Highway blockade in Kashmir: Horrors of Democracy…
The government of Jammu and Kashmir said civilian traffic on the highway was banned from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday and Wednesday until May 31, to allow for exclusive movement of security convoys. The decision comes after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a military convoy on the same highway – a lifeline for a large number of civilians – in Kashmir’s Pulwama town, killing at least 40 army personnel in February.
In an order issued, the government spokesman said: “Keeping in view the large movement of security forces on the national highway during the parliamentary elections and associated possibility of any Fidayeen [suicide] terror attack on security forces’ convoys, the state government has notified specified days in a week for the movement of security forces from Srinagar to Jammu. During these days, no civilian traffic would be allowed on the National Highway.”
Some mainstream politicians call themselves Mujahid-e-Awal , some call to restore presidency and Prime Minster while as some say we want dual currency and road link to Pakistan. Some call for plebiscite. But one wonders, why GoI doesn’t charge them for treason and book them under Public safety act because they cause rebellion. I request to the GoI to put these traitors behind bars because they cheat all and if they do anything good, they only fill their coffers with money and money and cause communal tension.
Now, the freedom of 10 million people is being chocked. You cannot move on roads on particular days even if you are pregnant woman and about to deliver. Even if you have a serious illness still then you cannot proceed ahead or God forbid one has a serious accident- you can’t ply on roads.
Children can’t go to School .You can’t buy medicine. And it is 300km long Baramullah Jammu highway that connects the Kashmir region with the rest of the country and connects various districts.
The partial ban was ordered in connection with the recent fidayeen attack when a car rammed into the convoy and killed scores of security men. But the recent decision to ban civilian movement has directly been imported from Israel, because in Gaza certain roads are blocked for Gazans citing the same reasons. Gazans resist, but our people are right now busy in drum beatings and have wore garlands round their necks and are over drunk in this festival of multiphase April elections.
Since the terrorist attack in Pulwama in February, many decisions taken by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir have hit headlines for wrong reasons and the ban on civilian traffic on the 271-km National Highway 44 between Udhampur and Kashmir for two days every week is one of them. Insiders say that the decision was taken by the Chief Secretary of the state in consultation with New Delhi and army was not kept in the loop.
Various stakeholders in the valley have interpreted the “ban” differently. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh justified it. But the army claims they were not consulted before the decision was taken. And to drive the point home, they have been moving on the highway on all days except Fridays. They term their movement as “operational duty”. Even Jammu and Kashmir police has been using the road regularly.
So the question arises, whom does the decision benefit? Only forces that are being deployed in the valley for the elections – about 500 companies or 50000 soldiers, say some.
Sources say regular inputs are pouring in that after Pulwama attack Jaish-e-Mohammed may strike again. “Post Banihal no one wanted to take chance as stakes are very high especially because of the elections,” a senior functionary in the government said, referring to the blast late last month that had striking similarities to February’s Pulwama attack but fortunately no one was hurt.
According to him, after another attack will push the subcontinent to war.
The ruling BJP is worried that in election season, another attack on security forces would have far-reaching effects nationwide. And that is why the ban was imposed. But did the party not think how they are alienating Kashmiris further? Opposition parties claim that the BJP is not bothered with difficulties being faced by local Kashmiris as they are not their vote bank.
The pitch of resentment spikes on Sundays and Wednesdays – the days of ban. Last Wednesday, a man was granted permission to travel by a duty magistrate with a stamp and scribble on the palm of his hand. A picture of the humiliating hall pass later went viral on the social media.
The government, however, claims that they have tried to tackle problems on the ground by deploying magistrates at strategic spots on the road to issue on-the-spot permissions to the people in an emergency but locals say it is not making any difference.
The reason is that the highway is used by thousands every day and all of them do it for diverse social, medical and economic reasons. And it is not possible to issue permissions to all of them when the issue at play is the security of the convoys. So the crisis seems unlikely to subside any time soon.
There is no doubt that security convoys present a perfect target for the militants as they are long and slow-moving vehicles carrying troops both ways. But to counter such attacks, certain measures were put in place in the past and a multi-tier security system has long been enforced. This comprises of jamming of Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (RCIEDs) frequencies, corridor-protection teams, deep deployments all along the National Highway and stopping of civilian traffic during convoy movements.
“In fact, no night movement of civilians was permitted till 2002 and was permitted only when Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) came to power in his first term. The dilution of security grid both on the National Highway and in the hinterland started during his time under the garb of healing touch and giving political space to separatist elements,” a former Jammu and Kashmir police chief said.
According to him, the movement of traffic on National Highway is regulated by the police after due consultations with all the stakeholders including the army. “There was a robust mechanism of coordination and consultation. Before issuing any such order, all should be consulted as it affects all forces,” he added.
As a reporter covering the issue, a sense I got from various quarters is that the decision has been taken in haste and panic by the government after the Banihal incident. More so, as interrogation of suicide bomber Owes Ameen has revealed that he was indoctrinated by Hizul Mujahideen. “He got scared at the last moment otherwise there would have been serious damages,” said an investigator.
So after Banihal is everyone playing safe? Yes, claim officers on the ground. But as the army is not under state control, it is not bound to follow its orders. But does that mean that the Ministry of Defence and Home Affairs are not on same page as far as the ban is concerned?
Questions like these normally come to every reporters mind but there is no one in the government who gives clear answers especially as far as Kashmir is concerned.
The National Highway starting from Kathua (Lakhanpur) to Leh (Ladakh) is the lifeline not only for Kashmir and Ladakh but also strategically important for the army and security forces.
All the supplies to the Valley and Ladakh have to pass through the National Highway in the absence of rail connectivity.
Since the road to Valley and Ladakh gets cut off due to snowfall, rains and landslides during winters, all the essential supplies have to be stocked well in advance to tide over six months of harsh winter.
Similarly, the same National Highway is extensively used for providing supplies to the army deployed in Kashmir Valley (15 Corps) and Ladakh (14 Corps) including Siachen. The entire troop movement takes place through this NH which at places is very narrow and is subjected to the vagaries of nature despite best efforts.
The Jawahar Tunnel and Zojila Pass throw up a challenge in maintaining and keeping them open even during the normal times leave alone during winters when they are covered under a thick blanket of snowfall.
In addition to this, large number of Central Armed Police Forces or CAPF is also deployed in the Valley and all essential supplies and movement of men and material takes place regularly through the highway.
Disruption of communication is one of the most important aspect of insurgency where the forces are cut off from supplies and reinforcements and also creating discontent and chaos among the public through shortage of essential items.
Old timers claim dilution of the security grid in Srinagar city is responsible for the unfettered movement of militants in the city which at one point of time was completely cleared of them.
But local officers, however, counter this by highlighting the figures. This year, in the first three months, close to 70 militants were killed while the figure was just 37 last year for the same time period.
They, however, concede that a new difficult chapter in history of Kashmir is being written. “After Balakote strikes, a pseudo sense of normalcy is there. In fact, after a long time, after Friday prayers, there was no stone pelting even in downtown area too,” said an officer.
Some claim policies of the Modi government via Kashmir is going to haunt the next government. Muscular policy being adopted is now being questioned as it is not bringing any results.
Radicalisation in the Valley has increased even at school and college level. Hijabs are more visible even in schools.
This time, at Shab-e-Mehraj, crowds were also thin at Hazratbal indicating that Sufism is dying a slow death in Kashmir while radicalism is gaining ground.
Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has termed this order as a reflection of a BJP-led mindset of turning Kashmir into a colony like British-era.
Facing criticism for closing down the National Highway connecting Jammu with Srinagar, the Union Home Ministry also took refuge in statistics to claim the ban was for only 15 per cent of total weekly hours.
The statement comes at a time when the ministry has to file its reply to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court which has directed it to respond to a bunch of petitions challenging the decision.
Anyway the decision to close roads is inhumane, non democratic and is the best example of Apartheid and you can’t see such a kind of terror packed inhumane decision in recent history.
I wish people stop agitational politics and hard measures, and organise themselves and fight this apartheid systematically with peace.
(The writer is working as an Assistant Professor, Department of English Degree College Handwara)