How Did The Media Comment Upon Kashmir Civilian Killings?

SRINAGAR: The recent spate of killings has pushed Kashmir to the front pages yet again. Given the timing and the consequences of these killings, various newspapers have commented on the emerging situation in their editorials. Here are some of the editorials by major newspapers within and outside Delhi about Kashmir.

CRPF and Police Personnel at school in Eidgah Srinagar after two teachers were shot dead on Thursday, October 7, 2021. KL Image

Blood Returns

The strain on kashmiriyat — an indigenous tradition of harmony and syncretism — is all the more unfortunate given the growing alienation between the Valley and nation

The Telegraph, Kolkotta
October 11, 2021-10-14

Is the spectre of militancy returning to haunt Kashmir Valley, once again? The recent spurt in killings of civilians has raised this chilling prospect. As many as seven civilians have fallen victim to terror attacks in the last few days; the figure has touched 28 this year. Among them are a pharmacist — he was a Kashmiri Pandit — educators as well as a food vendor. The targeted killings seem to be suggestive of a shift in the strategy of militants, with identity being the preferred motive of the bloodshed. What is pertinent is that those martyred belonged predominantly to such minority communities as Sikhs and Hindus. This is a calculated strike on the part of the nation’s adversaries at the very heart of pluralism and accommodation. The strain on kashmiriyat — an indigenous tradition of harmony and syncretism — is all the more unfortunate given the growing alienation between the Valley and the nation. The blame for that cannot be laid on non-State actors alone. The rhetoric of integration — the former state of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government in the name of assimilation — and normalcy disseminated by the powers that be has been dismantled by the violence. While it is true that heavy military presence in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 prevented major terror attacks, the unilateral nature of the abrogation of Article 370 as well as the sustained anti-Muslim narrative of recent times have soured the public mood in the Valley. There is a possibility that militants are keen on exploiting this disenchantment by targeting minorities in the Valley in the hope of unleashing retributive retaliation against Muslims in other parts of the country. The resultant vicious cycle can threaten inclusiveness in Kashmir and India. This must be resisted with a robust political response.

The security apparatus, too, must be nimble in the face of the changing nature of the challenges. Many of these attacks, it is believed, have been carried out by faceless cadre, making it difficult to identify the perpetrators. There has also been an influx of firearms, say defence sources. While these issues need to be dealt with firmly, care should be taken that the response — whether administrative or military — is not disproportionate to the scale of the threat. The way to win the battle against militancy is through the heart of the people of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the Narendra Modi government’s ‘overtures’ have done nothing to alleviate the festering, subterranean, collective resentment.

Preventing a further slide in situation will need govt to make course corrections in Kashmir urgently
The fact is that an increasing number of civilians, most of them Kashmiri Muslims, have been targeted by militants since 2019. This year, 28 people had been killed until October 7.

The Indian Express, Delhi
October 9, 2021

The spate of targeted killings of civilians in the Valley, claimed by the shadowy “The Resistance Front”, marks a shift in the methods adopted by those seeking to destabilise Jammu & Kashmir, including a clear attempt to deepen the religious divide. Over two days this week, the deliberate targeting of a Kashmiri Pandit chemist who refused to leave in 1990, the singling out of two teachers, one a Sikh and the other a Jammu Hindu, and of a street vendor from Bihar, were aimed at marking out “outsiders” and those “assisting the occupying forces”, and are intended to spread fear among these small communities, that have been long-time residents in the Valley. In the aftermath, it is necessary that the J&K administration, and the government at the Centre, desist from deploying communal tropes to paint these episodes as a reprise of 1990. Nothing would be more misguided. The fact is that an increasing number of civilians, most of them Kashmiri Muslims, have been targeted by militants since 2019. This year, 28 people had been killed until October 7, last year 37 were killed in the same period, and in 2019, the number was 38. Most of them are Kashmiri Muslims suspected of being “collaborators” of the post-2019 set-up in J&K.

