Year Ender: Pulwama attack, Balakot air strikes, abrogation of Article 370 kept Kashmir on edge in 2019

Srinagar:  From Pulwama attack to Balakot airstrikes to abrogation of Article 370 to longest-ever internet shutdown, Jammu and Kashmir has seen it all in 2019.

For the first time in the history of independent India, a state has been divided and downgraded into two union territories in less than 12 hours. Kashmir has earned a dubious distinction of becoming the first place in the world where the internet has remained shut for 148 days and counting.

For the first time, the Centre scrapped the special status granted under article 370 without getting the nod from the state assembly. For the first time, an air defence missile downed its helicopter after mistaking it as Pakistani plane. For the first time since 1971, Indian Air Force jets crossed the Line of Control and bombed terror camps deep into Pakistan territory at Balakot.

The year started with usual sub-zero temperatures and highway blockade due to landslides. As Kashmir entered into its second month, the chill though subsided, political heat surged. On February 14, when the entire world was busy celebrating Valentine’s Day, 21-year-old local suicide bomber Adil Dar rammed his explosive-laden car into a Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) convoy. Th4e attack killed more than 40 men and injured scores of others in Pulwama district.

The attack shook the entire nation, and the celebrations turned into mourning. Cries for revenge got louder, and the government finally bit the bullet. The Centre allowed Indian Air force jets to cross LoC and bomb Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camps in Balakot, Pakistan on February 27. However, tragedy struck the IAF on the same day when it mistook its chopper as an enemy plane and shot it down, killing our air warriors and a civilian in Budgam district.

A day later, tensions spiked up again when Pakistan downed Indian Air Force MIG 21 and captured its pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He was released three days later and returned home as a hero.

Tensions started building up at the Line of Control with both Indian and Pakistani forces exchanging small and artillery fire at regular intervals. By July, things again started heating up, and the situation reached a tipping point when the Centre decided to close Srinagar-Jammu National Highway for civilian traffic to ensure smooth movement of Amarnath-bound yatries. It triggered a storm with people voicing their concern over the unilateral decision of the government.

When the situation seemed to ease up, Centre abruptly called off the yatra and asked pilgrims and tourists to leave Kashmir citing militant threats on August 2. Even before people could fathom the shock, Centre scrapped Article 370 and reorganised the state into two union territories in fewer than 12 hours on August 5.

Entire political leadership including three former chief ministers — Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah — was jailed. People woke up to curfew across Kashmir. Schools and educational institutions were closed, and communication system including phones, mobiles and the internet was suspended. Though landlines and postpaid phones were restored months later, the internet continues to remain shut in Kashmir. What came as a bolt from the blue was when the state was downgraded into two union territories without consulting the people on August 5.

Abrogation of Article 370 triggered a diplomatic row between India and Pakistan with Islamabad expelling Indian High Commissioner in protest. Later, tensions escalated at the LoC with both armies firing and shelling at each other regularly.

Official figures reveal that Pakistan carried out 3,200 ceasefire violations at the LoC in 2019 compared to 1,629 in 2018. Since the abrogation of Article 370 in August, Pakistan notably upped the ante on the borders. In August, Pakistan carried out 307 ceasefire violations followed by 351 in September, 351 in October, and 304 in November. Earlier in January February, March, April, May, June and July, Pakistan carried out 205, 215, 267, 234, 22,181 and 296 ceasefire violations respectively.

“The situation along the Line of Control can escalate at any time and India is prepared for a befitting response,” said General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Army Staff, who is retiring on December 31.

Post abrogation of Article 370, anti-militancy operations has been walloped in the valley. Less than a dozen gunfights were witnessed in four months, leaving only 18 militants dead. Before August 5, security forces had gone all out against militants, killing 105 of them to avenge Pulwama terror attack.

“We are hopeful of peaceful 2020, though challenges will remain. After every operation, we take stock of the situation and try to improvise and minimise our casualties,” said Ravideep Sahi, Inspector General of CRPF of Srinagar Sector.

Tensions after the abrogation of Article 370 has dealt a significant blow to fledgeling tourism sector with tourist footfall dropping by 87 per cent in the valley since August 5. Figures presented in Lok Sabha reveal that only 36,105 tourists visited Kashmir in four months from August compared to 267,955 in the corresponding period last year.

Preliminary Economic Loss Assessment Report released by The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) has revealed startling facts about the losses suffered by the business community in 120 days from August 5 to December 3. More than 4.96 lakh people have lost jobs, and the business community has incurred over Rs 17,800 crore financial losses post abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.

