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Is Kashmir’s terror heartland turning its back to militancy?

Is Kashmir’s terror heartland turning its back to militancy?

Southern Kashmir’s Tral in Pulwama district has for long retained several dubious distinctions in the last 31 years of armed insurgency in the valley. This was the crucible from where Burhan Wani to Zakir Musa, and scores of top-notch militants emerged. Wani’s death in an encounter in July 2016 led to a four-month-long street turbulence in which over 70 demonstrators and arsonists got killed and thousands, civilians as well as security forces personnel, sustained injuries.

Dadsara, a village in Tral, is said to have created the maximum number of militants among all villages and towns across the valley. It was because of the people of Dadsara and other villages that a two-lakh strong procession gathered to form Wani’s funeral procession. Four years later, Dadsara is singing to a different tune.

On Tuesday, 8 December 2020, three local cadres of ‘Albadar’ outfit—Merajuddin Lone, Umer Ali and Owais Farooq— were killed in an encounter with Police and security forces at Tiken in Pulwama. One of them was a resident of Dadsara. The bodies were buried as per the Covid-19 protocol in the distant Baramulla area in northern Kashmir.

Unlike on scores of similar killings and encounters in the past, Dadsara and all other villages in Tral were calm in the morning after. Hardly anyonr gathered to offer condolences to the militant’s family and nobody demanded burial the dead body at the local cemetery—let alone an effervescent funeral procession and a gun salute at the tombstone. There was no shutdown in Tral.

The voter turnout was thinner in Pulwama and its contiguous district of Shopian as compared to 8 other districts in the valley in the District Development Council elections. However, the scenes of defiance, demonstration and protest, that marred over a dozen elections after 1990, were nowhere there across Kashmir. The residents of Pulwama still remember the separatists’ anti-election campaign, coupled with terror attacks, which subverted several democratic processes in the past 24 years particularly in that district.

“In many elections, we saw militants attacking the polling parties. Even in 2014, a polling party returning with EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) was subjected to a fatal attack. I remember senior Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Abdul Gani Lone reaching here with their Police guards armed with AK-47 rifles like the Ministers’ escorts and provoking the people to fail the elections. Several times, I remember, there were violent demonstrations and teargas shelling by Police. Not a single such incident has been reported from anywhere in
the valley during the DDC elections.

One-odd incident of a militant attack occurred in Srinagar where some unidentified gunmen shot dead the personal security officer of the Peoples Democratic Party activist Haji Pervaiz.

This is not the only manifestation of change in the last over one year. It has been widely noticed that many of the Twitter handles and Facebook accounts, which used to bully, troll and intimidate anybody not toeing the Pakistani line until May this year, have silently disappeared. While hundreds of such accounts have been removed by their users after the Cyber Cell of the Jammu and Kashmir Police began filing FIRs over ‘anti-national’ and ‘subversive’ content, many others have deleted objectionable and intimidating posts.

According to senior Police officials, the security and the intelligence agencies had, immediately after the killing of 40 CRPF personnel in a car bomb attack, identified all the vehicles used by the “militants and their Pakistani handlers”. “First of all, we called or detained temporarily some of such elements after August 2019.

Secondly, we shut down the internet for a purpose. We knew about their plans to create a mayhem like 2016, 2010 and 2080. Thirdly, we let them off but made it clear that the age- old practice of running an anti-India tirade alongside armed insurgency wouldn’t be tolerated any more. Most of them responded positively and stopped indulging in subversive and anti-Indian activities”, said an officer.

The officer referred particularly to the Twitter accounts of two women activists—one a journalist based in Mumbai and another a Kashmiri scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)—to prove his point that the world was “misled” by the social media, as well as the foreign press, with regard to the “real situation” in Kashmir after 5 August 2019.

“For months they ran a tirade that we had jailed and tortured thousands. They reported that the Kashmiris were defiant, and thus suppressed, and that there was lockdown and curfew. As a matter of fact, we had detained less than 4,000 persons of proven subversive history. We have released almost all of them. Our lockdown was for less than two months. In October, November and December 2019, there was a shutdown sponsored by the separatists and the terrorists. They gunned down wholesalers and fruit dealers and spread a wave of terror to ensure that the signs of normalcy do not go out. This election called their bluff and exposed everybody”, said the same officer..