Jammu and Kashmir: In security lockdown, lessons from 2016 Wani killing protests

In the 10-day period after the removal of Article 370 by contrast, only 45 security personnel were injured, and 18 vehicles were damaged.

The current lockdown in Kashmir reflects lessons learnt during the massive violence that rocked the Valley in the days immediately following the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, officials in the security establishment told The Sunday Express.

In the first 10 days after Wani’s killing in an encounter in Tral in South Kashmir on July 8, 2016, the Valley saw as many as 257 incidents of stone-pelting. In comparison, in the first 10 days following the removal of special status and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories, 166 incidents of stone-pelting were recorded.

Importantly, the incidents that followed Wani’s killing were much more deadly. Between July 8 and July 18, 2016, security forces suffered 1,369 injuries, and 185 of their vehicles were damaged.

In the 10-day period after the removal of Article 370 by contrast, only 45 security personnel were injured, and 18 vehicles were damaged.

As many as 42 civilians were killed in the protests in the first 10 days after Wani’s killing. Now, the death of only one civilian has been reported.

“The reason for the comparatively less violence this time is the near complete shutdown we effected in the first few days following the Article 370 decision. Unlike in 2016, all communication, including landlines, was cut. Except in medical emergencies, people were not allowed to move out of their neighbourhoods. This ensured there was never an assembly of people large enough to create significant trouble,” a senior security officer said.

After Wani’s killing, government did clamp down on communication for almost two months, but both landlines and postpaid mobile phones were working.

What has also helped, sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs said, that separatist leaders, who often call bandhs and organise protests, were already in jail, thanks to arrests made by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) over the past couple of years.

Almost all top separatists barring Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq are behind bars in connection with a case of terror funding. Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah, Asiya Andrabi and Masarat Alam are among over a dozen leaders currently lodged in Tihar jail in Delhi.

“Preparations were made in advance, and people were taken into preventive custody before the announcement was made. Security forces had been deployed well in advance, and all key political leaders were put under house arrest. So all that we saw was a handful of people protesting or throwing stones in their neighbourhoods. More and bigger injuries occur when a thousand or more people gather at one place and throw stones,” the officer said.

The administration has begun to ease restrictions after 12 days of severe clampdown. Schools are scheduled to reopen on Monday, and the communication blackout is likely to be gradually removed. Some phone lines have begun working.

“You can’t impose severe restrictions for too long. It can lead to spontaneous protests that may be difficult to control,” the officer said.

According to government data, stone-pelting incidents, and resulting injuries, have been going down steadily since the abrogation of Article 370. While on the first day — August 6 — there were 45 incidents of stone-pelting, it fell to 30 on the following day. Subsequent days saw 15, 27, and 19 incidents respectively. Since then, the figures have been in single digits.

All vehicles were damaged in the first four days. Injuries to security forces personnel too, were reported the most on the first day — 21 personnel were injured. Since then, the figures have been in single digits.

Following Wani’s killing too, the first four days saw the most protests — 142 of the 257 stone pelting incidents were reported during that period. In the first four days, 1,115 security forces personnel were injured.

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