DEAFENING SILENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS

The constant denial of excesses and pretence of improved security scenario can only be politically convenient but can’t help normalize Valley.The rosy picture being sketched by top officials in the union home ministry and top ranking army officials with respect to Kashmir’s security situation is not only a bit unrealistic, it completely skirts the issue of human rights, which is crucial to understand for the sake of not only human values and ethics involved in wars and armed conflicts but also to realise the crucial role that human rights violations have played in keeping the vicious cycle of violence in the constantly propelling mode.

Both the Northern Army Commander, Lt. General Ranbir Singh and head of the Kashmir division, Lt. General A.K. Bhatt have spoken about a high number of militant kills this year and claimed a drop in the fresh recruitments of militants in the last four months. While the volumes of blood that is spilled is neither an indication of dwindling militancy, nor is there substantial evidence to suggest that militant recruitments have stopped. Recent trends in counter insurgency operations suggest that the security forces seemed to be better equipped with intelligence inputs in recent months and have strategized on focusing on targeting militant commanders and those involved in organizing the militant networks and working as links between militants and over-ground workers and have managed.

The security forces have also managed to bring down the ratio of casualties of security personnel to militant killings in encounters. However, such achievements besides being too early to celebrate give no authenticated indication of dwindling numbers of militants and the halt on process of fresh recruitments. The total number of operating militants, as also admitted by the officials, remains the same at an average of about 250, a number which has been constant in the past three years or so. What the official narrative has also skirted is the spilling over of militancy to Jammu region, particularly Chenab Valley, though there is no confirmation of whether there is a larger trend or the few odd militancy related incidents or reports emanating from the region are mere aberrations. This year has seen the highest number of militant recruitments and as per official figures, till October 164 fresh militants joined the ranks of different organisations, other than those that sneaked in from the borders.

The official claims ever since Satya Pal Malik took over as Governor of the state under Governor’s rule in August is that no fresh recruitments have taken place. The month-wise statistics ever since August have not been made public and it is difficult to find any empirical evidence to such claims in view of a situation where the larger public, especially in South Kashmir, continues to reel under excessive militarisation, frustration and deepening alienation. As it is, the graph of recruitments is not a steady one but substantial increase on an annual basis is noticeable. The official statistics reveal a decline in such recruitments from autumn till peak winter. A drop in fresh recruitments in the last three months, if true, months is no authentic indication of whether this trend will continue or whether it simply demonstrates a temporary fatiugue, gestation period after slew of top commanders have been killed. Could it also signal a change of strategy on part of militants? It would be foolish to prematurely jump to conclusions which are not rooted in empirical evidence. That these are linked to the taking over Malik as governor reveal the probability of such a discourse being used as a matter of political expediency.
The most glaring aspect of such erroneous claims is the convenient overlooking of the human rights scenario and the excessive vulnerability of human lives caught between the gun of the militants and the security forces. 2018 has been the bloodiest year in the last one and a half decade and according to rough estimates, over 128 civilians have been killed near encounter sites. This is more than six times the increase since 2015 when 41 civilians were killed. Thousands of others have been injured and the recent case of an 18-month-old toddler being blinded by pellet injuries has given a fresh jolt to the Valley. While Gen. Bhatt has maintained that civilian killings are against their counter insurgency strategies and official statistics from the union home ministry claim that civilian killings have come to a minimal number and that only two civilians have died in November last, media reports have shown no change in the graph of excesses. At least 47 civilians have been killed between August and November. The fudging of statistics to present a rosier picture is an indication of the policy of denial that continues in the official circles. Leave alone, serious measures to address the situation, there is a tendency to dwarf the number of casualties and maintain abysmal silence over shocking incidents of pellet injuries and killings, which are often targeted and go on unabated in he Valley. Excesses are one of the key factors feeding into the vicious cycle of violence. As long as there is no effort to begin a process of addressing this, it is pointless expecting the situation in Kashmir to normalise or for people to seriously repose faith in a process of dialogue, which is not even on the anvil, anyway.