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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mob torches 2 Army vehicles after timber smuggler’s death in Shopian shootout

Murder case registered against Army; 26 soldiers injured; Army hqs takes exception to Police action

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 24: For the first time in 21 years of armed insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, angry civilian crowds today torched two vehicles of Army and left 26 soldiers injured in a clash after a timber smuggler got killed and one of his associates sustained injuries in Rashtriya Rifles firing during a pre-dawn ambush in Kellar area of Shopian district in south Kashmir. Police have pacified the crowds with registration of a murder case against security forces but the Army Headquarters in New Delhi are understood to have taken strong exception to the Police action and taken up the matter with the union Minister of Defence, A K Antony.

Informed sources told Early Times that in the wee hours today, troops of Rashtriya Rifles 53 Bn opened fire during an ambush near Chewan village in Kellar area of Shopian. One local timber smuggler, namely Ghulam Ahmed Kalas alias Khuda Bakhsh S/o Pir Bakhsh R/o Batfojan got killed and his associate, Manzoor Ahmed Lone S/o Ghulam Mohammad Lone, sustained gunshot injuries. Their associate, Mohammad Yusuf Lone, was captured alive. Some reports claimed that he escaped unhurt and informed the villagers about Khuda Bakhsh’s death in the shootout. Both horses of the timber smugglers also died on the spot.

As the news of Khuda Bakhsh’s death in the Army firing spread like a wild fire through the announcements made on public address system of local mosques, hundreds of people from nearby villages rushed towards the jungle and recovered the dead body. The injured smuggler was also rescued and rushed to hospital with a gunshot wound in his leg. Doctors kept him under treatment and declared him stable.

Within a couple of hours nearly 3,000 people gathered and formed a demonstration while shouting anti-India, anti-Army, pro-Pakistan and pro-Azadi slogans. Even as the authorities arrived in to control the situation, mobs launched an offensive directly on Army, forcing them to retreat while leaving two of their vehicles behind. The crowds, armed with stones and batons, caused extensive damage to both the vehicles and finally set them on fire. Within minutes, both the vehicles were reduced to ashes and mangled remains.

Sources said that about 30 soldiers and demonstrators sustained injuries in the clash, though Army observed restraint and went on back foot in absence of riot controlling hardware. Sources said that troops decided to retreat after some rounds of firing failed to disperse the crowds. Two more demonstrators sustained gunshot wounds in the firing. Both of them were later evacuated to hospital where doctors provided them necessary treatment but declared them stable.

Independent reports said that 26 troopers, 3 Police personnel and 15 to 20 of the demonstrators sustained injuries in these clashes. DC Shopian, Abdul Majeed Khandey, and SP Shopian, Shahid Meraj, reached the spot and succeeded in pacifying the crowds with the assurance of filing a murder case against Army and proceeding against the soldiers involved in opening fire under law. Subsequently case FIR No: 168 of 2010 under section 302 RPC was registered at Police Station Kellar against troops of RR 53 Bn on the complaint of the local residents. Police had earlier registered another FIR on Army’s complaint against the civilian population for destroying two of their vehicles and causing injuries to over two dozen soldiers in heavy stone pelting.

Residents conducted funeral rituals and burial of the dead body only after learning about registration of murder case against Army.

SP Shopian, Shahid Meraj, told Early Times that troops of a Pulwama-based unit of RR 53 Bn had launched the operation and laid the ambush without following the standard operating procedure of taking along a Police party and informing the district Police chief. He said that one person, reportedly a timber smuggler, got killed alongwith two horses and one more smuggler sustained injuries when troops opened fire. He said that, according to the reports available with him, the timber smugglers had walked into the ambush and troops had opened fire after probably suspecting them as militants.

SP Shopian said that the crowds torched the Army vehicles as troops were equipped with heavy firearms and had no riot control hardware which is normally carried by Police and paramilitary forces. He said that perishing of the two Army vehicles was the minimum possible damage in such a situation.

However, highly placed authoritative sources revealed to this newspaper that on the strongly worded complaints from headquarters of Awantipore-based Victor Force, headquarters of Srinagar-based 15 Corps and Udhampur-based headquarters of Northern Command, Army high command in New Delhi had taken strong exception to the “partisan action” of Police and civil administration. According to these sources, Army Headquarters had decided to take up this matter with the union Defence Secretary and union Minister of Defence, A K Antony.

