Sea change in south Kashmir post Art 370

Less people turn up at militant funerals, no major gunfights, no stone-throwing

Sea change in south Kashmir post Art 370

Suhail A Shah

Anantnag, March 12

Situation under control

  • By and large, things have been in control in south Kashmir, which is considered the hot-bed of militancy in Kashmir

  • There has been almost no opposition to the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent unprecedented lockdown

  • The first noticeable change here has been the lesser number of mourners at the funerals of the militants killed in the gunfights with security forces

The volatile south Kashmir which comprises Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts has witnessed some major changes since August 5 last year when the Centre abrogated Article 370 and placed the Valley under a lockdown.

Though the tension is palpable here, things are, by and large, in control in south Kashmir, which is considered the hot-bed of militancy in Kashmir.

The tension is about how things will pan out in near future as there has been almost no opposition to the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent unprecedented lockdown in the region in particular and the Valley in general.

“Every day, there are whispers and rumours about a possible prolonged shutdown in the Valley. These are not just rumours. You have to be cautious and sense the deeper message being carried around,” said a top police source in south Kashmir.

The Tribune talked to many people in south Kashmir who said the rumours had been relentless. “I get to talk to a lot of people in my shop. Most of them say in almost inaudible voices that there is going to be a long shutdown,” said Rizwan Ahmad, a barber from Uttar Pradesh. Ahmad runs a shop in Kulgam district and is a worried man for he has lost more than six months of work due to the lockdown. There is an overwhelming presence of security personnel at dozens of newly constructed bunkers and an uneasy calm in south Kashmir. The first noticeable change here has been the lesser number of mourners at the funerals of the militants killed in the gunfights with security forces.

On February 22, two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants were killed in an early morning gunfight with security forces at Sangam in Anantnag district.

Their funeral was carried out in their native Qaimoh area of Kulgam, which is considered a militant hotbed and one of the most volatile areas of south Kashmir. The funeral, however, was thinly attended and many shops near the funeral site remained open. There was no stone-throwing in the area and the mourners, after attending the funeral, dispersed peacefully. “This is grossly odd. You must know about Qaimoh and Khodweni. This place has a reputation of prolonged shutdowns and funerals attended by thousands. I was surprised to see the response of the people,” said Jahanzaib Ahmad, a student from the area.

The militant funerals in Pulwama district after August 5 last year witnessed a similar pattern – less number of mourners. “I don’t know if this is fear or the calm before the storm, but for now things seem odd,” said Umar Bhat, a shopkeeper from Tral town of Pulwama. Kashmir watchers have two theories for this. While some argue that the thin attendance and no violence at the militant funerals have been because of the communication gag in the Valley, others say it is as a result of the fatigue among people caused by the months-long lockdown.

“Internet has been the basic tool for the dissemination of information and militant killings or funerals have been no different. People have been devoid of information regarding such incidents in previous months and hence they have been unable to reach the spots of gunfights or funerals,” said a senior journalist in south Kashmir.

It, however, remains to be seen how things unfold now that the ban on the Internet and social media has been removed.

Another thing that seems out of place has been the militant attacks or the absence of them. Apart from a few grenade attacks on forces’ installations, there have been no major militant attacks in the past few months.

“The last major attacks since August 5 have been on civilians from outside. After the killing of five labourers in Kulgam district, there has been no major militant attack anywhere in south Kashmir,” a senior police officer said.

While the police officer maintained that the security had been beefed up, which could be seen in the form of dozens of bunkers across the four districts, some people, who know the region well, argue that the militants have also been lying low. “Today, we saw a picture of a Pulwama youth, who has joined militancy, being circulated on the social media. I guess this is the first such picture after August 5, but that does not mean youth have stopped joining militancy. They have just been lying low, apparently trying to survive the onslaught,” the senior journalist said. He said the summer was not far and how things shape up would be interesting to watch.

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