Sopore Residents Tread a Fine Line Between Fear and Distrust 

Posted: June 20, 2015 in Uncategorized
soporeJun 20 2015 : The Economic Times (Mumbai)
Yesterday Once More: Six killings in a month in the apple town of Kashmir brings back memories of the bloodletting of 1990s, the suspicion and the finger-pointing. Hakeem Irfan reports

Mystery killings in Sopore and the fear and distrust that pervades the apple town of Kashmir brings to mind the bloodletting and the counterinsurgency of the 1990s, when political violence in the state was at its peak.Or if one were of a literary bent of mind, Sopore bears an uncanny resemblance to Salem in Massachusetts, the town where Arthur Miller set his famous play, The Crucible, in 1953. In Salem, everyone was a potential witch.In Sopore, everyone is a potential killer and as the number of killings increases, so does the suspicion and finger-pointing.

Beginning May 25, unidentified gunmen have shot dead six civilians from point-blank range in different areas of this north Kashmir town. Those killed include a Hurriyat activist and former militants.

THE SUSPECTS

It took ch i e f m i n i s t e r M u f t i Mohammed Sayed 23 days and six deaths to respond to the situation. On June 17, he ordered an inquiry and within a day, the Jammu and Kashmir police officially blamed a faction of militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen for the killings. The police also named two of the HM’s active local militants-Abdul Qayoom Najar and Imtiyaz Ahmad Kundu -and plastered their posters all over the town announcing a reward of Rs 10 lakh each seeking information leading to the arrest of the two Sopore residents.

Police sources say a crack team has been set up comprising five officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendents of Police (DySPs) and 450 policemen assigned to the case.

Najar, active for around 20 years now, is one of the few high-profile militants.Kundu who is younger has been active since 2009. The police have named only these two though they claim, at least 12 to 14 HM militants are active in Sopore and Pattan areas of north Kashmir.

“We want to catch them alive. We are expecting a breakthrough soon,“ Senior Superintendent of police, Sopore, Abdul Qayoom, told ET.

On its part, the United Jehad Council, a Muzaffarabad-based conglomerate of militant outfits, led by the HM chief Syed Salahuddin, has termed the killings as the `handiwork of Indian agencies.’ The UJC chief cited an interview of defense minister Manohar Parrikar in May, who stated that the `Army is going for intelligence based target killings in Jammu and Kashmir.’ In the interview, Parrikar had stated that `terrorists will be neutralized by terrorists.’ The killings have brought about unity in an otherwise divided pro-freedom camp, which unanimously called for a successful shutdown across Kashmir, on June 17, against the killings. They also termed it as an act of `Indian agencies.’ Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik even led a protest march in Sopore.

“A mysterious killing process has started here. The new government in India has started a well-planned process to kill common people of the state,“ Hurriyat chairman, Syed Ali Geelani, told ET.

“Time will tell who is telling the truth,“ SSP Qayoom commented on separatist and UJC allegations.

On Friday, most parts of Srinagar and Sopore were under undeclared curfew, perhaps to thwart the separatists who had called for a march to Sopore to protest the killings. The rest of the Valley also observed a shutdown. All the separatists including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yaseen Malik have either been detained or put under house arrest.

THE TRIGGER?

The killings began with a missing rigged Kenwood wireless set which had been mounted on a base transceiver station, a mobile tower. The police recovered the wireless set and claimed the militants were using the set as a signal booster or repeater, for communication. Immediately after the incident, threatening posters appeared across Sopore, announcing the arrival of a group Lashkar-e-Islami, which asked all telecommunication operators to shut shop. The group claimed that police was able to neutralize many militants after intercepting calls. Thus the cellphone network was banned in the name of the freedom movement.

