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Under Abdullah, endless protests grip Kashmir Valley

Call it an irony, but Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's refusal to put up with excesses by security forces is being blamed for the unending street protests rocking the Kashmir Valley.

india Updated: Jul 07, 2009 10:53 IST

Call it an irony, but Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's refusal to put up with excesses by security forces is being blamed for the unending street protests rocking the Kashmir Valley.

This is not the first time Kashmiri men and women, the young and the old, have taken to the streets denouncing killing and rape blamed mainly on the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

But the extent of the demonstrations has surprised the authorities even as militancy levels are down. Almost everything and anything is sparking some protest or the other all over the Muslim-majority valley.

Predictably, separatist political groups are taking advantage of the situation. Street protests criticising security excesses have led to more violence, giving birth to a vicious cycle.

And for all this, Omar Abdullah is facing the flak.

Abdullah, who took power early this year, has been the biggest advocate of zero tolerance against human rights violations.

At the cost of repeating himself, he has maintained that he would rather give up power than shield excesses by the army, the paramilitary forces or his Jammu and Kashmir Police.

"The commitment of the chief minister has in a way encouraged people to protest," a respected Srinagar resident who did not want to be identified by name told IANS. "In the process, the administration has come under tremendous pressure to meet the expectations raised by its own promises."

Most people seem to have decided they will not tolerate rights violations any more in Jammu and Kashmir, where a separatist campaign raging since 1989 has led to tens of thousands of deaths.

Abdullah, whose family is closely linked to the history of Jammu and Kashmir, began his tenure by shifting an army camp near the north Kashmir town of Sopore. And he agreed with Home Minister P. Chidambaram that the CRPF needed to be gradually replaced by the police, which many feel can do a better job.

"These are indications the state government is advocating transparency in tackling the problems," said Muzaffar Ahmad, a college teacher. "These steps also show the government believes the levels of militancy have become manageable."

Said a leader of the ruling National Conference who did not want to be named: "Any issue that can put the government on the defensive is used to the hilt by the separatists."

But most people IANS spoke to feel encouraged that they have been able to extract results from the government by mobbing the streets.

"Within minutes of people blocking roads, district magistrates and senior police officers run to the spot with instant remedies. This is welcome in the long run. But for the smooth functioning of a government, these also become impediments of their own," said a retired bureaucrat.

"The failure of an electric transformer in a village, the lack of good roads and water taps going dry at some places have evoked protests during the last six months. There are, of course, demonstrations against killings in police firing, custodial deaths, torture and disappearances."

At a number of places, the security forces have been found guilty of using excessive force while facing angry crowds, resulting in the loss of human lives.

"One death during a protest triggers an even larger reaction and sets in motion a change that becomes self-sustaining and problematic for the administration," said an intelligence officer.

Even now, the police are not as sensitive as they should be.

"The administration lost five precious days in registering an FIR in the rape and murder of two women at Shopian," said Bashir Manzar, a senior journalist. "An FIR should have been the first step. The fact that the whole valley had to erupt in violent protests to force the police to register an FIR proved the protesters' point."

The chief minister's admirers and critics feel it is time Abdullah set up an administration that does not wait for protests to erupt before acting.

"Unless that happens, it would be potatoes today and pork tomorrow against which people will take to the streets in Kashmir," said another resident.