Updated: October 18, 2021 8:12:36 am
The spate of targeted killings of civilians in the Valley, claimed by the shadowy “The Resistance Front”, marks a shift in the methods adopted by those seeking to destabilise Jammu & Kashmir, including a clear attempt to deepen the religious divide. Over two days this week, the deliberate targeting of a Kashmiri Pandit chemist who refused to leave in 1990, the singling out of two teachers, one a Sikh and the other a Jammu Hindu, and of a street vendor from Bihar, were aimed at marking out “outsiders” and those “assisting the occupying forces”, and are intended to spread fear among these small communities, that have been longtime residents in the Valley. In the aftermath, it is necessary that the J&K administration, and the government at the Centre, desist from deploying communal tropes to paint these episodes as a reprise of 1990. Nothing would be more misguided. The fact is that an increasing number of civilians, most of them Kashmiri Muslims, have been targeted by militants since 2019. This year, 28 people had been killed until October 7, last year 37 were killed in the same period, and in 2019, the number was 38. Most of them are Kashmiri Muslims suspected of being “collaborators” of the post-2019 set-up in J&K.
The TRF is believed to be an amalgam of old groups that have long been present in the Valley, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the new name offering plausible deniability to each. What has been obvious from recent encounters is that these militants are ill-trained, in most cases armed only with pistols, and they no longer advertise themselves on social media as recruits did in the 2015-17 phase. Most of them would fall in the category of “overground” militants, or “hybrid” as the security establishment now refers to them because they may be only partially active. This is one reason why the security establishment is finding it harder to locate them.
The killings puncture the “all is well, tourism has replaced terrorism” myth that the government has peddled after August 5, 2019 when it abolished J&K’s special status under Article 370, and bifurcated and converted it into two Union Territories. It is no secret that the “normalcy” of the Union Territory of J&K is not maintainable without the present saturation level troops that patrol the Valley. The administration has silenced open dissent and criticism in the Valley with an unofficial gag on news media, going after social media users with UAPA and sedition laws, and summary dismissals of government employees with critical views. Recent decisions by the government, such as an online portal for “righting” distress sale of Pandit properties in the 1990s, with no clarity on procedures for deciding such claims, have not helped. Above all, the restrictions on political activity have robbed the people of a pressure vent. Preventing a further slide in the situation will require the government to make several course corrections in Kashmir urgently.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 9, 2021 under the title ‘Warning in Valley’.
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