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Kashmir embers cool after flare-up

People throng markets after five days of shutdown and curfew in Srinagar on Sunday. — Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

After five days of violent protests, the Kashmir Valley limped back to normalcy on Sunday even as the security establishment scrambled to avoid a repeat of the 2010 unrest when street protests resulted in over 100 deaths in the summer.

Army chief General Dalbir Singh rushed to Udhampur, the headquarters of northern command, to review the situation.

The 16-year-old Handwara girl, at the centre of the Valley’s present unrest, was produced on Sunday before the local court where she accused two local boys of “assault”, while making no mention of men in uniform or a molestation bid.

It was reports of her molestation by a soldier that trigged the violent protests in Kupwara district and the rest of north Kashmir, which has until now claimed five lives.

Complying with the J&K High Court directions, the girl was produced, along with her father, before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Handwara, and her statement recorded, a Srinagar-based police spokesman said.

According to the police, the Class 12 girl revealed to the court that on April 12 while going home with her friend, she stopped at a toilet near the main chowk (square) of Handwara.

“As soon as she came out she was confronted, assaulted and dragged by two boys and her bag was snatched. One of the boys was in school uniform,” the police spokesman quoted the girl as saying.

The girl’s statement to the local court comes as a new twist as her mother on Saturday accused the police of recording her earlier video statement “under pressure.” However, the girl’s statement is very close to what she said earlier, exonerating the security personnel.

The incident took an ugly turn when the security forces opened fire at a violent protest, sparked by the allegations of molestation, and killed two people. Later, three separate firing incidents by security forces at three different locations of Kupwara district left three more dead, and brought the whole Valley to the edge.

According to the police, around 200 police and paramilitary personnel were injured in clashes since Tuesday. Scores of protesters were also hit by pellets and tear-smoke shells. At least seven grievously injured protesters were admitted in Srinagar hospitals.

After five days of government restrictions, separatists’ shutdown calls and spreading clashes, the Kashmir Valley saw a semblance of normality on Sunday.

Srinagar, where curfew-like restrictions were lifted, saw a huge volume of traffic on roads with most shops open.

There were no reports of clashes from north and south Kashmir districts as fresh rainfall also helped to bring down tempers.

However, restrictions on movement of people continued in Kupwara district amid reports of fresh clashes in pockets that saw civilian deaths.

Internet services hit

Internet services remained barred for the third consecutive day on Sunday across the Valley.

While the Central government and security agencies have been holding repeated consultations about the situation, Army chief General Dalbir Singh undertook a visit to Udhampur, in the wake of the violent incidents of the past few days.

“Militancy suffered an unprecedented setback in the January-March period, with 27 terrorists being eliminated, the highest number for the period in the last six years. So we are aware of the desperation of various vested interests,” a senior officer said, summing up the Army assessment.

Army sources said Gen. Dalbir Singh met with his senior commanders to take stock of the situation, and refine the strategy for the summer in the light of the new developments. “We are determined not to let a repeat of 2010 happen,” one senior officer said from Kashmir.

Another senior officer in Delhi said the two-pronged militant strategy, of public protests and terror attacks suffered significant setbacks in the past couple of years and thus “they are on the back foot.” However, they got a boost with the PDP-BJP government coming to power in J&K, he said.

“Militancy is going down, and we have been very effective against the new wave terrorism,” the officer said.

However, many in the security establishment are cautioning that the situation could worsen because of various reasons — rumours, street protests turning violent, or mishandling by security forces.

Officials said they would expect the situation to remain bad up until the Amarnath Yatra, which will start on July 2 this year.

By way of precaution, the Centre has already rushed over 2000 troops of the CRPF and other paramilitary forces from outside into the Valley, while redeploying some of the troops already inside.

Senior officers of the Army and other agencies said the effort would be to ensure that the 2010 kind of unrest doesn’t take place.

In the summer of 2010, the Kashmir Valley witnessed unprecedented street protests, which resulted in the death of at least 110 civilians, and injuries to a few thousands security personnel and civilians.

While its origins lay in the fake encounter by the Army in Machil sector of three civilians, the protests spread to other issues such as the alleged burning of the Koran in the U.S.

( With inputs from Josy Joseph)

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 4:34:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Kashmir-embers-cool-after-flare-up/article14244016.ece

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