Rajasthani truck driver killed in Shopian: Terror link in murder reveals Pakistan's designs, western media's duplicity on Kashmir

Sreemoy Talukdar

A tragic incident that took place on Monday evening catches accurately the dystopian reality of the Kashmir Valley, and the deviousness of Pakistan, that is desperate to prevent Jammu and Kashmir from returning to normalcy. Two terrorists €" one of them suspected to be a Pakistani national €" have killed the driver of an apple truck and assaulted an orchard owner in Sindhu Shirmal village of south Kashmir's Shopian district. The trucker was from Rajasthan.

Initial investigations indicate that the terrorists belong to either Jaish-e-Muhammad or Hizbul Mujahideen €" two UN-designated terrorist organisations that operate out of Pakistan and its occupied territory in Kashmir. According to the police, villagers tried to save the civilian, but the terrorists thrashed them as well.

A report in The Times of India notes that Sharif Akram Khan, who is from Bharatpur in Rajasthan, was loading apples on his truck to take them to the wholesale fruit market when terrorists opened fire. After killing Khan, the terrorists torched the vehicle and tried to set the apple orchard on fire as well. The orchard's owner, one Shakeel Ahmad Bhatt, was beaten up for daring to conduct business.

The gravity of this crime may remain unrecognised even at home, and the western media €" that has emerged as a major critic of India's decision to remove Kashmir's semi-autonomous status €" will likely ignore this incident because it sits at grievous odds with the dominant international narrative on Kashmir.

And yet, this incident reveals the game that Pakistan is playing in Kashmir. On the one hand, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan claims to be spending sleepless nights and nurturing a bleeding heart in support of Kashmiris in India, while on the other hand, the country sends terrorists across the border to kill and create an atmosphere of fear and terror in the Valley, so that the apple harvesting season may be disrupted, Kashmir's economy may remain crippled and subsequent anger and frustration may rise.

Pakistan calculates that this will give Khan, who has threatened nuclear war against India from the UN podium, the chance to tell the world that India's move to abrogate Article 370 has brought misery on ordinary Kashmiris. And the most amusing part of this tragic jigsaw is that western media outlets seem to have given Pakistan a free pass. They remain steadfastly oblivious to its machinations in the Valley, pretending that Kashmir was Switzerland before Narendra Modi turned it into Palestine on 5 August and the Pakistan prime minister is a bona fide 'apostle of peace'.

That the killing of the trucker who tried to ferry apples and assault of the orchard owner isn't a stray incident becomes clear when we put the incident in proper context. A major part of the reason behind India's communication lockdown in Kashmir post 5 August, that was partially removed on Monday, was that terrorists and its handlers across the border use internet and mobile communication networks to carry out their subversive activities.

While briefing the media on the security situation in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval told reporters that Indian intelligence agencies have intercepted communication between terrorists and their Pakistani handlers on disrupting the apple harvesting season.

"There are Pakistani communication towers 20 kilometres along the border, and they are trying to send messages. We heard intercepts that told their men 'how are so many apple trucks moving, can't you stop them? Should we send you bangles?," Doval told the journalists, referring to the apple-laden trucks that shuttle between apple orchards and local markets.

Readers would note that the trucker who was killed on Monday was from Rajasthan. This may raise the question why a driver from outside the state was driving the apple-laden truck when there is no dearth of local labour in Kashmir. For answers, we need to look at what happened last month.

Hamidullah Rather, a prominent fruit merchant in Sopore's market, was targeted by terrorists for defying their diktat of keeping his business suspended to "protest" against Centre's move. Two terrorists reportedly barged into Rather's residence, but the trader was not at home so they opened fire on his family members and injured his son and two-month-old granddaughter, Asma Jan, whose condition was reported to be critical. Doval subsequently passed orders to airlift Asma to Delhi for better medical care.

The aim of this attack was to instill fear in the minds of Kashmiris so that they do not dare conduct business. Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir's horticulture department released figures that indicate a bumper apple harvest in Kashmir that matches the production of 2017-18, belying fears, as Praveen Swami had noted in Firstpost, that the "decision to end the state's special status, as well as labour shortages and violence, were forcing farmers to leave their fruit crop, valued at Rs 1,200 crore, to rot."

However, despite the bumper crop and government's price control mechanism to remove the middlemen and procure directly from farmers at a better price, trucks remained scarce at Azadpur wholesale apple market in Delhi, indicating that the terrorists are succeeding in their tactic of intimidating the locals.

In this context, the murder of a driver from Rajasthan indicates that labourers from outside the state were moving in to facilitate movement of trucks, and therefore Monday's killing appears even more sinister. It sends a message that not only would the terrorists prevent locals from conducting business and providing services, these Pakistan-sponsored terrorists would stop at nothing in crippling Kashmir's economy so that Pakistan's political objective is met.

And amid all this, we will have international media outlets and agencies claiming that the Indian government is responsible for the misery of apple farmers in Kashmir.

It is easy to understand why Pakistan is trying to create instability in Kashmir. What remains inexplicable is the willful suspension of disbelief that drives the toxic narrative on Kashmir in international fora. One hopes the murder of a hapless truck driver who was merely trying to get on with his life would serve as a reminder that there is more than one truth when it comes to Kashmir.

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