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Setback for talks as civilian deaths spark massive uproar in Kashmir Valley

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The atmosphere in the Valley has been charged with anger since two men were killed in firing by the Army.

New Delhi: The peace process initiated by the Modi government’s Kashmir interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma seems to have suffered a setback with the Valley witnessing fresh unrest over the death of civilians in the past few days.

In the latest incident, two civilians were killed Saturday when the Army opened fire on a group of stone-pelters.

The atmosphere in the Valley has been charged since the deaths of the two — Javid Bhat and Suhail Lone, both in their 20s. Another youth, 19-year-old Raees Ahmed Ganai, was critically injured, and he later succumbed to his injuries Tuesday.

This takes the toll of civilian deaths to five in January. Last year, 24 civilians were killed in the state.

Civilian killings

According to a defence spokesperson, an Army convoy was passing through Ganaupura Chowk in Shopian when it came under intense stone-pelting by a group of 100 people.

“A junior commissioned officer got hit on the head and fell unconscious. The crowd further closed in towards the vehicles and attempted to set them on fire,” the spokesperson said.

“Considering the extreme gravity of the situation the Army was constrained to open fire in self-defence. A total of seven Army men suffered injuries. In the process two civilians succumbed to the bullet injuries,” the officer added.

A magisterial inquiry has been ordered and an FIR filed under Section 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 336 (endangering life) of the Ranbir Penal Code (applicable to J&K) against troops of the 10 Garhwal.

“We have filed the FIR against the Army unit, and its major. Right now, we are trying to bring the situation under control,” Ambarkar Shriram Dinkar, superintendent of police, Shopian told ThePrint.

On 24 January, 17-year-old Shakir Ahmad was killed when security forces allegedly opened fire on protesters, an incident that the police said was a case of “cross-fire”.

Earlier, on 9 January, 22-year-old Khalid Ahmad Dar was killed when the Army army opened fire on a group of stone-pelters in Kulgam.

Political uproar

The PDP and its ally BJP have been at loggerheads over the FIR against the Army while the opposition National Conference also lashed out at the state government.

“Two civilians dead & many others injured. The first month of 2018 has been a terrible one for J&K, death has cast its ugly shadow far too often already,” tweeted former chief minister Omar Abdullah.

The issue also rocked the J&K assembly with the opposition demanding the arrest of the soldiers involved.

BJP MLA R.S. Pathania demanded immediate withdrawal of the FIR while chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the investigation in the “unfortunate” Shopian killings will be taken to logical conclusion.

Mufti has also called defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to express anguish over the civilian deaths. In an official statement, she said: “Every civilian killing, notwithstanding how erroneously made, impairs the political process in the state which has been put on track after hard work by all political parties.”

Dialogue vs disruption

Interlocutor Sharma claimed that “there was a definite change in mood after his visits and meetings in the Valley”.

He, however, refused to comment on the FIR against the army.

“Sharma’s challenge was to get the Hurriyat and those parties on board for talks which were angry with the state and the Centre,” Ali Mohammad Sagar, senior National Conference leader and MLA Khanyar, said.

“He has failed in doing so. He is not at all doing what his mission was set out for,” added Sagar.

Senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar said that the main challenge is how to manage a situation like the present one.

About Sharma, Akhtar said, “It was too early to judge him. The initiative of starting a dialogue is well thought of by the Centre. Neither militancy nor military can help but talks.”

Sharma, who concluded his last visit to Kashmir on 24 January, may go there again next week.

Editor’s note: The death toll in the state this month was amended to incorporate the demise of Raees Ahmed Ganai. 

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