Srinagar: Deepening the political uncertainty in Jammu and Kashmir, Union home minister Amit Shah on Saturday ruled out the restoration of its statehood before elections and completion of the delimitation exercise. This demand has repeatedly been made by regional parties of Kashmir.
“Elections will happen. (Kashmiri politicians want the) delimitation (process to) be stopped. Why? Because it hurts their politics. Now such things will not stop in Kashmir,” he said at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC).
“Kashmiri youth will get opportunities, so a right delimitation will be done, which will be followed by elections and then the status of the statehood will be restored. I have said this in the parliament and this is the roadmap,” he said.
Shah’s remarks came on a day when both the National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asked the Union government to change its policy on Kashmir, where the security climate has worsened significantly in the past few weeks.
The home minister said the Union government’s decision to read down Article 370 has marked a “new beginning” in Jammu and Kashmir “from fear, terrorism, corruption and family-based politics to peace, development, and prosperity.”
“The transparency and corruption-free governance Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed since 2019 is the pillar of the region’s development. Would it be possible without abrogating Article 370?” he asked.
However, NC president and former Union minister Farooq Abdullah, who is in Jammu, told a TV network that the recent targeted killings of civilians in Kashmir should serve as an “eye-opener for those who used to say terror will be eliminated after abrogation of Article 370.”
“You [the government] won’t be able to bring peace till you restore Article 370,” he said.
PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti also said that J&K has been “thrown into chaos” following the reading down of Article 370 and described the situation as “an engineered crisis.” Seeking confidence-building measures, she said “cosmetic steps” will not resolve the “problem” in Kashmir.
“Instead prior to [Amit Shah’s] visit, 700 civilians were detained, booked under PSA & many shifted to jails outside Kashmir. Such oppressive steps further vitiate an already tense atmosphere. ‘Normalcy acrobatics’ are in full swing while reality is denied & obfuscated,” she said on Twitter.
Instead prior to his visit 700 civilians were detained, booked under PSA & many shifted to jails outside Kashmir. Such oppressive steps further vitiate an already tense atmosphere. ‘Normalcy acrobatics’ are in full swing while reality is denied & obfuscated.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) October 23, 2021
A renewed wave of insurgency-related violence has left close to three dozen civilians dead in Kashmir this year, including political workers. Several police officers and other security officials were also killed by ‘hybrid militants’ in “shoot-and-scoot” attacks, which has emerged as a major challenge for Kashmir’s counterterrorism grid.
However, the home minister sounded confident about the security situation while asserting that the government’s tough approach in Kashmir would continue. “Terrorism has reduced (in Kashmir). The incidents of stone-pelting have come down. Let me assure you that strict action will be taken against those who want to ruin the peace of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Shah started his three-day visit to J&K by meeting the family of a J&K police inspector who was shot dead earlier this year by suspected militants in the capital Srinagar. This is his first visit to J&K after the Union government unilaterally read down Article 370 and bifurcated the erstwhile state into two Union Territories.
The home minister’s flight landed at the Srinagar airport on Saturday forenoon after a brief period of uncertainty due to massive downpour brought by the season’s first snowfall in the plains of Kashmir. He was received by J&K’s lieutenant governor (LG) Manoj Sinha.
Shah’s cavalcade then drove straight to the residence of Pervez Ahmad, a counterterrorism police officer who was shot dead by suspected militants in June when he was on his way to offer prayers at a neighbourhood mosque in the city’s Nowgam locality.
Besides LG Sinha, Shah was accompanied to Ahmad’s residence by Union minister of state, Jitendra Singh; J&K’s chief secretary A.K. Mehta and senior police officers.
The home minister offered condolences to the family and handed an order for the appointment of the slain inspector’s next of kin in the government, an official in the J&K administration said.
Inspector Pervez is among nearly a dozen police officials who have been killed in Kashmir in a renewed wave of insurgency-related violence that has also left close to three dozen civilians dead this year as well.