Police claim that Lashkar-e-Islami is actually a Hizbul Mujahideen faction.The first two civilians killed -Rafiq Akbar, 23, and Ghulam Hassan Dar, 50, -were associated with the telecommu nication business, and people here have put two and two together to connect it with LeI warnings to shut down businesses. Unidentified gunmen had asked these people why they were continuing to do business even after the warning posters. The first victim was a security guard of BSNL franchisee, whose owner was also injured. LeI also claimed responsibility for the first two killings saying that the first man was killed unintentionally while the second person was an informer.

This led to a scare among the people, and more importantly, shut down all base transceiver stations across north Kashmir, resulting in a communication breakdown for about two weeks.

When communication was restored, unidentified gunmen struck again. On June 9, Sheikh Altaf-ur-Rehman, 46, a close aide of Geelani, was shot dead near his home. Then, Khursheed Ahmad Bhat, 36, was killed near his shop on June 12. Two more people, Mehraj-ud-din Dar, 38, and Aijaz Ahmad Reshi, 38, were killed on June 14 and 15 outside their respective homes. So far no group has claimed responsibility.

FEAR STALKS FAMILIES

A walk down the main market in Sopore, declared as a separate police district since 2010, confirms the fear and scare that has engulfed the town.Police, CRPF and RR personnel have increased patrolling and almost every passing vehicle is checked and the occupants frisked.

At night, the intensity of patrolling has increased and there is no public movement after 8:30pm. Police have detained several people, including the relatives of the few active militants, for questioning. The apple orchards in Sopore remain, but dotted by the Army, CRPF and SOG personnel, on the prowl.

Ask anybody to comment on the situation, they will either remain silent or look at you with suspicion. Many former militants and freedom sympathizers have already fled Sopore.

“It’s worse than 1990s. Those days we knew, who was on which side. Today there is complete chaos and confusion,“ said Muhammad Imran (name changed), a former militant, who has decided to stay put.

THE DISTRUST 

Family members, relatives and neighbours of most of the people killed believe these were government-sponsored killings. “The killers fled towards the road from where army vehicle was approaching the village after hearing gunshots.Besides, Army was deployed in the whole area. It was impossible for the killers to manage an escapade,“ said Mushtaq Ahmad Reshi, uncle of Ajaz, who was killed on June 15 in Mundji, 8km from Sopore market. Many eyewitnesses, who had seen the assailants, claimed that they were young and between 19 and 23 years and wearing jeans and T-shirts.

Similarly, the family members and neighbours of Dar, Bhat and Sheikh, all of whom were killed close to their homes, claimed they witnessed suspicious movement of Army and CRPF vehicles, near the spot, before or immediately after the incident.

Defence spokesperson Lt Col NN Joshi refuted such allegations, saying, “Why would police announce reward or why would we increase security if we knew who was doing it? These are all baseless allegations.“

BUSINESS AND DEVELOPMENT

Once considered the second-biggest trading hub after Srinagar, Sopore these days is seeing bad times. Being a separatist stronghold, development has evaded this town for over two decades now. Political violence has not helped.

Unseasonal hailstorms added another nail in the coffin.

“Last month we lost almost Rs 150 crore of business,“ president Sopore Traders Association, Muhammad Ashraf Ganai told ET.

In the 2014 floods, an Assocham report said apple cultivators lost Rs 1,000 crore in Kashmir, with the worst-hit districts being Sopore, Baramullah and Kupwara. The apple industry fetches about Rs 4000 crore per annum and its major contribution comes from this north Kashmir town.

In Sopore, a sub-district hospital, whose foundation was laid by former chief minister Sheikh Abdullah decades ago, is still under construction.The hospital functions from an OPD building. Then there is the bypass bridge of Sopore which is still incomplete though 20 years have passed.

“Our 1,900 girls are studying in a fiveroom higher secondary school with a single washroom,“ said Muhammad Muzaffar, another local trader of Sopore.For most part of the last two months, businesses in Sopore have remained largely closed.

 http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/index.aspx?eid=31818&dt=20150620#
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s