It has been pointed out with extraordinary concern that after making routine attacks on Police, CRPF and BSF for many times in the past, civilian crowds have begun to launch direct attacks on the regular troops of Army. Two vehicles had earlier this year suffered some damage in the first incident of this year’s attack on Army in Rawalpora outskirts of Srinagar. This is, however, for the first time in 21 years of separatist movement and armed insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir that a mob has torched Army’s vehicles.

A Defence spokesman at headquarters of 15 Corps said in a press release that troops had launched the search operation on inputs from (Pulwama) Police in Chawan, Abhama as some terrorists were expected to make movement.

“At around 4.15 A.M on 24 April, three persons entered the cordon from outside the village. On being challenged, they started running away leading to own troops opening fire. One person was killed, another injured and the third one was apprehended and handed over to the police. At day break, a large crowd of local residents gathered in the area and resorted to stone pelting. Police reinforcements were rushed to the area to bring the situation under control. Despite the efforts of Commanding Officer of the Rashtriya Rifles Unit to control the situation, and in the presence of the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police Shupiyan, the crowd took law in their own hands and burnt two Army vehicles, which had got stuck in the muddy area. Though troops on the ground exercised utmost restraint, any act of destroying Government property will not be tolerated. A high level inquiry has been ordered to investigate the incident”, he said.

Making an addition in the evening, the spokesman said: “On further investigations by higher military authorities, it has been revealed that when crowds swelled near the military vehicles, people from Chawan Village resorted to heavy stone pelting in which 23 troops were injured including four seriously. Two army men have sustained head injuries.
”Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police and the police took charge of the situation and asked troops to disengage. In the meanwhile, the residents of the village resorted to heavy stone pelting and torched the vehicles. An FIR has been lodged with Station House Officer, Police Station Kellar enclosing video coverage of the whole incident with a request to identify the culprits and bring them to book under relevant legal provisions.
”It is once again reiterated that damage to any government property cannot and will not be tolerated at any cost and all actions as permissible under the law will be taken to thwart such blatantly illegal and disruptionist action”.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Shutdown in Valley over death sentence to 2 Kashmiris

Undeclared curfew in downtown Srinagar; clashes at several places

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 23: Kashmir valley today observed near-total shutdown to register its protest against a Delhi court’s pronouncement of the capital punishment on three convicts, including two Kashmiris, who have been held guilty of causing a bomb blast at a crowded market in Lajpat Nagar Market near 14 years ago. Thirteen persons had died and 38 others had sustained injuries in the car blast that happened on May 21 in 1996.

After holding six of the accused guilty and acquitting remaining four persons of all the charges on April 8th, District & Sessions Judge S P Garg had pronounced death sentence on two Kashmiris, namely Mirza Nisar Hussain of Shamswari and Mohammad Ali Bhat of Hassanabad, and Mohammad Naushad of Turkman Gate Delhi on April 22nd. Court had also convicted Javed Ahmed Khan of Naupora to rigorous life imprisonment. Court had further pronounced rigorous imprisonment of 4 years and fine of Rs 10,000 on the Kashmiri separatist leader, Fareeda Dar alias Freeda Behenji of Nattipora, and 7 years RI plus fine of Rs 10,000 on Farooq Ahmed of Anantnag but allowed them to walk free while deeming their period of detention during trial as the punishment served by them.

Stirring a hornet’s nest in the separatist camp in Valley, pronouncement of the judgment prompted heads of both factions of the Hurriyat Conference, namely Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to call a shutdown in protest. Consequently, business establishments remained closed all over the Valley today and commercial transport did not operate. Reports available from all ten of the district headquarters in the Valley said that most of the government offices, educational institutions and banks remained locked for the day. Attendance was remarkably thin in the government offices that defied the Hurriyat call and remained open.

In the capital city of Srinagar, authorities enforced curfew without a formal declaration while imposing strict restrictions on the pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic in areas falling on either side of Nallah Maar Road, a stronghold of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s Awami Action Committee. Restrictions were particularly enforced in Shamswari and Hassanabad---residential localities of the two Shia Muslims (Mirza Nisar Hussain and Mohammad Ali Bhat) who were reportedly teenagers in 1996 and were branded by the prosecution as members of the outlawed Jammu & Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF).

