Army convoys are moving smoothly along the highways of Kashmir valley, without being attacked by stone-pelters, unlike their counterparts in the CRPF and the Jammu and Kashmir police. This has been possible largely because of the reconciliatory statements made by a senior Army commander and the hardline Hurriyat chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Army commander’s promise to probe the killings, allegedly by his men, during the unrest has also had an effect. Angry stone pelting mobs have been seen waiting for Army convoys to pass before they re-start their battles with the CRPF and the police on the valley’s streets.
General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, Lt Gen D.S. Hooda surprised the valley by saying, “Everyone needs to step back, sit down and find a way out of the current situation.” He appealed to the separatists to help the security forces in restoring peace in Kashmir. The statement, coming from a serving Army commander, was hailed by civil society, the separatists and politicians alike as “bold and out of the box”. His statement found a favourable response even from the most rigid of all the separatist leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who responded that “The Indian people along with the armed forces were brothers of Kashmiris”. “Today we very politely and with all humility request these armed forces that the system has failed to win our hearts for the last 70 years and it is unlikely in the future also,” he added. Geelani issued this statement after he tried to hand over a letter to the Army Commander of the 15 Corps stating that the Army should read the writing on the wall and quit the state. In the letter Geelani said, “The more you strike us down, the more we shall rise with renewed determination. We are in the process of liberating our minds and the days of freedom are in sight.” He also wrote, “We want to convey this clear message to the armed forces that they will be tired of killing and maiming us. Will exhaust all their ammunition to curb us but will fail to contain us”.
On the ground, the statements have had a positive impact, with stone pelters allowing the movement of Army vehicles without targeting them.
General Hooda during his visit to Srinagar has apparently given strict instructions to his officers not to get entangled in the current unrest and stay away from containing the protests. He clearly said that the killing of a college lecturer at Khrew in Pulwama allegedly by some soldiers was not justified and added that such incidents would not be repeated. This statement doused the fire at Khrew village where hundreds of people had come out on the streets demanding justice, claiming that the soldiers had entered their houses and beat them up, resulting in the killing of Shabir Ahmed. Hooda also referred to the killing of three persons including a woman allegedly by the Army in Qazigund area of south Kashmir and assured a probe against nine RR Jawans.
All this pacified the people of Khrew to some extent. The residents of Khrew said that the Army had started an investigation into the entire incident on Hooda’s instructions. Observers say that an Army general has shown the path to politicians on how to deal with the present anger, rather than escalating the tension by issuing “jingoistic” statements.