The Centre is taking steps to ensure that there is little or no backlash from civilians in Jammu and Kashmir as it restores in phases the operation of landline and 2G mobile services across the region and with schools and government offices set to function as usual from Monday.
The next few months are likely to be a litmus test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration as it begins to restore normalcy in the region against the backdrop of unrest in the valley.
There was an unprecedented civilian backlash in the valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016, following which the Centre had imposed curfew in the region for 45 days even as local Kashmiris clashed with security forces. Against this backdrop, the Centre is not leaving anything to chance this time, especially as security forces stationed in the valley are continuing to grapple with episodic civilian violence.
As many as 266 episodes of stone-pelting were recorded in the valley in the 10 days following Wani’s killing, in which 1,382 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were injured, according to data accessed by Mint. From 6 to 15 August this year, 166 cases of stone-pelting were recorded in the region, in which 45 CRPF personnel were injured.
“Curfew is being lifted in parts this time. In the days following Burhan Wani’s killing there was huge backlash. We know what to expect now and so we know how to tackle it as well. There have been stray episodes of stone-pelting in the last one week, prior to which, between 2 August and 6 August, 80 cases of stone-pelting were recorded. There is more stone-pelting in Srinagar this time," said a senior central government official, requesting anonymity.
Security officials in the valley stated they were keeping a strict vigil on any suspicious movement or activity in the aftermath of the developments of the last two weeks, after the government scrapped the special status for Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
“Areas of south Kashmir are under a very strict vigil. Many over-ground workers of terror outfits are unable to do anything right now because their handlers cannot contact them. Only 2G has been restored in Jammu and no internet is operational on that. Pakistani handlers will certainly take a backseat for some time now and the Centre will do a very strict assessment of when to resume mobile services in Kashmir," said a security official who did not wish to be identified.
Experts, however, said that India would now have to do a tightrope walk to balance the interests of security in the region with steps to prevent muzzling the rights of the people.
“India stands out as a country that has upheld civil liberties. What is going to be on trial is how India balances its security needs vis a vis the democratic guarantees. What will be sacrificed and what will be compromised and what will be upheld is what will distinguish us as a nation. The fact that Pakistan has failed to garner support anywhere except a few sympathetic statements from China indicates that India is on the right path. We must tread carefully and show that we mainstream our opposition within the confines of our Constitution," said D.P.K. Pillay, research fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.