Handwara protests genuine: Omar

Protests in Handwara were “genuine expression of anger” towards the Army and cannot be “rigged” on this scale as they mushroomed because of the way they were handled by the State Government, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today said.
He downplayed apprehensions of a new wave of militancy hitting South Kashmir but cautioned that the Government need to remain watchful.
“I don’t think you can rig the protest on this scale and not to the point that people are willing to lay down their lives because of their sentiments or their feeling,” Omar said in an interview to Karan Thapar on India Today TV.
He said large number of people came out and their anger was diverted towards the army because of the alleged incident of molestation.
“Now there are two views on the incident. The fact is what you saw was a genuine expression of anger and outrage which mushroomed because of the way it was initially handled,” he said.
When asked how he sees such protests in South Kashmir, Omar said in recent years, it (South Kashmir) had been calm with relatively less militancy in the area.
“Whatever militancy we had seen has been close to Line of Control. Towns of Handwara, Kupwara have largely been calm. Their participation in elections… Has been much healthier… There is this resentment at the excessive presence of the Army in the middle of these towns particularly a couple of bunkers that dot the two towns of Handwara and Kupwara but people were ready to take them into stride. In this case the incident of alleged molestation that was the spark that lit the fire,” he said.
When asked whether incidents in South Kashmir were new wave of militancy or old ones going on, he said these were bit of both.
“It is also the result of shrinking of space that has taken place because of the alliance between the PDP and the BJP. I think we need to understand that PDP occupied an important buffer zone between the regular mainstream political parties and separatist for their soft separatism…
“It appealed to a section who were not ready for full integration but perhaps weren’t ready to pick up guns, demand azadi or unification with Pakistan. With PDP joining the BJP, I think their space or identity had shrunk. They find greater resonance with separatist cause than with the more right wing that is PDP…,” he said.
Omar said Army was put in extremely difficult position and he thinks the State Government should have been more careful about.
“Knowing that target of people’s ire is going to be army and knowing that Army is ill equipped to deal with the law and order protests, I think the State Government failed in pre-empting this sort of situation,” he said.
He said State Government should have ensured adequate presence of CRPF and State police particularly those who are armed with non-lethal equipment to deal with public protests and put them in front of these Army establishment because we knew Army is going to be focal point of these protests.
Rejecting the claim that Handwara was a tipping point, Omar said it would be “simplistic”.
“To suggest that it is some path-breaking development and that this event will cause much wider ripple effect than other incidents of the similar nature in the past have done, I don’t believe that to be the case,” he said.
The situation is a matter of concern both in terms of local recruitment in militancy and huge crowds that gather when militants are killed in encounter, Omar said, adding this new trend started when local people get involved in encounter giving chance to militants to escape.
“These are not signs that bore well for the future,” he said as he rejected the apprehension that appeal of ISIS is growing in Kashmir saying he is yet to evidence that young boys are ready to pick guns under the banner of ISIS.
Omar refuted suggestion that there could be repeat of violent protests of the summer of 2010 saying people do not have appetite for such protests now.
“One of the areas they failed in dealing Handwara was the fact that direction was not there. The Chief Minister chose to remain in Delhi and have meetings that would have no use to the State rather than rushing back to the State and taking control of situation and giving directions to deal with the situation that was unfolding,” he said.
Omar said when Mehbooba Mufti returned and gave direction, some semblance and some normalcy were restored but by then five people had lost their lives.
The former Chief Minister also said the State Government should have removed bunkers in Handwara on its own rather than waiting for these protests.

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