Millennium Post

Testing TIMES ahead IN J&K

On Shab –e- Qadr, the night of seeking the blessings of Allah, a band of agitated stone pelters took away the life of a fellow Kashmiri police officer who was on duty in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir, to ensure that the people who had gathered at the Nowhatta mosque in downtown area to offer night-long prayers, could do it peacefully.

The trouble reportedly started when Mohammed Ayub Pandith, a Deputy Superintendent of Police posted in the Security Branch, was seen by some youth taking pictures of the stone pelters and the Jamia Masjid mosque. Being in the plainclothes wing of the police, he was in the mufti or civil dress. The mob caught hold of the officer; to wriggle out of the clutches of the frenzied mob, Ayub fired from his service weapon injuring a few. This was provocation enough for the mob to attack and lynch him to death in one of the most gruesome and dastardly assaults on policemen in the recent times in the valley. It may be noted that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was among those present at the Nowhatta mosque at the time of the lynching.

The sacrifice of the six bravehearts of the local police including the affable station house officer in Achabal in south Kashmir is still fresh in the national memory. Like in Punjab during its militancy, the policemen and their families in the state of J&K are also now being targeted by the terrorists and their sympathisers. The state police are at the forefront of the anti-militant operations. In the last three decades of militancy in the state, the local police have lost more than seven thousand members. Regardless of the setbacks, they have carried on with their fight against militancy.

The Special Operations Group of J&K police is a highly motivated unit. As per the law, the rest of the forces are deployed in the Valley in aid of the civil administration. Coming from the same stock, the local police are vital to intelligence gathering and mounting of successful operations. They are led by an able officer in SP Vaid who belongs to the state and is known for his strategic acumen. These are no doubt hard times for the police and the security forces. But their resilience, expertise, and repertoire to deal with such anti-national insurgencies is abundant.

Friday was expected to be a fateful day in the light of the venomous diktat of the separatist leaders of the valley, to protest after Friday prayers against the Indian genocide of innocent civilians. Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik in a statement after the Pulwama encounter in which three militants were gunned down by the local police and the security forces, exhorted people to protest the "targeted killing" of the youth during the operation. The youth, "chronic stone-pelters" according to the police were killed during the violence which erupted after the burial of slain militants in Kakapora, Pulwama.

It can be termed as the bloodiest Ramzaan in the valley. Militant attacks have continued during the holy month forcing the security forces to retaliate. In all, twenty seven militants were neutralised during the month. The militants killed nine policemen/security forces personnel and only six civilians lost their lives. The police and security forces have been avoiding use of lethal force against civilians who have been targeting the former on daily basis.

The militants have suffered several reversals following a hard stand against them and their sympathisers. It should be a worrying trend for the security forces that militants of different shades and tanzims are closing ranks to achieve synergy in their so called struggle for azadi and jihad. The presence of Jaish – e-Mohammed and Hizb militants at the burial of a slain Hizb commander is a pointer towards that.

The masters of the militants across the border have unleashed a radicalisation and recruitment drive through the internet and social media. Propaganda against the idea of India is quite vociferous. The sub text now focuses more on religion based jihad than azadi for Kashmir. More than 200 such sites are operating from Pakistan itself. While the ground battle is being effectively fought by the security forces, the response in the cyberspace is far from desirable.

Director general of police of J&K calls it cyber war and is alive to the situation. The stock response post an operation is to ban the social media or clamp down on the cyberspace for a while. Ban is just a first aid. What we need is a long-term treatment and response.

All the security agencies, particularly the intelligence agencies have to come together to work on a systematic response to this threat which is resulting in further aggravation of the situation.

Counter propaganda and subversion measures also need to be devised at the earliest. Since the political parties have conceded space to hardliners and militants, there is a clear void in managing the public perception of alienation. The efforts of the government at the state and the national level to continue with a meaningful dialogue with the people of the valley also get nullified due to repeated incidents of violence against the civilians and security personnel including the local police.

There is a big section of Kashmiri society that abjures violence in favour of sufiism and Kashmiriyat. Brutal killings of Kashmiri policemen, who are seen as brethren by this section have created revulsion to the senseless violence by the militants. Intelligence agencies have to work with this section of society and further consolidate the numbers to counter the war of perceptions. Working with women in the Valley may prove useful in conveying the message to the youth to abstain from the destructive path preached by the separatists. A beginning in this direction has to be made.

There may be more attacks on police stations, posts and its personnel in the coming days to weaken the will of the policemen to fight militancy. Threats may be held out to the families. Police will have to be extra cautious about the safety of their colleagues in plainclothes. More armed vehicles are now needed in the valley. The police leadership and the state government need to ensure that the morale of the civil police in the state does not take a hit by the recent barbaric attacks on the policemen.

(Views expressed are strictly personal)

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