FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
"But what I have to do, I will do it. Whether it is diplomatic, whether it is pressure tactics or whether it is using the… woh usko bolte hain na Marathi mein kaante se kaanta nikaalte hain… Hindi mein bhi rahega… you have to neutralise terrorist through terrorist only.”
A statement by not an irresponsible Hindutva activist but by the Union Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar was ostensibly directed against Pakistan, but was internalised by Jammu and Kashmir that has become the battlefield for India-Pakistan proxy wars. A little coverage by sections of the media, and the statement soon passed into the void of public memory, but in Kashmir it has continued making an impact.
More so, as soon after the Defence Minister’s assertion, targeted assassination began in the Valley with gunmen slaying clearly specific targets. At least eight persons have been killed since May in this fashion, with the assassination of three year old Burhan and his father Bashir in their home sending shockwaves down the spine of this sensitive, volatile border state. The two gunmen first tried to kill them, and perhaps the entire family with a grenade, but then followed this with bullets that killed Bashir immediately. Burhan struggled to live and died later in hospital.
Targeted assassinations are fast becoming the norm, in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in Karnataka, Maharashtra as the murders of rationalists has demonstrated. But when it comes to the sensitive, border state these assassinations assume a whole new dimension, opening old wounds, adding to the constant insecurity in the state, feeding into the violence and conflict and because of the absence of reaction from New Delhi, adding to the feeling of deep isolation that in turn triggers off alienation.
More so as most of those killed have been former militants, now leading a normal life, or at least trying to. Most, or all, have been from Sopore that is currently terrified and traumatised. And the assassins have been heavily armed gunmen, who know who they are looking for and do not hesitate to burst into homes or shoot to kill on the roads in broad daylight.
There are two main theories about these assassinations. The common perception in Kashmir Valley—and perceptions are important as these mould reactions—is that the government is behind these killings. And almost everyone quotes Parrikar’s statement as providing evidence of unofficial government policy. The modus operandi of at least the last six killings, is similar as is the profile of the victims who were separatists released from jail at some point or the other. Separatist activist Sheikh Altaf-ur Rehman was a senior pharmacist in Sopore. He was released from police custody just two days before he was mowed down by unidentified gunmen. An Associated Press report that was published by the New York Times reported: "He was released from police custody only two days earlier before he was brutally murdered by Indian agents," said his 74-year-old father Sheikh Mohammed Yousuf, sitting in his home, tears trickling down his cheeks."What will police probe? We know who's behind these killings. We know the planners," Yousuf said. "Anyone can be used for pulling the trigger."
In just three days Khurshid Ahmed Bhat was killed, again a separatist sympathise and a trade union activist. Two more former rebels followed him, being assassinated in Sopore as well. Mehrajuddin Dar, who had been earlier with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the very next day Aijaz Ahmed Rashi who had been in prison several times. with alleged links with the terror group Hizbul Mujahideen in 2002. His brother was quoted in the AP report as saying, "he was now a contractor, leading somewhat a normal life. But he would always say: 'My life is nothing, soldiers will kill me any day.'"
Bashir Ahmed, killed now with his little child, was a militant 15 years ago but had given this up since. He was a fruit merchant in Baramulla and was killed at his home in Sopore while playing with his son Burhan whose body too was riddled with bullets. The two assassins left as easily as they came.
And this is really what feeds into the theory accusing the state of supporting, or carrying out these crimes. After every murder the police insist they will do “everything possible” to arrest the gunmen but to no avail. Not a single perpetrator of this spate of crimes has been arrested, and the assassins move through the highly fortified, security zone that is Kashmir with amazing ease. They shoot, they kill, and leave as effortlessly as they came. They do not wait for the cover of darkness to kill, but do so in broad daylight, with several eyewitnesses.
Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been silent through it all. He has nothing to say, as he is being accused by sections of the local Kashmiris of connivance through sheer apathy and negiigence to ensure an effective probe into the issue. His silence is compounding the theory of state complicity, unpunctured counter from the authorities. Instead comments like Parrikar’s and others from BJP leaders every now and again, feed into this perception, with the state now being seen as aggressive and proactively against the Valley.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear after his election campaign that he is least interested in Jammu and Kashmir except as territory. He has done this by ensuring that the funds required by the state government for the relief and rehabilitation of the flood victims are not released. And the issues the government has taken up—and of course also dropped—like segregated colonies for the Kashmiri pandits that were opposed by both communities in the state. There has not been a word of consolation to the families of the men killed, and it remains to be seen whether the unfortunate death of little Burhan makes New Delhi break its silence.
The second theory propounded by the establishment largely is that an internal factional fight within the Hizbul Mujahideen is responsible for these assassinations.However, despite this claim being made in June by the police not a shred of evidence has been provided so far to corroborate this version of the assassinations. Director General of Police K.Rajendra was quoted by the media in June as saying, “we’ve identified the militants and it’s only a matter of time before we get them. It’s an internal rivalry and an apparent split within their ranks leading to these killings."
The Hizbul Mujahideen, on its part, has been condemning the killings and blamed the government here.
The complete silence of both the state and central governments, and the absence of action even after the murders, certainly does not inspire confidence and trust amongst the Kashmiris.
The murder of toddler Burhan is being compared to the death of Syrian toddler Aylan whose body was washed ashore while he and his family were trying to escape to safer lands. Both innocent victims of violence.