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A State of Uncertainty: Troop Build-up Creates Panic in Kashmir

Rumours and dozens of troops on the streets of Kashmir is creating panic amongst the residents and tourists.

Updated
India
4 min read
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After waiting patiently for his turn in a long queue of vehicles at a fuel station on the outskirts of Srinagar, Bilal Bakshi, a teakwood businessman, asked the sweaty attendant why there was such a rush of people.

“(JKLF chief) Yasin Malik is going to be hanged. The situation will obviously deteriorate. People are preparing for a long period of unrest,” the attendant told Bilal, as cars –queued up behind – started honking furiously.

The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chief is incarcerated at Tihar jail in the terror funding case and there is no likelihood of him being awarded capital punishment in an essentially financial crime.

A piece of fake WhatsApp news that is in circulation claims that the state administration has ordered one heavy-duty digging and levelling machine to be kept on standby at every police station in the Valley. One can only imagine the kind of work that these machines are going to be used for.

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Rumours such as these have kept Kashmir on edge for the past few days – after an order from the railway department asking its staff in Kashmir to stock up in anticipation of a ‘long period of unrest’ was leaked on social media.

How the Issue of Troop Build-up Attained Scandalous Overtones

The state administration dithered in justifying the deployment of, first, 10,000 and then, according to some reports, 28,000 additional central paramilitary forces in the state. Sources said a vast majority of these troops were going to be deployed in Kashmir.

“Of the 100 companies deployed in the first push, 80 companies are being deployed in Kashmir alone with 15 companies exclusively meant for Srinagar city,” a senior J&K home department official said.

While the deployment order of the union home ministry clearly stated that the additional forces were meant to “strengthen the counterinsurgency grid” and to tackle “law and order situations”, the state machinery is giving unconvincing and often contradictory explanations.

The issue of troop build-up attained scandalous overtones on 2 August, when the state’s home department issued a rare security advisory, ordering the tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to “curtail” their stay and leave the Valley as soon as possible.

The uncertainty sparked by the order has taken the simmering crisis to a tipping point. When a village in central Kashmir fell into darkness due to a power-cut last night, an anguished youth of the village took to Facebook to express his emotions.

“Are they going to kill us in darkness?”

Of Rumour Mills and the Shrinking Mainstream

Of all the rumours keeping the Valley on edge, two are most prominent.

One suggests that the Centre was moving to abrogate Article 35-A that provides exclusive rights over immovable property and government jobs to the state subjects of Jammu and Kashmir.

Another rumour doing the rounds is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is planning to trifurcate the state. According to this rumour, Jammu will be given statehood while Kashmir and Ladakh will be accorded the status of union territories.

The confusion and uncertainty over what is going to happen next is so deep that even the assurances of Governor Satya Pal Malik and his administration have failed to placate the regional mainstream parties who are planning an all-party meeting on Sunday.

“Both mainstream and separatists have lost force in recent weeks and months. If Article 35-A goes, it will make the people of Kashmir desperate and both separatists and mainstream parties will get an opportunity to project themselves as guardians of the Kashmiris.”
Ashiq Hussain, prominent Kashmir historian based in Srinagar
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Surprisingly, there haven’t been any protests or calls for shutdown this time around. Unlike last month when rumours of the apex court abrogating Article 35-A sparked protests and clashes, the people of Kashmir – and even its non-local workers – are reacting with caution.

“Whatever happens, we will face it along with our Kashmiri brothers. We stand shoulder to shoulder with them. I have been living in Kashmir for the last two decades and I am not going to leave like this,” Waseel Ahmad, a resident of Uttar Pradesh who runs Babloo Hair Cutting Saloon in Srinagar, said.

Panic on Ground

Claire and her boyfriend Florian, both Belgians, arrived in Kashmir last week on a holiday. Into their fifth day in the Valley, on 3 August, they were planning to go to Sonmarg tourist resort, unaware of the security advisory.

“Outside our hotel in Srinagar, there were a lot of soldiers on the road. We are happy to be in Kashmir but obviously this is a shame. We spoke with our guesthouse owner and our driver. If they are not worried, why should we be,” Claire said.

Rumours and dozens of troops on the streets of Kashmir is creating panic amongst the residents and tourists.
Like Claire and her boyfriend Florian, both Belgians who are visiting Kashmir, several tourists are confused by the security advisory.
(Photo: The Quint)
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But the security advisory has triggered panic among most tourists. Adding to the confusion, the state administration bussed out non-local students from NIT Srinagar and plans are being made to send them home. Deep confusion has set in as people start to panic-buy stock essentials.

“Half of the goods vanished from the shelves after the security advisory was issued last night. Normally we close by 10 but the store was open till 11.30 yesterday. It is a very panicky situation,” the procurement manager of a prominent departmental store in Lal Chowk said, on condition of anonymity,

At the popular Zero Bridge over Jhelum river in Srinagar, Amitabh Ghosh is speaking on the phone with his travel agent to hasten his departure from Kashmir by rescheduling departure tickets.

“I don’t know much about security reasons and I have faith in the government. We are ready to go back but no help is forthcoming from the government. If tourists are being asked to leave this place, the government should facilitate the process rather than becoming an impediment,” Ghosh, a businessman from Kolkata, said.

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(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk.)

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