Tough tactics to tame Valley violence

The Centre plans no political outreach to dissolve the violent clot in Kashmir. It prefers, instead, for the Mehbooba Mufti government to keep up the security heat to subdue the Valley-wide upsurge.

By Sankarshan Thakur
  • Published 8.08.16
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A child cycles past security personnel guarding a mosque in Srinagar on Sunday. (AFP)

New Delhi, Aug. 7: The Centre plans no political outreach to dissolve the violent clot in Kashmir. It prefers, instead, for the Mehbooba Mufti government to keep up the security heat to subdue the Valley-wide upsurge.

"This is a law-and-order situation and that is how the elected state government should treat it and deal with it," a Kashmir-watcher and policy adviser has told The Telegraph.

"This isn't the first time such violence has erupted, it can be subjugated. We'll establish control."

This newspaper has been given to understand by those close to formulating the strategy in Kashmir that the Centre is inclined to move even further away from political engagement and deploy a stricter security regime across the Valley.

Top army commanders based in the state met chief minister Mehbooba Mufti two days ago; they are meant to have discussed contingency plans to deploy the armed forces visibly across the Valley and along the national highway to Jammu, a chronic militant ambush zone.

No decision has been taken yet, but a fallback strategy where the armed forces return to a foreground role is ready, sources say. A similar call-out to the army was made following tumultuous violence triggered by the killing of student Tufail Mattoo in the summer of 2010.

There was a burst of speculation this afternoon that a talk-shop organised at Patnitop, a hill resort between Jammu and the Valley, was taken by the Valley ferment and discussing possible government feelers to Hurriyat leaders.

Ram Madhav, architect of the ruling PDP-BJP alliance and key actor of the India Foundation meet at Patnitop, was quick to scupper it.

"Young thinkers met at Patnitop is an annual event," Madhav tweeted. "Nothing to do with Kashmir events except that the venue is in the state. No kite flying."

The India Foundation is a think-tank closely aligned to the purposes of the Sangh and the Narendra Modi government; one of its chief movers is Shaurya Doval, son of the national security adviser, Ajit Doval.

The foundation organises idea-exchange events regularly. The Patnitop meet was planned months ahead, and follows a similar session held in Panchmarhi last year.

Today marks a month since frenzied and sporadic disturbances erupted following the killing of 22-year-old Hizbul militant Burhan Wani. More than 50 people have died and thousands have been injured or permanently disabled in operations to quell mob violence.

Police and the paramilitary resorted, controversially, to the use of pellet guns which have left many protesters blinded for life.

For all this time, the Valley has remained curfew-bound and under a khaki gag. For several days, phone and Internet access remained suspended, the Valley press disallowed to function.

Anger and frustration have mounted; even minor relaxations of curfew have invited bouts of disorder.

"This is a grim reminder to us of our worst days," said a Kashmiri bureaucrat who retired as secretary to the government.

"In the 1990s, there were guns and militants; today, that militant has spread to each mohalla and home. The worst thing is, nobody is willing to engage, and there is little meeting ground between people and the government."

The Mehbooba government has been in panicked retreat most of this time, its feeble efforts at reaching out rebuffed by people.

Mehbooba herself has been repeatedly heckled at official outings. Her education minister and government spokesman, Naeem Akhtar, has twice been violently targeted.

It hasn't helped Mehbooba that New Delhi has displayed scant interest in a humanitarian or political initiative to calm tempers. It told the Supreme Court last week that there had been a "remarkable improvement" in the situation in the Valley.

The same day, three persons were killed in renewed violence in Budgam, close to Srinagar.

The tone of the Centre's submission to the Supreme Court led former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah to remark: "If this is New Delhi's definition of normality in Kashmir, God help the people of Kashmir."

Abdullah also chided the Centre's refusal to contemplate a political opening. "Why bother dealing with the political dimension of the problem (in Kashmir) when you can send additional forces instead? Is there any indication that the Centre is willing to consider anything other than sending additional forces?"

Abdullah's assessment may well be close to the Centre's thought process. A senior Srinagar-based PDP leader told this newspaper this evening: "I am not privy to what conversations are happening between our chief minister and Delhi, but what is clear is that the Centre wants the violence stamped out first, and with a hard hand. No tolerance to violence, is the word from Delhi. That is why the additional forces, and the widely held sense that the army may temporarily be out of barracks and onto the street."