Sometime back it was announced that one full division of the Army is being inducted into South Kashmir. This additional deployment was given the name of “Operation Calm Down”. Keeping in view the objective which was to prevent and control the freedom marches emanating from every village in Kashmir, the operation should have been named as the “Operation Cow Down” rather than the “Operation Calm Down”! How can armoured cars and soldiers in full battle dress calm down a highly emotionally charged population except by over awing them by the might of the force! While declaring the initiation of this operation it was given out that the Army will only be in the background and the crowds would be handled by the local police and paramilitary. It was also mentioned that the local police and the paramilitary had been completely exhausted and the Army was meant to give them some moral support. Moreover, it was also stated that due to public marches and gatherings, the counter insurgency operations in South Kashmir had come to a virtual halt, notwithstanding the fact that the official sources put the number of militants not more than a hundred!
For almost three months now, the entire Kashmir has been on the boil. Entire Valley has been under continuous curfew or shut down. Now the curfew is getting extended to the Chenab valley also. Markets are closed, offices are closed, educational institutions are closed and public transport is off the roads. Both the police and the paramilitary have failed to curb the uprising in spite of the most brutal and harsh use of force. Nowhere in India or for that matter nowhere in the world are peoples’ peaceful marches and assemblies put down by the use of such harsh means. The pellet guns and bullets against stones! Stone pelleting is indulged in only once the forces try to prevent the marches or try to forcibly disperse peaceful assemblies of people. As per latest reports, more than 88 persons especially teenagers have been killed. Thousands have been injured. Over 500 are suffering pallet injuries in the eyes due to which many have lost eyesight permanently. Over 3,000 have been arrested. Some have been detained under the black law called the Public Safety Act. The paramilitary has gone berserk in different areas breaking into peoples’ homes, destroying their household goods and beating the inmates. There are also reports of taking away of valuables. Normally, Army is called out for aid to civil authorities in time of natural calamities. Nowhere Army is given the task of declaring a war against one’s own citizens!
The mass uprising was spontaneous and without notice immediately after the killing of Burhan Wani. However, the resentment had been building over a period of time by the harsh and oppressive actions of the security forces including the special operations group of the state police known as the notorious Task Force. The betrayal of the PDP in first fighting the elections against the BJP and then joining it for government formation was the peak of resentment which can be said to have been the last straw. The Burhan incident was the prick which blew out the inflated balloon of resentment and alienation. For all these years, the Government of India with the help of its local collaborators has been trying to avoid the solution of the basic problem. They have always preferred problem management than the problem resolution. The uprising may be cowed down by show of force but that is not a permanent solution. After some lull, we may again have another volcanic eruption.
The present role of the Army is ironically a total contrast to its earlier role of the Sadbhavana programs. After the turmoil of the decade of the nineties of the last century there was a huge gulf between the civilian population and the Army. To bridge the gulf the Army had started a number of civilian friendly programs. To some extent these were successful in bridging the gulf. It was probably in the light of this that the Army Commander Lt. General Hooda had been very reluctant to take the role of peace keeping on behalf of the Army alone.Addressing media-persons in Srinagar, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GoC-in-C) of Army’s Udhampur-based Northern Headquarters, Lt General D S Hooda, had said “it’s been over 40 days (of uprising) and everybody is suffering due to stone-pelting and clashes.”“Everybody is suffering. Government employees, traders, school children, teachers, mainstream leaders and even police and forces have suffered over the past more than a month of cycle of conflict,” Hooda said. “So my appeal to everyone, including the separatists, is (let’s) join hands to restore peace as a single party can’t do it alone.”He said everybody must sit together to find a solution. “I know the situation is difficult, but we need to put our heads together and find a way out,” he said. The present approach of operation “Calm Down” appears contradictory to these views. It appears that the “Operation Calm Down” had been ordered by the Political bosses in New Delhi as the Union Home Minister had declared that he had asked the Security Forces to restore normalcy within a week! Well, many weeks have passed and the situation continues to be the same.
Recently, the Prime Minister while speaking in Maan ki Baat programme, offered Kashmiris to talk out the problem! Of course, dialogue is the best solution for any problem. However, one cannot talk to a person when a gun is held to his temple! Dialogue can be only in a peaceful atmosphere. An unconditional dialogue in an absolutely free and peaceful atmosphere with all stakeholders can be a possible way to address the basic issue which has been plaguing Kashmir for last 70 years or so. But the foremost and the most urgent need is to stop the so called “Operation Calm Down”, end all repressive measures and restore complete freedom of expression.
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir