Highway Ban in Kashmir: The Horrors of Democracy!
BY: Mir Abass
The government of the India issued a dictate restricting civilian traffic on the national highway in orde to provide safe passage to the army convoys. The ban shall remain in force till May 31st and two days in each week (from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m) i.e Sunday’s and Wednesday’s shall be reserved for army movement. The decision comes after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a military convoy on the same highway in Pulwama town, killing at least 40 army personnel in February 2019.
In an order issued on Wednesday, the government spokesman said: "Keeping in view the large movement of security forces on the national highway during the parliamentary elections and associated possibility of any Fidayeen [suicide] terror attack on security forces' convoys, the state government has notified specified days in a week for the movement of security forces from Srinagar to Jammu. During these days, no civilian traffic would be allowed on the National Highway."
Some Mainstream Politicians who call themselves ‘Mujahid-e-Awal’ and some call for restoring presidency and Prime Minstership in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have actually had no impact on Indian policy makers to get the ban revoked. Going by the standards of slapping PSA’s, the government of India, in my opinion, has enough proof to book these deceitful politicians and send them to jails.
Now, the freedom of 10 million people is being chocked. You cannot move on roads on particular days even if you have a health condition or some other urgency. Children can't go to Schools and doctors can’t reach to the respective hospitals. Similarly other employees and labourers can’t attend to their engagements while businessmen also suffer massively. An entire population jeopardized- Isn’t it the horror of democracy?
The ban reminds us all about the Israeli treatment with the Gazans as certain roads are completely blocked for Gazans for similar reasons. While Gazans have always resisted, in Kashmir people seem busy with the election campaigns and arranging public rallies for the contesting candidates in the ongoing LS polls.
Since the terrorist attack in Pulwama in February, many decisions taken by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir have hit headlines for wrong reasons and the ban on civilian traffic on the 271-km National Highway 44- between Udhampur and Baramulla for two days every week -is one of them. Various stakeholders in the valley have interpreted the ban differently and while the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, justified it, army claims that they were not consulted before the decision was taken. And to drive the point home, they have been moving on the highway on all days except Fridays. They term their movement as "operational duty". Even Jammu and Kashmir police has been using the road regularly not restricting their movement to the specified days.
So the question arises, who does the decision benefit? Only forces that are being deployed in the valley for the elections - about 500 companies or 50000 soldiers, say some. The ruling BJP is worried that in election season, another attack on security forces would have far-reaching effects nationwide. And that is why the ban was imposed. But did the party ever consider that how such a policy was alienating Kashmiris further? Opposition parties claim that the BJP is not bothered about the difficulties being faced by locals since valley has never been their vote bank.
The government, however, claims that they have tried to tackle problems on the ground by deploying magistrates at strategic spots on the road to issue on-the-spot permissions to the people in an emergency but locals say it is not making any difference. Anyways, the pitch of resentment spikes on Sundays and Wednesdays - the days of ban. Last Wednesday, a man was granted permission to travel by a duty magistrate with a stamp and scribble on the palm of his hand. A picture of the humiliating ‘pass’ or approval to travel later went viral on the social media. The reason is that the highway is used by thousands every day and all of them do it for diverse social, medical and economic reasons and it is not possible to issue permissions to all of them when it is about the security of the convoys. So the crisis seems unlikely to subside any time soon.
There is no doubt that security convoys present a perfect target for the terrorists as they are long and slow-moving vehicles carrying troops both ways. But to counter such attacks, certain measures were put in place in the past and a multi-tier security system has always been enforced comprising of jamming of Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (RCIEDs) frequencies, corridor-protection teams, deep deployments all along the National Highway and stopping of civilian traffic during convoy movements.
"In fact, no night movement of civilians was permitted till 2002 and was permitted only when Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) came to power in his first term. The dilution of security grid both on the National Highway and in the hinterland started during his time under the garb of healing touch and giving political space to Separatist elements," a former Jammu and Kashmir police chief said.
According to him, the movement of traffic on National Highway is regulated by the police after due consultations with all the stakeholders including the army. "There was a robust mechanism of coordination and consultation. Before issuing any such order, all should be consulted as it affects all forces," he added.
The National Highway starting from Kathua (Lakhanpur) to Leh (Ladakh) is the lifeline not only for Kashmir and Ladakh but also strategically important for the army and security forces. All the supplies to the Valley and Ladakh have to pass through the National Highway in the absence of rail connectivity. Since the road to Valley and Ladakh gets cut off due to snowfall, rains and landslides during winters, all the essential supplies have to be stocked well in advance to tide over six months of harsh winter.
Similarly, the same National Highway is extensively used for providing supplies to the army deployed in Kashmir Valley (15 Corps) and Ladakh (14 Corps) including Siachen. The entire troop movement takes place through this NH which at places is very narrow and is subjected to the vagaries of nature despite best efforts.
The Jawahar Tunnel and Zojila Pass throw up a challenge in maintaining and keeping them open even during the normal times leave alone during winters when they are covered under thick snowfall.
In addition to this, large number of Central Armed Police Forces or CAPF is also deployed in the Valley and all essential supplies and movement of men and material takes place regularly through the highway.
Disruption of communication is one of the most important aspect of insurgency and terrorism where the forces are cut off from supplies and reinforcements and also creating discontent and chaos among the public through shortage of essential items.
Old timers claim dilution of the security grid in Srinagar city is responsible for the unfettered movement of militants in the city which at one point of time was completely cleared of them.
Facing criticism, the Union Home Ministry also took refuge in statistics to claim the ban was for only 15 per cent of total weekly hours. The statement comes at a time when the ministry has to file its reply to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court which has directed it to respond by April 19 to a bunch of petitions challenging the decision.
Anyway the decision to close roads is inhumane, undemocratic and is the best example of oppression and subjugation. It must end-in the name of democracy!
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of English and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org