North Kashmir’s Sopore town has once again emerged as a fountainhead of newly unleashed unrest and violent protests in the state besides being a militancy hotspot in the region.
In four days, five persons including civilians and protesters were killed in violent protests in which thousands of people participated, including women and children.
Sopore, famous for its apples, is hometown of hardline separatists' conglomerate All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Geelani won several elections from Sopore constituency prior to joining the separatists’ movement in 1989. The ailing separatist leader comes from Dooru village in Sopore, which is the sixth largest town in the state.
The town is a strong bastion of other Jamaat-e-Islami ideologues as well. Significant commanders of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen either hail from the town or operate there. Major attacks such as the January 6, 2010 attack were planned in Sopore, and a fidayeen (suicide attackers) in the devastating Lal Chowk attack belonged to the area.
The reason Sopore, 55 km north of Srinagar, is a key standpoint to armed resistance in the state is apparently because of its bloody past. In 1993, the army took more than a month to clear the town of militants. During the process, more than 350 houses were gutted and 54 civilians were killed in the town, then known as chotta (mini) Pakistan.
Since then, with the population of more than 6 lakh spread over 61 squared kilometers, Sopore has been proactive in secessionist movements providing both manpower and sympathisers to militants.
On Friday last, residents started protests demanding the bodies of two militants for burial, which later turned violent and left two youth dead. Residents however alleged CRPF fired first at peaceful protesters triggering violent retaliatory attacks on CRPF personnel. Since then four people have been killed in the security forces’ action to restore law and order.
Pir Saif-ullah, a senior aide of Geelani, addressed Monday thousands of mourners at the town centre during the funeral of a boy killed during clashes the previous evening.
“We will continue our struggle till the last soldier withdraws from Jammu and Kashmir. Our boys who are fighting Indian forces are on the right path,” Saif-ullah said during the rally.
Police failed to arrest Saif-ullah in spite of many attempts to nab him. He is on the Kashmir police's most wanted list.