Violence as the new normal
Published: May 10, 2017
On Wednesday, a Kashmiri army officer, who was attending cousin’s wedding, was abducted and shot dead by militants in Shopian. Lt Ummer Fayyaz was latest among over a hundred people, including policemen, politicians and civilians, killed this year in the Valley. Thousands of students pelting stones. School girls out on the streets. CRPF jawans humiliated. Controversy over videos showing a Kashmiri man used as human shield by army convoy. Policemen instructed not to visit their homes. MLAs, including those of ruling party, hiding in Srinagar. Kashmiri Pandit camps attacked. Internet services suspended. Social networking websites and apps banned. Unprecedented events have happened in Kashmir over the past few months.
People run as suspected militants offer a gun salute to Fayaz Ahmad, a suspected militant, who was killed in a retaliatory firing by police in a brief gun battle on Saturday evening in Kulgam district of Jammu & Kashmir, during his funeral in Qaimoh, May 7, 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail)
OWAIS AHMED LONE was telling me about his close friends who became militants when we heard a loud bang. It distinctly sounded like bursts from an automatic rifle…Short bursts, one, two, three, and then it stopped. Lone's security guards, a dozen of them, scrambled to protect the People's Democratic Party's Shopian town president.
It turned out to be a false alarm. A car had backfired.
Lone sat down in his chair, and the situation eased up. The guards settled back to their cups of tea. The streets of Shopian outside the restaurant where Lone met me were still empty.
Lone resumed the conversation and said he was running out of time to make a choice between the people he knew and the state that was turning increasingly aggressive. "Kashmir has come to a point where it has never been. Things have reached a maximum. I will have to make a choice very soon."
So can he, a mainstream politician, think of picking up the gun? "Yes, why not, he asked back. "What else can you do when you feel helpless? When despite being part of the ruling party you can't save your friend from being detained, tortured and shot at," he said.
The fact that a mainstream political leader can think of picking up the gun is an indicator of what a post-fear world looks like. A few days after I spoke to Lone, his colleague Abdul Gani Dar, PDP president of neighbouring Pulwama district, was shot dead by militants.
— Owais Ahmed Lone
A lot of people have joined militancy recently. In Shopian alone, where there were just 10 active militants a year ago, police forces suspect 40 militants to be active right now.
This has been a trend in the South Kashmir and pockets of North Kashmir, especially since July last year when Burhan Wani, 22-year-old commander of Hizbul Mujahideen and a social media phenomenon, was killed in an encounter.
A security personnel stands guard near a razor wire during curfew in Srinagar on Monday, August 15, 2016. (Photo: PTI/S Irfan)
Around 20 kms from the town of Shopian, in Nazneenpora, is the house of Farooq Ahmad Hurra. The 25-year-old was among the boys who joined militancy after the Burhan Wani encounter. He picked up gun in September last year and was killed in an encounter in March this year.
"We are proud of him. Better than dying every day is to die gloriously one day. More youths are going to pick up the gun and there is nothing to be ashamed about it," said his elder brother Altaf Hurra.
But gun-toting militants in Kashmir are very few now, say intelligence officials, and not as big a threat as they were in the ’90s.