Srinagar: Despite an unprecedented appeal to the separatists for calm by the army commander in the state, Srinagar remained under curfew along with two south Kashmir towns – Anantnag and Pampore – even as normal life in the Valley was paralysed for the 43rd day because of continuing unrest in the wake of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8.
A security official said on Saturday that restrictions on the movement of the people were in force in rest of the Valley.
Normal life remained paralysed for the 43rd consecutive day owing to the curfew, restrictions and strikes called by separatists. The separatist camp have called for an ‘Azadi march’ to the district headquarters today as part of their protest schedule.
Schools, colleges and private offices remained closed, while public transport remained off roads. Attendance in government offices was thin. Mobile internet and telephone services also remained suspended.
The separatist camp, headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik, has extended the agitation till August 25.
As many as 64 people, including two policemen, have been killed in the clashes that began on July 9.
Appeal to separatists by army commander
As the unrest continued, the army on Friday appealed for calm, saying “everyone needs to step back” and sit together to find a way out of the current situation.
Asking everyone involved to look at ways to de-escalate the situation rather than provoking it further, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen D.S. Hooda said that whilethe security forces have been directed to exercise maximum restraint, the “other side” also needs to see that security forces, police stations and bases of security forces are not attacked.
He said the “cycle of conflict and violence” has been going on for more than 40 days now and “no one is going to get away from it unhurt”.
“My appeal is for calm. We have to sit down, put our heads together and see if we can find a way out of this situation. So everybody, who is in anyway involved in J&K, needs to introspect and see what we can do to stop it. It is not a person or one organisation which can do it (alone),” the top army commander told reporters here.
“It is a statement of facts because everybody is involved, whether it is security forces, whether it is separatists, governments, students leaders. My appeal is to everyone.
We need to find a way forward from this,” he added.
He noted that the unrest has affected the children who cannot go to school, the youth, those in the hospital, as also employees, traders and even the policemen and security forces.
Asked if his appeal was addressed to the separatists, Lt Gen Hooda said “everyone needs to step back. Where are the protest calendars coming from?” Separatists have been issuing calendars for protests, with the latest week-long schedule issued only yesterday.
In response to a question, he said a decision has been taken that army will provide assistance to security forces and police in securing the highways and district roads in order to ensure movement of vehicular traffic during the day.
“This will instill a sense of normalcy. Law and order is dealt with by the police and CRPF. We will provide whatever assistance in terms of reinforcement at police stations where the number of police personnel is low,” he said.
Asked if there was a possibility of the army taking over law and order duties in Kashmir, Lt Gen Hooda said “the situation is not there for the army to take over”.
He said the unrest has affected the counter insurgency operations but the forces will resume these in right earnest.
“The civil disturbance has affected the operations, particularly in South Kashmir. A deliberate decision has been taken to go after the terrorists. It will start in right earnest,” he said.
Lt Gen Hooda, however, said the counter-insurgency grid in north Kashmir was functioning properly as was witnessed during the operation in which four militants were killed and one – Bahadur Ali – was captured alive.
“One infiltration bid was also foiled in the Uri sector recently,” he said.
The army commander said the counter-infiltration grid was alert and the borders continue to remain secure, notwithstanding the situation in the valley.
“We have not pulled out one soldier from the borders.
In response to a question, he said everyone was worried about young boys joning militant ranks in the wake of the civil unrest in Kashmir.
“Everyone is worried, be it the central government, the state government, the security forces or army. There are no easy answers that we will do this or that which will stop it,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of a spurt in militant attacks after the unrest in Kashmir, Lt Gen Hooda said the ultras will always try for an upsurge in the the violence.
“I do not see the situation going out of hand (due to militancy related violence). Our posture is ready for it,” he said.
On the encounter that led to the killing of Burhan Wani, Lt Gen Hooda said “it was not a staged encounter. It did not finish in two and half minutes. Information about the presence of Burhan Wani (inside the house where he was killed) was not available (before hand).”