Kashmiri militants attack govt outreach team; 2 officials killed

In Jammu and Kashmir, 5161 people have been taken into preventive custody since August 4, of which 609 are still in detention. PTI File Photo

Jammu and Kashmir government’s first public outreach named ‘Back to Village (B2V)-II’ after abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A faced a major roadblock when suspected militants attacked a team of B2V in south Kashmir on Tuesday.

Police officials said that at least two officials — a Sarpanch and a government employee of agriculture department — were killed in the attack in Hakura village in Badasgam area of Anantnag district.

The deceased were identified as Peer Mohammad Rafiq, a Sarpanch, and Sheikh Zahoor, the agriculture department employee.

This is a major militant attack after the Narendra Modi-led NDA government abrogated Articles 370 and 35A on August 5.

The attack took place outside the Panchayat Ghar when B2V officials — government officials and panchayat members — were busy taking pictures of the event.

Sources said that suspected militants first lobbed a grenade which was followed by brief firing on the B2V team.

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The attack, according to Secretary Rural Development Sheetal Nanda, is “a setback for the B2V officials”, but she insisted that the programme would “continue as planned”.

She, however, told The Federal that “security agencies will take care of the security of the B2V officials.”

The officials had hoped that their B2V programme would be successful as far as public outreach in an uncertain political atmosphere of Kashmir was concerned.

In the aftermath of abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and stripping down Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, the latest attack by suspected militants on a B2V-II team appears to telegraph a message that “violence is back after a brief silence”.

Key Kashmir watchers have been warning that the situation was “not at all normal” in Kashmir and that things would unfold in the near future.

A five-member civil society delegation led by former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha after wrapping up its four-day visit to the Kashmir Valley asserted that “the situation in the Valley after the abrogation of Articles 370 was not at all normal”.

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A senior member of the visiting delegation, known as Concerned Citizens’ Group, told The Federal that “the move to abrogate Article 370 has caused huge psychological problem in Kashmir, and an atmosphere of fear was prevailing in the Valley”.

Though there has been no visible rise in militant recruitment after the BJP government scrapped Article 370, experts warn a spike in violence in the coming days.

Professor Siddiq Wahid, a noted academic and historian, believes that three things appeared to have happened simultaneously in Kashmir after removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy.

“One, the BJP’s decision on August 5 has united Kashmiris of all ideological strands. Two, it has internationalised the Kashmir issue. Three, it has again hyphenated Delhi and Islamabad,” Dr Wahid, former vice-chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, told The Federal.

Meanwhile, the first phase of the B2V programme in Jammu and Kashmir was implemented in June while the second phase (B2V-II) was formally started a week ago after a brief training programme, a senior government official said.

According to sources in the government, an amount of ₹5 crore has been sanctioned for each district for development purpose.

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Officially, deputy commissioners are responsible for overall supervision. The stated aim, according to the J&K administration, is “to plug the gaps in development”.

The administration of the newly created Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir plans to send 4,300 B2V officials to panchayat circles of J&K from November 25 to 30.

The J&K police is responsible for the security of the Back to Villages’ officials.

In Srinagar, a low intensity blast outside the Sir Syed gate of the University of Kashmir resulted in injuries to at least five civilians, according to eyewitnesses.

Two separate incidents in south Kashmir and summer capital Srinagar do point out to the fact that militancy could return to the Valley.