Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Geelani’s shutdowns begin to fail after 4 months of total freeze

Geelani’s shutdowns begin to fail after 4 months of total freeze

Transporters, traders defy call in several areas; Sunday Market back to business

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 1: Much like these days in 2008, street turbulence of nearly five months appears to be heading for anti-climax as there has been little impact of the separatists’ calls for “total shutdown” and “civil curfew” in Kashmir valley since last week.

For the first time since June 11th, when a chain of unending strikes began with the death of a student allegedly in teargas shelling of Srinagar Police, commercial transporters today defied the Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call for shutdown in certain areas of the strife-torn Valley, including this capital city. Medium and minibus, in addition to three-wheelers, were seen carrying commuters not only in several rural areas but also in Srinagar. Private transport and official vehicles operated without any fear of stone pelters and groups of youth who were seen last evening warning traders and transports against any act of defying the Hurriyat call for “total shutdown”.

Today was the third and the last day of Geelani-sponsored shutdown before a “relaxation” of two days on Tuesday and Wednesday. Almost all government offices and a number of banks, besides all private and government educational institutions functioned normally with thick attendance. None has been exempted by the hardliner Hurriyat from the shutdown that, according to the sponsors, seeks to register the Kashmiris’ protest against the ‘cruelties of the occupational Indian forces’. Over a hundred civilians, mostly youngsters, have died in Police and armed forces action during street demonstrations, stone pelting, arson of public properties and attacks on the authorities in the last five months of turbulence.

Shops and other business centers today were seen open in several areas of the capital city and most of the major townships even as the Hurriyat call had substantial impact in major markets in Srinagar civil lines, parts of Baramulla and Sopore towns. According to observation in parts of the capital city as also reports from rural areas, today’s situation was a contrast to what Valley has witnessed in the months of June, July, August, September and October. On Hurriyat’s call, Valley remained almost completely frozen for the five months with more than 100 days of shutdown, a number of them running parallel to declared and undeclared curfew by the authorities.

On most of the days of Hurriyat-sponsored shutdown, there was nearly zero traffic movement as most of the major surface communication arteries, including Srinagar-Jammu Highway, remained in total control of the pro-Azadi crowds and none of the Ministers or senior officials dared to venture for a travel. Almost all private businesses, including educational institutions, most of the government offices and banks remained closed during the turmoil and very few private vehicles dared to operate in defiance of the Hurriyat call.

Situation, however, began to undergo a visible change with the arrest of the Muslim League Vice Chairman and a hardcore functionary of the Hurriyat (Geelani), Massarat Alam Bhat, in Srinagar outskirts of Telbal on October 18th. Yet another significant stimulant of the change in situation was unmistakably the Police crackdown on separatist activists and stone pelters that remarkably began with the joining of S M Sahai as the Inspector General of Police in Kashmir. Since the first week of September, Police action against the separatists and stone pelters has been contrary to what most of the politicians from Srinagar to New Delhi—including Chief Minister and Prime Minister--- have been saying publicly since July this year.

Significantly, withdrawing of cases against the students and other youngsters, besides releasing of all political detainees had been prominently incorporated in the Government of India’s 8-point charter of advice to the Omar Abdullah government drafted by Cabinet Committee on Security in September. Out of approximately 1600 bunkers of the security forces, government has removed just 16 and released few of the stone pelters, students and political activists in the last two months.

In the middle of last week, posters of an unknown organization in Srinagar markets asked Geelani to explain whether the traders should follow the stone pelters of the separatist leaders. These warned of “an altogether new situation from November 1st” should the hardline separatist fail to make his position clear. Geelani was initially careful in his response but the other day only he dismissed the circulation of the posters as the handiwork of government agencies. He emphasized that the shutdowns were “very much in the interest of the freedom struggle”.

On October 30th, Sunday Market on Residency Road in Srinagar was seen back to business in defiance of the call for “total shutdown” after more than four months. Commuters and motorists today complained of “huge traffic jams” in the capital city. Shuttered shops in Civil Lines and many other markets appeared to be the only reminder of a shutdown. Authorities have withdrawn curfew from the capital city, including the most disturbed downtown, after three months last week. It is still in force at a couple of places like Delina and Palhalan on Srinagar-Baramulla Road.

Meanwhile, Police today swooped on a group of youth at Amar Singh College and arrested three persons with the claim that were “the most wanted stone pelters” indulging in harassment to traders and transporters in order to enforce shutdown. They were identified as Sajjad Mushtaq Bhat of Rajbagh, Aaquib Sameer Ganai of Tulsi Bagh and Aasim Farooq Mir of Ikhrajpora.

In follow up to yesterday’s gunbattle in which one Lashkar-e-Toiba militant was claimed to have died in Sopore, Policen and security forces have killed four more militants---two each in Zachaldara area of Handwara and Kawdrung (Kaimoh) area of Kulgam. Two of the militants killed by Srinagar Police and Army, in a joint operation in Kulgam, were identified as Mohammad Saleem Ganai alias Faisal of Hef Shirmal Shopian and Abu Huzefa alias Hassan Bhai of Pakistan.

Officials said that one more militant, namely Azad Ahmed Bhat S/o Abdul Karim Bhat of Awat Shirmal Shopian was arrested in the encounter in Kulgam. They said that Anantnag Police succeeded in arresting Hizbul Mujahideen top wanted militant and “Divisional Commander”, Abdur Rasheed Sheikh alias Arsalan S/o Abdul Gani Sheikh, resident of Bandhalan Doda. SP Anantnag, Bashir Ahmed Khan, said that Sheikh was involved in a number of civilian killings besides attacks on Police and security forces. He said that Sheikh was arrested alongwith his bodyguard Nisar Ahmed Malik alias Muzamil.


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