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An obstacle course

india Updated: Apr 02, 2009 15:53 IST
Arun Joshi

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is facing obstacles that none of his recent predecessors — including his father — had to face. In the past, there was the simmering legacy of the Muslim-Hindu/Kashmir Valley-Jammu divide that Chief Ministers had to deal with. But with ‘normalcy’ creeping into the state, Abdullah faces rising expectations to find jobs for the state’s unemployed and a better living standard for its people.

But ‘past troubles’ aren’t over yet for Abdullah. When he sought punishment for the Army personnel accused of opening fire in Bomai in Sopore district on February 21 that resulted in the deaths of two people, and ordered the shifting of the Army camp from there, the reaction from the Army and other wings of the security forces was made apparent. Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor was quick to say that the soldiers found guilty would be severely punished.

As it turned out, within 24 hours after the Army court of inquiry held a junior commissioned officer and two soldiers guilty of “various lapses” in the Sopore incident, the ceasefire of 2009 in the Uri sector was violated. Almost simultaneously, the most violent encounter since the May 2002 Kaluchak massacre took place at Hafruda in northern Kashmir. An officer and eight soldiers lost their lives while 17 militants were killed. That’s a body count of almost 1:2. Generally, a ratio of 1:4 is considered ‘acceptable’.

In this context of ‘renewed’ violence, Abdullah may have been encouraged by the Sopore killing to say that he would get the Army camp at Bomai shifted elsewhere. The shifting of the camp to Wadoora, however, evoked equally strong protests from the people. In fact, other protest rallies sprung up in various places seeking removal of security force camps.

A vigorous campaign of demilitarisation has also started again, mirroring signs that Kashmir showed in the summer of 2008, when its people forced the government to return 39.88 hectares of land to the state government, which had been diverted to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.

Security forces have started feeling three kinds of pressures. One, external pressure. Pakistani troops have started violating the ceasefire again, which puts pressure on Indian troops to mount extra vigils and respond in kind. The incidents of firing along the Line of Control (LoC) provide opportunities for infiltrators to enter Indian territory.

Two, internal pressure. This was evident in the way the Hafruda encounter unfolded. The gunbattle lasted for nearly a week and showed that the will and the weaponry of the militants were still very much around.

Three, government pressure. The government, somewhat guided by its own commitments to uphold human rights and faced with pressure from the Opposition, has been less than supportive of the security forces of late. Reportedly the barrack room mood is that soldiers will now have to take casualties before ‘engaging’ with militants. The Hafruda encounter, for security personnel in Kashmir, is a showcase of that.

Abdullah had rightly observed at the beginning of his chief ministerial tenure that everybody was happy that he’s got the ‘top job’. But he, along with Kashmir’s people, would be happier if he is able to live up to their expectations. Given the immediate situation, it seems to be a tall order at the moment.