“We want to change the dynamics of business in 2020. We want to shun the tag of being a consumer region. Our motive is to make Kashmir a producer region. Be it poultry, sheep farming and other sectors. We want to see growth and become a producer state,” said Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, President of KCCI.

Politics and security remain the biggest challenges in 2020. Elections, delimitation and detention of political leaders are high on the agenda of leaders in the state and Centre. “2020 will be the year for consolidating gains that we have made politically as a country. May be 2020 will see the delimitation, and by the end of next year, we will look at the new election in the union territory,” said Sunil Sethi, the chief spokesman of J&K BJP.

However, National Conference, whose top leadership, including Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, is in jail, has dismissed BJP’s claims saying the party is still shaky about the situation not to talk of elections.

“If all is well, why is the internet shut? Prime Minister has supported peaceful protests on CAA but has not allowed people to protest in Kashmir. They said delimitation would take two years, then how are polls going to take place in 2020. They are just misleading people,” said Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi, National Conference MP from Anantnag constituency.

 

Timeline of some of the critical events in 2019

February 14: When the world was busy, celebrating Valentine’s Day, 21-year-old local suicide bomber Adil Dar rammed his explosive-laden car into a Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) convoy. Th4e attack killed more than 40 men and injured scores of others in Pulwama district.

February 27: Indian Air Force crossed LoC and bombed Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camps in Balakot of Pakistan to avenge Pulwama terror attack that left 40 CRPF men dead.

February 27: Tragedy struck the IAF when it mistook its own Mi 17 V5 chopper as enemy plane and shot it down killing our air warriors and a civilian at Garand-Kalan village in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

February 28: Tensions spiked when Pakistan downed Indian Air Force MIG 21 and captured its pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He was released three days later and returned home a hero.

June: District and Sessions Judge in Pathankot, Tejwinder Singh sentenced three main accused to life while three others were given five years imprisonment for the destruction of evidence in the infamous Kathua rape and murder case. Another accused Vishal Jangotra, was acquitted in the case.

July: Centre shuts Srinagar-Jammu National Highway for civilian traffic to ensure smooth movement of Amarnath bound yatries. It triggered a storm with people voicing their concern over the unilateral decision of the government.

August 2: Centre abruptly called off the yatra and asked pilgrims and tourists to leave Kashmir citing militant threats, on August 2.

August 3: Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah says the then Governor Satya Pal Malik “assured him there was no initiative in progress to dilute Article 35A of the Constitution”.

August 5: Even before people could fathom the shock, Centre scrapped Article 370 and reorganised state into two union territories in fewer than 12 hours on August 5. Entire political leadership including three former chief ministers — Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah — was jailed. People woke up to curfew across Kashmir. Schools and educational institutions were closed, and communication system including phones, mobiles and the internet was suspended.

August 16: Supreme Court refuses to pass any direction on the plea sought to end the restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir by the Centre after the abrogation of Article 370

August 18: More petitions filed in Supreme Court against abrogation of Article 370

August 24: Press Council of India moves the Supreme Court and supports the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to impose restrictions on communication in the state following the abrogation of Article 370.

August 28: Supreme Court says a Constitution bench will hear all matters related to Article 370 and developments in Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 from the first week of October.

September 16: Former chief minister and sitting Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah booked under Public Safety Act, a law that allows detention up to two years without trial

October 3: Journalists protest communications blackout in Kashmir.

October 14: Postpaid mobile phones services restored.

October 16: Suspected militants shot dead three non-Kashmiris.

October 30: Five labourers from West Bengal were shot dead in Kulgam district of Kashmir.

October 30: Two dozen European lawmakers, including far-right deputies from Poland, France, Germany and Britain, arrive in Kashmir on an unofficial visit.

Ishfaq Ul Hassan

An accredited journalist with 22 years of professional experience, Ishfaq-Ul-Hassan has worked as a reporter based in Kashmir for two decades. He has covered various beats including militancy, politics, defence, minorities, social issues, religious groups and women issues in Kashmir. He had previously worked as Special Correspondent in Jammu and Kashmir for DNA (Daily News and Analysis) Newspaper for 13 years. Ishfaq is also associated with the New Delhi- based television company `Asia Pacific Communication Associates’ which produced the famous series “Subah-Bakhar-Kashmir” for satellite Kashmir channel of Doordarshan. In 2004, he was awarded the Charkha-Sanjoy Ghosh Fellowship for Peace and Development for his research on families divided across the LOC in Kashmir.

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