Kupwara attack: Mehbooba's strategy meeting fails to change ground reality
A fidayeen attack is unlike an encounter in which security forces track down militants and kill them. Here it is the militants that attack a security camp to kill and get killed in the process.
So, one hardly expects people sympathetic to the militants to protest.
But the suicide attack in North Kashmir's Kupwara early on Wednesday morning turned this wisdom on its head. People still protested, and in the process, one more civilian was killed.
A pre-dawn attack on the Artillery headquarters of the 155 Field Regiment at Panzgam Kupwara led to the killing of three soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer, besides the two militants.
By late morning, the operation had been wrapped up, and everything seemed back to normal. But soon, residents from the surrounding areas rose up in protest.
The reason? They demanded the mortal remains of the slain militants.
What happened next
According to a new government policy, the Army doesn't return the bodies of foreign militants to local residents, but buries them at unidentified locations, to avoid the large-scale mobilisations witnessed during funerals of militants.
But the protesters demanded the return of the bodies so that they could bury them at the local graveyard. Then, faced with the refusal to do so from the local administration, they shouted pro-Azadi slogans and lobbed stones.
What's more, they marched towards the Army camp, forcing the soldiers to open fire. A protestor, Mohammad Yousuf, 45, was killed on the spot, taking the toll to six.
“A road separates the Army camp from the village Panzgam. When villagers crossed the road over to the Army camp, the soldiers fired at them,” said Fayaz Ahmad, a local journalist.
The Army officer killed in the attack has been identified as Captain Ayush Yadav. The other two soldiers killed were Subedar Bhoop Singh Gujjar and Naik B Venkata Ramanna.
Five other soldiers who suffered injuries were airlifted to the Army's 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar.
This followed a day after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired a meeting of the Unified Headquarters in Srinagar, during which she advocated restraint by the security forces in anti-militancy operations.
She asked various security agencies to ensure no civilians were killed during law-and-order situations, or while dealing with civilian protesters near the sites of gunfights between militants and government forces.
The chiefs of all security agencies were present at the meeting, which lasted four hours.
Endorsing her position, Commander of the Srinagar based 15 Corps, Lt Gen JS Sandhu, later on Wednesday said that the Army will take all necessary measures to ensure the common people were protected during anti-militancy operations.
“We had thorough deliberations at the UHQ meet on the issue of dealing with civilian protesters near encounter sites,” Sandhu told reporters on the sidelines of the concluding day of the two-day, army-sponsored event, 'Jashn-e-Baramulla', held at Boys Degree College, Baramulla. “Government forces will ensure that during such operations civilians are protected.”
However, the Kupwara attack has proved how difficult it will be to translate these words into deeds. The protests and the stone-throwing have become too endemic to be controlled by a tough security response. In fact, every killing of a militant or a civilian only fans more resentment and fearlessness, leading to more protests and more killings.
“There are now around 300 militants in the Valley. This means all their killings will trigger mass mobilisations and force the security personnel to open fire,” said a police officer. “This has created a fraught situation, a perpetual state of turmoil.”
Centre takes notice
The grim state of affairs seems to have been finally realised by the Centre too. On Thursday, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh held a high-level security review meeting where top officials were present.
Singh reviewed the progress in implementation of the Rs 80,000 crore mega package and works of various development initiatives announced for Jammu and Kashmir in the recent past.
The meeting revealed that 25% of funds from the total package, around Rs 19,000 crore, have been released to the state.
However, the Centre is yet to make up its mind on a meaningful political outreach sought by Mehbooba. The Centre, sources in the state government revealed, is seeking a handle on the current runaway situation before it can think of instituting political dialogue with various political and civil society stakeholders in the state.