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Friday, February 19, 2010

Stone pelting generates support among militants, intelligentsia in Kashmir
High Court Bar Association, University teachers, Jamiatul Mujahideen on the forefront


SRINAGAR, Feb 19: Hardliner separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani is no more alone in publicly supporting Kashmiri youth indulging in stone pelting on Police and armed forces. In contrast to covert support from a many separatist leaders and ideologues---as also criticism from some of the politicians in the separatist camp---octogenarian Jamaat-e-Islami ideologue, who floated his own Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and formed a rival faction of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led Hurriyat Conference after the conglomerate’s split in 2003, was the only political leader to justify stone pelting as “a form of resistance” in the last two years.

With dozens of people getting killed and hundreds injured in stone pelting and resultant clashes between the Kashmiri youth and Police/ paramilitary forces, one of the separatist outfits had also organized a conference on the practice of stone pelting in Srinagar last year. Speakers appeared to be divided as some of them justified the stone pelting with religious interpretations and others expressed apprehensions that this kind of “expression of resistance” could lead the Kashmiris to a quagmire of illiteracy and anarchy. It was pointed out that the government schools had near-zero performance in Matriculation and Class 12th examinations in the worst affected localities in downtown Srinagar.

Critics also emphasized that closure of businesses and more than 50,000 shops in the capital city would result in further weakening of the state economy and penury for the inhabitants.

Even as the debate had died down, activist calling themselves civil society groups but espousing particular political ideologies have come out publicly in support of the youth indulging in stone pelting. Damage caused to over a thousand civilian vehicles, besides more than 50 ambulances and hospital vehicles, in different incidents of stone pelting in the last two years, has not weakened arguments from these supporters of stone pelting. “This is the last resort and one-odd tool of resistance with us”, they invariably argue in a long drawn debate on Facebook.

Teachers and students of the University of Kashmir, a large number of government officials, members of High Court Bar Association and even some mediapersons in Srinagar have been publicly justifying the practice of stone pelting on the streets since last few months, though none of them has adopted this “method of resistance” for himself or for any members of their own families.

“It is a definitely disturbing development that even a close relative of a District and Sessions Judge besides close relatives of senior government officials have been found involved in the menace of stone pelting”, said a middle-rung Police official who confirmed that none of the members of “white colour supporters of stone pelting” had been arrested or caught on camera while practicing this violent method of “resistance”.

Speakers at a conference organized by HCBA at Old High Court Complex here on February 13th had no hesitation in unambiguously supporting the practice of stone pelting by the Kashmiri youth. Lawyers and separatist leaders cautioned media and other institutions against calling the stone pelting youth as “sangbaaz” (stone pelters) as, according to them, they were doing the religious duty of liberating an occupied Muslim land through a means which had no firearms. They asserted that the phrase of “sangbaaz” was derogatory and thus denigrating a “just political movement”.

In a press release yesterday, Jamiatul Mujahideen spokesman Jameel Ahmed argued in support of stone pelting. He claimed that stone pelting had been practised in “all Islamic movements” all over the world by “urarmed and oppressed Muslims” ever since Prophet and his followers had taken vantage positions against the enemy troops on a hillock and showered stones.

Those suggesting justification to the this controversial practice on Facebook also refer to Prophet Abraham’s stone pelting on the devils when they attempted to hold him back from sacrificing his son Ismail for Allah.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

CM chairs meetings amid gunbattle in Pulwama, shutdown in Kulgam

Jaish ‘Distt Commdr’ among 2 militants killed; 6 ultras die in 3 days


SRINAGAR, Feb 18: While Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, continued to preside over the review meeting of District Development Board in Pulwama, Police and security forces killed two of the top wanted militants of Jaish-e-Mohammad, including a “District Commander”, in a fierce gunbattle at Shankarpora village in the same district in south Kashmir today.

Authoritative sources told Early Times that Pulwama District Police and Rashtriya Rifles 55 Bn, 53 Bn and CRPF launched a cordon-and-search operation last evening immediately after receiving information that two of the dreaded militants of Jaish-e-Mohammad, namely Ehsan Bhai of Pakistan and Altaf Baba, were hiding at the residential house of one Ali Mohammad Ganai at Shankarpora village in Pulwama district. According to the information, Jaish militants were preparing to hold a coordination meeting with representatives of another militant outfit.

