Towering Mystery

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THE suspense began on May 22 when posters sprang up all across Sopore warning people who had rented out their land to telecom towers to cancel their leases.  Similarly, the people dealing with phone recharging were asked to shut down their business.  Nobody took  the posters seriously. But on May 25 when some unidentified gunmen fired at the workers manning a BSNL outlet at Iqbal market in Sopore, killing one Mohammad Rafiq, 26, and critically injuring the other two, the compliance followed instantly. Earlier, gunmen had hurled a grenade at a residential compound where a mobile transmission tower was installed. More attacks followed. This time gunmen broke into a house in Dooru, on the outskirts of Sopore and shot dead one Ghulam Hassan Dar who had a transmitting tower on his land. The day after, wide swathes of North Kashmir plunged into a complete communication blackout. In Sopore, Baramulla towns and the adjacent areas the landlords shut their mobile towers down. Vendors refused to re-charge. An endemic scare was palpable in both the towns. Fewer people dared to carry their cell phones with them, let alone call anybody in public – if at all their phones had the recharge and the signal strength to do so. In Sopore, the curfew was set at nightfall and remained in place until dawn, forcing even many mosques to advance the timing of the evening prayers by half an hour. But while we were under the notion that the development was a Sopore-centric phenomenon, a town which continues to be the hub of lingering political violence, we were in for a rude shock. For, on June 1, the gunmen, who claimed to belong to hitherto unknown outfit Lashker-i-Islam hurled a grenade at a tower at Habba Kadal in downtown Srinagar, injuring one. The attack spread instant scare and by the evening all mobile services in the city were severely affected. To assert further control, Lashker gave one day warning to telecom operators to wind up or face attacks. The scene in Srinagar soon replicated the one played out in Sopore and Baramulla. 

The attacks took place in a deeply mysterious context. Hurriyat and militant groups distanced themselves from them, blaming the government agencies instead. Separatist groups also saw the attacks as the corollary of the defence minister  Manohar Parrikar’s recent statement that the Government will prefer terrorists to kill terrorists – Kante se Kanta Nikalna policy – rather than involving security personnel in the job. Government, on the contrary, blamed militants alleging Lashker-i-Islam was a shadow group of Hizbul Mujahideen, something latter vehemently rejected. It was only after United Jihad Council gave a go-ahead to the telecom companies to resume their operations that the situation returned to normal.  

Lashker-i-Islam has suddenly disappeared from the scene. No more attacks from them. No more statements issued. All is forgotten. But the question still remains, who was behind the attacks. Who killed two innocent people and obviously for no reason? Who was Lashker-i-Islam?  There is no clarity and no answers from any agency. The situation has come as a throwback to the nineties, when such killings went unaccounted for. But this is Kashmir of 2015, which has come a long way from the heyday of insurgency and the counter-insurgent operations when innocent civilian lives were a fair game. And in a Kashmir that is now touted to be normal such killings should have no place and if they do take place, their perpetrators need to be identified and taken to task. And this is what we expect the government to do: Reveal the truth about the attacks and the killings.

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