The fiasco in Kashmir on Saturday is comparable to the one on 11 August, 2008. Then too, the administration had underestimated the likely response to the ‘Muzaffarabad chalo’ call which separatists had given. In the run up, a senior police officer got an agreement from a top Hurriyat leader and smugly told his bosses that all would be well. Instead, all hell broke loose that morning.By that afternoon, a vast procession led by separatist leaders Shabir Shah and Sheikh Aziz had broken through the toughest barricades — trucks and bulldozers were reported to have been used — and were well on their way to Uri. On a narrow stretch, with a gorge below and a steep slope above, the security forces dug up the road and pointed guns at the approaching crowd across the chasm. The procession was stopped only when the forces opened fire, killing Aziz — who was a member of the seven-member Hurriyat Conference Executive Committee.The death toll in Jammu and Kashmir has climbed to 19 due to violence over Burhan Wani’s killing. PTIOn Saturday, the day after Burhan Wani’s killing, the security apparatus of the state was apparently similarly unprepared. Once more, curfew disintegrated. Police stations and paramilitary camps across the valley were attacked, attracting tear gas and bullets. Nineteen people have been killed because of the violence so far.If that was horrifying, so was the fact that a mob invaded and tookover an entire police station, took the policemen captive and looted the armory. Some of thepolicemen disappeared. This sort of chaos has not happened since 1990, when the police force had become defunct.In 1990, the forces’ inability to efficiently handle the new eruption of insurgency was understandable. After all, the records of the police department probably still hold a note from October 1998 saying, ‘one Calcincope rifle also recovered.’ Only one of a host of senior officers who knew about a Kalashnikov on a militant’s body could identify it. The one who misspelt it became DGP of Jammu and Kashmir Police a couple of years later. Many years later, the one who did identify it became DGP of Punjab.Twenty-eight years later, with the amount of experience, training, equipment and thousands of crores of rupees worth of investment on the police and paramilitary forces operating in Kashmir, this sort of fiasco is unacceptable.It was obvious to anyone who knew the pulse of Kashmir that Burhan’s death at the hands of security forces would cause a massive — possibly unprecedented — backlash. I said to a very senior Army officer as he was leaving after a function to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1965 war late last summer that it would be best to catch Burhan alive and not kill him. That advice should have been re-affirmed by the massive and violent turnout from three districts for the funeral of Abu Hamza last December. Hamza, after all, was a Pakistani. Burhan was a young, pleasant-faced local boy.The danger is that, as in 2010, the course of what happens over the next few days and weeks may be set by those ‘handlers’ who appear to have managed Saturday’s series of attacks across Kashmir. In 2010, schedules of protests used to be issued through separatist leader and former Hezbollah commander Masarat Alam. He remained underground for weeks while issuing statements regularly.The state and its vastly funded agencies could do nothing to alter the timeline or the events. It had become impossible to move in the city of Srinagar and most other parts of the Valley that summer, except when Alam ordered that people be allowed to move. When he did, the roads were jammed. It would have been possible to move any amount of arms and militants during those times, for the jams allowed for no security checks.Finally, the police were able to track down and arrest Alam. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s calls for calm led to order thereafter. This time, attempts to restore calm may be more troubled. A new generation of protesters has come up since then, many of them still in their teens. Generally, they do not have much regard for traditional separatist leaders, even such high-profile ones as Geelani.
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