After IAF Air Strikes A Cautious J&K Braces for What Lies Next
J&K has responded to the IAF air strikes with mixed reaction as Kashmiris feel there is more to come.
For the besieged people of Kashmir, the IAF strikes on suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad training camps across the Line of Control has eased the pressure cooker situation building up since the 14 February suicide bombing in Pulwama.
The Valley had been agog with rumours of “something big” happening in retaliation to the worst militant attack in Kashmir in terms of casualties of forces. The sudden induction of 10,000 paramilitary forces last week, ongoing crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islami and urgent instructions to hospitals to prepare for “any eventuality” had lent credence to the rumours.
At a tea stall in Lal Chowk, Kashmir’s largest marketplace located in the summer capital Srinagar, a group of local traders, office-goers and students is talking excitedly on Tuesday morning about the IAF strikes across the border.
“Was this the war we have been talking about?” a young banker, Adil Nabi, said, his eyes glued to the mobile phone, “It didn’t last even 30 minutes and we were preparing for months of shutdown.”
“Good that the battleground has shifted,” Suhail Lone, his colleague, chipped in. “New Delhi will say it has avenged the Pulwama bombing. The two countries should now fight it out there and leave Kashmir out of this,” he added.
Tension Prevails Along the Border
In the aftermath of the Pulwama suicide bombing, the J&K government had issued advisories to residents of villages along the Line of Control in Kashmir to stay alert and prepared to leave at ‘short notice’.
But Karim Khatana, a resident of Poonch, had no idea that the ‘short notice’ would be this short.
“Since morning, jets and choppers are hovering in the skies. Hundreds of residents have fled to safer places but many more have nowhere to go and they are now living in government schools,” Khatana, a resident of Mehdhar village, said over phone.
Hundreds of border villages along the Line of Control and International Border in Jammu & Kashmir become primary targets for the Pakistan Army in case of any escalation between the two countries.
After the Pulwama attack and a series of ‘mysterious’ government directives, it was not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’
Hours after the IAF strikes, Pakistani forces targeted Indian posts in Rajouri district of Jammu & Kashmir and fears are ripe that in coming days and weeks the violence may spill onto other border districts as well.
“My parents have been making frantic calls since morning. I tried assuring them that all is well. But the sound of aircraft and choppers has traumatised them since last night. They want to know what is going to happen next,” Rehana Maqbool, an officer in J&K government who also hails from Mendhar, said.
In uncertain times like this when wars are fought in television studios and rumours shape public opinion on the ground in Kashmir, no one is sure about ‘what next’!
A Day of Anxiety
Since the morning of Tuesday, 26 February, the news of IAF strikes have evoked mixed reactions from people of Srinagar and elsewhere. Many residents remained glued to television sets, both fearful that Pakistan might retaliate, and relaxed that they have been spared the horror of violence this time around.
However, for many others, the attacks are a cruel reminder of the crisis that has been brewing in Kashmir after the induction of troops and a series of government directives that cancelled doctors’ leaves, asked hospitals to stock up and food stores to expend all their stock. It also reflects how they have little to no control on what is playing out on the ground.
“The magnitude of the (Pulwama) attack left little doubt about the prospects of retaliation (by New Delhi). Kashmir was certain that something big was going to happen. This (IAF strikes) will certainly release tensions from the political leadership in both countries,” Ashiq Hussain, a noted Srinagar-based historian, said.
While New Delhi will claim that the Pulwama attack has been avenged with first of its kind air strikes on Pakistan and the narrative will feed into the ‘hard-stanced’ image of the ruling party, especially of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Islamabad will employ the ‘plausible deniability’ factor to deflect the heat, since the strikes took place in a remote area.
Crackdown Continues on Separatists
On any ordinary day, raids by police or any other security agencies against separatist leaders evoked a sharp and often violent reaction on the streets. However, when the sleuths of National Investigations Agency came calling to Kashmir on Tuesday morning, they were met with little resistance.
The agency raided the residences of moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, incarcerated JKLF chief Yasin Malik and DLF chief Shabir Shah, and Naseem Geelani, the professor son of Syed Ali Geelani.
The raids took place even as the state government is in the middle of a massive crackdown of Jamaat-e-Islami in Kashmir. On Monday, at least 50 more leaders and activists of the socio-political organisation were arrested, taking the number of those held to over 200, including the Jamaat’s Kashmir chief Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz.
According to reports, dozens of protesters clashed with security forces in Maisuma locality, the native place of Yasin Malik, even as the NIA personnel were barely hundred metres away, searching his residence. Protesters dispersed after the NIA personnel left the residence.
Is it merely a coincidence that the NIA raids on separatists took place after a tense weekend and on the same day that IAF conducted airstrikes? Or is there more to it?
(The writer is a freelance journalist based out of Jammu and Kashmir. He can be reached at@Gaamuk.)
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