NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: On October 16, Charanjeet Singh, an apple trader from Punjab was shot dead at Tranz, Shopian; Sethi Kumar Sagar, a labourer from Chhattisgarh was killed in Kakapora area of Pulwama.
On October 14, A truck driver from Rajasthan, Sharif Khan was shot dead at Shirmal, Shopian
The killing of three non-locals within three days by militants in Kashmir has alerted security agencies of a possible militant ploy to create a scare among outsiders and force the administration to spread out its forces to meet additional responsibilities by way of security imperatives.
While such a fear could help militants to portray that normalcy cannot be attained, which would further keep them alive in public mind, experts believe such an eventuality had always been factored in by security apparatus.
“Militant activity choked by the shutdown and high vigilance on the ground has to break out to maintain its own relevance, or they die a philosophical death. They will try to hit out and prove the abrogation of Articles 370 is counter-productive,” said an expert.
Though officials in the security establishment termed these killings as a matter of concern, they contended the ‘situation is not alarming’ and can be tackled.
“This targeting of non-locals would have been factored by security officials during their assessment,” former J&K Director General of Police Kuldip Khoda said. “By killing the non-locals, militants want to convey the message to non-locals: ‘don’t dare to come here’.” Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management, said terrorists know they cannot execute complex operations, so non-locals are their “obvious soft” targets.
“There is a certain inevitability to what has happened. The first person who was targeted was a local apple grower but there was an emotive backlash and terrorists do not want locals to go against them in the present circumstances. The government will have to make strong efforts to ensure security of non-locals who have become obvious targets in the present circumstances where the entire population of Kashmir has been excluded from the national perspective. Unfortunately, terrorists will keep trying to target non-locals.”
Former Northern Army commander Lt Gen (retd) D S Hooda said the militant strategy seems to be to disrupt economic activities, the revival of which is the government target. The government will have to strategically counter this by putting in place mechanisms for security of non-locals, he added.
“There was similar targeting of non-locals in Manipur when insurgency was at its peak but it was tackled by ensuring security to people from outside the state. The terrorists also want to send a message that the government is encouraging tourists to visit Kashmir but they will not let this happen,” Hooda said.
Sahni similarly pointed out terrorists are directly targeting the government by attacking non-locals, especially those associated with the apple trade.
“Terrorists would not want any kind of government relief reaching the public. They would want it to fail. One of the major initiatives by the government is procurement of apples by NAFED. If that succeeds, there is a chance that some of the people in the local population would be willing to compromise with the situation. This is something that they wish to prevent,” he said.
Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, said, “The Army and police have handled such situations several times. There are peaks and troughs in such conflicts. Intelligence probably weakened to some extent during last two months of restrictions. It has to pick up again. Under no circumstances must we allow trade to dwindle due to these acts.”
After abrogation of J&K’s special status, militants had kept a low-profile. But with restoration on post-paid mobile services lifted last Monday, militants have killed three non-locals in the Valley in three days.
“This is definitely a cause of concern. We are devising a strategy to ensure the safety of non-locals,” a security official said. DIG, south Kashmir, Atul Goel said, “The killings will lead to fear but we are trying our level best to ensure the safety and security of the people.”