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BJP Leader’s Murder Threatens to Push Erstwhile Militancy Hotbed Kishtwar Back into Chaos

Kishtwar has witnessed communal flare-ups, apart from suffering waves of violent militancy and counter-militancy operations.

Aakash Hassan |

Updated:November 4, 2018, 1:11 PM IST
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BJP Leader’s Murder Threatens to Push Erstwhile Militancy Hotbed Kishtwar Back into Chaos
Jammu: Youth burn tyres during a protest against the killing of BJP state secretary Anil Parihar and his brother Ajeet, by militants while they were returning to their Kishtwar home yesterday, in Jammu, Friday, Nov 02, 2018. (Image: PTI)
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Srinagar: The murder of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state secretary and his brother by suspected militants in Kishtwar has created a stir in the state. The attack comes few days before the Panchayat polls.

On Thursday evening, BJP state secretary Anil Parihar, 52, and his elder brother Ajit Parihar, 55, were killed near their home. The brothers were returning from their stationery shop when they were shot at from a close range.

“The target was specific. The assailants had done proper planning,” a police officer of the district told News18.

The killings have sent shock-waves across the political sphere of Jammu and Kashmir. It is being looked as “something alarming,” as a police officer told News18. The attack seems to be the resumption of militancy in this area which had almost been militancy-free now.

Kishtwar is nearly 220 kilometers south-east of Srinagar, about the same distance it is to the north-east of Jammu. The town has an nearly equal presence of Hindu and Muslim communities.

The district has a mixed population of Hindus (30%) and Muslims (69%) and has been communally sensitive. That is why, soon after the killings, the administration announced curfew and restrictions in the district and its surrounding areas. When Parihar and his brother were declared dead at the hospital on Thursday evening, protests erupted across the district. Army was deployed after mobs vandalised and set ablaze the public property.

Kishtwar is part of Chenab Valley. It is a hilly belt consisting of three districts, including Doda and Ramban, with mixed Hindu-Muslim population.

Once a Militancy Hotbed

In early 1990s when the armed militancy broke out in Kashmir, Kishtwar was flooded with newly recruited militants. Hundreds of militants were active in the area and were calling the shots.

“The militancy in the belt was similar to that in Kashmir. Some of the top militant commanders came from the Chenab belt,” a former militant commander active in 90’s, who was jailed and later released, told News 18.

When the counter-militancy operations intensified in the Valley and most of the militant ranks were neutralised, the belt was still active.

“The area remained a hotbed of militancy even in late 1990’s when militancy had begun subsiding from parts of Valley,” the former militant commander said.

Even Hizbul Mujahideen, which according to initial intelligence inputs seems to be behind the murders of Anil and Ajit Parihar, had a separate faction for the area known as Pir Panjal Regiment.

Muslim Janbaz force was another militant group pro-active in the area. The group was held responsible for abducting two Swedish nationals in 1991.

The militants have been accused of killing of a number of civilians in the area, especially the Hindus.

However, by 2006, the area was almost militancy-free.

“A military brigade was put up in the area. Village Defence Committees (VDCs) were also used for anti-militancy operations,” said a former police official, wishing anonymity.

The VDCs were setup as counter-militancy groups in 1992-93, following the number of attacks on minority Hindus. At that time the entire Chenb Valley was under Doda district. 5,000 VDC members were appointed in Jammu and Ladakh divisions.

However, the VDCs later came under serious accusations of human rights violations, including murder and rapes of Muslims in the area.

There have been number of protests against the VDC members and calls have been made to disband them.

As militancy began picking up in Kashmir after 2008, Kishtwar too saw a resonant increase in local recruitment in militant groups. However, the area itself remained militancy-free, though there have been attempts to revive militancy in the area.

In July this year, police claimed to have busted a Hizbul Muhajideen module. A militant and an over-ground worker were arrested. A huge cache of ammunition was recovered from their possession.

Communally Sensitive

Kishtwar has witnessed communal flare-ups, apart from suffering waves of violent militancy and counter-militancy operations.

In August 2013, clashes broke out between Hindus and Muslims on Eid. Three people were killed and dozens were injured in the riots. The army was called in to control the situation. People began shouting anti-Pakistan slogans and started damaging property. Even police officers were heckled by protesters and asked to leave from the spot.

Police have for now constituted a Special Investigative Team to probe the murder of Anil Parihar and his brother.

“We are investigating the matter. At this time we can’t say anything,” Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir police, Dr SD Singh told News18.

District administration had called for an extra force of military and paramilitary forces from Jammu. On Friday, protests erupted across Jammu.

People came on roads and demanded immediate probe in the killings.

Parihar, as per locals, was a moderate voice and used to call for Hindu-Muslim unity in the region. The panchayat polls are round the corner. How this event will impact the politics of Jammu and Kashmir remains to be seen.

“The military is flag marching and the situation is under control. It is peaceful,” Angreaz Singh Rana, Deputy Commissioner Kishtiwar told News18.

The Chenab Valley is a political hotchpotch owing to the almost even distribution of Hindu-Muslim population in the area. The area has been pivotal for the political parties.

In November 2014, when the state was going for elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a massive rally in Kishtwar. Modi’s magic seemed to have worked when BJP bagged four out of six seats.

(The author is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist.)

| Edited by: Sana Fazili
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