Eroding Trust In Kishtwar
Four days after the death of her son, Leela Devi is still in state of shock. Her 26 year-old son, Arvind Kumar, was brutally shot in the Kishtwar violence. Minutes before his death, Arvind has called up her mother requesting to prepare a special dish for lunch. Sonika, the girl whom Arvind was to marry in couple of months, is inconsolable, though Arvind’s family has kept their promise and would now marry her off to their younger son.
For Des Raj, a retired army personnel and district president of BSP, the death of a young son is a big blow. “What was my son’s fault, he was showered with 12 bullets, while he was on way to wish one of his Muslim friend on Eid”, says the sobbing father to this correspondent.
Kishtwar, a saffron town of Jammu and Kashmir, went into communal frenzy on Eid, the violence killed three and injured nearly a hundred with hundreds of business establishments looted and vehicles put to flames. While the political blame game continues, the investigations revealed that the communal flare was not spontaneous, rather tensions were cropping up between two communities since the execution of the Indian Parliament attack terrorist Afzal Guru four months ago. When this correspondent spoke to some people from Kishtwar, it was stated that since the execution of Afzal Guru, tributes were often paid to the terrorist from mosques, describing him a martyr who laid his life for freedom of Kashmir, the other community opposed and even reported the matter to the local administration, which did not take the matter seriously.
Just four days before the violence, some posters appeared in Kishtwar town, which also happens to be the home town of Jammu and Kashmir Home Minister Sajjad Ahmed Kitchloo, with messages that the sacrifice of Afzal Guru would not be wasted and people would fight for independence. Most of the posters were torn by the members of minority community, leading to verbal clashes.
It must be mentioned here that Kishtwar has a Muslim, Hindu population of 60-40. Eyewitnesses told that on Eid, a major religious congregation was scheduled in middle of the town to be attended by state home minister Sajjad Kitchloo. At around 11 am, hundreds of people of the majority community raised slogans in favour of Afzal Guru and began to move towards the venue for the Eid prayers. They were armed with petrol and stones and it is alleged that some people in the mob carried weapons too. As they passed through the market area, they started pelting stones at minority community business establishments putting many of them to flames.
The incident happened just 50 metres away from the Kishtwar Dak Bungalow where Sajjad Kitchloo was camping with the top brass of local and police administration. The mob grew in numbers and became more violent and burnt and looted several businesses of the minority community in the main bazaar of Kishtwar town.
Today, Kishtwar looks like a ghost town with several houses and shops ruined. Bharat Bhushan Gupta, who used to run one of the biggest medicine stores of the town, is a broken man; this is the second time that his business has been attacked. In the 2008 communal clashes, his shop was targeted. “Who will pay for losses, it took me five years to rebuild and we have again come to ground zero, I have yet to pay the debt, the place is very unsafe for minority community, we are thinking of moving out”, said Gupta. Similarly, Jugal Kishore who runs a flour mill says that his business has been attacked for the third time in the past decade. There is great fear and uncertainty among the minority community of the town, which claim that such attacks are pre-planned . This violence was an attempt to create a similar situation as had happened in Kashmir in 1990, leading to migration of minority community from the valley.
Is the Plan to take the flame from Kishtwar for inferno in Kashmir?
The killing of five Jawans by Pakistani soldiers of Specialized Regiment miles inside the Indian territory across LoC in the Rajouri area—near Poonch– then the start of riots on Idd day in Kishtwar in which minority community was attacked, their businesses burnt and pro-Pakistan and LeT slogans were raised then the sudden surfacing of separatists like Geelani making hate speeches are all most likely part of a sinister game plan.
The plot reportedly is to start ethnic cleansing from Kishtwar, then force migration from Ramban, Doda and finally Poonch. Once these areas close to LoC are cleared of anti-Pak elements, the way for the Pak army to come from that side and sandwich Kashmir would be rather easy.
The killing of the Jawans, and firing along LoC from different points was apparently to test where the defence is strong and where it is weak. The shooting of five Jawans was intended to test the limits of patience and reticence of India to reply with more deadly force. But to the pleasant surprise of Islamabad and the ISI Generals, India not only did not react with greater force but instead lied to give Pakistan a leeway to say that Pakistan army was not involved at all.
The statement forced on the Defence Minister A.K. Anthony by the PMO, MEA and NSA was so blatantly false that the Minister was left with no option but to go along with the lie.
It is said that at 3.30pm a press note from the Army attributed the killing to Pak army soldiers. But once the note came out, the PMO reportedly went into overdrive, The MEA was roped in and NSA joined in deliberations possibly after a nudge from the Prime Minister. Antony was reportedly called by Dr Manmohan Singh and in most likelihood “advised”. That led to the first statement Anthony made in Parliament in which he attributed the killing of Jawans to terrorists dressed in Pakistan army uniform. Meanwhile the Army issued another Press Note at 5pm saying that terrorists killed the Jawans.
The mendacity was complete and all loopholes for any contradictory evidence percolating through were sealed. But, truth shall emerge and it did. The uproar that followed forced the Government to retract its statement. “Saint” Anthony made a second statement in Parliament. In this he did admit that Pakistani army soldiers had killed the Jawans. But the damage was done.
