Three civilians killed during military ops: Kashmir on the brink yet again
Ishfaq Ahmad Wani, 24, was an expert motor mechanic at Rangreth, a Srinagar suburb. But on Tuesday morning, he ignored his mother’s repeated calls to go to his workshop at Batamaloo and instead chose to sleep for some more time.
But a call from a friend about an ongoing encounter at Chadoora woke him up and soon the two were driving to the site, which is located about 10 km away. Their aim was to join the other protesters who had gathered there. Apparently, some of the protestors were also trying to help the trapped militant escape the cordon.
Two hours later, Wani was brought dead to Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, the third civilian to die in their alleged attempt to disrupt the encounter site. He received bullet in his chest. The other two were identified as Zahid Rashid Ganai, 24, and Fayaz Ahmad Waza, 18, both from Chadoora.
The militant, 30-year-old Tauseef Ahmad Wagay, was also killed. The forces blew up the three-storey house in which he was holed up.
The killings have brought Kashmir on the verge of a fresh eruption of violence. Huge crowds thronged the funerals of the civilians and the militant.
At Rangreth, which is also Srinagar’s industrial hub, a massive procession blocked the road. Some youngsters pelted stones at the passing vehicles.
Similarly, at Yaripora Kulgam, the village of the slain militant, a familiar spectacle unfolded. Thousands of people poured into the village from the adjacent areas and stayed there till late into the night. The gathering spread all the way from the entry points into the village to the house of Wagay, with women watching and wailing, standing at rooftops and windows.
Many mourners held the rechargeable lanterns which illuminated the mourning scene. In the morning, thousands of others joined the funeral procession.
Wagay had joined Hizbul Mujahideen last year.
Hurriyat was quick to call for a day’s shutdown, their standard and now much ridiculed response to every crisis. This forced the private schools to announce holiday and the universities to cancel the scheduled examinations.
The Valley is seething over the killings of three civilians, seeing them as eminently avoidable had the security forces followed Standard Operating Procedure.
However, in February this year, new Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat said that “mobs who disrupt military operations would be treated as overground workers of terrorists”. This marked a change in the Army's SOP.
Meanwhile, situation has been further inflamed when a police team in Srinagar stopped the ambulance ferrying slain Zahid to his home and took the possession of the body despite stiff opposition from the family. The video of the incident shot by the deceased’s brother went viral on social media.
“See, they are not sparing even the dead. Why should we allow the police to take the body?” shouted Zahid's brother. The ensuing scuffle between the family and the police caught the attention of passersby who start shouting slogans, forcing the police to fire tear gas shells at them.
“Per encounter you kill 2 to 3 civilians now. Imagine 50 encounters taking place in a year, would you be happy with killing 100 to 150 civilians per year? The question is what would you achieve by these massacres-in-slow-motion? (sic),” asked Farooq Shah, an senior journalist, in a Facebook post.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed grief over the loss of lives and, once again, urged restraint.
“We know there are issues that need to be addressed and resolved but no one will be able to do anything at a point when violence has become a norm," Mehbooba said in a statement. "There is a need for restraint from all sides so that a conducive atmosphere is created and dissent is expressed in a peaceful way".
However, ever since the unrest last year which led to the killings of around a hundred people and blinding of several hundred others, the CM's statements have only stoked more anger. On social media, Mehbooba’s call for restraint and dialogue attracted scorn and ridicule.
“Before this unholy alliance, Mehboooba would have been out there on the front-lines protesting and publicly mourning. She would have urged restraint and demanded a political solution. What has happened now?” tourism consultant Carin Jodha Fischer wrote on Facebook, in response to the CM’s statement posted by her media consultant Suhail Bukhari.
“This post seemed very cold and it shocked me. It's not the Mehbooba I knew so intimately. She is the head of the unified command. Obviously SOPs must be changed since this is the new form of protests”.
Meanwhile, the protests over the civilian deaths have spread to Baramulla and Palhalan. In both places, youths took to streets and hurled rocks at the police and paramilitary forces to register their protest. In Srinagar, independent legislator Engineer Abdul Rasheed was detained by police along with dozens of his supporters after he tried to march towards CM’s residence.
Ar Khudwani, Kulgam, militants once again ransacked a senior police officer's house in a third such incident in the last seven days. The village falls in the neighbourhood of Yaripora, where the slain militant Tauseef hails from. A day earlier, militants had ransacked an assistant sub-inspector's house at Dairoo village of Shopian district.
Earlier, they attacked the house and torched the car of a Jammu and Kashmir Prisons Department officer in Budgam district. During all these incidents, the police officers were not present in their homes.
“More than the militants and the Hurriyat, the need is for the government to exercise restraint, caution and imagination,” says Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist. “The killings of the protesters are avoidable if only the government cares to make the security forces behave responsibly and operate professionally. Time to act is now. A few more civilian killings can once again push Kashmir over the edge”.