Kashmir In Panic, But Does Not Know Why

SRINAGAR: Kashmir is in panic. In fact, it did not sleep since Friday night after social media started getting tons of information about happenings that had not happened anywhere. There were rumours about certain things unfolding as well. The frequent movement of the aircrafts and the helicopters was the sole reason for instant insomnia of the residents.

A view of Lalchchowk during the shutdown.

It was a war but it was not as borders are calm. It was not the undoing of Article 35(A) either because the case is not listed till Tuesday in the Supreme Court. People struggled the entire night getting somebody to confirm either of the two things. Nobody could because there was nothing around.

It was only in the morning that it was known that a pan Kashmir crackdown was going on during the night. Almost 150 Jamat-e-Islami leaders were rounded up during the nightlong raids. The detained included all the top leaders of the party at the state, district and tehsil levels.

Other than raids, what possibly was happening during the night was a mock drill by the IAF.

The other fact was that the big transport planes started flying the 100 coys – read 10,000 plus, of the central paramilitary forces personnel to Srinagar. The Home Ministry had directed immediate shifting of the additional paramilitary forces to Srinagar. Early morning, hundreds of vehicles – passenger buses, mini-buses, trucks, were lined up outside Srinagar’s Police Control Room to get in and fill their tanks and leave for the airport.

BSF Returns

The reinforcement is being seen as a major shift as the Border Security Force (BSF) is re-entering Srinagar at various places replacing the incumbent CRPF. Reports suggest that they will be deployed on “static guard duties” in Srinagar.

This will be happening for the first time since 2005 when the BSF was replaced by the CRPF after 14 years of its deployment on counter-insurgency duties in the capital city. Now BSF will be at static guard at “16 sensitive places” in the city.

With the road between Jammu and Srinagar already closed, the situation on stocks front is already in mess. Various petrol pumps have reported that their stocks are running dry. LPG is also slightly scarce. In fact, two orders, which were shared hugely on the social media added to the panic.

One order was issued by the Director of Health Services Kashmir (JKMSCL/PS/K/2019/367-71) on Saturday. “In view of the prevailing situation, it is impressed upon all the Chief Medical Officers to collect the available supplies of drugs, medicines, surgical disposable items and other allied items under rules for their districts(s) including district hospitals from the JKMSCL Regional Drug Ware – GMC Bemina, Srinagar, just tomorrow positively in the interest of patient care,” the order reads. “The Regional Drug Ware- GMC Bemina Srinagar will remain open on 24-02-2019 (Sunday).”

Another order issued by the Assistant Director Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs also issued on Saturday said the “TSOs of Srinagar south are hereby directed to ensure the complete sale of food grains by this evening today positively…”

These orders added to the panic in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar. “People in the valley, especially the cities & towns, are taking everything said or done as a sign that some big trouble is just around the corner. People are hoarding food & fuel. Some government orders are adding to the sense of panic.,” Omar Abdullah wrote on Twitter. “The administration needs to take steps to reduce this sense of panic. People are wound tight with worry & the speculation on some TV news channels is contributing to this as well. Let’s hope someone in the government is listening.”

Shah Faesal addressed a tweet to the Prime Minister: “Prime Minister @narendramodi We haven’t slept last night and we don’t know whether we are going to wake up alive tomorrow. People are avoiding movement & hoarding essential items; it is a doomsday feeling. Can someone tell us what’s happening here? Kashmir wants peace.”

But it also does not mean that there is nothing happening. The biggest crisis that the news-conscious Kashmir is facing is that while many things are happenings, nobody knows why and how. Even the borders are tense, even if calm.

Shifting Priorities

A hint came from Saamana, a newspaper of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai. In its editorial comment, the newspaper has claimed that RSS has temporarily changed its stand. The “new stand” has put the Ram Mandir issue on the back-burner and gave “priority” to Kashmir in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack (apparently because) it fits the current narrative in the country.

Sangh Parivar has decided to keep aside the Ram temple issue and give attention to topics like Pulwama and Kashmir. RSS also feels that the country needs a strong and a stable government to solve the problems of Kashmir,” a report quoting Saamana said. “RSS feels terrorism cannot be uprooted unless there is a stable government and a strong Prime Minister. It also feels that without a strong government, Pakistan cannot be taught a lesson and issues concerning Kashmir cannot be resolved.”

It added: “RSS now feels that attention of people should be diverted from issues like construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya; implementation of a Uniform Civil Code; (abrogation of) article 370 etc. to issues like Kashmir, Pulwama, and electing a stable government.”

