Was Shopian Military Op a Combing Exercise or a Show of Strength?
Security forces cordoned off at least 20 villages in Kashmir’s Shopian district on Thursday.
On Thursday morning, Abdul Majid was rattled by frantic banging on the main door. Terrified, with insurgency-related violence on the rise in Kashmir, he put on a pheran and peeped through the window. A large posse of police and Army personnel lay in wait, fingers held on the triggers of their automatic rifles.
Majid told his family and hurriedly led them into the kitchen and then went and opened the door. “The Army men pushed me aside and barged in. I told them my family is in the kitchen. Without listening, they ordered us to move out,” he said.
For about ten minutes, the single-storied house in Sugan village of Shopian was searched, room to room, with Majid ordered to lead the search party. “They vandalised the house and broke windowpanes. There was no one inside, but they refused to listen,” Majid, a shopkeeper, told The Quint.
The middle-aged Majid would soon realise that his wasn’t the only home to face searches. One by one, a column of over 3,500 security personnel drawn from the Army, J&K Police and CRPF, swooped down on Shopian since dawn on Thursday and began combing more than two dozen villages for militants.
For the security forces, the search operation in Shopian, one of the biggest in recent memory, is a warning shot to re-establish the slowly eroding writ of the State in south Kashmir since the killing of Burhan Wani; the deteriorating situation compounded by young boys and girls studying in schools and colleges of the Valley now joining anti-India and pro-freedom protests.
The rise in protests has come with a surge in militant ranks. Their numbers have nearly doubled since 2016, challenging mainstream political parties in the four districts of south Kashmir. In April, a district president of the ruling PDP was shot dead, sparking a sort of migration by senior leaders and activists of the party to the safer environs of Srinagar along with their families.
Although 22 social media and instant messaging applications like Facebook and WhatsApp were blocked to prevent the crisis from blowing up further, some netizens in Kashmir have skirted the ban, and are in the midst of a virtual war or words against New Delhi and the state government.
Last fortnight, despite the ban, couple of videos were uploaded on YouTube which then found their way to Facebook and Twitter, showing new militant recruits getting arms training and flaunting their assault rifles, apparently in the orchards of Shopian, openly challenging the security forces that are already battling a hostile population.
War on People, Growing Resentment
Sources told The Quint that the operation was planned to tackle new militant challenges, in the virtual and the real world. The videos of militants and their botched attempt to snatch weapons from security personnel in a cash van on its way from a bank in a Kulgam village has only sped up this fresh “drive against separatism”.
Five policemen and two security guards were shot dead by militants when they resisted gun-snatching in Pombai village of Kulgam on 1 May.
As the authorities flew drones and air force choppers to scout the orchards and forests of Shopian where militants were believed to have shot the videos, and special forces were kept on standby in case of any contact with the militants, Kashmir stood on the edge, with the forces facing stiff resistance in at least four to seven villages.
Now a familiar pattern, the Shopian ‘operation’ also saw the local people – children, women, even the elderly – coming out of their homes to protest. Violent clashes between protesters and forces took place in Sugan, Turkwangom, Darazpora and Pinjoora villages where residents accused the forces of vandalising their properties.
With nearly two dozen protesters wounded, the operation was called off on Thursday evening, nearly eight hours after it began.
Combing Op or Show of Strength?
For a government which, for now, seems to have ruled out political engagement in Kashmir, this was also a psychological operation. Dominating the restive villages in south Kashmir by sheer strength of numbers, in military warfare, also helps in reducing the atmosphere of fear and panic ignited by political killings, bank robberies and broad daylight presence of militants in these areas.
We had inputs about presence of militants in these areas and we got cooperation from villagers at many places which is a positive sign. We were able to go out quite far. There were protests in some places which were brought under control soon.SP Pani, DIG South Kashmir
However, for people like Abdul Rashid, a farmer in Turkwangom village caught between two extremes, it was a day of loss and terror. The family had been planning to move to their new house, built after years of hard work and just in time to host the marriage of Rashid’s two daughters, when clashes broke out in the village.
“Chasing stone throwers, they (forces) broke into the compound and smashed the windows of our new house. We were moving in tomorrow for my daughters’ weddings later this month but it has all been ruined now. Now the marriage will not happen on time. What have they achieved out of this,” he said, breaking into tears.
In Kashmir, the answers to such questions aren’t easy to come by.
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