The killing of two youth in Shopian, in South Kashmir has stirred up renewed protests in the Valley. By now it should be clear even to the most unseeing that each new incident in which innocent civilians are killed adds one more layer of resentment, grievance and alienation in Kashmir. While the Army says it resorted to firing in self-defence, villagers allege the forces deliberately targeted the youth who, along with others, were trying to stop the soldiers from removing banners from the grave of a militant killed in an encounter on Wednesday. The government has ordered a magisterial probe, and the police have registered a murder case naming an Army major in the 10 Garhwal unit that was involved in the incident.
It is for the inquiry to decide what really happened, but there are limits to how much an FIR can assuage public anger in the Valley after such incidents. The cases usually hit a wall called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The most recent demonstration of this was the Machil case. This law, with its immunity provisions, lowers the bar for soldiers using force against civilian citizens. Demands for its withdrawal from Kashmir and the North-east have been resisted by the Army. The Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, reiterated recently that there can be no rethink on AFSPA. With great power, however, comes great responsibility. If AFSPA is to stay, that message has to be conveyed from the top, and it has to be understood by the last man.
The fresh troubles have made the panchayat elections in the state, which Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had said would be held in mid-February, most unlikely. Even before the Shopian incident, there was a rare consensus between the ruling and Opposition parties that the election would herald more violence ahead of spring and summer, and would only serve to wipe out the tourist season. The notification for the panchayat polls, which should have been made mid-January, is not out yet. While the apprehensions are not without basis — the violence that began around last year’s Srinagar by-election continued for several months — some of the opposition is also self-serving, as the state’s legislators have hardly been visible in public since their election, and are understandably nervous about another layer of elected representatives between themselves and the people. The state and the Centre are expected to arrive at a decision on the elections this week. A postponement would amount to an admission by the Centre that the situation in the Valley is not good. It remains to be seen whether and how the decision might be window-dressed.