On Wednesday evening, when security forces cordoned off a house in village Arwani in South Kashmir, where militants were holed up, the residents quickly assembled and marched towards the site to rescue them. Soon they were joined by the people from the adjacent villages, and all of them were ready to put their lives on the line to free the militants.
For the entire Thursday, the forces fought off the protesters to ensure the militants are killed. They fired tear gas shells followed by pellet pump action guns and the aerial firing at the protesters and when this failed to break up the protest, they resorted to direct firing killing a youth Arif Ahmad Shah of the nearby village Gund Baba and injuring around thirty others, one of them hit by pellets in the eye and another in the head.
The encounter ended on Friday morning after the forces blasted off five houses. From one house, charred remains of two bodies, suspected to be those of militants were recovered.
But the ending of the encounter did, in no way, quell the protests which have only spread further. People from Kulgam, Qaimoh, Khudwani, Redwani as well as from Sangam and the other areas started marching towards the encounter site in protest. Though public mobilisations after the killings of the militants are not new, and have now been a longstanding worry with the security agencies, the pre-encounter protests geared to free the trapped militants is a new phenomenon. It began early this year and has become a recurrent feature ever since. More or less, every time there is an encounter, the people invariably march towards the site of encounter to help militants escape.
If anything, it again shows the public support that militants draw on to carry on their activity has not waned. This also means militants can count on to get fresh recruits. And this is already happening. According to security estimates, around 60-70 youth have gone missing in South Kashmir in the past 100 days, the highest such number in such a short period since early nineties. Police apprehends that most of them, if not all, may have joined militancy, a fact also borne out by the new militant videos on the social media which have shown some new faces.
The recruitment has been greatly helped by the current turmoil marked by a heightened sentiment for Azadi. Besides, the anger borne out of the continuing cycle of killings and the blindings have further fuelled the trend.
Kashmir is thus once again at the cusp of a fateful transition. And considering the recent rise in the levels of violence, the future looks ominous. The situation calls for a political outreach rather than an exclusively military one. This approach has been the bane of post-colonial South Asian states: dealing with insurgencies through military might and economic development rather than political engagement. But this has only protracted the problems rather than helping resolve them. Unfortunately, there has been no change in this policy. The situation is going on regardless. If no serious effort is made to engage Kashmir on a sustained basis, the Kashmir seems set for more terrible times ahead.
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