that have been pasted and distributed across Sopore district in north Kashmir and pockets of Srinagar to dissuade people from opening shops and working at the fruit mandi.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police has recovered 80 such pamphlets.
These threats doing the rounds — pamphlets being pasted on walls or thrown inside shops by bikers and sometimes being verbally communicated to traders — have created a sense of fear among local residents.
What has reinforced the fear is the shootout at Sopore Saturday when armed men, later identified as overground Lashkar workers, barged inside the residence of an apple orchard owner and shot at him, his wife and two-year-old daughter.
“It was a warning because that trader had been supplying apples to the Sopore mandi,” a labourer, who did not wish to be named, said. “We have been told that if we continue to work, the next shot will be on our heads. Also, we will be responsible for the end of our families as well as us.”
The labourer added that the armed men have been doing the rounds threatening businesses.
“The other day some men came wielding guns inside the mandi while we were packing apples. We were asked to leave or face the consequences,” he said. “Where do we go? We have not earned anything this month. How do we feed our families?”
He further said that labourers such as him have been the worst hit. “The ones who have shut down their shops and are sitting at home have someone or the other in their family who has a government job and is drawing a fixed salary. Why would they be worried?” he said. “People like us who earn and eat on a daily basis are the ones who get hit.”
A shopowner in Srinagar, who had his shutter half down said he had to open the shop as he had been suffering losses. Last week, two bikers threw the same pamphlets inside his shop after which he shut it for a week. He said he took the pamphlet to the police but after a few days, some bikers came to threaten shop owners verbally.
“We are with the cause of Kashmir and we did comply with the civil curfew but for how long? We cannot say it in the open,” another shopowner in Srinagar said. “Also, earlier whenever there were calls for hartals, we were mentally prepared. We would stock up, shift some of our business to Delhi, but this was unprecedented. No one expected it. And now everything has been shut for over a month.”
Adhering to civil curfew a social responsibility, say some traders
The shopowners say they are now caught in a bind, as the district administration is allegedly forcing them to keep the markets open. A vendor at a patri market in Srinagar told ThePrint that the police and the administration also pay them between Rs 800 and Rs 1,000 to put up the shops and show that the state is returning to normalcy.
“We are forced out of our houses by the police and the administration. We are suffering losses but it is for a cause,” he said. “This curfew is our social responsibility. It is to save our Kashmir and we are ready to pay the price. This time there is no one leader who has given out a call for a hartal, it is us who have decided it.”
The vendor was also sceptical about the terror threats. “The militants across Kashmir are limited in number. They cannot control shops and mandis across the Valley,” he said. “This bandh is self-imposed and we want to comply with it, provided the police stops harassing us.”
Another vendor who sells clothes at the same market said they are looked down upon by their fellow Kashimiris for opening their shops. “If we come to work, we are also looked down upon by the locals and of course there are threats. If we stay indoors then the police harass us,” he said.
“Where do we go? Then we think it is better to support our brothers and at least not be labelled as traitors,” he added.
Desperate attempts by terrorists: Police
A senior police officer from Jammu and Kashmir told ThePrint that these pamphlets were nothing but “desperate attempts” by local conduits of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen to terrorise the local residents.
“Once they saw that the law and order situation is under control and they cannot take control of the situation, like they managed in 2016 after death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, they have now resorted to these methods of selective killings (A shop owner was murdered in Parimpora district and truck driver in Tral) and putting up of these pamphlets,” the police officer said.
“These are local conduits related to these terror organisations pasting these pamphlets out of mere frustration. They have realised that they are not getting much local support as shops have started to open, which is why they are trying these methods to scare people,” he added. “This time they could not gather people on roads and this is what has irked them.”
He also said that in Sopore these youth are carrying out these activities at the behest of one Sajad, a Lashkar terrorist currently in Pakistan, and their aim is to target areas where the large economy is involved.
Sajad’s father, the officer said, had a fruits business in Sopore.
“These boys are overground workers,” the police officer said. “Some are those whose brothers had joined LeT or Hizbul in the past. But it is not an organised network on the job.
“They hit where they know the economy is involved. Whether it is Sopore, the largest fruit mandi or Parimpora, also an economic hub,” he added. “Their aim is to paralyse the economy by scaring people but the ones who have been denied employment are not with them and they know it.”
Threat at the hotel, DC office
It is not just areas with greater economic activity that are receiving threats by these militants.
On Monday, due to a threat at the divisional commissioner’s office in Srinagar, the two telephone exchange lines, put up for the general public to make calls, were shut. The area was cordoned off and no cars were being allowed inside.
“There is a threat by militants, so the general public has been asked to leave and the telephone lines have been shut,” an official at the DC officer said.
Similarly, the hotel where the state government has set up a media facilitation centre and has several journalists staying too was under threat, following which metal detectors were installed at the premises and the deployment of the force was increased. Last week, after a series of verbal threats along with IB reports suggesting the movement of terrorists in the area, a search operation was carried out and massive force was deployed in the hotel.