After meeting the inspector’s family, Shah drove to the Raj Bhawan where he chaired a security review meeting with senior J&K Police and Army officers, including the corps commanders, chiefs of the intelligence bureau, Central armed police forces and other security agencies. The meeting lasted for nearly four hours.
The spate of killings in the valley
Sources said the deterioration of the security situation in the month of October, the spike in violence in Srinagar and the ongoing search operation in the border district of Poonch, where nine Army soldiers, including at least two officers, lost their lives in two encounters while fighting militants earlier this month, dominated the proceedings of the meeting.
In the past two weeks, 11 civilians, including migrant workers and members of Kashmir’s minority community, have been killed in suspected militant attacks, most of them in Srinagar which was declared “militancy free” just a year ago, while 17 militants have been gunned down by security forces during this period.
The home minister was briefed about the “twin threats of radicalisation and (rising instances of) home-grown terrorism”, even though there has been a heavy deployment of security forces and “extensive outreach efforts” have been made by the central government and the J&K administration.
“The narrative of the Centre is that J&K is safe for everyone… but these killings prove minorities and outsiders are not safe. This is a big concern for government… so a strategy to further reassure people was discussed,” a home ministry official told NDTV.
“Nevertheless, the government’s strategy to counter the narrative of pro-Pakistan voices is not working — this is after various raids and arrests by the National Investigation Agency (NIA),” the official said.
The J&K official quoted above told The Wire that the armed forces and other security agencies were asked to give a “push” to the counterterrorism operations in Kashmir for thwarting the attempts of militants to “disrupt the peace”.
Ahead of the high-profile visit, there has been a massive build-up of security forces in Kashmir, particularly in Srinagar which has lately emerged as the epicentre of militant attacks on migrant workers and minorities. Photos of new sand-bag bunkers coming up in the city, purportedly for additional military deployment, were shared widely on social media.
According to news reports, 50 additional companies of paramilitary forces are being inducted into the valley due to the recent spike in targeted killings.
Security agencies have mounted aerial surveillance of the routes in Kashmir which will be used by the home minister as well as the areas which he is scheduled to visit over the next three days. Several dozen checkpoints have come up on the outskirts of Srinagar, parts of which remain out of bounds for locals.
Last week, the J&K Police have seized several hundreds of bikes, disrupting the e-commerce sector and other trades which depend on two-wheelers to keep their services afloat. The police has, however, dismissed speculations that the seizures were linked to the home minister’s visit.
The police had also launched a crackdown across Kashmir, detaining around 700 people, allegedly without charges, under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The government also ordered the transfer of 26 overground workers lodged in different prisons across J&K to the Agra Central Jail.
The NIA has also filed a case on October 10 in connection with the civilian killings in October and eight persons, including the sister of an ISIS militant who was gunned down in an encounter with security forces in 2017 on the outskirts of Srinagar, were arrested on Friday.
The case has been filed against unnamed persons allegedly associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Al Badr and the recently floated The Resistance Front and the People Against Fascist Forces.
The agency raided 10 locations in Srinagar, Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag and Baramulla district. Those arrested were identified as Sobhia, sister of Mugees Mir, the ISIS militant, Adil Ahmad War, Manan Gulzar Dar, Hilal Ahmed Dar, Rouf Bhatt, Shaqib Bashir, Zamin Adil and Haris Nisar Langoo.
The agency has accused them of working as “operatives of various proscribed terrorist organisations” and providing them “logistical and material support.”
Meanwhile, after lunch at the Raj Bhawan, the home minister drove to the nearby SKICC, where he interacted with youth delegations. While some youngsters were sitting in the audience at the SKICC auditorium, many others joined over video conferencing.
Later in the evening, the home minister inaugurated the resumption of direct international flights from Srinagar’s Sheikh-ul-Alam airport. The first flight, operated by Go First, took off from the airport to Sharjah in the UAE. Shah also met with the families of civilians and members of security forces who were recently killed by militants.