 US Concerned

The second major indicator is the statement of the US president Donald J Trump. “There’s a terrible thing going on right now between Pakistan and India. It’s a very very bad situation, and it is a dangerous situation between the two countries. We would like to see it stop. A lot of people were just killed,” Trump has told reporters in the White House. “India is looking at something very strong. India just lost almost 50 people. A lot of people are talking. But it’s a very very delicate balance going on. Right now there’s a lot of problem b/w India & Pakistan because of what just happened in Kashmir. It’s very dangerous.”

During his White House address, Trump has stated that his administration was talking to authorities in both countries and hoped hostilities would soon end in the Valley.

“I stopped paying Pakistan the USD 1.3-billion that we used to pay them. In the meantime, we may set up some meetings with Pakistan. Pakistan was taking very strong advantage of the United States under other presidents,” Trump has said. “We were paying Pakistan USD 1.3 billion a year. I ended that payment because they were not helping us in the way they should have.”

“Trump, however, added the United States has developed a “much better” relationship recently with Pakistan and added that the US may set up some meetings with Pakistan,” Al Jazeera reported. “US envoys say Pakistan has an important role to play in Afghan peace talks, given its links to the Taliban.”

Tense Border

Amid reports of tensions, Pakistan Army chief on Friday has visited forward positions at the Line of Control (LoC). India Today reported that General Qamar Javed Bajwa asked them to be ready to face any possible event. “He also reviewed the troops’ state of preparedness. It was the first visit of the Army chief to the LoC since tension escalated between the two countries after the Pulwama terror attack,” it said.

A deployment of a female unit of CRPF in Kashmir.

The visit came amid reports by Times of India that Pakistani fighter jets like F-16s flew a few combat air patrols and photo reconnaissance missions close to the international border over the last two days.

“Defence sources on Friday said Pakistan was “trying to signal that it was prepared for any eventuality” as well as “check our alertness and preparedness levels” by flying its fighters close to the border in the Jammu and Munabao (Rajasthan) sectors,” the newspaper said. “Two low-flying Pakistani fighters generated sonic booms (akin to loud explosions or thunder) by breaking the sound barrier in Sialkot area on Thursday evening, which created panic among civilians living there… some took to Twitter and other social media platforms to express fears of a war breaking out. We are closely monitoring the situation,” the newspaper quoted the sources say.

The report explained further: “Such fighter flying operations close to the borders, however, are not unusual during heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, with their air forces probing the rival’s air defence systems and measures as well as the “reaction time” needed for them to kick in.”

Insisting that the Indian armed forces are also “maintaining a high level of operational readiness”, the newspaper said there are heavy exchanges between two armies in Nowshera, Mankot and other sectors along the LoC.

India Today reported that Pakistan has warned people living along the Line of Control that India may attack to avenge last week’s suicide bombing in Pulwama. “It has asked the area’s residents to avoid groups, arrange bunkers, turn off unnecessary lights at night and report suspicious activity,” the report said. “Pakistan’s message to civil authorities in PoK was sent on Thursday, and specifically mentions Bhimber, Neelam, Rawalkot, Haweli, Kotli and Jhelum.”

PM Speaks

Insisting “our fight is against terror, the enemies of humanity… Our fight is for Kashmir not against Kashmir, not against Kashmiris,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday denounced reported attacks on Kashmiri youths following Pulwama terror attack. He was speaking to a public gathering at Tonk in Rajasthan.

“What happened to Kashmiri youths in the last few days…It does not matter whether the incident was small or big, such things should not happen. Kashmiri youths are victims of terror. Every child of Kashmir is with India in our fight against terror,” Hindustan Times quoted Modi saying.

He referred to his congratulatory phone call to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, when he assumed office after the general elections in Pakistan 2018, in which he flagged a joint battle for poverty and illiteracy.

“Pakistan’s prime minister told me, ‘I am the son of a Pathan. I do what I say.’ It is time to test his words,” Modi told the audience.

The prime minister used the occasion to serve a warning to Kashmiri separatist leaders. “Action has been taken against separatists and more action will be taken against such people…We can’t keep silent, we know how to crush terror,” he said. “I am proud that our security forces sent the perpetrators (of Pulwama attack) within 100 hours to where they belong.”

“Trust the brave soldiers of the country and trust the Modi government…This time, everyone will be taken to justice and complete justice will be served,” said PM Modi adding, “Your pradhan sevak is busy finishing terror…If I am destined to put locks to the factory of terror, so be it.” He added: “Pakistan is being accounted for everything that they have done. There is anxiety in Pakistan due to the steps we have taken after the terror attack.”

Post Script

State’s Consumer Affairs department has stated that the order was a routine one, and has been withdrawn. It advised people against getting panicky.

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