Divided Kashmir government battles deadliest unrest in years

Srinagar, July 18 (IANS) The government in Jammu and Kashmir is not only fighting a war against stone-throwing mobs on the streets of Kashmir but also battling dissent within — over differences on whether to quell the violent unrest with a “more military approach” or a “softer”, caressing hand.

Highly placed sources told IANS here that a section of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s cabinet wanted the government to adopt a soft approach while dealing with street protesters and allow them to march without using “lethal force” after the July 8 killing of 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Another section in the cabinet, however, wanted the government to adopt a “firm hand” and be tough against stone throwers.

The divide over how to tackle the violent situation emerged in the cabinet meeting Mehbooba Mufti chaired in Srinagar to discuss the fallout of the killing of Wani — the social-media-savvy poster boy of new-age militancy in Kashmir — who had attracted a huge fan following among Kashmiri youth.

The sources, privy to the cabinet meeting, said those who wanted a hard line stance against the protesters urged the Chief Minister not to allow protest marches and gatherings for the funeral prayers of Wani on July 9.

Dozens of funeral prayers were offered in absentia across the Kashmir Valley and according to police sources, some 100,000 people gathered at the Eidgah prayer ground in his hometown of Tral, some 60 km from here, in south Kashmir.

Those favouring a hard line stance were of the view that if more killings occurred while controlling unruly mobs in such gatherings, “Pakistan would grab the opportunity” and its beleaguered government, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif battling corruption charges on account of the Panama Papers leaks, “would use it to its advantage and the situation will go out of our (the state government) control”.

And that is what happened. The government allowed protest marches and funeral prayers on the second day of Wani’s killing — the day most of the deaths occurred in clashes in south Kashmir. Over 40 people have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured in firing by security forces so far.

Pakistan immediately seized the chance and raked up the Kashmir issue, not only nationally, but also at international forums.

The group in favour of a tough stance asked the government to impose strict curfew all across the valley, arrest prominent separatist leaders and known stone throwers, and not to allow local newspapers to function from the first day of protest.

However, the view was shot down by other cabinet members who were of the opinion that the public outcry against the militant commanders’ killing was “but natural” and would fizzle out after his “chaharum” — the fourth day of death — was observed.

“They strongly opposed a tough stance and prevailed. And the result was out on the valley streets,” one of the sources told IANS.

The sources said that another major issue the government is facing currently is “the serious differences” between two top police officers, which has resulted in preventing intelligence sharing within the police force.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at sarwar.k@ians.in)




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