Anantnag: 2018 has been the bloodiest year in Kashmir in a decade, but the spilling of blood is not the only suffering its people have endured – there has also been an unprecedented number of abductions and execution videos.
After a major gunfight on April 1, in which 13 militants, 4 civilians and 3 government forces’ personnel were killed, there was a superficial calm in south Kashmir for a while. Two months later, on May 31, government forces allegedly tried to set ablaze the house of a militant in Gudibagh village in Kakapora area of Pulwama.
Spokesmen of the government forces denied the allegations. Then it became a pattern, the allegations and the denials, as a string of such incidents took place, mainly in Pulwama and Shopian districts. There also occurred several incidents of alleged vandalism by government forces and harassment of civilians in “nocturnal raids”, a special kind of assault that has become a regular feature in south Kashmir ever since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in July 2016.
Family members of militants also began to be arrested on regular basis through these summer months. Then, in late August, police arrested Hizbul commanders Riyaz Naikoo and Lateef Tiger’s family members in Anantnag and Pulwama districts.
What happened next had never been witnessed in Kashmir. The militants struck back, first by entering the houses of policemen and thrashing their family members, then by abducting the family members. The state machinery could do little but reel from the assaults.
More than 12 family members of policemen were abducted by militants in the last week of August, in a single night.
Videos of these families, pleading for their kin to be released, went viral over social media. For more than 24 hours, the families lived in a nightmare.
The abducted people were released unhurt by the militants, soon after Naikoo’s father Asadullah Naikoo was released by the police.
Following the killings, a Twitter handle of Naikoo posted, “An eye for an eye.”
Days after the tense confrontation with militants, Director General of Police (DGP) SP Vaid was unceremoniously removed. Dilbagh Singh was made the new DGP.
These, however, were not the only abductions carried out by militants this year, and the other abductees were not as lucky.
More than 7 persons were abducted and killed by militants during the year. They included 4 policemen who had gone home on leave.
The killings, though, might be still called normal in Kashmir, but certainly not executions recorded on camera and then posted on social media.
The first was of 18-year-old Nadeem Manzoor, resident of Safnagri village in Shopian district. He was abducted from his home on November 15 and found dead in a Pulwama village in the dead of night.
On November 16, militants released a video of his execution. The teenager could be seen in the grainy video, his back to the militants, seconds before he was shot in the head.
As the valley recoiled from the shock, another youth, 19-year-old Huzaif Ashraf Kuttay from Kulgam district, was abducted from Shopian. He was found dead, his throat slit, in a Shopian village. Another video followed, of two seconds, just a glimpse of a masked man slitting Kuttay’s throat.
The videos drew widespread condemnation, from people from all walks of life. However, Kashmir remained on edge, and one community was on the edge more than any other.
This community was of Special Police Officers, or SPOs, part-time troops of the police who earn a paltry salary and are usually the first to be put on the frontline in counter-insurgency operations.
Throughout the year, militants kept threatening the SPOs, warning them of exemplary executions. The threats, many of them specific, were pasted on posters at public places. Many SPOs were abducted from their homes and killed. In a couple of attacks, family members of SPOs were killed when militants barged into their homes and killed anyone trying to resist.
Throughout the year, the scared SPOs kept announcing their resignations in south Kashmir. They announced it, mostly, at local mosques. At least 24 SPOs resigned on a single day, a Friday, in Tral area of south Kashmir, a day after one of their colleagues was shot at in Pastuna village of Tral on August 7.
The floodgates, however, opened after the abductions of policemen carried out in September.
Days after the abductions, dozens of SPOs took to social media and announced their resignation from the police force. The authorities, on September 23, had to snap mobile internet services across south Kashmir to stop the tide of resignation videos from going viral on social media.
The Indian government in New Delhi called the resignations “false propaganda”. The state’s new police chief Dilbagh Singh said, “Thousands are willing to join the police force.” The resignations kept coming.
The government forces, on their part, kept striking through the year at the militant ranks, targeting especially the leadership.
The likes of Mannan Wani, Saddam Padder, Mufti Waqas, Sameer Tiger, Naveed Jutt, Azad Dada and Rehan Khan were “eliminated” by the forces this year.
While police have been maintaining that recruitment to militant ranks has been thin of late, the number of militants in Kashmir is still hovering around 250 – way more than it was when Burhan Wani was killed.
With the year gone by in dreadful violence, people in Kashmir are keeping their fingers crossed for 2019. Would there be less deaths than of the 413 people, according to government figures, killed in Kashmir since January 1, 2018, including 238 militants, 86 government forces’ personnel, and 37 civilians?
This has been the bloodiest year since 2008 when 550 people were killed, across Kashmir.
The data of killings this year comes mostly from the four districts of south Kashmir, where battle lines seem to have been hardened more than ever before.