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Hang on
Posted:May 29, 2017
 
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The killing of Sabzar Bhat, a Kashmiri militant, in an encounter with counter-insurgency operatives is bound to aggravate the tumult in the Valley. Unlike last year though, when the state government and the security forces were caught off guard by the public response to the death of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen leader, the administration knows what to expect this time. The crux of the matter, however, is the counter-response. In the months that followed last year's encounter killing, the use of pellet guns on protesters and stone-pelters, and its consequences - deaths, blindings and the ghastly wounds that the pellets left on bodies and minds - opened up a new challenge for the counter-insurgency operation. There was not just militancy to combat, but also the powerful narrative on State repression that flowed out silently from the images of pellet-gun victims. 
 
The image war is still on, if the controversy over the picture of a Kashmiri local tied to the front of an army jeep is any indication. It goes without saying that the administration is treading on thin ice. It would need infinite patience, tact and control on the part of the law-enforcers to deal with the anger that Bhat's death is likely to create, and to prevent a slide back to last year's situation. A little fortitude may go a long way though. The Hizbul Mujahideen is in a state of confusion after an ideological divide surfaced among its leadership and the negative reaction that followed the killing of the young Kashmiri army officer, Ummar Fayaz, by unknown assailants. Unless the police and security forces become trigger-happy, there is even a chance that the passions over the killing of Bhat, Wani's aide but a much lesser figure, may subside.
 
That brings into question the strategy of the security forces, which appear to have been given a carte blanche by the government to bring the situation under 'control'. There can be no doubt that the army is following a no-holds-barred policy against militancy in the Valley. Yet, it is also racked by the dilemma over the use of disproportionate force against protesters. This is obvious from the army chief's latest statement that he wished protesters brought weapons and not stones which, inarguably, would have legitimized the use of unbridled force against them. But that is not the case. Protesters, no matter how troublesome, are not militants. In their urgency to reinstate 'normalcy' in the Valley, the security forces should not forget this cardinal truth.
 
 
 
 
 
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