February 2017 News

Political Divide Emerges After Army Chief Warns Stone-pelter

16 February 2017

Srinagar: How exactly should national interest be enforced? This question raised a political storm on Thursday, as sharp differences emerged between senior government and Opposition leaders over just what was the answer. While the Centre whole-heartedly welcomed the Army Chief's statement, senior Opposition leaders struck a discordant note. The issue came to the fore with Army Chief's Bipin Rawat's statement on Wednesday. In an interaction with the media, General Rawat stated that 'tough action' was needed against those who continued to hinder anti-terror operations in the Valley, saying those who did so should be considered anti-national. His statement came after a recent incident in which three soldiers faced heavy stone-pelting in north Kashmir just when they were about to launch an operation against militants holed up there. Speaking to the media, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju said there could be no compromise against those who worked against the national interest. 'Whatever the Army Chief has said, he has said in the national interest... There is nothing wrong in the Army Chief's statement,' Rijiju said. 'There should be action against the stone pelters as whoever works against the national interest, as national interest is supreme.' But not everyone was so sure. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram believed that the Army Chief had crossed the line with his remarks and said the government needed to halt their whole-hearted support of them. 'The Army Chief's comments are intemperate. It is a political problem which needs a political solution and a political reach out. I am worried and I request the government to halt this approach and adopt a different one. More infiltration and more encounters are taking place in the state and things are getting very bad.' Chidambaram's statement was all the more interesting as it seemed to contrast with a statement given earlier by his own party. Speaking to DNA earlier in the day, Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan also supported the Army Chief's statement, but targeted the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which is currently in alliance with the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir. 'Yes, the Army Chief is correct and it is therefore important for the Forces to go and arrest and take action against anyone whoever he may be, and whatever political dispensation he is from. Civil authorities' action must be taken against every anti-national,' Vadakkan said. While the political battle continued in the national Capital, there was an air of caution in Srinagar, as the Jammu and Kashmir government issued an advisory asking the general public to stay away from counter-insurgency operation sites for their own safety. The district administrations of Srinagar, Budgam and Shopian advised people not to move towards or assemble near places where encounters take place between security forces and militants. 'Further, prohibitory restrictions have been imposed within the radius of three kilometres from the site of any counter-insurgency operation in the districts,' an official spokesman said. He added that the restrictions though would not apply to the movement of ambulances, medical, paramedical staff and Government employees. Sources in the Army say the situation is all the more tense, as videos have sprung up on social media over the last few days showing civilians attacking Army officers while they were carrying out various operations in the state. These sources added that these videos were fake and cautioned people not to believe them. So far, 18 people including seven soldiers and eight militants have been killed in three different anti militancy operations in Frisal, Hajan and Kralgund villages in the south and North Kashmir Valley. Fourteen people including commandant of 45th battalion of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Chetan Cheetah and Major BS Thapa were injured in the operations. Two civilians were also killed and 13 others injured in the Frisal village on Sunday. One of them was killed when security forces opened fire on protestors who pelted stones and tried to march towards the encounter site at Frisal. Temperatures have been high in Srinagar ever since the Army's chief statement and Kashmir-based parties were quick to voice their disappointment. 'He (General Rawat) should not have said this. Our efforts are to adopt these people and address their problems. Our agenda is people should be provided with a healing touch. Our party has been formed on a healing touch agenda,' Sartaj Madni, senior vice president of PDP told DNA. The main Opposition party, the National Conference (NC) was more aggressive, cautioning against what they called aggressive and hot-headed statements, saying it would fuel local militancy in Kashmir. 'Even after the mayhem and bloodshed of 2016, if New Delhi still thinks warning and threatening the youth will help - it's a tragic delusion', said Junaid Azim Mattu, state spokesman of NC. Meanwhile, in what could possibly be read as a bid to calm sentiments of Kashmiris, CRPF Inspector General (Operations) Zulfiquar Hasan on Thursday said that locals who engage in stone pelting to help militants flee do so under pressure. 'This (stone pelting) is happening in certain areas of Kashmir, and villagers and local residents do this under pressure from militants,' Hasan said. The IG further said that the forces operate with restraint to avoid collateral damage and locals on their part should not come under pressure from militants so no harm comes their way. 'Locals should not get under pressure from militants. We are exercising a lot of restraint so that there is no casualty on the side of the crowds and that adds to our problem. We are constantly trying to evolve on how could we do the operations better so that there is no harm to the local people present around us,' he said. Unrest In The Valley: 2,650 incidents of stone pelting recorded in Valley in 2016 unrest. 4,000 CRPF personnel injured following protests and stone pelting in 2016 Over 90 people - including two cops were killed - and over 13,000 people injured in the unrest which began after the killing of slain Hizbul militant Burhan Wani on July 8. Officially, the state government has said 76 people have died in the summer unrest. 1,100 people mostly teenagers have suffered injuries in their eyes when security forces fired pellet ammunition to quell violent mobs across Kashmir.