Govt tells security forces not to launch ops in Kashmir for Ramzan, Mehbooba welcomes ‘ceasefire’
The decision has been taken to help the people of Jammu and Kashmir observe Ramzan in peaceful environmentUpdated: May 17, 2018 13:09 IST
Security forces in Jammu and Kashmir will halt counter-insurgency operations during the Islamic holy month of Ramzan in the first ceasefire in the troubled state in more than 17 years, the Centre said on Wednesday, accepting a demand made by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
“Decision taken to help the peace loving Muslims observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment,” Union home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted on Wednesday, clarifying that security forces reserve the right to retaliate if they are attacked or if it is essential to protect the lives of civilians.
Singh said the decision had been communicated to Mehbooba who, in a Twitter post, said she “wholeheartedly” welcomed the ceasefire and thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Singh.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Ramadan ceasefire & would like to thank @narendramodi ji & @rajnathsingh ji for their personal intervention. My gratitude also to the leaders & parties who participated in the All Party Meeting & helped build consensus towards this announcement. 1/2— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) May 16, 2018
Soon after the announcement, an encounter broke out between security forces and militants in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, the Press Trust of India reported, quoting the police.
The militants opened firing on an Army patrol at Jamnagri in Shopian district, the police said, adding that Army personnel returned fire. No casualties were reported.
The announcement follows an increase in unrest in Kashmir this year. Since the start of the year until April-end, according to government data, around 60 terrorists had been killed in the Valley and 27 among them were locals. Some 29 security force personnel and several civilians have also died.
Forty-eight infiltration attempts by terrorists based in Pakistan had been recorded till the end of last month and half among them were successful.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group rejected the centre’s announcement. In a statement, LeT spokesperson Abdullah Ghazanwi quoted the group’s chief Mehmooad Shah as saying “the statement of India’s interior minister is nothing but a drama. It may be a wish of India and its few sympathizers and nothing else.”
“ … (The) cease-fire is no option and no thought can be given on such compromise,” he said adding “we are in favor of negotiations but the talks of negotiations in presence of armed occupational forces in the region are lies.”
Calls to the separatist leaders (or their spokespersons), including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Geelani did not yield any reaction. Malik said he was driving and dropped the call. Mirwaiz did not pick his phone. Geelani’s spokesperson refused to comment. The trio issued a joint statement later urging people to organise peaceful protests on Friday in solidarity to “our Palestinian brethren”.
Mehbooba convened the all-party meeting earlier this month to discuss the recent unrest in the Kashmir valley. She said after the meeting that the participants had agreed to appeal to the Centre to announce a ceasefire within the state. The month of Ramzan is due to begin on Thursday.
The last time around, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that had declared non-initiation of combat operations (NICO) in the state which remained in force between November 2000 and May 2001. During that ceasefire, the Srinagar airport came under a militant attack in January 2001.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Singh said: “(The) government expects everyone to cooperate in this initiative and help the Muslim brothers & sisters to observe Ramzan peacefully and without any difficulties.” Singh said it was important to isolate the forces that bring a bad name to Islam by resorting to mindless violence and terror.
The centre’s Kashmir interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma termed the ceasefire a “great initiative” by the government ,which must be supported by everyone.
“I urge upon every individual in J&K particularly youth to respond positively by playing an active role in ending violence there. Violence will take us nowhere. Peace must be given a chance. All issues can be resolved through dialogue,” Sharma told HT.
Officials familiar with government discussions on the issue before the announcement said Sharma had been a votary of putting operations against militants on hold during Ramzan but it was always a political call and the government decided to take the gambit.
The army had flagged its concerns last week over the move, saying it could allow terrorists an opportunity to regroup at a time when the security forces have an upper hand in the Valley, but home ministry officials said the army’s concerns had been taken into account before the halt was announced.
Following the announcement, army officials, monitoring the Kashmir situation, said the government had made it clear that the security forces had the right to retaliate if attacked and also to protect civilians. They added that the army would carry out fewer cordon and search operations (CASO) and search and destroy operations (CADO) for the one-month period.
“Road opening parties and area sanitisation operations will continue as convoys have to move,” said a senior officer who did not wish to be named.
The union home ministry , in a detailed statement, said unity in diversity was India’s unique strength and all religions and communities have always received full respect in India.
“The holy month of Ramzan is commencing from tomorrow, which is observed by Muslims all over the world. It is a matter of regret that over the last few years, terrorists have indulged in large scale bloodshed not only in India but also in other parts of the World, even during this holy month. This has caused immense suffering to peace loving Muslims adhering to the true tenets of Islam. People belonging to other communities have also suffered,” said the ministry.
The statement said the government had been trying to create an environment free of terror and violence to enable Muslims to observe Ramzan peacefully.
“Motivated by this consideration, (the) Government has issued instructions to the security forces and army not to undertake offensive operations during the period of Ramzan in Jammu & Kashmir. However, if it is essential for protecting the life of the common people, the security forces will be compelled to take appropriate action. It is expected that all Muslim brothers and sisters following the true tenets of Islam will cooperate in ensuring the success of this initiative during the holy month of Ramzan,” added the statement.