Peace returns to Kashmir as old cash turns junk for separatists

The torching of a Government primary school at Rigipora, Kupwara, on Friday, November 18, 2016, probably reflects frustration among Kashmiri militants whose offensives against the Indian State have been sharply curtailed since the demonetisation of currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 denomination on November 8.

Overall, there are signs of return to normalcy. Friday prayers (November 18) were offered at Jamia Masjid at Sopore, Kashmir, after a gap of 18 weeks. Notably, there were no anti-India protests, no stone pelters, and no Pakistan or ISIS flags.

As stone pelting incidents against police and security forces petered out after demonetisation, the authorities are cautiously optimistic as all valley schools reopen on Saturday, November 19, after a hiatus of four months following the death of Hizbul Mujahidin commander Burhan Wani on July 8. While Government schools were opened earlier, attendance was scanty owing to fears over the security of the children; but now private schools have also decided to open, with a view to saving the academic year.

The visible decline in stone-pelting incidents – funded at the rate of Rs 500 per pelter per day – seriously embarrassed the militants, separatists, and their supporters, as it exposed the lack of popular support to the ‘azaadi’ movement. The arson at Rigipora is viewed as a political signal that the miscreants remain a potent force for mischief within the State. Fortunately, police and fire tenders could limit the fire to the roof top; there were no casualties as the incident occurred late in the evening.

In order to strike while the iron in hot, the Centre has set up a high level joint team with the State to thwart attempts to convert hawala money and terror funds into white by exchanging notes in the banks. A close watch is being maintained on all money movement in the State, amidst reports that several thousand crores of rupees have already been deposited in banks since November 9.

The Centre also hopes to unearth the real sources of funds in the Kashmir valley. The Union Home Ministry believes demonetization has seriously crippled Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as the entire cash available with the terrorists and their affiliates, both genuine currency as well as fake notes printed in Pakistan and smuggled into Jammu and Kashmir, has been reduced to trash. An effective crackdown on hawala funds could cut the lifeline of militancy and separatism in the Kashmir valley.

Observers add that separatist leaders, who lead comfortable lives under State protection and send their own families outside the State or even abroad, will now have to keep a low profile. While many are believed to have stashed huge wealth in properties and other assets, they are unlikely to sell these to fund street violence. It is therefore imperative that the Centre, via the intelligence agencies, also stops funding these terrorists and separatists, a practice that began in the 1990s, as revealed by former Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) chief AS Dulat in his book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years.

As this indulgence towards seditionists and anti-nationals coincides with the brutal expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, it requires an explanation. It is to be hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have all Government files on the subject scrutinised and reveal the truth to the nation.

Strangely, the attack on schools in Jammu and Kashmir coincided with the State Government’s decision to hold the final examinations for Class X and XII in mid-November. This was opposed by some mainstream opposition parties, separatists, and some academics on grounds that it was risky to send students to the examination centres. They added that the syllabus had not been completed due to closure of educational institutions for over four months (affecting 15 lakh students), but the J&K Board of School Education assured that this would be kept in mind while framing the question papers. The examinations have since begun (November 15), without any untoward incident, and with 99 per cent attendance for the Class X exam and 95 per cent for the Class XII exam.

There is a reason for this high attendance. Parents of school-going children were aghast when it was exposed that Hurriyat chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who crafted the calendar of protest that shut down all valley schools, had exempted his grand-daughter’s elite private school. Thus, while all schools remained closed, Geelani’s grand-daughter took her school’s Class X internal examinations at an indoor stadium in late October, amidst tight security provided by the State Government.

Enraged at this duplicity, several parents held a protest rally against Geelani in Srinagar (October 29) for playing with the future of their children. With the possibility thus looming that Kashmir, like Afghanistan, could suffer the consequences of a lost generation, parents and children jointly decided to shun the phoney romance of the separatist movement.

So far, around 30 schools have been fully or partially burnt down in arson attacks by unidentified terrorists in the past two months, as part of a calculated design to keep young children out of school and available for stone pelting or similar acts of vandalism aimed at keeping the pot boiling in the region. These serial assaults on education, affecting the lives and future of a generation of students, have not received the attention they deserve in the national media. The Jammu & Kashmir High Court has dubbed the culprits as “mysterious enemies of education” and asked the Government to be vigilant.

When the seat of Government moved to the winter capital of Jammu, peace appeared to elude the valley as vested interests were determined to find new ways of disturbing the peace. This proves that ordinary citizens of Jammu & Kashmir cannot enjoy even a modicum of stability without the security umbrella provided by the much-maligned Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that successive governments have sought to whittle down or abandon altogether.

It is pertinent that much of the unrest that began with the encounter death of Burhan Wani owes its strength to the misguided decision to dismantle army bunkers in the violence-hit Handwara town earlier in April, after locals alleged that a schoolgirl was molested by jawans, though the girl herself denied the story until pressure made her recant. The consequences of this public humiliation of the security forces have since come home to roost.

The situation in the State remains fraught, with constant firing along the Line of Control in both Jammu and Kashmir provinces, forcing the administration to order closure of 174 schools near the shelling zones in Jammu alone. Given the high stakes involved, the Centre must ensure that there is no further talk of tinkering with AFSPA and the functioning of the security forces, including the police and para-military forces. In fact, the security blanket may have to be extended across Kashmir province.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wisely set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the gutting of school buildings in different parts of the valley. The arsonists had planned their attacks carefully, and have struck across the valley, in Kulgam, Budgam, Ganderbal, Anantnag, Baramulla and other districts, and now in Kupwara. Only 12 suspects have been arrested so far on the basis of information provided by local residents; 23 are still at large. The SIT is expected to identify the masterminds behind the attacks.

Justices Muhammad Yaqoob Mir and Ali Muhammad Magrey of the J&K High Court took suo moto notice of the issue and observed that setting schools on fire destroys the knowledge centres of future generations and has an immediate impact on the contemporary generation. Children who are out of school for too long find it difficult to go back. The devastation cannot be quantified; a whole generation can be lost. The need to unmask the perpetrators of these crimes can hardly be over-emphasised., 21 November 2016

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