By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar, April 18: An alarming spurt in violence in early spring has been marked by attacks on civilians by militants, the army using a civilian as a shield against stone-pelters, the lowest ever voter turn-out in a parliamentary by-election and the use of social media as a tool to stoke passions.
These are all indications of bad days ahead for Kashmiris, who were looking forward to a calmer summer in 2017.
If this is the bad news, what is even worse is that the situation appears to be slipping out of the hands of both the state and the non-state actors in Kashmir’s sordid drama of pain and suffering.
In the Srinagar parliamentary by-poll on April 9, just seven per cent of the voters came out to exercise their franchise. Eight civilian protesters died while trying to ensure the boycott of an election that was otherwise ignored by a vast majority of Kashmiris.
The fallout of the unprecedented low voter turnout and violence in Srinagar forced the deferment of the Anantnag by-poll that was scheduled on April 12.
While the Election Commission pushed this to May 25, all indications on the ground suggest it would have to be deferred to October or beyond.
In other violence, two civilians were killed in the south Kashmir districts of Pulwama and Shopian for their political affiliations.
Bashir Ahmad Dar of Rajpora town in Pulwama was killed on April 15 by gunmen for his affiliation with the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while a day later, a young lawyer was killed in Pinjura village of Shopian district for his affiliation with the National Conference (NC).
The young lawyer had served as a public prosecutor during the NC government in the state.
On April 16, a video clip was uploaded on social media of a trader of Pulwama town denouncing India and begging for his life with guns pointed at him.
In another video from the same district a civilian was seen cursing himself for being an activist of a mainstream political party and vowed never to even look at politics in the future.
The recent “video war” in the Valley started after images of a CRPF trooper being heckled by youths during the April 9 election were uploaded on social media.
This was followed by the video of a youth tied to the front of an army jeep, apparently to avoid attacks from stone-pelters.
Then, massive Valley-wide protests by students broke out on April 17 after videos showing students of Pulwama college being ruthlessly beaten by the security forces were uploaded on social media the previous day.
To prevent the use of social media as a tool to stoke passions, the authorities on Monday again ordered the suspension of mobile internet services in the Valley.
Also, the internet speed of fixed-line broadband connections has been lowered to prevent uploading of videos.
Following attacks on the families of policemen, the state police department issued an advisory on April 16 asking its men to exercise extreme caution while visiting their home towns.
On Monday, Amnesty International took serious note of armed groups targeting civilians. The human rights watchdog condemned attacks on civilians for their political affiliations and also on the families of state police force.
The operations of the security forces have been highly compromised by civilian protests while they are on, especially in south Kashmir districts.
Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, visited the state on Sunday. He met Governor N.N. Vohra in Jammu and then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in New Delhi.
Gen. Rawat has reportedly expressed displeasure against a youth being tied to an army jeep to avoid stone-pelting.
An FIR has been lodged by the state police against the army personnel involved in the act.
The opposition NC has demanded dismissal of the PDP-BJP government, accusing it of “Pushing Kashmir into darkness”.
The PDP and BJP leaders have, in turn, accused the NC of having left behind the Aegean Stables of trouble during its long years of of rule.
The blame games between the mainstream parties notwithstanding, unless the central and the state governments act fast to pull Kashmir out of its present spiral of anger and violence, 2017 might be worse than what Kashmiris have been through since armed violence started here in the early 1990s.