As soon as Police and security forces succeeded in evacuating inmates from all houses in the cordoned cluster and zeroed in on Ganai’s house, two militants opened fire. Rather than retaliating with the advance of darkness, troops maintained a tight cordon and kept the area under heavy search lights.

In the day-long gunbattle, amid Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s presiding over a review meeting of District Development Board Pulwama, both the holed up militants put up a tough resistance but were finally killed when troops brought down a particular portion of Ganai’s house. Contrary to the preliminary source information of Pulwama Police, they were identified as Sajjad Ahmed Mir of Rajpora and Jehangir Ahmed Hajjam of Ratnipora.

Describing both the slain militants as cadres of Jaish-e-Mohammad, officials claimed that Sajjad was a “District Ciommande”. They said that Jehangir Hajjam was more important and wanted on account of his involvement in a number of terrorist incidents in Awantipore area. They said that Jehangir had been coordinating planning and strategies of his organization with other guerrilla groups in Awantipore-Tral-Pulwama belt of south Kasghmir. One AK-47, one AK-74, two grenades and some quanitity of ammunition and incriminating material was claimed to have been seized alongwith dead bodies of two militants from the debris.

While senior district Police and civil officials remained present at CM’s meeting from 1030 hours to 1330 hours, DIG South Kashmir and senior Army officials supervised the operation.

With the death of two local militants in the gunbattle at Shankarpora (Pulwama), as many as six militants have been killed by Police and security forces in separate gunbattles in the last three days in Kashmir valley. Two of the top wanted local commanders of Lashkar-e-Toiba, namely Mohammad Ashraf Sheikh (“District Commander”) alias Ashraf Maulvi and Rauf Ahmed Bhat, got killed in a fierce gunbattle with Police and Army at Rampur (Kaimoh) Kulgam on February 15-16. Later, two more local militants, namely Salah-ud-din Wani and Zubair Ahmed, were eliminated by Police and armed forces in a different gunbattle at Kachhwa Maqam, Chandoosa, in Baramulla district on February 17th.

No collateral damage has been reported in these three operations even as on the second consecutive day today, Kulgam area observed shutdown against alleged Police and forces action on the funeral procession of the two slain militants the other day. Against near-total shutdown in Redwani, Khudwani, Kaimoh and adjoining villages, Chief Minister, his Cabinet colleagues and legislators, besides senior officials, held the review meeting of District Development Board at Kulgam in the afternoon.

Butcher’s knife struck on cop’s head in SHO’s presence

Militants loot 5 cops’ weapons to ridicule Police protection to staying back KPs

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 17: While militants have looted five automatic guns of the Police guards “protecting” a cluster of the staying back Kashmiri Pandit families in Tral area of Pulwama district, non-militant “resistance heroes” today struck a butcher’s knife on the head of a Constable in presence of the Station House Officer (SHO) in Batmaloo area of the capital city. This kind of an attack on Police has come after facing stone pelting from unruly mobs in Kashmir valley for over a year.

Eyewitnesses and informed sources told Early Times that a bearded youth of 25 to 30 years of age took out a butcher’s knife and struck it from behind on the head of Constable Bilal Ahmed Najar in presence of SHO Batmaloo, Inspector Zahoor Ahmed, when a Police party had begun to clear some space of the illegally parked Tata Sumo passenger service carriages at General Bus Stand of Batmaloo, at 1130 hours today. According to these sources, SHO Zahoor and four to five of his PSOs and escort personnel, each of them armed with AK-47 rifles, had launched the clear-out on the directions of senior Police and civil officials. They had deflated two of the parked Tata Sumos and were directing others to vacate.

Sources said that the youth, who attacked the armed Constable with the obvious aim of halving his head, missed the target and his heavy knife struck the victim’s ear and shoulder. The assailant escaped after Constable Bilal collapsed and his armed colleagues snatched away his knife. Later, the Police party evacuated their critically wounded Constable and rushed him to SKIMS for medical treatment. Officials at SKIMS said that Constable Bilal, a resident of Zaloora village in Pulwama district, was discharged from the hospital after receiving a surgical and medical procedure. They said that he had a providential escape as the heavy knife struck on his head appeared to have missed the real target.