First the Army felt humiliated. The mass of Jawans felt their lives could be sacrificed on the altar of Dr Singh’s desire to meet Nawaz Sharif. The lie would cost Congress Party heavy. The association of veterans estimated to be above 1.5 lakh has already passed a resolution that they would not vote for the Congress. Then there are 20 lakh Jawans! Will they vote for Congress? We all know the answer.
But the larger and more alarming manifestation is that Pakistan knows the soft spot of the Indian Government. Keep the charade of parleys for peace talks up while increasing cross-border violations and ultimately force the International community to focus on Kashmir dispute once again. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General UN, who was in Islamabad for Pakistan’s I-Day celebrations on August 14 more or less hinted that he would try help Pakistan resolve all its problems.
The chimera of peace with Pakistan might have hypnotized Dr Singh but intelligence reports are that the Pak government has given ISI clearance to escalate terror operations in Kashmir to bring it back on the international radar. The Pakistanis would infiltrate battle-scarred Taliban into Kashmir to wage war against the Indian State.
Anthony meanwhile has become a butt of jokes, most dangerous thing for a politician. For joke leads to ridicule! One joke circulating is that Pakistanis has two deadly weapons AK-47 and A.K. Anthony. But our main opposition, the BJP, never thought of moving a breach of privilege against Anthony. More truth could tumble then. But Central BJP leaders in the Lok Sabha are obviously kind hearted and see no evil, hear no evil.
The sudden statements of the likes of Geelani, attempts for ethnic cleansing in the sensitive parts of Jammu and increasing violation of ceasefire along the LoC bare the evil design of the ISI, which most probably has the backing of the Pakistan Government.
History would record Kishtwar as the starting point of Pakistan and its supporters to inflame Kashmir. Who have been behind the “negligence” to pre-empt riots and then later contain them. Intelligence report had warned 12 days earlier of the likely break-out of violence. Ever since the shooting of four civilians in Ramban and the rumour that the Quran had been defiled by the BSF, the whole adjoining areas including Kishtwar were seething and the authorities should have made arrangements to curb any violence. But the failure was such that even with the Home Minister Sajjad Kichloo in Kishtwar curfew was not ordered. It was imposed only after the arrival of the army. There was also a total failure of police machinery.
The political wrangling between Omar Abdullah and the BJP has further escalated the communal tension. Abdullah, amongst many other things, taunted that his minister had resigned did anyone resign when 2002 riots took place. So the memory of 2002 riots would further incense Muslim community. He should have been careful with his words, otherwise polarisation would deepen.
Whatever it might be the failure of the district authorities to act on intelligence feed 12 days before the break-out, the utter failure when violence broke out could also be suspected to be part of the greater design for ethnic cleansing and then move on for greater violence and inferno in Kashmir for internationalizing the issue.
Will the Centre move to pre-empt it? Will the Centre force Abdullah to pick out officers and others who failed to curb violence in Kishtwar and take immediate action against them, for they might be part of Pakistan’s grand design?Or will the Government go on chasing the mirage of peace and pursue the policy of appeasement?
However, the role of state government in the entire incident is also under scrutiny. Questions are being raise to why the Kishtwar administration did not act in time and let the situation worsen. Why the state home minister who is responsible for law and order situation in the state let the miscreants take control of the situation while he was few metres away from the spot when the first act of loot and arson started and why the delay was made in letting the army take control of the situation?
Now, when the damage has been done, political pressures have led to the resignation of Sajjad Kitchloo, who otherwise did not appear remorseful while putting in his papers to the state chief minister. Omar Abdullah is also blaming the opposition political groups for exploiting the situation for political mileage, but can he explain as to why the media was barred from entering Kishtwar to report the event?
Balbir Singh Jamwal, a correspondent of Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala shared with this correspondent his account of the whole incident.“At around 10.30 on Eid, I along with fellow media persons was on way to Dak Bungalow where Sajjad Kitchloo was staying to cover his public address. Suddenly, we saw a mob of people raising anti-India slogans moving towards the venue for the Eid prayers. In few seconds, it went violent and started pelting stones at shops of the minority community and even putting some of them to fire. We were also attacked and we ran for cover and jumped the armed police office wall and from a peep hole in the wall, watched the whole act of loot and arson for over an hour.
The police and paramilitary troops were mere spectators, making no efforts to scare the mob away, which went more violent and gained volume moving towards the main market. Taking the lanes and by lanes, I made an effort to reach home worried about the safety of my family. However, the situation came under control when the military held a flag march in the town after a five hour delay”, said Balbir.
About the latest situation, he says, the curfew exists and all entry and exit routes to Kishtwar have been blocked. Though the situation is apparently under control, tensions simmer with people of either community scared to move alone fearing backlash. Till the filing of this report, at least seven districts of Jammu remain under curfew with protests and demonstrations continuing against the acts of violence in Kishtwar. The army is out on streets.
Amidst all this, the borders between India and Pakistan too continue to be under fire with several incidents of violation of ceasefire from Pakistani sides have been reported. This has occurred both on the International Border and Line of Control. The cowardly killing of five Indian soldiers on borders in Poonch by nearly two dozen Pakistan soldiers well inside Indian territory, has also raised tension among the populace.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu