2019: The Year that Was in Kashmir!
Looking back, one can safely say that the year gone by was a mixed bag for Jammu and Kashmir in both the political and security domains, as well as that the going wasn’t totally smooth because of many momentous issues that came up during 2019.
On February 14, more than 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in one of the deadliest attacks in Kashmir’s Pulwama district when a local Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying explosives into their bus. The attack left the nation in shock and this gruesome act was condemned worldwide. In retaliation, the Indian Air Force (IAF) hit a militant training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot area.
On February 26, New Delhi announced that a pre-dawn action, Mirage 2000 fighter jets of the IAF took down a JeM camp on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC). In a faceoff with Pakistan Air Force (PAF) the next day, IAF fighter pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman shot down a F 16 fighter jet of PAF but while doing so his aircraft too was hit by a missile forcing him to eject and parachute into Pakistani territory. Varthaman was taken into custody but released after just 60 hours, which was a big diplomatic victory for India.
During the same time, in a case of mistaken identity, an IAF helicopter was accidently shot down by IAF air defence systems causing the death of six IAF personnel and one civilian near a village in central Kashmir district of Budgam.
On August 5, the Modi government issued a constitutional order to scrap Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and this was followed by the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act being passed by Parliament to split the state into two Union Territories — Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. As a precautionary measure against any violent reaction to this move, internet services were suspended and prohibitory orders were put into force.
However, though unprecedented deployment of CRPF and police stopped massive gathering of people, barring in some areas in downtown, Srinagar, but protests and stone pelting incidents against this move were reported from many areas in the valley. Despite authorities lifting curfew in over a fortnight, the shutdown against the scrapping of Article 370 lasted for over 120 days in many areas.
On September 27, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan raised Kashmir issue at UNGA but his appeal for intervention did not find any takers and his attempt to internationalise the Kashmir issue fell flat and New Delhi.
The digital blackout in Kashmir has completed 150 days with no sign of restoration of the services in near future with the result that scores of people risk losing their jobs as IT-related firms are on the verge of shutting down due to lack of internet availability.
The Kashmir economy has suffered a loss to the tune of Rs 17,878 crore in four months of restrictions and shutdown in the valley. Tourism sector is in shambles while artisans and weavers are jobless. With estimated losses of around Rs 2,520 crore, the manufacturing sector is in tatters.
Three former chief ministers (Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti), several mainstream political leaders and hundreds of youth were taken into preventive custody. Farooq Abdullah, a sitting Member of Parliament and three-time chief minister, was later booked under Public Safety Act (PSA)- a law originally introduced in 1978 by Mr Farooq’s father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to deal with timber smugglers and extended to cover militants, stone pelters and separatist leaders.
Now the situation in Kashmir have reached to such a place where mainstream politicians have lost credibility among the masses due to their misdeeds.
On October 31, the reorganisation of erstwhile J&K was formally completed with Girish Chander Murmu being sworn in as the first Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and former bureaucrat Radha Krishna Mathur as the first Lieutenant Governor of strategically-located Ladakh.
As 2019 came to an end, the center scrapped two holidays that were only applicable in erstwhile J&K. The first is the ‘martyrs’ day’ observed on July 13 in remembrance of Kashmiris who were victims of police firing during Dogra rule in 1931. The second is December 5, which is the birth anniversary of former J&K Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. Removing these dates from the list of holidays has triggered a political storm in the restive Valley.
Despite the ups and downs, a lot has to be achieved in 2019 and one gets a feeling that these developments could help in ushering an environment of normalcy and development in Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, even though the pace has been set, more sustained efforts are required in 2020 to ensure that the sentiments of positivity trickle down to the masses!