Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir government and security forces have a tough time ahead as potential face-off with separatists and their supporting crowds, during the week beginning from July 8, could lead to another spell of unrest in the Valley if not handled appropriately.
8th July is the first death anniversary of Hizb-ul-Mujahedin commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani and separatists and militants have announced to observe it in a big way.
'The Hizb chief Muhammad Yusuf Shah alias Syed Salahuddin had, a day before he was declared a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the US State Department, in a statement issued in Muzaffarabad called for shutdowns in the Valley on July 8 and July 13. He also asked the people to visit the homes of “martyrs” and hold pro-freedom rallies and protests during the rest of the week beginning July 8'.
July 13 is observed as ‘martyrs’ day’ in both parts of divided Jammu and Kashmir as on this day, 66 years ago, as many as 22 Kashmiris were shot dead by the troops of autocratic Dogra Maharaja outside Srinagar’s central prison where an in-camera trial of a rebel Abdul Qadeer was being held. The bloody incident heralded an uprising against the Maharaja’s rule and for independence of the Muslim majority state. While July 13 is observed as ‘martyrs’ day’ by both mainstream and separatist political parties and is an official holiday, the latter insist that the struggle for “independence” is still on as India “forcibly occupied part of the State in 1947”.
In view of possible flare up, the authorities have announced a 10-day-long ‘summer break’ in educational institutions from July 6 although the summer is still away and the temperatures have not soared yet. Apparently, the closure of schools and colleges has more to do with Wani anniversary than anything else, said the local watchers.
The authorities are contemplating to impose curfews and restrictions in cities and towns of the Valley including summer capital Srinagar from the night of July 7 or early July 8 and also on July 13. However, its response beyond July 8 night and between then and July 13 would depend on the happenings on ground. “In such situations the security review meetings are held at the end of each day and decisions taken accordingly,” said a senior police official.
The internet and mobile phone services are also likely to be snapped ahead of Wani’s anniversary. Enforcing security clamp down and curfew or curfew-like restrictions besides curbs on the movement of separatist leaders and other key activists is a somewhat time-tested manoeuvre by the J&K authorities aimed at steering clear of face-off in open with separatist leadership and its supporters.
Snapping or curtailing the Internet and mobile phone services in view of possible flare-ups and real and perceived threats is a new phenomenon which has become irksome particularly to student and business communities and financial institutions and the media as it hinders their genuine activity. However, the authorities justify such communication curbs and blackouts on the plea that these have become unavoidable in order to prevent the misuse of social media and rumour-mongering during such turbulences.
Already the law and order situation in the Valley is somewhat “disquiet”. Parts of the scenic region particularly the southern districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama are “precarious” with militants calling the shots and the street protests being witnessed routinely.
Another main worry of the authorities is how to ensure smooth and incident free passage of Amarnath pilgrims through populated and sensitive areas of the Valley during ‘Hafta-e-Shahadah’ or the week of martyrdom announced by the Hizb.
“Normally pilgrims and other tourists are not touched by protesters but there have been instances when the buses and other vehicles carrying them to the base-camps or back were also hit in stone-pelting incidents,” said the police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He added, “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
The authorities also said that “extraordinary” security arrangement has been made for the annual pilgrimage keeping in view the overall law and order situation in the Valley. Thousands of police, paramilitary and Army personnel have been deployed en-route Amarnath and at the base-camps and other halting places to provide security cover to pilgrims. The 40-day long annual pilgrimage to 3,888- meter-high cave-shrine, the holiest of Hindu places of worship in north India, officially began on Thursday when the first batch of over 7,000 devotees after reaching the base-camps of Baltal and Pahalgam took the arduous journey through rugged mountains to pray and have darshan of Shiva Linga at Amarnath.
Officials said that Satellite tracking system, drones, mobile bunker vehicles and road opening parties (ROPs) along the route from winter capital Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal are some of the security measures put in place. The Centre has provided an additional 40,000 paramilitary forces to assist the State government for peaceful conduct of the pilgrimage. The Army, the CRPF, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the J&K police are providing multi-layered security to the pilgrims.
The officials said that tight security arrangement has been necessitated by the prevailing law and order situation in Kashmir and potential threat from separatist militants. But prominent separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani termed it a “false alarm”. He said the Amarnath pilgrims are “most welcome” in Kashmir and that they would be treated as “honoured guests” by local Muslims. Rejecting the talk of ‘militant threat’ to the pilgrimage as being “imaginary”, he alleged that deliberate attempt was being made to mislead the majority community of India on ground reality in Kashmir and put the State’s majority (Muslim) community in bad light for political reasons.