Niloofar Qureshi

‘Mules’ in Kashmir?

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Recovery of arms, ammunition and grenades is nothing unusual in Kashmir. However, the recovery of 20 grenades alongwith a sizeable amount of ammunition by the police on Tuesday is not a normal seizure for three reasons. One, it is the largest single recovery of grenades from  person in recent memory; two, this deadly consignment was intercepted in the outskirts of Srinagar and three, the ‘mule’ (jargon for courier) transporting this arsenal was a woman driving a high-end Chevrolet Tavera car. From what information is available, the police had established a ‘naka’  (check post) opposite Kirmaniabad shrine near Lawaypora on receiving credible inputs regarding some ‘over ground workers’ (jargon for militant sympathisers) coming from Baramulla towards Srinagar. On searching the golden coloured Tavera car the police recovered grenades and ammunition from the solitary occupant of the car who was a lady.

We have been telling the world that the ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir cannot be equated with terrorism since it is a “just war” being waged against unprincipled “occupational force” who have unleashed a reign of terror on the hapless Kashmiris. However,  by using women to secretly ferry guns, grenades and bullets past security check posts the militants are themselves giving a bad name to the ‘armed struggle’. Even if the women involved are doing so voluntarily it makes no difference because the main issue of concern is that females are being dragged into the arena of armed conflict. Thus this incident gives the ‘armed struggle’ an ugly dimension and as such would not go down well with the international community. Conversely, by concealing the identity of the accused lady, the security forces and police have been able to dispel accusations of their complete gender insensitivity while confronting and dealing with women folk.

It is not intended to find fault with anyone as using ‘mules’ for carrying prohibited items ranging from narcotics to weapons has become commonplace. However, since the primary aim of this practice is to eliminate or reduce risk of the organisers getting caught themselves, it has an inherent negative undertone because once they are apprehended the unfortunate couriers are left to fend for themselves. The saddest part is that besides being a personal tragedy for the apprehended lady, this incident will also have several collective fallouts of an adverse nature. Firstly, it will dilute our case for seeking revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from J&K on the grounds that it gives security forces unrestrained powers to search people and premises and is thus being misused to harass and humiliate civilians. Secondly, it raises the ethical issue regarding the propriety of exposing women to the hazards and dire consequences associated with transportation of explosive materials.

Last month the joint resistance leadership (JRL) approached UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres with a complaint of repression arising out "of the recent spree of killing and blatant abuse of human rights in Kashmir and immense atrocities committed on the civilian population under the ruthless cordon and search operation (CASO) in the length and breadth of Kashmir by Indian forces." The UN Secretary General didn’t reply and the majority of Kashmir watchers aren’t surprised as they say that when almost each and every CASO is culminating in a gunfight between security forces and militants, how the UN Secretary General can object to the same! Similarly, now that a lady has been apprehended with a sizeable cache of grenades and ammunition, how would anyone pay heed to our plea that conducting searches should be discontinued and check posts in places like Srinagar be demolished?

The lady apprehended with grenades and ammunition may have not done so of her own volition but in eyes of the law she is guilty of having committed an offence under the Arms Act which carries long prison terms. Pleading that she was coerced into carrying the grenades and ammunition may get her a lighter sentence but this can only happen if she is able to prove her innocence by identifying the masterminds. However, this lady would surely be aware that doing so will antagonise the militants, making her a possible target and thus for her it’s the devil and deep sea situation! Since this incident damages the image of the Kashmir movement, the JRL must intervene and make its stand militants using civilians for the clandestine movement of weapons and ammunition clear. Silence of the JRL on this issue will obviously be perceived as tacit acceptance of using non-combatants as ‘mules’ to ferry weapons and explosives and this in turn will raise serious doubts in the mind of the international community on the possible use of intimidation for this purpose.

Tailpiece: We are once again lucky that the security forces and police haven’t exploited this incident to malign the ‘armed struggle’; but placing too much hope on luck alone is also a very dangerous proposition!

The writer is a Delhi based columnist and can be reached at niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com

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