With the number of civilian killings mounting in Kashmir, puncturing the fragile clam, the region is staring at yet another summer of unrest, poising a serious challenge to 4-month old PDP led state government

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|| RAHUL RAINA

         On July 8, the fragile calm in the Valley was broken with the news of the killing of 21- year old militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in a “brief but fierce encounter” with police and army in Kokernang area of South Kashmir. By the time the militant commander, who had gained popularity among Kashmir’s young. was buried in his home town of Tral in Pulwama district, the Valley was already staring at yet another summer of unrest. That his funeral prayers saw participation of more than two lakh people, young and old, despite authorities imposing strict curfew across Kashmir, was an indication of the anger that was going to soon fill the streets of Kashmir.

      In the next three days when the number of people shot dead by the forces swelled to more than 20, the writing was on the wall for Mehbooba Mufti State Government which had assumed the office just two months ago and had claimed to work for building peace in the State and acting as bridge strengthening the relations between arch rivals India and Pakistan. In the days that followed the government machinery disappeared from the scene as the rage grew on the streets with people coming out in large numbers and mourning the death of their “hero” while reinforcing the reality that Kashmir was an issue beyond the rhetoric of jobs and development.

     “It is now or never. We have heard enough promises from politicians belonging to PDP, National Conference and other parties. This time we won’t let it die down, we will take this fight to logical conclusion,” a large group of youth vowed at the funeral prayers of Burhan at Tral Edigah. The words echoed across south Kashmir, which has been the epicenter of the protests, in the coming days as the situation took ugly turn with the number of killings swelling with each passing day as protests reached north and central parts of Kashmir. Though strict curfew was in put place across the Valley, people in south and central Kashmir defied restrictions and took to the roads as the region slipped into a fresh cycle of unrest – a reminder of the 2008 and 2010 summer agitations in Kashmir in which over 180 civilians were killed. Amid growing criticism against the police and paramilitaries for targeting protestors above the waist, the government said security personnel were compelled to retaliate owing to attacks on police stations and army camps. At the same time the, in the biggest clampdown on the communication, the government snapped the mobile phones services and internet facility across Kashmir even as newspapers were banned from publication for four days.

      “The mobs set ablaze so many police stations and police vehicles and tried to overrun security forces camps at various places… If you see the footage, small kids who do not know [what is going on] have stones in their hands. I urge the youth not to take protests to a level where the forces are forced to use their weapons in retaliation,” government spokesman and senior minister Naeem Akthar told media. “If they want the steps taken for saving lives and restoring peace to succeed, we need their support,” said Akhtar as the Government which was now struggling to restore normalcy appealed for “maximum restraint” from both sides.

      The situation however forced the jittery Chief Minister, whose government is facing severe criticism over its handling of the situation following the killing Burhan, to call an All Party meeting in Srinagar to find a way to restore normalcy on July 21. “A new course for J&K can be chalked out only by reaching out to all the stakeholders including the youth who have to pay a huge price because of the uncertainties plaguing the state for the past more than six decades,” Mehbooba said as she pitched for the revival of the India- Pakistan dialogue contradicting the Modi government at New Delhi which had trained guns on Islamabad for “sponsoring” the ongoing protests in the Valley.

      Mehbooba even sought help from seperatists to help restore normalcy in Kashmir, which that was fast slipping out of their hands, as she stressed the need for taking “all stakeholders” on board for addressing the problems confronting the state and carrying forward the peace and reconciliation process. Responding to the State Government’s call, seperatists leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani set six conditions for return of peace in J&K including accepting the disputed nature of J&K and announcing the acceptance of the people’s right to self determination, announcing rapid demilitarisation process of population centres and repealing laws like AFSPA and Public Safety Act.

At the same time the, in the biggest clampdown on the communication, the government snapped the mobile phones services and internet facility across Kashmir even as newspapers were banned from publication for four days.

       Other conditions include releasing all the political prisoners from prisons, detention centres and house arrest and restore their right to free political activity, allowing UN Special Rapporteurs and all international human rights and humanitarian organisations to work in J&K and announcing free political space for all the parties to the disputed State “We believe a good beginning could be made to create an atmosphere conducive for peace and resolution if you use your good offices to urge India to take the following few confidence building measures,” Geelani said. But the situation continued to escalate as the death toll kept mounting.

         On July 21 when Mushtaq Ahmed Bhat son of Bashir Ahmad Bhat of Charsoo, Awantipora succumbed to injuries caused due to the tear gas shell fired by forces on the protestors, he became the 5oth victim of the unrest as police and paramilitary forces came under sharp criticism for using “excessive force” and targeting the protestors above waist. As the state government struggled to normalize the situation, the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in the Valley on 2-day visit to Valley to review political and security situation.

       In an apparent reference to Geelani’s demand, Singh said the government of India was ready to talk to “whosever needed”. But he put the ride that the talks would be held only when the situation normalizes even as he appealed people to help restore normalcy in Kashmir while warning Pakistan “not to meddle in India’s internal matters.” “Any difference of opinion can be resolved through dialogue only. There can be no other solution,” he said as he asked the security forces to “refrain from using pellet guns as much as possible”. The situation on the ground however continues to be grim and it remains to be seen how the state government would see through this fresh cycle of unrest with Kashmir staring at yet another summer of unrest.