Police have arrested two persons from the spot who claimed to have no knowledge about the assailant but said that they could recognize him. A senior official said that Police had taken today’s attack with a challenge and the assailant’s sketch was being drawn on the description given by the eyewitnesses. Sources said that Police also questioned a vendor selling knives of large size at General Bus Stand Batmoo. During the course of his sustained interrogation, he claimed not to have sold any of such weapons today. However, he later revealed that on Tuesday two bearded youth had purchased identical knives from him, yards away from today’s site of attack on the Constable.

Even as Police and paramilitary personnel have been attacked with pistols in point blank range nearly six times in the last eight months, this is for the first time that such kind of an audacious attack has been carried out in the capital city that too in broad daylight and in front of the SHO concerned. Officials confirmed that no action had been initiated against the SHO. They said that three to four armed attacks have happened on this crowded spot near General Bus Stand of Batmaloo in the last three months.

“We have registered a case, started the investigation and also launched a manhunt for the assailant”, SSP Srinagar, Javed Reyaz Bedar said. He claimed that Police had laid hands on certain clues and a breakthrough was very much possible in a couple of days.

Coinciding with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s presence in the summer capital in connection with review meeting of District Development Board Budgam as also Union Home Minister P Chidambarm’s day-long visit to Jammu, today’s attack on Police with a butcher’s knife at Taxi Stand No: 4 Batmaloo can potentially demoralize the Police force in absence of necessary remedial measures and statements of reassurance from top echelons of the coalition government. Around the same time, suspected militants have attacked a Police party and looted five automatic guns of the “guards” posted for protection of a cluster of the families of staying back Kashmiri pandits at Midora in Tral area of Pulwama district.

SP Awantipore, Bashir Ahmed Khan, told Early Times that late last night, five to eight armed persons, believed to be militants, overpowered five Police guards deployed at minority picket Midora in Tral area. Quoting the guards, SP Awantipore said that the militants looted two SLRs and three INSAS rifles from the five-personnel static guard of District Police Awantipore. Those relieved of their service rifles included a head constable, who headed the unit, two Constables and two SPOs. Mr Khan said that after looting the weapons, militants withdrew from the village without harming five or six Kashmiri Pandit families who have stayed back and refused to leave the Valley during the mass migration of the minority community in 1989-90.

SP Awantipore said that placed all the five personnel under suspension, got them detained, registered an FIR of attacking the Police party and looting of five rifles. He said that a departmental inquiry was underway and it was being ascertained as to why the guards did not resist or retaliate and how they had been relieved of their weapons. Again, looting of weapons of a Police party has happened in Kashmir valley after a long pause of normality. Over 30 of such incidents have been reported in 20 years of Kashmir militancy since 1990 and the last one had happened several years back.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stone pelting emerging as a major challenge for Govt
In Srinagar, network expands from 300 youth in 2008 to 1500 in 2010

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 14: Registering five-fold increase in the last two years, network of stone pelting youth in the capital city is clearly emerging as a major administrative challenge for Omar Abdullah-led coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir. In sharp contrast to serious allegations leveled by some Ministers and legislators of the National Conference (NC), authorities have failed to find mainstream Opposition party PDP’s hand behind the stone pelting frenzy. Officials claim to have completed the mapping of nearly 50 spots and identified cadres of two Hurriyat (Geelani) constituents and a trade union leader’s “private militia” among the actors of unarmed violence that is now publicly getting support from separatist outfits including Hurriyat and High Court Bar Association.

According to authoritative sources, the number of youth indulging in stone pelting on Police and CRPF, as well as on civilian transport and businesses, has phenomenally increased to 1,500 from just 300 in Srinagar in the year 2008. “Those directly having stakes in separatist armed strife want to desperately switch over to a different mode of turbulence after militancy has reduced to trickle. As of now, Government’s entire counter-insurgency initiative stands designed on an agitation full of arms and ammunition”, says a Police official who has a stint of nearly 10 years in Special Operations Group (SOG) of J&K Police to his credit.

