Kashmir: Protests and the Return of the Fidayeen

25 Mar, 2013    ·   3855

Zainab Akhter explores the possible impetus behind the revival of militancy in the Valley

Zainab Akhter
Zainab Akhter
Research Officer

Security was beefed up and put on high alert after the 13 March 2013 Fidayeen attack. Disguised as cricket-playing youth, with lethal weapons hidden in their sports kits, at least two Fidayeen unleashed a brazen attack at a CRPF camp in Srinagar’s Bemina. In a second strike ten days later, militants attacked a BSF vehicle at Nowgam killing a border guard and injuring two others.
Do these attacks signify the return of the Fidayeen and the revival of armed militancy in the Valley? Has the hanging of Afzal Guru given an impetus to violence?

The Comeback of the Fidayeen
The Bemina attack is the most audacious one in the last three years. A curfew day was chosen to inflict maximum damage on the security forces. The attackers had surveyed the targeted place and chose a different modus operandi - disguised as youth playing cricket and abruptly started firing indiscriminately at the CRPF personals. Five army men and two militants were shot down and two other militants fled the scene. In the Nowgam incident militants travelling on motorcycles fired automatic weapons at a BSF vehicle injuring three army men. In the latest attack, a suspected militant shot a civilian and injured a CRPF personnel in Sopore town on Sunday.

The Fear Factor  
 The attacks have revived fears that militancy may return to the Valley. The youth of the Valley took to armed rebellion for the first time when Maqbool Bhatt (founder of JKLF) was hanged in Tihar Jail in 1984. In between, normalcy returned to the Valley. If the protests of this time are studied,  be it in 2008 due to the Amaranath Land row or in 2010 due to killing of youths in the valley, it may be seen that protesters resorted to only stones and sticks while clashing with the army.

Kashmir considers Afzal Guru as their leader of a stature close to Maqbool Bhatt and his hanging has once again brought back anger within the valley towards the Government of India especially among the youth. A hospital in GMC, Srinagar and the area near the Allama Iqbal library in Kashmir University are named after him as Afzal Guru Hospital and Afzal Guru Chowk respectively. He has been bestowed the title of Shaheed-e-Watan (martyr of the nation) and at Eidgah’s Mazar-e-Shahuda (martyrs’ graveyard) a grave yard for him with gravestone inscribed with a demand for the return of Guru’s mortal remains has been put up just beside the other empty grave of Maqbool Bhatt. The separatist fractions of the valley have come together under the same banner to form an association called MMM (Mutahida Majlise Mashawrat) and their main demand from the Government of India is the return of the mortal remains of Mohmmad  Afzal Guru and Maqbool, both  buried in Tihar jail. The MMM has been instrumental in charting out protest calendars. There are days when separate protest calendars are being sorted out for men and women.

Militant Strikes: Why Now? 
The valley of Kashmir has been on the boil since the hanging of Afzal Guru. Protests continue in the state demanding the return of Guru’s body which is buried in the premises of Tihar jail. The hanging of Guru has given the militants a reason to make a comeback in the valley. Srinagar gives the militants publicity and they are able to draw the attention of the whole world. According to the Director General Police Ashok Prasad, the militants were desperate to strike in Srinagar. “Militants want to strike in Srinagar to gain publicity. Nobody comes to know about them when they strike in a far flung area. They want to strike in Srinagar to give an impression to people that militancy is alive,” he said. (CNS).

Security has been beefed up in Srinagar in order to thwart any such attacks but whether this measure can actually thwart the said attacks is the question which lingers. While handling the protesters on the streets, security forces are ordered not to fire and are advised to use teargas and other less harmful methods to disperse the crowd. In the Bemina case, too, the army was caught unarmed and the attack took them by surprise.

These attacks have reignited the debate of revocation of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). Looking at the fast deteriorating security situation in Kashmir, one can say that AFSPA is here to stay for the time being or it may even be strengthened to meet up the security demands. Amid the protest calendars, life in Kashmir has come to a halt and the public has to face its brunt. It would be tragic if, in their frustration with the failures of the government, the youth were again to pick up arms. All that can be hoped for is that good sense will prevail and violent methods will be abandoned. If not it is predicted that this time the armed rebellion will be deadly.