Officials described the situation under control and maintained that movement was regulated in certain downtown localities as a precautionary measure to safeguard law and order. They refused to call it curfew and claimed that most of the people stayed indoors for fear of mobs indulging in stone pelting on all kinds of vehicles in movement. They said that such clashes took place between thin groups of stone pelting youth and Police at five places in downtown Srinagar and Maisuma and three to four places in Sopore, Baramulla and Anantnag towns. They said that Police used tearsmoke and batons in retaliation. According to them “not more than 10 persons” sustained injuries in such clashes,

SSP Srinagar Javed Riyaz Bedar confirmed to media that one person, reportedly a government servant, had been admitted to SKIMS after sustaining a gunshot injury. While asserting that Police or paramilitary forces had not opened fire at any place in Kashmir valley today, SSP Srinagar said that Police were investigating as what exactly was the source of the gunshot injury sustained by the civilian. On the other hand, residents of Nowhatta area insisted that a 50-year-old civilian, identified as Manzoor Ahmded, had got hit when men of CRPF 158 Bn opened fire to disperse a crowd.

Due to the undeclared curfew, Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was not allowed out of his home. People here call it house arrest. Reports said that a couple of other separatist leaders also remained under ‘house arrest’. Consequently, Friday prayers were not held at Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta area. However, head of rival faction of the Hurriyat, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik performed their Friday afternoon prayers at the local mosques in Hyderpora and Maisuma respectively. Geelani made a hard-hitting speech against PDP patriarch Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, National Conference and Congress leaders, calling them all “Delhi’s agents”.

Malik led a thin rally of his supporters in Maisuma towards Lalchowk. He was taken into custody alongwith five of his colleagues and detained at a local Police station for violation of prohibitory orders. Reports said that over 200 residents of Hassanabad locality staged a march towards Rainawari but they were forced to stop by Police and CRPF. Ding dong clashes were witnessed between the two sides for about an hour.


Monday, April 19, 2010

DM says Shabir Shah acquired houses, hotels worth Rs 10 Cr

7th PSA slapped on Kashmiri separatist leader, lodged in Jammu jail

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 19: Known as ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ and ‘Kashmir’s Nelson Mandela’ in the Valley’s separatist camp, Peoples League (PL) founder and Chairman of Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), Shabir Ahmed Shah, has been lodged in Kot Bhalwal Jail of Jammu after his seventh detention under Public Safety Act (PSA) was confirmed by District Magistrate of Srinagar. In addition to the cliché charges of running a secessionist campaign and indulging in terrorist violence, 55-year-old Shah is now facing the never-before accusation of having acquired properties worth Rs 10 Cr from the money he allegedly got from Hawala channels.

Srinagar DM, Meraj Ahmed Kakru, confirmed to Early Times that Shabir Shah had been shifted from Srinagar to Jammu and lodged in Kot Bhalwal Central Jail as he was detained under PSA. According to a dossier prepared by the counter-intelligence wing of J&K Police and confirmed by the DM, Shah has acquired land measuring 4 Kanlas and 3 Marlas from Khasra No: 50 in the name of his wife at the famous tourist resort of Pahalgam. If the charge is to be believed, Shah’s estate at Pahalgam is worth Rs 2.00 Crore. He has been further charged with having raised a luxury hotel worth Rs 5.00 Crore at Pahalgam.

In the same dossier, Shah has been charged with having acquired a plush house worth Rs 1.50 Crore in the posh Sanat Nagar locality in Srinagar outskirts and another house valued at Rs 2.00 Crore in the adjoining colony of Goripora. The separatist leader has allegedly got the resources from the illegal Hawala channels and utilized the same not only on funding terrorist activities in Kashmir valley but also on acquisition of expensive properties, including residential houses and a luxury hotel.

Other allegations slapped on Shah include his anti-national activities, including floating then pro-Pakistan Peoples League in early 1980s and DFP in mid-1990s. It is seventh time in succession that the authorities have detained Shah under PSA which authorizes his imprisonment for a maximum term of two years without the obligation of producing a Challan against the detainee in a judicial court like other routine crimes.

After a chain of arrests and releases, Shah had been picked up from a Srinagar locality during the Amarnath land row of 2008 and detained under PSA. Since then, his detention has been extended and re-invoked several times. Earlier this year, Shah had been released but he was again detained with fresh charges as he, according to Police, persisted with his secessionist activities. However, most of the separatist leaders arrested and detained in the last two years have been released and they have been all carrying out similar activities. Muslim League activist Massarat Alam and National Front Chairman Nayeen Khan are other prominent separatist leaders who have been detained repeatedly and are currently lodged in different jails of the state.

