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How did Shopian, Kashmir's apple bowl, turn into a battleground district?

The famous apple bowl of Kashmir has turned into a hotspot of militancy

Once known for its golden apples, pears and tall mountains, Shopian, the extreme southern district of the Kashmir Valley, is now in news mostly over militancy. Of around 116 militants killed in Jammu and Kashmir so far this year, 28 (24%) were killed in encounters in Shopian, including the district ‘commander’ of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Between June 7 and 10, 14 militants were killed in three separate encounters in the sector.

Also read: Four militants shot dead in J&K’s Shopian

Spread over 412.9 sq. km and with a population of 2,66,000, Shopian is around 61 km away from Srinagar. Its boundary has a series of sky-scraping peaks of mountains of the Pir Panjal Range. These not-so-easily accessible mountainous ranges and dense forests have been providing shelter to local militants, turning this idyllic location into a hotspot of militancy in the Valley.

In recent times, many top militants had camped in the region, including Riyaz Naikoo, the operations ‘commander’ of Hizbul. Naikoo, who hailed from Pulwama, used to appear at the funerals of slain militants and fire a volley of bullets into the air to galvanise youth support to militancy. He was killed in Pulwama on May 6.

Last month, a local militant, identified by the police as Hidayatullah Malik from Shopian’s Sharatpora area, had provided his car with the intent to carry out a Pulwama-style attack in south Kashmir. However, Malik’s car, which was filled with 40 to 45 kg of explosives, was timely tracked by the security agencies and the explosives were detonated. “Most of the commanders active in the area have been killed this year,” said Vijay Kumar, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir.

Also read: Five militants gunned down in J&K’s Shopian

Active militants

According to the police records, Shopian still has 27 active militants — Hizbul tops the list with 12, Jaish-e-Muhammad with seven, followed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba with six and Ansar Ghazwatul Hind with two.

Security agencies have been able to maintain an upper hand in Shopian, which has otherwise a tendency to go adrift due to frequent upheavals. In January 2009, when two women were found raped and dead, with fingers of suspicion pointing towards the security forces, the region witnessed major protests. It resulted in a curfew-like situation for over 47 days and scores of youth died in clashes.

Also read: 3 militants killed in J&K’s Shopian district

Long before Naikoo and another militant ‘commander’ Saddam Padder (who was killed in May 2018), a close associate of slain Hizbul commander Burhan Wani, became familiar with Shopian, the district was known as the apple bowl of Kashmir.

Shopian produced 2,72,000 tonnes of apples in 2018-19, the second highest among the 10 districts in Kashmir Valley after Kupwara. Around 21,669 hectares of land is used for apple cultivation, almost 70.5% of the total area.

Shopian has a distinction of harvesting apples till late November-December due to its different weather cycles — summer starts late but winter sets in fast.

The ancient imperial road commonly known as Mughal Road, puts the district geographically on an important juncture. Mughals used Shopian to reach the Valley in summers. Its famed apple and accessibility to the plains of Poonch in the Jammu division made Shopian one of six Wazarat (district) headquarters in Kashmir between 1872 and 1892.

Jamaat bastion

Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), which was floated in 1942 and drew its inspiration from Islamic theologian Abul Ala Maududi, has also built considerable influence in Shopian.

Saaduddin Tarbali, who became the first amir (head) of the JeI, imparted the Jamaat ideology in Shopian. The organisation held sway in Shopian, with its well-read cadre starting schools and welfare programmes across the district. The organisation was banned in February 2019 for a five-year period under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, second time since the militancy broke out in 1990s. Scores of Jamaat leaders remain behind the bar.

Militancy is not the only development that makes news in Shopian. The 2018 urban local bodies elections changed the political make-up of the district. The BJP fielded 13 candidates in 13 wards out of 17 and won unopposed. Of the 13 winning candidates, 11 were Kashmiri Pandits, who migrated in the face of militancy in the 1990s. Many of them have returned to serve people on many fronts.

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 7:03:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/shopian-district-the-battleground-district/article31822367.ece

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