The TRF is believed to be an amalgam of old groups that have long been present in the Valley, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the new name offering plausible deniability to each. What has been obvious from recent encounters is that these militants are ill-trained, in most cases armed only with pistols, and they no longer advertise themselves on social media as recruits did in the 2015-17 phase. Most of them would fall in the category of “overg-round” militants, or “hybrid” as the security establishment now refers to them because they may be only partially active. This is one reason why the security establishment is finding it harder to locate them.

The killings puncture the “all is well, tourism has replaced terrorism” myth that the government has peddled after August 5, 2019 when it abolished J&K’s special status under Article 370, and bifurcated and converted it into two Union Territories. It is no secret that the “normalcy” of the Union Territory of J&K is not maintainable without the present saturation level troops that patrol the Valley. The administration has silenced open dissent and criticism in the Valley with an unofficial gag on news media, going after social media users with UAPA and sedition laws, and summary dismissals of government employees with critical views.

Recent decisions by the government, such as an online portal for “righting” distress sale of Pandit properties in the 1990s, with no clarity on procedures for deciding such claims, have not helped. Above all, the restrictions on political activity have robbed the people of a pressure vent. Preventing a further slide in the situation will require the government to make several course corrections in Kashmir urgently.

Police personnel cordoned off the Sangam area of Srinagar where two teachers were shot dead on Thursday, October 7, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Grim Turn: On Srinagar Civilian Killings
While pursuing terrorists, the administration should also engage with civil society in J&K

The Hindu, Chennai
October 09, 2021

The killings of seven civilians in Srinagar in six days mark a grim turn in the situation in the Kashmir Valley. This vicious, mindless violence against commoners, owned up by a group that calls itself the Resistance Front — believed to be a shadow organisation of the Pakistan-based LeT — is yet another reminder of the pathological hatred transnational radical Islamism inspires. The victims include local Muslims who were branded traitors, but the targeting of the Hindu Pandit and Sikh minority communities is unmistakable. Srinagar’s prominent Kashmiri Pandit chemist, Makhan Lal Bindroo, whose decision to stay on through the violent 1990s was seen as a positive omen by the displaced community, was gunned down. The killers used epithets such as ‘RSS stooge’, ‘police informer’ and ‘traitor’ for the victims. Majid Ahmad Gojri and Mohammad Shafi Dar were killed on October 2. On October 7, a Sikh principal and a Kashmir Pandit who had returned to the Valley after taking up a job under the Prime Minister’s special job package for migrant Pandits, were gunned down. Islamist terrorists have sought an ethnic cleansing of the Valley for long.

The Pandits had to leave in large numbers in 1990 following violence. After 1994, attacks on minorities became episodic, but not without periodical outrages such as the Wandhama massacre, when 23 Pandits were shot dead in January 1998 and the Chittisinghpura massacre, in which 35 Sikhs were killed in Anantnag in March 2000.

The wave of violence is taking place against the backdrop of an uptick in tourist inflow to the Valley and the Centre’s push to promote a raft of development schemes. The administration is also encouraging the Pandits to return. A nine-week-long outreach of the Centre in J&K where Union Ministers are visiting remote districts, including those closer to the LoC, is under way. Union Home Minister Amit Shah could make a visit later this month. Strict directives were issued to unfurl the national flag in all government buildings, including schools, on August 15.

There is also a higher level of intolerance by the administration, which does not spare even the political activities of mainstream parties. There is an aggressive drive too to punish government staff suspected to be separatist sympathisers. Civilians are soft targets for the terrorists in this milieu.

According to police figures, J&K saw 28 civilian killings, surpassing the 22 casualties of security personnel so far this year. Of the 28 killings, four were local Hindus, one Sikh, two non-local Hindu labourers and 21 local Muslims; 23 were political workers, with most from the BJP. No society can tolerate such violence. But while pursuing terrorists, the administration should also engage with political parties and civil society organisations.

Popular pharmacist Makhan Lal Bindroo cremated in presence of relatives and members from the Muslim community at Srinagar cremation ground. Bindroo was killed on Tuesday evening October 6, 2021 by unknown gunmen at his shop at Iqbal Park, Srinagar. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Targeted Killings In Valley
Ensure crushing defeat for attempts to repeat horrors of past

Tribune, Chandigarh
October 8, 2021

Targeted killings of prominent citizens belonging to the minority communities in the Kashmir valley during the past few days have created an atmosphere of panic and fear. More civilians than security forces’ personnel have been killed in terrorist-related incidents this year in Jammu and Kashmir, reversing a six-year trend, pointing towards concerted efforts by Pakistan-backed Islamist terror groups and handlers to create a communal situation that could trigger an exodus of Hindus and Sikhs.