Shah’s colleagues claim that he has spent 25 years and 3 months in different jails and detention centers of the country since his first arrest in hometown Anantnag in 1968. They claim that no other separatist leader in Jammu and Kashmir has been in detention for more than 10 years. Few years back, Shah was married off to a lady doctor from Doda district of Jammu.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Was ban on SMS in National (Conference) interest?

‘Three Idiots” rant should have roused Omar against ‘rumour agencies’ in his own state

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Apr 18: Dramatic imposition of ban on SMS services and its equally dramatic withdrawal within hours last week has exposed not only Government of India’s bankruptcy in handling plain matters of governance in Jammu & Kashmir but also the Kashmiri politicians’ trait of blaming ‘Delhi’ for all of their own sins. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah demonstrated tremendous alacrity for fear of everybody---from Mehbooba Mufti to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq---in rushing to media with his invectives and taking his complaint to the peoples’ court in the Valley rather than calling up his coalition partner in New Delhi.

In the entire drama, Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre has nonsensically confirmed what the cynics of the Kashmir politics and intelligentsia have been complaining of in the last over 60 years. From hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani to the mainstream politicians, who have themselves been the best beneficiaries in becoming even the state’s Chief Ministers and Union Home Ministers, all and sundry in Srinagar have been holding ‘Delhi’ responsible for calling the ruling party’s interest as the ‘national interest’. It has been emphatically substantiated by Home Minister P Chidambaram’s obsequiously acting on the J&K Chief Minister’s advise---first by imposing ban on all types of SMS services in ‘security interest’ of the country and then revoking it within hours.

Nobody asked Chidambaram as to what precisely was his interpretation of the ‘national interest’ and ‘security interest’. None other than Chief Minister and the ruling National Conference President revealed it---nobody knows whether inadvertently or to pre-empt what could have been a potentially dangerous revelation from Mehbooba---that ban on the SMS services was, in fact, sequel to an official SOS from Jammu. Chief Minister said it, rather candidly, that his government had urged the Centre to block bulk SMS circulation, “most of it done by BSNL”, as, according to him, illegal ‘news agencies’ in the state had been found spinning rumours through their cellphones.

Interestingly, the Jammu communication has gone in the wake of PDP having allegedly sponsored “Three Idiots” tirade against Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s dynasty. Telecommunication is undoubtedly a Central subject. A ‘Centre’ that does not mind Srinagar-based practising lawyers’ audacious acts of insulting the Indian Constitution and sovereignty before High Court judges can not be expected to act on petty matters of SMS circulation of its own. Chief Minister was obviously justified in breaking ‘Delhi’s slumber’ with his strong complaint.

Police and law and order figure in the state list. What would have prevented Chief Minister from taking strong action against the anti-social elements running ‘news agencies’ merely on what he himself termed as ‘unsubstantiated rumours’? Head of the government haplessly knocking at New Delhi’s door has raised far serious questions: Are the state mainstream parties programmed simply to act as “Delhi’s surrogates” on the geopolitical patch from Lakhanpur to Uri? People from outside Lakhanpur have been already grappling with other questions: Why does Delhi reward every Delhi-basher in Jammu & Kashmir? Why are all nationalists and patriotic people consigned to dustbins in this state of anarchy and mobocracy?

Chief Minister appears to be handicapped in acting against the ‘news agencies’ for the fact that almost all of his Ministers and senior government functionaries have been making best use of these very “rumour mongers” in their false promotion. They are invariably the special invitees on most of the official functions and events. That perhaps explains as to why these services should exist and their bulk SMS circulation alone should be banned. In Srinagar, this is now ridiculed as “Delhi’s National Conference interest”.

Six years back, its best manifestation came in the form of ‘Delhi’ shutting her eyes to Mehbooba Mufti’s brazen act of vandalizing a polling station and preventing genuine electors from exercising their right to vote. It was only when Omar threatened to withdraw from remaining two phases of the Lok Sabha election of 2004 that Election Commission of India asked Returning Officer to register an FIR against the PDP President. All successive Directors General of Police are wise enough to know that such FIRs are only to be registered and never to be investigated. Call it “national interest”, this “National Conference interest”, “PDP interest” and “Congress interest” is, in fact, preventing millions of the Generation-3 in the Valley from having faith in the Indian Constitution and the real democratic body politic.