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Old Wounds, Fresh Attacks in Kashmir

Updated: May 8, 2010 12:54 pm

Fresh attacks in Kashmir spark fears that militants have not only regrouped, but also have changed tactics, writes Anuj Chopra in Sopore.

Delicately lifting the hem of his pheran, a loose-fitting Kashmiri gown, Imtyaz Ahmad Ganaie stumbles barefoot across heaps of scattered rubble and detritus.

            “Only bricks and stones remain,” he says, looking ashen, as he pointed at his house, destroyed during a three-day gun battle in February between Indian troops and terrorists. “Mortar shells destroyed everything.”

            For nearly 70 hours, military helicopters beat overhead amid loud explosions and gunfire as a cat-and-mouse game ensued between soldiers and terrorists hiding in Ganaie’s crowded village of Chinkipora in Sopore.

            His family, like other residents caught in the crossfire, managed to flee to safety, but nearly two dozen houses were flattened or severely damaged in the hunt which also left four Indian soldiers dead.

            The disputed region of Kashmir is a victim of history’s caprice. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, it has been the focus of three wars between both nuclear-armed rivals since independence in 1947. Nearly 1,00,000 people have lost their lives since terrorism first erupted in this Muslim-majority state two decades ago. But in this verdant landscape replete with flaming-red Chinar trees and apple orchards, terrorism had ebbed to an all time low in recent years.

            In the last decade, terrorism related fatalities declined continuously since their peak of 4,507 killed in 2001. For the first time in two decades, killings in 2008 were well below the ‘high intensity’

mark of 1,000 per year for the third consecutive year.

            However, this brash encounter with battle-inoculated terrorists is an ominous sign of a new, lethal wave of terrorism returning to haunt Indian-administered Kashmir after a long lull.

Porous border, rising attacks

Since last year, there has been a resurgence of militant strikes, buoyed by infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border – which has troublingly risen by 98 per cent in the past year, resulting in over 465 deaths, according to Omar Abdullah, the state’s chief minister.

            The army believes nearly 2,500 terrorists trained in 34 camps in PoK are desperately trying to cross the LoC via melting snowcaps, including those from Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkatul Mujahideen, all affiliated with the United Jihad Council (UJC), an umbrella group of nearly a dozen Pakistan-based militant groups, and many of which were banned under Pakistan’s former military government.

            In February, at a large public rally in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-Kashmir, Syed Sallahudin, the head of Hizbul Mujahideen and chairman of UJC, called for a reinvigorated jihad in Kashmir until it was free of “Indian occupation.” The rally included a clutch of militant leaders high up on India’s most-wanted list, including Hafiz Saeed, whom the Indian government alleges masterminded the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008.

            “Jihad is the only solution to free Kashmir from the Indian yoke,” thundered Mr Salahuddin. “Kashmir cannot be resolved through dialogue.”

Morphing methods

Indian-administered Kashmir is now witnessing a “qualitative shift” in the strategy of terrorists, Altaf Khan, the superintendent of police (SP) in Sopore told. “We are up against smarter, determined, more sophisticated terrorists,” he said.

            terrorists like Basharat Saleem, the top commander of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, who hails from Sopore, managed to escape several times in recent encounters, says Khan. In a recent raid on his home in Sopore in January, when he secretly visited his family, he managed to flee, leaving behind his AK-47 that has his name etched on it and a laptop.

            The recovery, Khan says, exposed how a new wave of tech-savvy terrorists covertly communicate through voice chat services over the internet with their handlers in PoK and spoof mobile and satellite phones to fiddle with their longitudinal and latitudinal co-ordinates to trick security agencies about their exact whereabouts.

            Local recruitment of terrorists in the Kashmir valley has also accelerated in recent months. In late January, eight school going boys were caught trying to cross into Pakistani Kashmir in a bid to reach a training camp where they would learn how to become suicide attackers. The youngest was seven.

            Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, a 16-year-old high school dropout from Peth Seer village in Sopore, joined the Harkatul Mujahideen in 2008. He was killed in a 28-hour gunfight in Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar, Indian Kashmir’s summer capital, earlier this year. It was the first fidayeen attack in the capital in two years.

            His friends say Manzoor felt compelled to take up arms after a land row in Amarnath, a cataclysmic event in the recent history of Kashmir.