On Tuesday, 70-year-old Makhan Lal Bindroo, a well-known Kashmiri Pandit pharmacist in Srinagar who had refused to leave even during the peak of militancy, was shot dead, as also a street vendor from Bihar. On Thursday, two teachers of a government school, including a Sikh woman, were killed while they were at work.

News reports suggest serious attempts to target businessmen, aimed at sending a message to non-Muslims who have been staying here peacefully for decades. The security establishment and the civil administration have a huge task on their hand to instil a sense of security and calm. Amid the gloom, the strong condemnation of the brutal acts of violence, cutting across political, religious and ideological lines, is the balm Kashmir needs badly. The stoicism, fearlessness and courage shown by the late Bindroo’s daughter in the face of extreme pain and loss have resonated in every home, whatever the faith of its occupants. Kashmir has seen too much blood and tears to allow any repeat of the horrors of the past.

As there is a reset on strategy to hunt down the terror groups and a review of the threat perception of the vulnerable, there is a paramount need to involve political leaders, community representatives and the civil society to ensure communal harmony, and dispel anxieties. A political dialogue — difficult as it surely is after the scrapping of Article 370 and the events that followed — may still be a work in progress, but active engagement can be quite handy in effective public messaging, given the circumstances.

Dr Farooq Abdullah at the residence of chemist ML Bindroo who was killed on Tuesday, September 6, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The Killings In Kashmir
India has a hard task ahead. Boost security, nab terrorists, ensure communal peace. Figure out a Kashmir strategy that combines democracy, dignity, and rights for all

Hindustan Times, Delhi
October 8, 2021

A Kashmiri Sikh school principal, a Dogra school teacher, a Kashmiri Pandit chemist, two Kashmiri Muslims, and a worker from Bihar in Kashmir have been shot dead in Srinagar in the past week. Each killing is a tragedy, but when each killing is possibly a part of a larger design — to impose a fanatical agenda, to destroy the communal fabric, to trigger a response which would only lead to more bloodshed, and to deepen a conflict — it is not just a tragedy but a larger game-plan, possibly hatched by Pakistan, which has a track record of sponsoring terror, which must be resisted.

Four features of the killings stand out. One, minorities in Kashmir are being targeted for just that — being minorities. This is an eerie reminder of the dark days of 1990 when Kashmiri Pandits were killed, threatened and forced to flee. Two, irrespective of the exact terror organisation that is behind the current set of attacks, its aim is to both challenge Indian sovereignty in the Valley and impose an extreme, violent, and intolerant brand of religious homogeneity. Three, Pakistan or at the very least, some section of the Pakistani establishment, would have, in the most charitable of explanations, been aware of the killings, or in the more likely of explanations, encouraged it. And four, this could well mark the beginning of a season of turbulence in Kashmir. The winter may offer a reprieve but the summer of 2022 will perhaps be vulnerable from the security point of view. Some of the factors behind this are internal: Lack of a mainstream regional political buffer, potential for radicalisation and indoctrination of the young, the fact that terrorists can quite easily generate a sense of fear making the work of security forces difficult. And some are external — an emboldened Pakistan, a more powerful Inter-Services Intelligence than it has been in decades, a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan with terror affiliates thrilled to shift focus to Kashmir.

India has a hard task ahead. It has to sharpen its domestic and external intelligence collection. It has to trace the logistical and financial support system which is enabling these attacks. It has to bolster security arrangements, especially in areas with minority presence. It has to ensure that the killings do not deepen religious and regional divisions — and prevent any attacks, in the name of retaliation, against innocent Kashmiri Muslims. And it has to figure out a Kashmir strategy that combines democracy, dignity, and rights for all with the imperatives of security in an adverse geopolitical setting.

