Editor's note: With Jammu and Kashmir under Governor's Rule for the eighth time, Firstpost will run a series of reported pieces, analytical articles and commentary to track the progress of events in the state.
Srinagar: Mohammad Arif, who is in his early twenties and is facing multiple stone-pelting cases, has been detained for three months. Arif was promised by a local People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader that cases against him will be withdrawn. "I agreed not to indulge in stone pelting if the cases against me are withdrawn," the boy, who hails from South Kashmir, said. Arif's father, a fruit vendor, said, "I want my son to study, but these cases are deterring him," and added that he has lost hope.
There are hundreds of boys like Arif who were hopeful that cases filed against them will be withdrawn. Earlier this year, the Jammu and Kashmir government approved withdrawal of cases registered against 9,730 people involved in stone-pelting " including first-time offenders " between 2008 and 2017. Between 2016-2017, at least 3,773 such cases were registered.
The PDP-BJP coalition which survived for three years witnessed unprecedented violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Less than four months after Mehbooba Mufti succeeded her father late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a popular commander of militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen Burhan Wani, was killed. This led to massive violence across the Valley, with more than a hundred civilians being killed and thousands injured in the months-long uprising. This also lead to a rise in the local militancy with more than a hundred locals joining various militia.
As the militant attacks grew, particularly the attack on pilgrims of Amarnath Yatra on 10 July, 2017, in which eight Hindu pilgrims were killed and at least 18 others injured, operation 'All-Out' was launched " a joint offensive launched by Indian Army, CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir police to flush out militants completely. In 2017, 220 militants were killed, most of whom were locals. More than 80 civilians were killed during militancy-related incidents the same year.
The Mehbooba-led coalition government came under pressure over the rising bloodshed. PDP was known as a soft-separatist party, and to re-gain that image they started different initiatives to restore peace. The decision was taken to give amnesty to first-time stone pelters. Mehbooba also advocated for ceasefire in Kashmir against the militants. But this seems to have not gone well with the BJP, due to which they withdrew their support. Governor's rule has been imposed in Kashmir, and it is being seen as the beginning of a 'muscular' approach.
Anti-militancy operations for peace: BJP
"We want peace in Kashmir," said Kavinder Gupta, former deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and senior BJP leader, but also added, "That doesn't mean you can let the stone pelters go, they are culprits and should be punished." Gupta said that when Mehbooba announced the withdrawal of cases against stone pelters, she had not approached BJP. "She would make decisions on her own. She called for the ceasefire without consulting us," said Gupta. He said that an anti-militancy operation must be put in place to bring peace. "Militants should be killed, and those trying to create problems, should be taught a lesson."
Previously, a large number of casualties were witnessed during encounters between militants and forces. Civilians would attempt helping the militants flee during gunfights, which caused major hurdle for the forces. Jammu and Kashmir Police chief, SP Vaid, however, said that change in power would not make a difference. "We have been doing operations, and will continue to do so. We will ensure minimum civilian casualties," Vaid said.
'Violence not answer to violence'
The locals in Kashmir say that they felt relieved during the the time when anti-terror operations were suspended in the Valley. "On normal days, there were routine search operations by the forces. They would vandalise property and beat locals," says Aamir Malik from Kulgam, adding, "On those days, it was relatively peaceful, but now routine searches have started again."
An Indian Army official, who requested anonymity, said that anti-militancy operations are going to rise. "The increasing recruitment of local militants is worrying. We have to clean the area, as these militants lure others," the officer said.
The government had mounted pressure on separatists earlier, as the National Investigative Agency (NIA) intensified its operations in Kashmir. Top separatist leaders were arrested in the terror-funding case. Gupta added that the NIA is likely to resume its operations, while experts say that these tactics are meant to serve BJP's political interests in the upcoming elections.
"Both BJP and PDP failed to draw any tangible advantage from their alliance. Rather, both failed to satisfy their respective constituents in the Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu Jammu. They (PDP and BJP) were desperately trying to score points so as to catch gain popularity in their respective constituencies, and BJP took the lead," Shah Abbas, a senior journalist based in Srinagar, said. "Now, when the BJP has direct control over Kashmir through the Governor, it will try to tackle the Kashmir situation in its own way, so that it can sell that during the upcoming general elections," Abbas said.
Leader's from other parties think that a muscle approach is going to make matters worse. "Only proper dialogue can bring peace in Kashmir. Violate can't be the answer to violence," says Altaf Kaloo, national conference MLA from south Kashmir's, Pahalgam.
The author is a Srinagar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters