By Farooq Wani
Kashmir has, over the last few decades since the advent of militancy, witnessed a high threshold of violence, leading to a large number of fatal casualties of both civilians and forces personnel. The year 2018 will be remembered as the year which saw the highest number of the casualties in a decade with the figure exceeding the 435 mark inclusive of militants , civilians and forces personnel.
What is most disturbing is that the number of civilians killed in 2018 stands at 111 which is more than double as compared to the previous year when 40 civilian were recorded. Most of the civilian casualties occurred when large crowds gathered for stone pelting and such like activities, especially so in places where encounters were in progress.
Besides casualties that occurred when the forces and police fired to disperse stone pelting crowds that were interfering with the ongoing operations at encounter sites, there were instances of civilians being killed in the crossfire between security forces and militants. A very tragic incident that claimed six lives and left more than 40 civilians injured occurred in Kulgam when an unexploded shell at an encounter site blew up while locals were sifting through the debris. These deaths were avoidable as there was no sense in rushing to the encounter site before it could be sanitised by the security forces. The tragedy lays focus on the need to curb a mob mentality mindset which has dangerous proponents.
Another tragic incident took place on 15, December during an encounter in Sirnoo village of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Three militants and one army man were killed in the encounter. Sadly, when the crowds gathered there got unruly, security forces opened fire killing seven civilians; the incident took place after the killing of the militants by the security forces. It was, as such, avoidable and unnecessary; it did not achieve anything.
Militancy related incidents also shot up from 342 last year to 430 this year! With 41 policemen being killed during the year, 2018 has recorded the highest number of police personnel casualties. Incidents of weapon snatching witnessed a marked increase with official records putting successful snatching incidents at a whopping 28. This increase can be attributed to a shortage of weapons and ammunition being felt by the militants due to a strong check on infiltration of both militants and weapons from Pakistan.
The strong counter-infiltration grid established by the army along the Line of Control (LoC) seems to be effective to a great extent. The year 2018 saw the spike in the kidnapping and abduction of locals serving in army, paramilitary forces and special police officers (SPOs) in south Kashmir. Most of the abducted policemen were killed.
The cycle of violence normally witnesses a decrease during the winter months but this year, despite the unprecedented cold wave and onset of the Chilli Kalan period, there is no let down in counter- operations, stone pelting or in the movement of militants.
It is important to remember that Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of partition between India and Pakistan. It is an internationally recognised dispute with claims on the territories being proffered by both Indian and Pakistan. Various form of conflict ranging from conventional war to the proxy and asymmetric warfare has yielded no results. According to official records the region has suffered more than 47,000 fatal casualties while thousands remain untraced.
A whole community of Kashmiri Pundits has been displaced and is living as refugees. Neither India nor Pakistan are willing to yielding from their rigid positions or coming forward to resolve the Kashmir problem with an open mind. Both are only playing the blame game due to which the problem has become akin to a festering sore. It is the people of Kashmir who are bearing the brunt of this face-off between two nuclear powers who do not have the option to go for an all out do or die war; it is they who are losing their homes, families, and lives.
The people of Kashmir are hoping for some positive change in 2019 and many sane voices are pleading to militants for abjure the path of militancy in favour of a political movement to achieve their aspirations. There is a wide belief that the incessant killing are leading nowhere and there is a need to restructure the narrative.
Showkat Ahmad Wani local Kashmiri’ Muslim when asked to give his views on the prevailing situation said “From 1989, Kashmir has been suffering the brunt of the war like situation. India and Pakistan should come forward to stop the human loss as the common people are suffering. A dialogue between the stakeholders should be initiated to look for a permanent solution. I hope that 2019 will come with a message of peace to the valley.”
”Reconciliation and dialogue are the only way out; reconciliation measures should be taken as violence is not the solution; India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the past it had resulted only in bloodshed on both sides without any favourable results. The dissent of the people cannot be suppressed by bullets. Alternative crowd controlling measures like water cannons, tear gases should be used during the protests to minimize the human loss. The draconian laws need to be revoked immediately. India should take forward the spirit of Kartarpur Sahib and start the dialogue with the Pakistan as well as the local leadership of Kashmir. If India can start an unofficial dialogue with the Taliban then why not Pakistan,” Najmul Saqib, an additional spokes person of PDP said.
It is sincerely hoped that the powers that be, in both India and Pakistan, will pay heed to the fervent appeal being made by the people of Kashmir and come forward to stop the debilitating cycle of violence. It is fervently hoped that 2019 will witness the emergence of a new era of peace that the Kashmir people aspire for with all their hearts.