Thursday, June 4, 2015

Who is trying to disconnect Kashmir from the world? Why attack cellular towers?

The unusual series of attacks on cellular towers in different parts of Indian-administered Kashmir Valley has already resulted in the killings of two civilians. And furthermore, the way these attacks have been taking place is also very dubious in my opinion.

Many appear clueless about the perpetrators, despite claims made by Lashkar-e-Islam, a lesser-known outfit that had purportedly circulated threat-posters to cellular companies, their employees, and local owners who usually rent out space for installing towers in their compounds, in North Kashmir.

These attacks allegedly carried out by Lashkar-e-Islam, which seem to have categorically asked the mobile operators, vendors, and their employees to shut their businesses in the region, led to the deaths of Ghulam Hassan Dar in Sopore, and Imtiyaz Ahmad in Pattan. One of them had rented out space to a cellular company by allowing the installation of a tower in his compound.

The way these attacks are being orchestrated is what is bothersome for me.

During the early 1990s, the Kashmir Valley was gripped by an unusual panic; the invisible dae’n (witch). It was believed that a mysteriously undetectable “witch”, called dae’n (dayan) in the native tongue, would attack individuals inside their homes during the evening. Therefore, the entire localities would formulate their counter-strategies and collectively assemble either outside their houses or near the local mosques with firelights (mashals) to scare the invisible dae’n amidst pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.

No one seems to know the complete truth about the ‘witch era’ until today.

Now in 2015, during the age of internet revolution and information technology, Kashmir is yet again witnessing an unusual and unexpected trouble, in the form of the cellular tower attacks in North Kashmir and the summer capital, Srinagar. My concern is, why just cellular towers? What is the purpose of attacking just communication lines? Is there is a greater plan at play?

On June 1st, a grenade was lobbed on a cellular tower in old Srinagar, injuring one civilian. Prior to this, mysterious attacks of such nature were carried out in North Kashmir’s Pattan, Sopore and Handwara towns. The apparent aim seems to be to create panic and present Kashmir as an unsafe place for trade, travel, and tourism and perhaps also to push the beautiful valley back to the dark ages by halting its economic progress, which to a large extent is dependent upon mobile phone connectivity and internet facilities.

While parts of the valley have come back on the grid and connectivity has been restored to some parts of North Kashmir, the question remains: who is the real culprit?

And who could be the ultimate beneficiary?

This new ‘tower terrorism’ began when threatening posters began circulating in North Kashmir purportedly by a group called Lashkar-e-Islam, dictating cellular companies to immediately wind up their businesses and shut down operations in Kashmir. This, in itself, seems utterly peculiar. What could the group want by cordoning Kashmiris off and severing connections with the rest of the world?

No one seems to have a clue about what this new organisation is up to. Is this a real organisation or an ‘unseen’ phenomenon, like the ‘dae’n’ during the 1990s?

After these attacks on the cellular towers, the chief minister of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, called a high-level meeting to “review the overall security situation”. Taking strong note of the disruption of cellular networks in various parts of the valley, Sayeed observed that,

“People cannot be pushed into the Stone Age as modern-day functioning in the government, banking, tourism, education, and other vital sectors, in particular, old-age pension and e-transfer of insurance claims and compensation to flood-affected victims are totally dependent on internet connectivity”.

He also said that cellular networks have become the lifeline in this area as these services are availed by all sections of the society, according to a government press release. But Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, launched a scathing attack on Mufti Saeed on Twitter,

“Has Mufti Syed said anything to reassure the people connected with the cell phone industry in Kashmir? A single statement? Probably won’t!!”

In yet another jibe, Abdullah satirically tweeted further,

“Mufti Syed 02-05 “I gave the people of J&K cell-phones” Mufti Syed 15-?? “I oversaw the demise and removal of cell-phone services in Kashmir”

Earlier, Mufti Sayeed had made a statement on the side-lines of a function organised at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar that,

“The situation in North Kashmir is a temporary phase.”

He also had said that such incidents would,

“Not stop us (the government) from bringing peace in the valley”.

Despite such claims the situation continues to be grim.

There is also growing apprehension that the mobile blackout could adversely affect Srinagar, especially after the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) decided to temporarily shut down its operations across the valley Monday evening onwards. The BSNL made this decision after the recent attack on a mobile transmission in an old Srinagar city near Gadood Bagh, Habba Kadal.

Who could be behind such attacks? And what is this Lashkar-e-Islam all about? Many questions need to be answered.

According to the chief of the United Jihad Council (UJC), Syed Sallahuddin, Lashkar-e-Islam is an “India-sponsored organisation” and has no links whatsoever with the UJC.

The UJC, an amalgam of various Kashmiri militant organisations, based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK), is headed by Sallahuddin, who is also the supremo of Kashmir’s largest militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen. This UJC statement has appeared in all major dailies based in Srinagar. There was considerable pressure on the UJC to issue a statement after Syed Ali Shah Geelani, inarguably the most popular resistance leader of Kashmir, had asked the UJC chief to probe further into the recent attacks.

All important resistance leaders based in the Kashmir Valley have voiced their concern over the attacks. Some of them suspect that the attackers are “India-sponsored” to “defame Kashmiri movement and militants”.

Apart from Syed Ali Geelani, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chief, Yasin Malik, too has deplored the attacks on cellular towers in North Kashmir and Srinagar. He has asked the UJC chief to investigate the recent incidents.

Moreover, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), while condemning the attack on the BSNL office in Sopore, North Kashmir, raised an important question in its press statement on May 25.

“… In the last 25 years of insurgency and counter insurgency operations, many civilians have been targeted. In almost all the attacks on civilians, the police have failed to conduct credible investigations to hold the killers accountable. In the context of Indian policy of proliferation of terrorist groups in Kashmir for countering and defaming the Jammu and Kashmir movement, it has been always difficult to conclusively establish the culpable persons. In this context it becomes incumbent on United Jihad Council to also on their side establish who are the people behind this particular attack on non-combatants,” read the JKCCS statement.

Ironically, according to official statements made by top Indian army commanders operating in Jammu and Kashmir, the “militants are on the run in Kashmir” and that the scale of militancy related violence has gone down by a considerable margin. They also claim that there are only about 130 militants active in the region.

Obviously things are not simply black and white in a conflict-hit place like Indian-administered Kashmir, where both the state actors and non-state actors have been actively involved in fomenting trouble over the past few decades in order to harbour their respective interests.

On social media, some assertive Kashmiri youths are also raising a finger of suspicion towards the Indian armed forces, because they think,

“The vested interest in the Indian security establishment is in no mood to annul the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir”.

As the AFSPA was recently repealed in Tripura, the demand about its revocation has grown in Kashmir.

There is also an unsubstantiated view that the vested interest in the Indian security agencies could be behind the recent attacks to “justify the continuity of the draconian Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir”.

This law grants complete impunity to armed forces and immunity from prosecution. Some Kashmiri youths also believe that these attacks are the “handiwork of the enemies of Kashmir and Kashmiris whose sole aim is to derail the economic progress”.

Irrespective of what the case maybe, it needs to be understood that a larger message is at play here and as soon as the Kashmiris understand this, the better it would be for them to cope.

from The Express Tribune Blog

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