J&K Govt temporarily suspends anti-militancy ops in bid to give tourism a fresh start in Valley

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti-led Jammu and Kashmir government has asked security forces to temporarily suspend all anti-militancy operation in the Valley till the 64th Annual Convention Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), which is being held in Srinagar after 30 years, concludes. The forces were also asked to suspend anti-militancy operations till Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba was in the Valley. Gauba is in the state for two days.

Amid simmering tensions in the Valley, around five hundred delegates from across India are camping in Srinagar for the TAAI convention which began on Wednesday. Earlier, the TAAI conventions have been held only once a year in India while most of them have been held outside India. In 2016, the TAAI conventions were held in Abu Dhabi, Bali, in 2015, Istanbul in 2012, Phuket in 2010 and London in 2007. The government is hoping to attract a bumper tourist crop to the Valley this year as the last two years were lost to curfews, strikes, protests and civilian killings.

“We had launched an anti-militancy operations late on Monday evening in a village in Pulwama when we were asked to retreat as the union Home Secretary was in town,” a senior police officer based in Pulwama told Kashmir Post on condition of anonymity. After two consecutive years witnessed a slump in the footfall of tourists arriving in the Valley, the government forces had launched a major offensive against militants to ensure a peaceful summer and a disruption-free tourism season. In last two weeks, the forces have killed at least fourteen militants in the Valley. A major infiltration bid was foiled along the Line of Control on Wednesday (28 March, 2018).

On 11 March, three militants were killed in an encounter in Anantnag district in which Easa Fazili, a young engineering dropout from Srinagar who joined militancy last year, and two other militants were killed. On 15 March, three militants were killed after they attempted to snatch a weapon from a PSO of a BJP leader in Balhama area of Pulwama. Five militants were also killed on 20 March in frontier district of Kupwara during a gunfight that also witnessed the death of five security personnel.

On 24 March, two Jaish-e-Muhammad militants were killed in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. This was followed by the killing of a militant on Sunday in a gunfight which ensued in Budgam district after a joint forces operation in Beerwah tehsil. “We had orders to go all out against militants but something has happened now and the operations have been suspended,” the officer said.

On condition of anonymity, highly placed sources told Kashmir Post that when Gauba sat with the heads of the different security wings on Monday, he asked them to deal sternly with people who might have been trying to derail the forthcoming tourism season. “He also cautioned forces to avoid civilian killings at all costs,” the sources said. 

The state government needs a peaceful summer as tourist footfall has taken a massive hit in the past two years due to a series of unrest and protest following the killings in the south Kashmir. Gauba and Joint Secretary Gyanesh Kumar, who left Kashmir on Tuesday afternoon, also took stock of the status of cases against stone-pelters, bringing back local youths who were lured into militancy and modernising police and paramilitary forces.

Gunfight with security forces doesn’t deter local youths from joining militants

According to official figures, more than 200 militants were gunned down in encounters by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir last year with a majority of them being disaffected local boys for whom Burhan had become an inspiration. In fact, Kashmir saw the level of violence recorded last year for the first time in a decade with even security forces suffering a number of casualties in counter-insurgency operations.

However, that has not deterred the rising number of local youth from joining the new age militancy. Among the two new recruits, one is the son of Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, the newly elected chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and successor of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Sehrai’s son, Junaid Ashraf, joined Hizbul Mujahideen militant group on Saturday. The outfit headed by Syed Salahuddin draws its cadre mostly from the disaffected Jamaat-I-Islami group in Kashmir.

With eyes on changing the perception of Kashmir across the world, Mehbooba’s brother and Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Minister Tassaduq Hussain Mufti on Tuesday, along with President of TAAI Sunil Kumar, inaugurated a Golf Tournament at Royal Springs Golf Course. Mufti, while addressing a press conference said the tourism ministry has entered into a partnership with TAAI with the hope for a better start to the year. Even Tassaduq, who is relatively new to politics, understands the significance of one stray bullet that may transform the deceptive calm in the Valley into a full blown mass unrest.

“Although the operations against the militants will continue, we have been asked to exercise maximum restrain while dealing with the civilian population. A single mistake can undo the efforts of the civilian government to bring tourists to Kashmir. We will extend all possible cooperation to make their endeavors a huge success,” a top army officer in Srinagar told Kashmir Post.