Delhi directives

Situation in Kashmir forced a high level meeting in Delhi chaired by prime minister Manmohan Singh, which discussed a strategy to contain Kashmir unrest. Iftikhar Geelani reports on the fallout.

As soon as the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh touched ground at the technical area of Palam Airport on Tuesday evening, a senior home ministry official handed him over a two-page secret note on Sopore incidents. Sensing that situation in Kashmir was fast slipping out of control, insiders say, the prime minister had already activated hotline on board his Air India One Jumbo while returning from Toronto after attending the G-20 Summit.

He had asked for an immediate report and assessment of situation at the airport itself. As he reached his Race Course road official residence, a fax message from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was also awaiting him. Despite a tiring 14 hour flight and jetlag, he immediately called a meeting of officers. But what rattled Dr. Singh was a report from Raj Bhawan, he received on Wednesday morning. Nobody is sure about the contents of the report, but it resulted in a spiralling activity within South and North Block, the seat of power.

The series of meetings culminated in a high-level meeting chaired by the Prime Minister himself. Earlier it was said that only security and intelligence chiefs would attend the meeting. But later it turned out that Dr. Singh had called Defence Minister A K Antony, Home Minister P Chidambaram and man Friday of his government Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to take some serious decisions.

Prime Minister had earlier asked PCC president Saifuddin Soz to rush to Delhi. He was asked to share his political inputs with Home Minister as well as Defence Minister. On Wednesday, Soz was seen visiting Antony in his office twice, besides meeting Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi and National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon. Asked if there was any significance of Soz’s hip-hops in Delhi, a senior government official here said, he was the only senior Kashmiri political leader available for political inputs, with senior Abdullah and National Conference president cooling heals abroad.

The high-level meeting concluded that lack of “political actions” and emphasis on security was escalating violence and brewing anger amongst youth. Defence Minister put on record that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had requisitioned Army to control mob in Sopore and Baramulla. He wondered if he (Omar) was complaining about the lack of control of CRPF, how was he sure to control the Army, which was designed to use excessive force. Further, Army would not act under the civilian administration or even a magistrate. And they are not meant for mob control. He told meeting that Brigade Headquarters in Baramulla has spared few columns only for “flag march’ and not to control towns.

A terse message that went around after the meeting was that the State government has to initiate political actions by interacting with a cross-section of people in disturbed areas. Prime Minister also asked Home Minister P. Chidambaram to postpone his visit to allow state administration to concentrate on restoring law and order. Congress functionary had also asked Chidambaram to put off his visit lest he has something significant in his hand to announce.  Briefing reporters after the meeting Chidambaram said the chief minister has been advised to visit disturbed areas for a political action. He said  Abdullah has been also told to gear up his ministers to visit and interact with people in the violence hit areas.

While asking central paramilitary forces to exercise restraint while confronting mob, the central leaders agreed that for the sake of return of normalcy strict enforcement of curfew was imperative. “We are reiterating our instruction to paramilitary to exercise maximum restraint. However, if the state government enforces curfew, it must be enforced,” Chidambaram said. Asked on Abdullah’s statement on CRFP, which has angered many in Delhi, Home Minister said, his (Omar’s) latest statement has corrected the wrong impression created by earlier statement.

In order to avoid the repeat of 2008 Amarnath agitation that engulfed Jammu region as well, it was decided to set up a special cell in North Block to coordinate and monitor security and other arrangements related to Amarnath pilgrimage, lest it becomes another sore for the government.

Home Minister said government understands young boys in Kashmir were being misled, but they have no right to pelt stones. He also put onus of latest firing on the Jammu and Kashmir Police as well. He said in three incidents the CRPF had fired in self-defence. “Their camp was attacked in one case and in other case their vehicle was burnt down.

In every other case they were acting jointly with Jammu and Kashmir Police, whose officials might have issued command. He said while exercising restraint, curfew will be enforced strictly.

The Home Ministry also feels the need to look into the fresh “deployment plans” and suggests to create a “buffer” between agitators and the central paramilitary forces to avoid their direct confrontation with angry mob. They also want “reorientation” of the top brass of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has come under criticism for the death of youth.

Top security officials here have mainly faltered the “deployment plan” of forces executed by the state administration. A top Home Ministry official told Kashmir Life that the local police should have taken a dominant role in controlling mobs resorting to violence. “Central paramilitary forces have a secondary role. They form second line of defence,” he said, blaming the state government for deploying the paramilitary forces for dispersing agitating mob.

“They are designed to confront militants and not civilian agitators. They are oriented to use excessive force,” the official said.

Pointing out the laxity of state government, official sources here further said that Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police (JKAP) had not been adequately deployed in Sopore, after the paramilitary forces eliminated two local militants in an encounter. Even no magistrate was accompanying the central forces, which is the duty of local administration and a legal requirement. In absence of any buffer, the central forces had to retaliate even though exercising a maximum restraint. The official described killing of a person with rubber bullet as “freak incident”. The person died even when the central forces had restrained using live ammunition.

Taking on chief minister and his government head-on, the official said, it was wrong to blame the Centre and its forces. “We have no role. We are surprised how a Chief Minster or a senior minister of his government behave or say like this,” he said. ‘It has conveyed a wrong message,” the official added.Further, the Home Ministry officials said the paramilitary forces have “not been taught to run away”. They said that despite repeated reminders, the Jammu and Kashmir government was yet to increase the strength of the state police. “There is a genuine shortage in the state police and the CRPF is not taught to run away in a situation,” senior home ministry official said.  Nearly 70,000 CRPF personnel are now deployed in Kashmir, more than twice the strength of the state armed police.

Security experts here, however, say, the CRPF has a history of confronting and annoying general public in Kashmir. On the morning of January 20, 1989 CRPF personnel had run havoc on the Chota Bazar and Guru Bazar area in Srinagar, the day Governor Jagmohan took over.

The next major incident involving the CRPF was the firing on the funeral procession of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq in May 1990.

Stretegic expert Manoj Joshi, Author of Lost Rebellion believes that in the  ensuing years and following these follies the  CRPF was withdrawn and took a backseat in the struggle in Kashmir. The BSF was brought in to provide the fighting edge to the forces in the urban centres of the state.

“But in 2005, as part of the reforms in defence management, the BSF was ordered back to perform its original mandate of providing border security and the CRPF was again pitch- forked into taking up the major burden of counter- terrorism and counter- insurgency in the state,” he said. But, he maintains that the CRPF had not learnt its lessons. He advocates a complete revamp of the force.

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