“It’s essentially a political movement. Resistance will continue to adopt one or the other colour---from guns and grenades to stones and brickbats to massive peaceful demonstrations--- until a political solution is found to a political problem”, argued a High Court lawyer. Asserting unconditional support to stone pelting, speakers at a High Court Bar Association-sponsored conference today cautioned media and politicians against “denigrating” the stone pelters with usage of “derogatory” phrases like “Sangbaaz” (stone pelter).

But most of the Police officials tasked to neutralize this nascent mode of turbulence insist that combination of different factors has resulted in breakdown of law and order, particularly in Srinagar and parts of Baramulla and Sopore towns in north Kashmir. They categorically said that some Ministers’ and legislators’ allegation of engaging the youth on cash payment against PDP was unfounded as no such hand had been identified till date. “Huge amount of Rs 40 Lakh was established to have been invested in stone pelting in Srinagar alone during Amarnath land allotment controversy in 2008. When we reached close to the handlers and zeroed in on the key layer in 2009, we faced considerable resistance from none other than NC’s senior leaders in Khanyar and Batmaloo”, he added.

“But this does not mean that the ruling party is organizing the whole show. We have found five major modules---two being directly funded by a couple of constituents in the hardliner Hurriyat and yet another by a trade union leader, himself working in the government. We are still groping in the dark with regard to funding of two more modules”, said the official. He claimed that “Crores of Rupees” had been invested in stone pelting in the last two years. According to him, it was a “fully coordinated and organized activity” as Police had lately observed that the handlers had meticulously done the mapping of nearly 50 spots in Srinagar and specified the modus operandi. He claimed that Police had seized at least one of such maps in recent days and done its own mapping of more than 50 flashpoints.

“One of the major objectives is crippling the authority of the government so as to grab prime land, resist arrest of criminals and create an underworld of multi-layered insulation”. With a serious expression of concern, he added: “Half-baked initiatives will only lead us to a situation where you will, for the first time, find private militias operating under the command of powerful people in Srinagar. It will be definitely a state of lawlessness and anarchy. That may simultaneously serve as fuel to sustenance of disorder”.

With none of the officials willing to speak on record, another officer maintained that the “menace of stone pelting” would neither stop or end in absence of a clear initiative from the government. “There’s a major difference. We have a clear-cut initiative with regard to countering armed terrorism. Just three officers in the city of 17 Lakh people seem to be on the forefront of countering stone pelting. Do or don’t do, it doesn’t matter. If you take an initiative of your known and there’s something wrong, everything will explode on your own head. We don’t feel our Government on our back. Even CM’s directions given to senior officers do not percolate down to the field”.

Men in J&K Police strongly support punishment to those who break the law like the BSF officials in Nishat. They believe that suspension of officials without even holding an inquiry had perceptibly demoralized the rank and file in Police. A day after an ASI’s suspension, on the allegation of killing a boy in teargas shelling, a senior civil official and member of J&K Special Tribunal was attacked by a mob that damaged his official car in front of Police beat at Budshah Chowk. Calling for help, Police officials expressed their helplessness to the senior KAS officer and argued that they would not like to act and attract suspension or attachment.

Conservative estimates suggest that at least 50 people have died and more than 4,000 sustained injuries in incidents of stone pelting and resultant reaction from Police and armed forces in Kashmir valley in the last two years. Number of civil and government vehicles damaged in such incidents is believed to be over 1,000.Director of SKIMS, Soura, Dr Abdul Hamid Zargar said that a dozen of his hospital vehicles had been extensively damaged in last three months alone. He said that about 50 of his hospital employees attacked by the mobs included himself and Medical Superintendent Dr Syed Amin Tabish.

“It’s an irony that when these stone pelting youth get injured in Police action, they approach the same doctors and our paramedical staff for treatment. We are committed to our professionalism. We still provide them best possible treatment”, Dr Zargar said with a passionate appeal that all ambulances and hospital vehicles and staff be exempted from such unruly attacks.