            In 2008, mass protests and demonstrations erupted in Kashmir, sparked by the state government’s promise to lease forest land to a board that runs a Hindu shrine. The deal would have promised guestrooms for nearly half a million Hindu pilgrims who make the trek to the holy Amarnath caves.

            The land deal was eventually revoked, but by then the protests adopted a hue of resentment for Indian rule.

            Defying a curfew, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris participated in a march called the “Muzaffarabad Chalo” or a “march for freedom” from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad. But the overly peaceful protests were squelched by a heavy military response. Soldiers fired on the crowd,

killing six people and wounding hundreds more.

            Manzoor, who participated in the march, saw people killed in front of him, Hafiza Bano, his mother, told. He was a changed man. He was quiet, contemplative, but she did not imagine he would become a militant.

           Right to Information

Unlocking Power Galore

The Right to Information (RTI) Act is a great way of creating ‘informed citizens’ enlightened and informed to demand a total transparency and accountability in public working. Eminent speakers from judiciary, bureaucracy and media said this while participating in a national convention and workshop on people’s Right to Information organised by Action Group for Peoples’ Right to Education (AGPRI) in Lucknow recently.

            Terming the Act as a unique magical tool that empowers the common man, gives him the freedom to directly question government decisions, while at the same time enchaining government officials and holding them accountable for any lack of transparency in public dealings. RTI Act gives masses immense power to wield over public servants. The very potent Act subjugates officers to the will of the common man. It pins him down to accountability.

            The Act, which came into force in 2005, declares that all working of government must be shared with the people as a democracy is of the people, for the people and by the people. The Act simply states that ‘information is public property’ and it must be provided by public servants as and when demanded by citizen.

            “The provision to share public information with the masses basically challenges the mindset of bureaucracy still trapped in a legacy handed down to us by the British which forbids government servants from sharing information with the public under the Official Secrecy Act its from” said Dr Yogendra Narain former defense secretary, former secretary general of Rajya Sabha and ex chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh. Dr Narain who has a vast experience in governance was delivering the keynote address at the seminar. Mr Narain holds the distinction of doing his PhD in Right to Information way back in 1992.

            The Rajya Sabha passed the law before him in 2002 but as notification was not issued it could only finally be implemented in 2005. India notified it in 120 days whereas England took five years.

            Tracing the history of RTI he said it was in Europe that this concept of public accountability

came to light way back in 1776 but in USA it was made in 1996.

            “One single RTI Act has changed the representative form of government that we have in India into a participatory form of governance, RTI ensures that its citizen have a role to play in the way their country is ruled, said Dr Narain.

            Asserting that the Act has in a way been in existence ever since India became free Mr Narain said that freedom of speech and expression is in fact the very base of the RTI Act. Even the Human Rights Act, he said has the powers of RTI.

            According to Dr Narain, RTI Act is a ‘compromised law’. This is because information pertaining certain to departments like defense, foreign relations are beyond the purview of RTI as they involve the security of the nation.

            Retired Justice Kamleshwar Nath said that while the Act is good by large it does not directly benefit the applicant who gets the wheel of justice rolling. He suggested that part of any monetary compensation accorded in the RTI case must be given to the person who filed an RTI plea. This will motivate others too.

            “Laws of implementations must be made by the state government for a proper and smooth running of the RTI movement,” he said adding that it should be the duty of every citizen to ensure that he does not misuse the Act and only use it in the interest of the nation.

            According to Justice Devi Prasad Singh, Lucknow Bench, Allhabad High Court an open government is clean government.

            “Transparency asked by RTI will help reduce corruption. However undue delay in giving information by government departments will hamper the spirit of the Act, “stressed Justice Singh.

            He added that proper and through training of Public information officers (PIOs) was vital for the smooth functioning of RTI. It often happens that only partial information is provided by the office. Training of ministers, and MLAs, MPs is also necessary.

            According to Justice Singh, while the early set up in the government department was not very records friendly now it is becoming easier because of the computers to store information and provide it at the click of the button. Thus he hoped that RTI queries will in time to come take much lesser time to process.

            Openness, transparency will reduce corruption- open government is a clean government.

            Shailender Dubey, an engineer by profession and a social activist by choice called RTI Act a ‘total revolution’. He said it is a powerful weapon and must be used in the interest of the nation. RTI is a asking for your rights under the legal ambit

            He said one has to ask questions to ensure development of the country. According to him had we had the RTI Act before we would have the answers to many questions like: How did Prime Minister Shastri died? What lead to the mysterious death of Subhash Chand Bose.?

