For the last two days, people in Kashmir are having sleepless nights, as the sound emanating from the frequent movement of the aircraft and helicopters is worrying them. Nobody seems to know the actual purpose of this movement, while Indian Air Force (IAF) officials are passing it off as a “routine exercise”. However, steady increase in the tone of the Indian and Pakistani governments following the Pulwama suicide attack and growing clamour for revenge against Pakistan – blamed to have facilitated the attack – have frightened the people.
Following a suicide car bomb attack that killed at least 40 paramilitary personnel last week, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that Pakistan "will pay a heavy price of the attack", and that "the army will be given free hand to deal with the situation in Kashmir". In response, Pakistan said on Friday that it would retaliate to any kind of military action from India.
The growing hostilities between the countries have taken a toll on the common Kashmiris, as authorities are failing in reducing the sense of panic among the people. “We have not slept last night, and we do not know whether we are going to wake up alive tomorrow. People are avoiding movement, and are hoarding essential items: it’s a doomsday feeling. Can someone tell us what is happening here?” Shah Faisal, a bureaucrat-turned-politician tweeted on Saturday.
On Friday, people woke up with the news of mass arrests of the leaders of Jamat-e- Islami, political wing of the Hizbul Mujahideen. At least 150 of members, including its chief Abdul Hamid Fayaz, were arrested during the night-long raids. All of this was done in response to the suicide attack, and ahead of a hearing in the Supreme Court on the validity of Article 35-A of the Constitution. JKLF Chief Yasin Malik was also arrested from his residence late on Friday night.
The speculations made on social media including WhatsApp groups made the situation worse. Soon, Centre rushed in 100 additional companies of paramilitary forces to the Valley, needed to launch a massive crackdown on the separatist leaders.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has ordered additional deployment of 100 companies (nearly 10,000 troops) of paramilitary forces. This includes 45 companies of CRPF, 35 from BSF and 10 each from SSB and ITBP. Officially, no one has been able to provide reasons for such a massive deployment.
Several orders issued by the government added to the fears of the people. The chief medical officers were directed to collect essential medical supplies and surgical items from the JK Medical supplies corporation, the Government Medical College in Srinagar cancelled the winter vacation of its faculty members, and directed them to positively report for work on Monday, and oil companies were directed to be ready round the clock operations with “limited quota for people” and “rest for the army”. The orders uneased people, who rushed to the provision stores to buy essential supplies. Long queues were seen outside the petrol stations as well.
“No one knows what is happening. I have not slept for the last two days. I called my bureaucrat friend to inquire about the situation, but he too was unaware of the reason. It looks like something big is going to happen,” Mohammad Arif, a local, said.
Another resident said that after the Pulwama attack, the Indian news channels have been clamouring for war. “The sounds of jets and deployment of additional forces have added to our worries, and nightmares of war have snatched our sleep,” Altaf Ahmad, a local from Srinagar, said.
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As the countries trade fire across the line of fire, some people from the Valley said that they want a solution to the "Kashmir problem" even if that means "war between two nuclear powers". "We are fed up of everyday bloodshed, violence, and humiliations. Better is to solve it once for all. War is followed by peace," said Basit Ahmad Wani, a resident of Shopian, adding that even if 90 percent of the population dies in the war remaining 10 per cent would live peacefully.
The former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, in a tweet, also wrote to the Union minister about the sense of panic prevailing in the Valley at the moment, and requested the government to step in with statement and steps that reassure people. He also tweeted: “People in the valley, especially the cities and towns, are taking everything said or done as a sign that some big trouble is just around the corner. People are hoarding food & fuel.”
Taking a dig at the arrests, Leader of People's Conference, an ally of the BJP, Sajad Lone, said that such crackdowns in the past have yielded no results. "Gov (sic) seems to be on an arrest spree. Just a word of caution. Large scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a tried tested and failed model. Please desist from it. It won't work. Things will worsen," he tweeted.
Former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti too criticised the action. “In the past 24 hours, Hurriyat leaders and workers of Jamaat organisation have been arrested. Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in J&K. Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas,” Mehbooba said.
Moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, too, condemned JKLF chief Yasin Malik's detention, and the crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir leadership, saying that force and intimidation will only worsen the situation.
Confirming the arrest of their leaders, Jammat-e-Islamia, in a statement on Saturday, said that during the intervening night of February 22 and February 23, police and other agencies launched a mass arrest drive and raided many houses in the Valley, wherein dozens of its central and district level leaders were arrested, including its Ameer (chief) Jamaat Abdul Hamid Fayaz and advocate Zahid Ali (spokesperson). “…The move is a well-designed conspiracy to pave way for further uncertainty in the region,” the statement said. It further added that the raids are fishy, as they are taking place when the Supreme Court is to hear a petition regarding Article 35A of the Constitution.
Police sources, however, maintained that the arrests were carried in view of the upcoming assembly election in the state.
Amid all the speculations and uncertainties, the fear continues to grip people in Kashmir who suggest that governments of both the countries to initiate the process of dialogue to end the circle of bloodshed in the valley.
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