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Kashmir prepares for local elections amid a worsening security situation Open in fullscreen

Aijaz Nazir

Kashmir prepares for local elections amid a worsening security situation

Instability in Kashmir is on the rise as local elections near [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 February, 2018

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Indepth: Militant organisations are stopping at nothing to halt electoral participation in Kashmir, including threatening to pour acid in participants' eyes.
Panchayat elections in Indian-Kashmir had been scheduled to be held on February 15 after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti held a meeting with Governor N N Vohra in December last year. Barely any election related activity is seen on ground as security situation is deterring with each passing day.

Last week militants attacked an Indian Army camp in Jammu’s Sunjwan area, killing five soldiers and a civilian. The attack was one among the major strikes from militants in Kashmir. In 2016, 19 soldiers were killed in a similar attack in Uri in north Kashmir.

On morning of February 12, an attack was foiled on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Srinagar’s Karan Nagar area. The attack was thwarted after an alert sentry at the CRPF headquarters in Karan Nagar saw two suspected militants approaching the camp at around 4.30am and opened fire. The militants were then holed up in a building nearby. Encounter was going on while this report was being written.

In the prevailing security situation, government is keeping a mum on conducting panchayat elections even after holding all political party meet in Jammu last week. The meeting was attended by senior leaders of the opposition and ruling parties, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).

As per reports, majority of the leaders have suggested that the situation was not feasible for holding the polls and should be deferred barring leaders of PDP’s coalition partner BJP.

Meanwhile the opposition leader and former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah reacting on Twitter said, “If after this, Panchayat Elections are still announced, it will be because the central Govt forced the State Govt to announce them. Can’t have a Lok Sabha by-poll and yet want a full Panchayat election. Strange!”

I think that at present, time is not conducive for holding elections as there are threats coming from the militants. People have just come out of the unrest and anger is evident on ground

“I think that at present, time is not conducive for holding elections as there are threats coming from the militants. People have just come out of the unrest and anger is evident on ground,” Nisar Ahmad, a local told The New Arab.

Pertinently, the last election-related activity resulted in an unprecedented violence when the government held by polls for the Lok Sabha, lower house of parliament seat, in central Kashmir in April last year. On that day, as many as eight people were killed and several others got injured in confrontation with the Indian security forces at several places in central Kashmir.

This not only forced the government to suspend internet services to prevent the widening of violent clashes, but also to cancel the second by-polls scheduled to be held after a few days for the Anantnag constituency in south Kashmir.

Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant organisation has warned of violence by threatening to pour acid into eyes of those who participate in the polls.

The threat has come in a video message from the operational chief of the outfit, Riyaz Naikoo. However, this organisation couldn’t separately verify the authenticity of the video. 

The video shot at an unidentified location has gone viral on social media. In it, Naikoo is seen saying that, instead of killing those who are going to participate in polls, acid should be poured in their eyes.

Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant organisation has warned of violence by threatening to pour acid into eyes of those who participate in the polls

“We have been killing people for a long time, but it didn’t deter them. Their family gets cash and jobs on humanitarian grounds. By pouring acid into their eyes, they will become a burden for those who want them to contest the election,” he is being seen asking another militant.

The situation in Kashmir had returned to normalcy by mid-2017 after months’ long street protest on the killing of a militant commander, Burhaan Wani in 2016. With the beginning of 2018, militant related activity has increased across valley. As per the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a total of 17 people have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir as of February 4.

Separatist leaders in Kashmir have given the boycott call for the upcoming Panchayat elections. In a statement, the Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik said, “We appeal people of Kashmir to boycott Panchayat election drama announced by the so-called rulers”.

Many say that situation is not favourable for elections in Kashmir. Abdul Majeed Larmi, the leader of opposition party, National conference while talking to The New Arab said, “PDP is silent because they have pressure from central government to hold the elections in Kashmir.

"It is not the right time to hold elections, as situation on ground doesn’t allow us to do so. Government should take measures to hold talks will all the stakeholders, they should try to make situation feasible and then to conduct elections.”

Even if the terrorists are able to carry out a random act of violence, it will act as a deterrent for people

Communist Party of India [CPI (M)] leader and MLA Kulgam, Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami who also attended the All Part Meet in Jammu told The New Arab said, “CPI (M) stands for decentralisation of power for building of grass root level governing institutions then only it would be beneficial for the people but if we analyse the situation of past two years, there is no people’s participation and without which it is impossible to hold elections.

“I have said it earlier as well now, that present environment is not conducive for the holding polls. If they couldn't conduct parliamentary elections for Anantnag seat, how can they hold panchayat elections?” he questioned.

In the backdrop of violence, the government has to take various aspects in consideration to hold elections, including cross border tensions, militant attacks and anti India-India protests at the time of anti-insurgency operations by security forces.

Security experts believe that with the current level of militant activity ensuring security for the exercise will be difficult.

Sameer Patil, a security analyst at Gateway House, a Mumbai-based foreign policy think tank told The New Arab, “Recent terrorist attacks have shown that the security situation in the Kashmir valley remains fluid. Therefore, it will be quite a herculean task for the police and paramilitary agencies to provide even the modicum of security for the candidates, polling officials and voters. Even if the terrorists are able to carry out a random act of violence, it will act as a deterrent for people.”

Overall, the situation in Kashmir is not conducive to hold the Panchayat elections but if the state government pushes for the elections, it will test the capacity of the local administration and the security forces.  


Aijaz Nazir is a freelance journalist from India. He has been published in Tehelka, Firstpost, Huffington Post and the Asia Times Online.


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