Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has hardened her position on the ongoing protests in the valley and has decided to get the Army involved in controlling the violence on the streets of south Kashmir, to regain the ground that the Central Reserve Police Force and the state police have lost, particularly in the rural interiors. This restive region has seen the maximum violence in the last two months, when hundreds of security men have been injured almost every day. Mufti has, thus, decided to implement the Central government’s plan to retrieve rural Kashmir from the hands of the protesters. People’s Democratic Party insiders told this newspaper that in a brainstorming session with the Central government, the J&K government agreed to go for harsher measures such as night raids, crackdowns on protesters and shifting Hurriyat leaders out of the valley. “The separatists will no longer be allowed to issue protest calendars through the media,” a senior police officer said.
Informed sources told this newspaper that after this new policy was agreed upon by ruling allies PDP and BJP, Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag visited Srinagar to assess the situation and to prepare his men for deployment in anti-protest operations. The Army’s local commanders have not been in favour of getting entangled in the current unrest. A battalion of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) has arrived at the Manasbal base in Ganderbal district, and will be sent to south Kashmir in the coming days.
Mehbooba Mufti agreed to go for a military presence in the entire south Kashmir after an internal assessment report by the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the protests were ISIS inspired and were being controlled by thousands of Wahhabi-run mosques in the valley. The report further suggested that the time was not right to open talks with the Hurriyat leadership as they were not in control of the streets.
A senior PDP minister told this newspaper that they have agreed to the Central government’s plan of first calming the streets before starting the process of outreach to the stakeholders: “We have told them to give us one more month to reclaim all the districts of Kashmir and accordingly the Central government has promised all assistance to us. They have also promised a serious political dialogue with the stakeholders after the situation normalises.”
Amid this, the state Director General of Police, K. Rajendra Kumar has been given a three-month extension on the instructions of the Central intelligence agencies as he is in the thick of coordinating the final contours of the military operation in south Kashmir. Such an extension to the state police chief is unprecedented and shows that the state government does not want any disturbing signals to go out to the police officers battling the unrest on the ground. “The state government is finalising the places in south Kashmir where the Army will be deployed. The operation may start with the festival of Eid as on this day government will impose a curfew which may continue until the operation gets over,” a senior police officer told this newspaper.
The state and the Central agencies have the mammoth task of tackling the processions that are likely to be taken out on Eid-ul-Azha. The Hurriyat, which has issued a calendar to the people extending the protests to 16 September, has also asked for processions to be taken out to the UN office on the day of Eid. Top security officials say that if they succeed in minimising the protests on the day of Eid, they will start the south Kashmir operation immediately. Home Minister Rajnath Singh is in constant touch with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and all decisions are being taken after a lot of deliberations and discussions, informed sources said.
Meanwhile, Mehbooba Mufti is facing a rebellion of sorts from her party men. Pulwama MLA Mohammed Khaleel Bandh, Sonwar MLA Ashraf Mir, Tral MLA Mushtaq Shah, Kokernag MLA Abdul Rahiem Rather and Srinagar MP Tariq Hameed Karra have told her that they have lost the support in their respective constituencies and any military operation in south Kashmir will spell the death knell for the PDP.
However, a close aide of Mehbooba Mufti told this newspaper that there was no serious crisis within the party and that the PDP and BJP were on the same page on dealing with the protests. He said that the political outreach to all stakeholders, including the Hurriyat would start after things become relatively normal in the Kashmir valley.