Protests in the Kashmir valley have entered the 47th day and claimed the life of a youth, Aamir Bashir. Bashir was killed in a clash between protestors and security forces in Pulwama district of south Kashmir. Reports say Bashir had pellet injuries in his chest when he was rushed to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar. With Bashir’s demise, the death count during the current ferment in the valley has touched 66 (some reports claim it’s higher). Meanwhile, the Union Home Minister is on a two-day visit to assess the ground situation and take a call on whether to ban or continue the usage of pellet guns – a non-lethal weapon – to control the agitators.
Pellet guns were introduced to Kashmir because of the violence that erupted in 2010 when three young men from Nadihal village of Baramulla district were killed by the Indian Army. Omar Abdullah was Chief Minister at the time. He realised that protestors being killed worsened the situation and requested the central government to equip security forces in Kashmir with non-lethal weapons that could help the police disperse mobs with minimum injury. The same Abdullah is now requesting the central government for an immediate ban on the usage of these guns.
“If I ordered something in, then she should be able to take it away,” Abdullah told Newslaundry. “Why can’t Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti order the stoppage of it usage? She is trying to cover up her own failings and is looking to blame someone else,” he said, when asked why he proposed to bring in pellet guns to the valley in the first place. “Even if the usage of pellet guns started in the valley since 2010, why this scale of injuries and blinding now? We dealt with the aftermath of Afzal Guru’s hanging. Did you see a situation like this then? During that time pellet guns were in the hands of people who knew how to use them, when to use them and when not to use them.”
The former chief minister feels those in charge of deciding how the pellet guns are used are not following standard operating procedure to use them. “Our problem is not only usage of pellet gun as a whole, but also the fact that it has been given to people who have no idea how to use them,” said Abdullah. “This is why the situation is what it is. Our experience has shown that people have paid a very heavy price for these guns. Let us have a consensus not to use them. Let’s agree to use some other non-lethal ways to deal with the situation.” Squarely blaming Mehbooba Mufti for the havoc pellet guns are wreaking on the protestors in the valley, he said, “When you have road accident, do you blame the owner of the car or the driver of the car? The fact of the matter is that these guns are in Mehbooba Mufti’s control. Regardless of who acquired them [pellet guns], she can’t escape the responsibility for its misuse.”
Mufti has alleged that the present crisis in Kashmir is fuelled by ‘some’ politicians and people with vested interests. Abdullah responded to this by saying it would be better if Mufti named those people. “If she believes that there are political leaders or people with vested interest are behind this crisis then she has access to all the information,” he said. “One of our demands is immediate summoning of the Assembly. Let her call the assembly session and put the details on the table of the house, on record. Let us discuss the whole thing.”
Reacting to the statement of General DS Hooda, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 16 Corps, in which he admitted that the Indian Army had failed to win “hearts and minds” of the Kashmiri people despite running the Operation Sadbhavna (Operation Goodwill), Abdullah said, “I haven’t read his statement in entirety. If that is what he has said, obviously we need to sit and take a very serious note of it. He is not only the senior-most army officer in Jammu and Kashmir, but he heads the entire Northern Command. He has much wider view of the situation than a lot of other observers may have, and if he is raising an alarm then it is in our interest to take a notice of that.”
Abdullah recently met Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a delegation from Kashmir in which he asked that all stakeholders in Kashmir, including the separatists’ leaders, be engaged in the process of restoring order and peace in the troubled state. “Why should you not engage separatists in talks? Had BJP-led government in the past not done it?” Abdullah offered a history lesson to those who are against this plan of action. “You had Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government who had a ceasefire and dialogue with Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which is a militant organisation,” he pointed out. “You had dialogue between Mr LK Advani and Hurriyat leaders. At that time that government had far less of a mandate than this current government has. that was a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition. Prime Minister Modi has all the mandate, he can do anything he likes.”
The former chief minister claims that the sense of alienation among the people of the valley is at its highest at present and again blames the state government for this. “We had 70 deaths in 45 days,” he said. “This is indeed very grim situation. It has been made worse by certain mistakes that have been, and continued to be, committed by the state government. We should have a lasting solution so that every few years we don’t have to go through this. In 2008 we went through this, 2010 we went through this. Then we had six relatively peaceful years. And, now again 2016 we have this, this will have a spill over effect until next year. We have seen every year there is a bad agitation in summer, directly hitting tourism season.”
He’s also met Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Kashmir and expressed hope for better days for the valley. “The meeting with prime minister and his decision to send the home minister to take a stock of the ground situation is a welcome step,” said Abdullah. “We hope now something good will come out of all the bad the valley has witnessed in last a few months.”