            He was of the view that speedy disposal of RTI cases will help the system deliver better. He emphasised the importance of time by quoting an old saying.

            Ask the value of five years from a politician who has just lost elections.

            Ask the value of one year from a student who has failed in the examination.

            Ask the value of one month from a mother who lost her premature baby.

            Ask the value of one minute from someone who has missed his train by a minute.

            Ask the value of one second from an Olympian who lost the race by just a second.

            According to Mr Afzal Ansari, senior journalist and chief co-ordinator of the workshop media can play a vital role in taking forward the importance of RTI

            “The masses must be made aware that RTI gives them a direct chance to participate in governance. They must be told to ask the right questions from the right government authority leading to all round development,” said Mr Ansari.

            RTI Act is a double edged weapon it must be used rightly like a surgeon’s scalpel and not like the knife of the murderer.

 By Kulsum Mustafa from Lucknow

Just weeks later, during Ramadan, he disappeared, never to return again. Bano thought he had been kidnapped.

            “I searched and searched for him… in every police station, every morgue, but…” she said trailing off with a deep sigh, sitting on the red carpeted floor of her house.

            “The Amarnath fiasco gave birth to a militant like Manzoor,” one of Manzoor’s friends in Peth Seer, who did not wish to be named fearing police harassment, told ISN.

            “Terrorism has got a moral boost after people saw a peaceful protest brutally put down. People now identify more closely with the issue of separatism.”

            The infiltrators, who come from across the LoC, he said, “are our brothers. They are fighting for our cause. We’ll give them food, money, we’ll hide them in our house if we have to.”

From stones to guns?

Mounting public anger against Indian rule has become the raison d’être for the terror groups, says Syed Shah Geelani, a separatist leader who has long been an inveterate critic of Indian rule in Kashmir.

            “Peaceful solutions or talks have little relevance in Kashmir today,” he told . “We have been talking since the 1950s, but nothing has come of it. That’s why Kashmiris are going back to guns.”

            Since 2008, Kashmir has also witnessed an abnormally rising tide of stone-pelting protests across the valley, aimed mainly at Indian security forces.

            On a recent afternoon, protestors who masked their faces with green Arab-style keffiyeh, emulating Palestinian youths, blocked a street with large boulders.

            “Humein kya chahiye? What do we want,” shouted a man who seemed to lead them. “Azaadi, Azaadi,” the crowd responded, a shrill cry for freedom. Many of the pelters were residents of Chinkipora, enraged about their destroyed houses, for which they squarely blamed the Indian army not the terrorists. “Do you expect us to keep quiet after what they have done to us?” one of them asked.

            Soon, policemen in riot gear assembled on the other side of the street. The sloganeering intensified. Stones, marbles, rubber bullets soon began flying in the air, not clear which side lobbed which. The police lobbed tear gas canisters. The stone pelters burned tires the fumes of which, a protester explained later, seemed to neutralise the effect of teargas.

            As the police attempted to round them up, the protesters ran, shouting anti-India slogans in Kashmiri. The policemen chased them into a grubby alleyway, but the thtey managed to get away.

            Lieutenant General B S Jaswal, the General Officer Commanding in Chief of the Indian army’s northern command, describes the aggressive assault of stones as “agitational terrorism.”

            It denotes the graduation of the terrorist movement into a more complex attack on the government, by crafting mass public demonstrations aimed to maximise calibrated terrorist violence on the ground, he says.

            During several such protests, terrorists have emerged from the crowds to open fire at soldiers and then melted back into the crowds, says Altaf Khan, Sopore’s SP. Khan says that the some of the ring leaders who mobilise the crowds are on the payroll of Kashmir’s separatist leaders.

            But the protesters claim this paroxysmal rage is unprompted and aimed against “Indian occupation.”

            “We are not hoodlums greedy for money and neither are we anti-social elements,” a 28-year-old a research graduate from Kashmir university who did not wish to be identified, fearing arrest, said. “The Amarnath [fiasco] volubly demonstrated that there is no space for peaceful protests. In response to Indian Kalishnikovs, we pelt stones.”

            “But if we are continually suppressed,” he added, “it won’t be long before stone pelters graduate to guns. (ISN)


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