A Tragedy Foretold

  • Shabir Ibn Yusuf
  • Publish Date: May 26 2017 2:29AM
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  • Updated Date: May 26 2017 2:29AM
A Tragedy Foretold

                                           Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

2017 is shaping up to be Kashmir’s bloodiest year in recent memory

Increasingly, the spiralling violence in 2017 is bringing back memories of the 1990s. Already, this year has witnessed the highest number of civilian, militant and military casualties in eight years. And it’s worrying the army, police and paramilitary forces.

Senior military officials pointed out that violence is increasing “despite manifold increase” in crackdowns, arrests, and area domination exercises by the government forces. And militants have only grown bolder, regularly gathering in their dozens, as is evident from their photographs and videos posted online. Stone-pelting protesters are holding anything back either.

“Last year incidentally was one of bloodiest for the security forces. As many as 87 security personnel were killed, the highest since 2008,” states a report prepared by the police. Yet, the casualty count for the first five months of this year has risen 18-fold compared to the corresponding period in 2016.

At the end of April, the government forces had lost 12 men, nine of them from the army, two from the police and one CRPF constable. In May, six policemen have been killed so far.

Civilian deaths in 2017 number at least 27. “Five civilians were killed by security forces during clashes aimed at helping holed up militants escape,” states the report. “The worst violence took place in Chadoora, Budgam, in March, where three civilians were killed on the sidelines of a gunfight.”

Another nine people were killed in police and paramilitary firing on crowds protesting the byelection to the Srinagar-Ganderbal-Budgam parliamentary constituency on April 9.

“The civilians killed included workers of mainstream political parties who were shot dead by unknown gunmen,” the report adds.

The casualty count of military personnel had been declining over the past few years before rising sharply in 2016. Records maintained by the police show that the number of military personnel killed dropped from 61 in 2013 to 51 in 2014 and 41 in 2015.

On the other hand, a senior police official pointed out, the number of militants killed rose steadily from 84 in 2012 to 100, 110 and 113 in the subsequent years.

The civilian casualty count has fluctuated since the 2008, when the first non-violent Azadi agitation erupted in Kashmir. Over a hundred people were killed by government forces during the 2010 agitation. At least 97 people were killed during the four-month agitation in 2016 triggered by the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in July.

This year, the senior police officer feared, there will be more casualties in the remaining months – civilian, militant and military. Not least, the officer added, because militants have grown confident. “Their confidence can be gauged from the attack on the army personnel returning the major cordon and search operation in Shopian on May 4,” the officer said. The attack left a civilian driver dead and three soldiers injured.

Another worry for the security establishment is increasing popular support for militants. “Local youth are constantly joining militants, and support for them is increasing,” the police officer pointed out, adding that could lead to “steep increase in incidents of militancy-related violence in the coming months.” Referring to reports that militants have been “openly roaming in some pockets of south Kashmir”, the officer said “such actions” could not be underestimated.

In south Kashmir in particular, militants have barged into the homes of at least a dozen policemen and threatened the families to ask their children to quit the force. And at least three men associated with the state’s pro-India political parties have bee killed as well.