The altercation that consumed another Kashmiri life on Monday evening began when soldiers of an Indian Army patrol allegedly snatched mobile phones from over a dozen youths during random frisking of commuters in the Nowpora village of south Kashmir's Kulgam. Aggrieved locals alleged that the soldiers demanded that they show them the photo galleries on their phones, apparently for the soldiers to check if there were any pictures or videos of militants.
Within minutes, the agitated youths began pelting stones at the army, sparking clashes. What led to the escalation in protests was a video showing the army and policemen turning some youths into human shields in order to protect themselves from stones being pelted at them during the frisking operation. The video went viral on social media, provoking further protests and violent clashes.
In response, witnesses said the army fired directly at the protesters, resulting in bullet injuries to two civilians. One of them was identified as Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, a local, who was declared brought dead at a hospital where he was rushed for treatment.
Witnesses said that Ajaz was among more two dozen people lined up by the army for frisking. One of his friends said it has become a routine for the forces over the past few years to check mobile phones of locals and search for militancy-related photos or videos. According to rights activists, if any such content is found on any mobile, the owner is subjected to harassment, beatings or even arbitrary detention.
"It is a new tactic of intimidation used by cops and army soldiers. They demand mobile phones from pedestrians and commuters, and check them for militancy-related content. It is nothing more than harassment," said Mudasir Ahmad Kanjwal, a resident of Bajerpora-Nowpora in Kulgam district, over the phone.
Another youth injured in the army firing on Monday and identified as Rayees Ahmad Shan (a tractor driver by profession) has been referred to a Srinagar hospital for treatment.
The death in Kulgam is the third civilian killing in the past four days and it comes a day after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced an end to the month-long halt in counterinsurgency operations, much against the wishes of the state government headed by Mehbooba Mufti.
In south Kashmir, the epicentre of anti-India and pro-freedom protests since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016, the forces had put a complete halt on counterinsurgency operations against militants. Random cordon and search operations had also stopped, bringing a temporary end to the record-breaking levels of bloodshed in the Valley this year.
"Fewer militant attacks had taken place during this month," Director-General of Police SP Vaid, said, "which were carried out by people who are enemies of peace." According to sources, close to two dozen grenades were lobbed at security forces who came under attack as militants rejected the Centre's unilateral offer to suspend counterinsurgency operations.
With the Centre calling off the 'temporary ceasefire', the situation seems to be sliding back into chaos. On Monday afternoon, two video clips of "informers" surfaced on social media, purportedly showing the men admitting to having passed on crucial information to forces that led to the killings of militants.
In the videos, two youths identified as Ajaz Ahmad Mir and Sheraz Ahmad Malik, both residents of Tren village of Shopian, can be seen shivering out of fear as the militants question them about their role in the militant killings. It is not known whether the two men are still alive.
This follows another killing on the day of Eid in Anantnag during clashes between protesters and security forces that turned violent. With the situation hotting up, Kashmir is bracing for more bloodshed as government forces are likely to give a push to counterinsurgency operations after a 30-day break. Two operations were launched on Monday in Samboora and Bijbehara of south Kashmir's Pulwama district for the first time in over a month.
The political situation also seems to be deteriorating with the BJP high command summoning all its ministers in Jammu and Kashmir to the National Capital for a crucial meeting on Tuesday after the end of the 'ceasefire'. The meeting will take place at a time when the law and order situation in the Valley is worsening and the state government is facing other security and development-related challenges.
The Peoples Democratic Party, the alliance partner of the BJP in the state, was hoping that the suspension of counterinsurgency operations would be extended beyond the month of Ramzan as a way for the mainstream to wrest back the control of volatile areas in south Kashmir where governance-delivery systems recorded colossal damage in the past two years. However, the efforts of Mehbooba's party to restore even a semblance of peace have come to a naught. With the party's credibility at an all-time low in Kashmir, its leadership has apparently started taking a recourse to basics.
PDP vice-president, Muhammad Sartaj Madni demanded an FIR against the patrolling party of 9 Rashtriya Rifles and an impartial inquiry to probe the circumstances in which a youth was killed and another injured in Kulgam on Monday evening. "It is tragic that civilians of my village are losing their lives for no fault of theirs. I demand immediate and strict action against those who are directly involved in the civilian killing," said Madni.
"Whose cause is fulfilled by such brutal killings? This type of violent approach will benefit neither India nor Pakistan. Such an approach always has a devastating effect on the people of Jammu and Kashmir," he added.