Family members and relatives of slain school principal Friday staged a silent sit-in outside civil secretariat Srinagar on Friday October 8,2021. KL Image

Terror’s New Turn
Targeted killings in Kashmir must be countered immediately to preserve socio-political gains

The Times of India, Delhi
October 7, 2021

Terrorism in Kashmir appears to be entering a new phase with the recent spate of targeted killings throwing a fresh challenge to security forces. On Tuesday, Kashmiri Pandit businessman Makhan Lal Bindroo was shot dead in his pharmacy while a street food vendor from Bihar and the president of a taxi stand were also gunned down. Yesterday, terrorists stormed into a government school in Srinagar and shot dead the principal and a teacher who were from the Sikh and Hindu communities. Earlier in September, a probationary sub-inspector was shot point-blank by militants, although targeting of policemen in Kashmir isn’t new.

While there has been a perceptible decline in big-ticket terror attacks following New Delhi’s decision to nullify Article 370 in 2019 – thanks in large measure to a security grid that sees the army, CRPF and police forces coordinate effectively – terrorism is yet to be fully stamped out. On the contrary, the targeted killings signal that the terrorists are adapting to the new environment – which has largely been peaceful, defying expectations of massive unrest after the revocation of special status – and now intend using small hit squads to intimidate anyone that supports the new normal.

This new tactic is bound to have a chilling effect on Kashmiri civil society. In fact, there are parallels here with what was witnessed in Afghanistan after the US inked the Doha pact with Taliban. Afghan cities saw a significant rise in targeted killings with gunmen targeting women activists, social workers and journalists. The killings were Taliban’s way of sending across the message that the eliminated individuals did not have space in their incoming regime.

With Pakistan backing both Taliban and terrorists in Kashmir, the copying of terror tactics can’t be ruled out. Targeted killings are difficult to tackle given their decentralised nature – they also allow Pakistan to portray violence in Kashmir as local. To counter this, there needs to be a quantum leap in intelligence capabilities in Kashmir leading to quick neutralising of the militants. The terrorists want Kashmiri civilians to lose faith in the Indian state. The latter, therefore, must not fail the people.

Deaths In The Valley And A Deep Sense of Hurt Too

But whatever the intended message and Pakistan’s devious designs on Kashmir, the fact is that there is a deep sense of anger and hurt in the Valley currently.

The New Indian Express, Chennai
October 7, 2021

In the Jammu and Kashmir government’s playbook, promises of industrial investment, tourist inflow, road construction and power generation, among others, are the yardsticks of normalcy in the Kashmir Valley. Tourists are indeed thronging the Valley and development work is being undertaken in an earnest manner. But the reality also is that death lurks at almost every corner. It strikes almost at will in an unseen and unsuspecting manner despite the government’s proclamations and statistical jugglery of a peaceful Kashmir.

This was driven home on Tuesday when militants shot dead three civilians in the space of a few hours, one of them a prominent Kashmiri Pandit businessman, Makhan Lal Bindroo, who did not follow in the footsteps of his community members and flee the Valley despite years of militancy, turmoil and bloodshed. Why the militants chose to target him is a matter of investigation, but the plausible reason is the administration’s recent steps, including the launching of a website, to facilitate and expedite the return of the Pandits to Kashmir. This was widely perceived to be a major initiative to bring back those who had fled to safer havens. Perhaps, by killing Bindroo, the militants wanted to send a chilling message to those who were planning to buy a flight ticket back to the Valley.

But whatever the intended message and Pakistan’s devious designs on Kashmir, the fact is that there is a deep sense of anger and hurt in the Valley currently. In such an atmosphere, suspicion hangs heavy and there is a trust deficit all around. Government officials don’t trust their own employees, inquisitive locals are seen as police informers and journalists are viewed as militant agents.

All this appears to be fuelling a dangerous trend wherein the space for pro-India sentiments is slowly shrinking. To arrest this, the government, both in the Centre and J&K, must quickly work in partnership with mainstream political parties so that separatist space is not allowed to expand. Such an official imprimatur is likely to get widespread support. This will also ensure that the gains made from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative of the all-party meeting in June are not frittered away.

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