In her fifties, Zamrooda Shah, mother of Peerzada Arshad Ahmed Shah, entered the room. The windows of the room were half-hidden behind red curtains while the floor was covered with carpets. Dressed in a Pheran (a long Kashmiri coat) and a head scarf, she is sat on my right. Resting herself against a cushion, she stared into emptiness as if searching for something imperceptible.
Her son, nineteen-year-old Arshad Ahmed Shah, was killed only a few days ago in a shootout near the city borders. A resident of Alsafa colony, Sopore, 55 kilometres away from Srinagar city , Arshad’s father, Peerzada Bashir Ahmed Shah, is an employee of the state revenue department and is a fine poet.
The shootout in which Arshad was killed, police say, marks the return of militancy in the Valley. The Indian-administered Kashmir valley has been disputed since 1947 when the princely state acceded to India during the partition of British India. In 1989, armed rebellion began in the Valley when youths crossed over to the Pakistani side of Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC) and returned trained in arms. Last month, Jammu and Kashmir police released a confidential report compiled by them claiming 150 militants are currently active in north Kashmir alone and that in addition to the new local recruits, foreigners are also sneaking in.
Since last summer, police say, there have been 45 infiltration bids and 140 new militants have sneaked in. the challenging issue for the police in the north is the search for two militants from Chechnya, identified as Usman and Umar. Police claim it is the first time that the Chechens have come to operate in Kashmir.
The report has also showed that the boys involved in stone-throwing are also joining militant outfits which operate in the Valley.
Arshad who was a first-year student at Degree College, Bemina, had joined college last year. His mother says he was neither involved in any stone-throwing incident nor he was a militant. In the wake of the recent ‘Quit Jammu Kashmir Movement’, Arshad decided to teach himself some skills so that he could earn some money. He decided to become a part-time carpenter. “He used to say I would marry off elder sister myself. I would earn while college is off. I don’t want to be burden on my father. He started as an intern at a carpenter’s workshop,” his brother, Tanveer Ahmed Shah, says amid sobs.
The killing of this youth may or may not signal the rise of militancy in the Valley. However, many questions were raised regarding the reported shootout. Many media organizations reported that the occurence of a shootout is doubtful. Even one of the Members of Indian parliament, Sharif-ud-din Shariq, asserted in a statement that the killing of this youth, along with two other boys, was “cold blooded murder”. “The policemen involved in the firing should be arrested forthwith and murder case registered against them for killing the innocent youth,” Shariq said in a statement.
The new armed rebellion wave in the Valley could be the outcome of the curbs on last summer’s uprising. Youth who were throwing stones are in jail, with many of them arrested under the Public Safety Act which allows a person to be imprisoned for two years without charge or trial.
In a report, The Indian Express newspaper reported that according to their sources 23 youngsters aged from fifteen to 25 have gone missing in the Sopore (north Kashmir town) Police Station area alone. Police claim they have “credible inputs” that 15 of them have joined militant ranks and three of them have been killed in security operations.
During the past two decades, 21,115 people have been arrested on allegations of involvement in militancy. The state home department report shows that out of these, 3,385 persons were released under 196 Criminal Procedure Code, 4,241 released on bail by competent courts, 5,133 released by high power committees and 437 freed through chief minister intervention.
Although government-sponsored interlocutors recently arrived in the state to talk with separatist and mainstream camps, there has been an increase in militant activities as per police reports. The 113 killings during last summer popular protests are the likely cause of this surge. The demand for a sovereign country independent from Indian rule, for which cause nearly 100,000 people have lost their lives, is not diminished.
The killing of Arshad, along with two other persons who police claim were militants with a plan to carry out a suicide attack in the city, may open the lid on a new generation of militancy. It is going to be a hot year in the Valley.