December 2016 News

Political Turmoil, Killings, Controversies Mark 2016

29 December 2016
Greater Kashmir
Muddasir Ali and Umer Maqbool

Srinagar: If political uncertainty and controversies over Sainak colonies and Pandit townships marked the first half of 2016 in J&K, the civilians killings and longest ever shutdown were the dominating discourses as the curtains fell on the year which saw PDP President Mehbooba Mufti rising to become the first female chief minister of the State. The year would be remembered for sheer number of dead eyes that resulted from metallic pellets fired by security forces on protesting youth during the five-month long uprising triggered by the killing of rebel commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani by security forces. The increased hostilities between Indian and Pakistan along the LoC, the Fidayeen attack on an army installation in Uri, mass arrests and rampant use of Public Safety Act by authorities to end the uprising apart from people adjusting their lives to weekly protest calendars issued by the 'united separatists', who spearheaded the public movement, were the other highlights of the year. The year began on a tragic note for the PDP and the coalition government as then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who had paved way for the first BJP government in the state in alliance with his party, lost battle for life at AIIMS on January 7 following brief illness. Sayeed's death brought down the curtains on the PDP-BJP-I which he himself had described as 'coming together of north pole-south pole.' Post Sayeed's death, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti hardened stand on continuation of the coalition seeking political and economic concessions from New Delhi as the state plunged into political uncertainty which continued for three months with the imposition of the Governor's rule. The suspense however ended when Mehbooba met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi as the 'unnatural allies' decided to resume the alliance. The Mehbooba-led Government was in infancy when it faced the first crisis following the killing of five civilians by police and army in Handwara following protests over alleged molestation of a school girl by an army man in Handwara in April. The PDP-BJP coalition was still grappling with the fallout of the Handwara killing when it found itself caught in NIT row where the local students accused their counterparts from outside of beating them following a tiff over cricket match. The incident snowballed into a massive crisis when the outside students alleged harassment by J&K police forcing the government to handover the campus to CRPF and ultimately shut it down when the crisis became a major discourse in Delhi for some time. While the Mehbooba led government was struggling to manage the NIT row, the media reports about 'plans' to settle Kashmiri Pandits in exclusive townships and setting up Sainak colonies fuelled yet another controversy in Kashmir. In response the separatists threatened to launch agitation in case the plans were not withdrawn, forcing the government to 'clarify' repeatedly that it had no such plans. Finding her Government in the midst of the raging controversies, Mehbooba, in her public speeches and statements, repeatedly asked people to give her time to prove herself. Just when the government thought the situation was returning to normalcy, amid Eid fervor, the poster boy of Kashmir militancy, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, was killed by security forces on the evening of July 8 in Bemdora village of South Kashmir. His presence on the social media had glamorized militancy in the Valley attracting local and educated youth to join him. He was a household name across Kashmir and the news about his killing brought entire Kashmir on roads. Curfew and a communication blackout failed to stop the protests and what followed for the next five months was the worst that Kashmir had seen in recent years after 2010. During the first three days of protests in south Kashmir, which later became the center of the uprising, at least 30 youth were shot dead by the security forces and the cycle of killings continued for next five months. During the next five months at least 96 civilians were killed and over 15000 persons injured in action by security forces. What also shocked the world was the large number of persons whose eyes got ruptured due to the pellets fired by the security forces on the protesting youth across Kashmir. At SMHS hospital alone more than 1200 youth with pellet injured eyes were received for treatment during the unrest with many of these persons including teenagers permanently losing the vision in one or both injured eyes. As New Delhi and state government came under criticism for adopting hardline strategy to deal with the protests, amid months of curfew and strict restrictions across Kashmir, the separatists started issuing weekly calendars outlining the time period for holding protests, shutdowns and carrying out the normal activities. As the Government's hardline strategy came under sharp criticism from opposition, both at New Delhi and J&K, the Government of India sent an All-Party delegation to Kashmir to try and restore normalcy in the region. The delegation was led by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who had visited Kashmir several times to assess the situation. However the pro-resistance groups shut the doors to members of APD, who in personal capacity, wanted to engage them. Failing to control the situation the government launched a massive crackdown to arrest members of separatists groups and Kashmiri youth who were accused of leading the protests. The government made rampant use of Public Safety Act to book 'trouble makers'. At least 9000 persons were arrested and almost 600 others were booked under the PSA in one of the biggest crackdowns launched by the government to restore normalcy. Top separatist leaders including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik were either arrested or put under house arrest as government toughened stand to take control of the streets. As the Kashmir unrest hogged the international headlines, Fidayeen struck at an army base in Uri killing 19 soldiers and injuring at least 20 of them in September. The incident brought India and Pakistan face-to-face, leading to increased skirmishes along the LoC and international border threatening more than a decade old ceasefire agreement between the neighboring countries on the borders. The 'surgical strikes by army's special forces' across the border - Pakistan though denied any such action by Indian army - in retaliation to the Uri attack escalated the situation on borders amid fear of a full blown war between India and Pakistan, forcing migration of people from scores of villages along the LoC and international border in Kashmir as well as Jammu. Amid the heightened tension on the borders, a delegation from New Delhi led by former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha visited Kashmir and held deliberations with cross section of people. This time however separatists opened the doors to the panel from New Delhi. Days later the Government lifted curfew from many parts of the Valley as mass arrests, protest fatigue and cold weather conditions led to fall in the intensity of the protests. Amid the uprising while educational institutions remained shut for five months the government went ahead with the decision to hold annual exams in November. But the government and separatists got engaged in a slugfest over the burning of schools by unknown persons, forcing the High Court to intervene and direct the government to protect the educational institutions. Towards the end of the year the separatists relaxed the weekly protest calendar, limiting the call for shutdown to two days a week amid debate in media over pros and cons of hartal politics. After five months the traffic was back on the roads and people started to resume the normal life but the controversies continued to chase the government as it came under fire for failing to plead the case over SARFAESI Act in the Supreme Court and defending J&K's sovereignty. This wasn't the end however as State Government found itself again at the centre of brewing controversy over the reports to grant of domicile certificates- or what it calls identity certificates- to West Pakistan refugees with different shades of opinion in Kashmir seeing it as an 'attack on J&K's special position.'

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