Although in 2017 both centre and state dispensations trumpeted about the return of normality to valley, the year will go down in the history of Kashmir as one of the tumultuous years. In 2017, graph of militancy shot up manifolds with large number of local youth joining the ranks of different militant outfits. The year witnessed not only a huge spike in the militant strikes causing significant damage to security establishment but also a spurt in the civilian killings and frequent cease fire violations along Line of Control(LOC) in Jammu and Kashmir. While small mass uprisings across the state largely became a routine affair, political killings and global Jihadi organizations like Al-Qaeda making inroads in the valley continued to cause much consternation among the security agencies throughout the year.
Rise in militancy
Following the killing of Hizbul Mujahidin commander Burhan Wani in 2016, the militancy in valley went up several notches with more and more youth joining the different militant organizations. While 88 young boys in 2016 joined the militancy in Kashmir, police sources this year put the number at 117 with most of them joining the ranks of Lashker-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen .
In the face of operation “All Out” launched by army in the wake of Amarnath Yatra attack on July 10 in which eight pilgrims lost their lives, the insurgency in Kashmir shows no signs of letting up with more youth taking to militancy. On November 16 when Majid Khan, a young footballer turned militant surrendered before the army following the passionate appeals by his family, the move was seen as a way positive step towards nudging more local militants to return to mainstream. Even though some of the families made appeals to their militant sons to shun the path of violence, nothing was notched up as no more militants followed the Khan’s suit.
Al-Qaeda in Kashmir!
In 2017, the long-drawn-out armed struggle of Kashmir witnessed a critical moment and a far radical turn when militant commander Zakir Musa parted ways with Hizbul Mujahidin and founded Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, an affiliate of global Jihadi organization Al-Qaeda.
After much conjectures about Musa’s affiliations with Al-Qaeda, Global Islamic Media Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliated propaganda channel in the month of July formally announced Zakir Musa as the head of its newly minted cell Ansar- Ghazwatul-Hind. Although Musa’s group attracted only a few militants, his growing popularity among the youth has caused consternation among the security agencies. Moreover, a shift in the militant ideology from fighting for Azadi to Pan- Islamism is seen as a larger ideological threat.
Growing militants attacks
As compared to 2016 which even largely remained turbulent, this year valley witnessed a steady increase in militant attacks. As far as statistics are concerned, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir apprised the Lok Sabha that 335 ”terror related incidents” till December 10 this year were reported from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. He informed the house that 203 militants, 37 civilians and 75 security personnel were killed during this period.
The year also witnessed a surge in the killings of political leaders as some political activists, Sarpanchs and Panchs associated with different mainstream political parties were killed by the militants. District president of ruling People’s Democratic Party Ab. Gani and youth president of Bhartiya Janta Party were some of the prominent political leaders killed in south Kashmir during 2017. Many political commentators saw the situation a throwback to the nineties–the decade in which hundreds of political activists largely associated with National Conference, Congress and left parties were killed.
By-elections for Srinagar and Anantnag segments
While the by-polls for Srinagar parliamentary constituency, held on April 9, were marred by widespread violence with eight civilians losing their lives, the by-elections to Anantnag seat have been deferred indefinitely. Only a scanty percentage of voters—7.14 percent cast their ballot during the Srinagar by-polls. For many valleys based political analysts the 2017 Srinagar by- polls would not only be remembered for a low voter turnout and violence but also for a “voter” who was made human shield and paraded across dozens of villages by an army officer who was later honored for the cowardly act.
Although the state government has recently announced the holding of Panchayt elections from February 2018, there is hardly any word about the Anantnag by-polls.
Cease fire violations and cross border trade
The cease fire violations along the Line of Control (LOC) and International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir during 2017 hit a new high. According to official figures, Pakistan violated the cease fire along the borders in Jammu and Kashmir for more than 720 times till December 10, 2017 which is the highest in past seven years. As many as 20 security personnel and 12 civilians were killed this year in the incidents of firing from across the border.
The frequent ceasefire violations also resulted in the suspension of cross border trade through the Poonch- Rawalkote road for almost four months causing a loss of over Rs 80 crore.
On Political front
Nothing significant happened on political counts during 2017. No serious political efforts, either from the state or the centre, were made to restore normalcy in the state. Muscular policies of the NDA government, adopted during the mass uprising of 2016, remained largely dominant. Although the centre government appointed Dineshwar Sharma as its interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir, the move failed to cut any ice as both the separatist leaders and civil society members out rightly rejected to hold any talks with the interlocutor.
2017 ended on a rather absurd note—state government’s commandment barring the government employees from using social media freely.