In a very unfortunate incident in Kashmir on Friday, 9 April, terrorists shot dead a Territorial Army (TA) soldier, Havaldar Mohammad Saleem Akhoon, near his home in Goriwan, Bijbehara. The soldier belonged to 162 Infantry Battalion (TA) and had been granted leave from March 22 for 40 days.
The brutal murder of the innocent soldier was in line with a well crafted policy of the terrorist cadre to increase violent activity in the Kashmir Valley. Undoubtedly, they have been pressurised by their masters sitting across the border to do so. The terrorist outfit Al Badr and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) that have a distinct Pakistan signature are in the forefront of this activity.
The response of the security forces was swift and relentless. No sooner did the terrorists attempt to surface they were located and engaged. Within two days of the murder of Mohammad Saleem Akhoon, the two terrorists responsible for the dastardly act were killed in a counter-terrorist operation in Bijbehara, Anantnag. They were identified as Towseef Ahmad Bhat and Aamir Hussain Ganie, hard core terrorists who had been in the field for a few years; Towseef had joined the terrorist cadre 2017 and Ganie had joined in 2018. Even during the encounter they attempted to keep civilian hostages to save themselves but the security forces, in a most professional manner, first evacuated all civilians and then engaged the terrorists.
Apart from this encounter, 10 more terrorist have been killed since the murder of Havaldar Mohammad Saleem Akhoon even though the other encounters are not related to his death. Seven terrorists were killed at Tral and Shopian and three terrorists belonging to the Al Badr outfit were killed at Haripora.
Among the terrorists killed was a 14 year old boy; the security forces made appeals for surrender and even asked his parents to come and convince him, sadly, his companions did not allow him to come out. Such is the brutality of the terrorists that led to loss of a young life for no purpose.
Since the security forces have successfully kept an iron grip on the safety measures, the youth of Kashmir are finding new ways to enjoy their freedom and aspire for new heights. Even as the encounters were going on, a fashion show titled, “Kashmir Fashion Show” was held in Tagore Hall, Srinagar on 10 April. It was organised by JK Youth Society. 10 designers and 22 models of Kashmir took part in the event. The beautifully organised event showcased the talent of the youth of Kashmir and their aspiration to be among the best in the world.
The youth of Kashmir are not afraid to seek opportunities and explore new vistas. They are more focussed on the need to progress than on issues involving abrogation of Article 370 and future elections in the Union Territory etc. They feel that these are routine political aspects and not the end all of their lives. This new thought process of the youth has not been understood by some among the older generation of the state.
Lt Gen DP Pandey addressing a Press Conference in Kashmir
There are reports of some clerics criticising the show and similar events held earlier. In many cases threats have been issued. Such actions are definitely the outcome of foreign interference in the affairs of the Kashmir Valley and are pursued by some local elements purely for financial and other gains.
The fact that a fun event like a fashion show that is so much a part of the modern world was thus criticised and the orders given to the depleted terrorist cadre to increase the terrorist activity are indicative of the fact that the inimical foreign powers involved in Kashmir are quite rattled by the manner in which changes are coming about in the Valley. The pace of changes is a big cause of worry which is leading to desperate measures like throwing the available terrorist cadre into the fire and using coercion and propaganda to stop progressive activity.
The next challenge for the administration of Jammu and Kashmir is to put a complete stop on the recruitment of young men and boys into the fold of terrorism. The need of the hour is to isolate the fundamentalists and insulate the youth against them. Presently in Kashmir, it is only the progressive elements that are integrated into the national mainstream, now the entire population needs to be included. If we can get all of the youth on board then it can be said that complete normalcy has been ushered in the Valley; only then can complete victory over forces of evil be declared.
The need for a policy of this nature has been further highlighted by Lt. General DP Pandey, who has recently taken over the appointment of General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar based Chinar Corps. “We seek to break the cycle of violence by two elements. First, creating an environment that prevents fresh recruitment. Second, targeting the OGW (over ground worker) network that feeds and sustains terrorism.” He made a similar comment in a press conference that he addressed in Kashmir. General Pandey has had many tenures in the valley at different ranks and appointments; his words carry a lot of experience behind them and are in line with the time tested policy of the Indian Army of “winning hearts and minds” of the local populace.
Now that the Improved security situation has paved the way for progress and prosperity, it is the civil administration that needs to take centre stage. The army and other forces will, of course, join in with their ongoing efforts.
Development alone cannot bring in results in an environment where structured alienation over several generations is a reality. The response has to be beyond the blinkered thinking of the bureaucracy. It needs a statesmanship, good leadership and a humane touch. Undoubtedly, a lot of effort is being made in this direction, necessary course corrections should be carried out to ensure that the desired result is attained soonest and in a time bound manner.
(Jaibans Singh is an analyst, columnist and commentator)