x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Boy's death jeopardises Kashmir gains

The killing of a Kashmiri teenager is threatening to undo recent gains against militants that have seen violence drop to an all-time low.

Indian paramilitary forces patrol the streets of Srinigar after a curfew was imposed this week.
Indian paramilitary forces patrol the streets of Srinigar after a curfew was imposed this week.

SRINAGAR // The killing of a Kashmiri teenager four days after the Indian prime minister pledged security forces would work harder to respect human rights is threatening to undo recent gains against militants that have seen violence drop to an all-time low. Manmohan Singh was in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, last week to reassure the disputed region's Muslim majority that the country's security forces, combating a two-decade old separatist rebellion, have been "strictly instructed" to respect human rights.

Mr Singh's pledge was welcomed by the ruling party, the National Conference, and its coalition partner, the Congress party, but failed to convince separatists or alleviate the local population's grievances against New Delhi's rule. Many discarded it as hollow rhetoric, with some pointing to a line in a speech by Mr Singh at Sher-i-Kashmir University in Srinigar on June 7 in which he refered to the "innocent civilians [who] suffer when the security forces deal with terror", and accusing him of justifying the security forces' brutality.

Exactly a week after Mr Singh's return to New Delhi, the Kashmir valley is again on the boil. The tension comes in the aftermath of the death of Tufail Ahmed Mattoo, a 17-year-old student, in what many Kashmiris believe was excessive police action against a small group of anti-India protestors. Analysts say the recent killings reveal that, despite assurances such as Mr Singh's, the Indian political establishment is continuing in its failed policy towards the region.

Such a course, they warn, could undo any political gains made during the unsteady steps toward reconcilliation being made between the state and pro-independence parties. "One fails to understand why they do not visualise the adverse impact of these excessive measures," said Muhammad Ashraf, a Srinigar-based political commentator and former Indian official. "This attitude needs to be changed. Tufail's killing is only the tip of the iceberg of how political gains can be frittered away."

The prime minister's speech was given against a backdrop of a series of allegations of human rights abuses against Indian security forces. Pro-Indian politicians are increasingly concerned that such incidents will prove politically counterproductive and could waste gains made in anti-militancy operations that have seen violence drop to an all-time low since 1989. "The government seems to be at a loss," said Mehbooba Mufti, president of the pro-Indian People's Democratic Party.

"Do you think people will ever reconcile if you continue to kill and maim their kith and kin? "What had been achieved through the political process and healing touch policy initiated in 2002 seems to have gone down the drain." A general strike called by the hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani against the June 11 killing saw shops and schools closed across the valley yesterday. Security in Srinagar, parts of which have been reeling under an unofficial curfew for the past three days, has been stepped up as tensions flared over Mattoo's death.

Mr Geelani also called on supporters to march on the home of the slain teenager in Srinagar yesterday. Few could participate because of strict security restrictions while most separatist politicians were placed under house arrest before the planned protests. Indian authorities say Mattoo was a murder victim whose corpse was simply left by his killers near an anti-India demonstration. Witnesses, however, claim the teenager was not a part of the protest but was returning home on foot from his tutor's house when he was hit by a police teargas shell.

In a statement after his death, police authorities initially attempted to justify their action, asking citizens to "discourage" youths from pelting police with stones as it "invited use of force". Over the past three days there have been widespread clashes between angry mobs and police in which scores of people on both sides have been injured. Police officials have now promised an internal probe after an autopsy confirmed Mattoo was killed after being hit on the head by a canister.

"It [a charge of cover-up] is absurd. We'll order an internal probe and it will be visible for all to see," said Farooq Ahmad, the inspector general of police in Srinagar. @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae