Ongoing unrest has roots in militant hotbed Tral

Ongoing unrest has roots in militant hotbed TralOn the Jammu-Srinagar national highway that snakes through the Valley, a curve near Awantipora town in south Kashmir leads to picturesque and mountainous Tral sub-district, home to many militants of the region’s new-age insurgency.
It is in Tral, 35 km south-east of Srinagar, that Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s body arrived home in the dead of a stormy night last month, setting the stage for the largest funeral in the region in decades and the most overt expression of pro-militant sentiment.
Burhan’s killing on July 8 triggered an unprecedented pro-militant unrest in the region. So far, as the unrest heads towards its second month, more than 50 civilians have been killed as security personnel struggle to contain protests. Thousands of civilians have been injured by bullets, pellets and tear-smoke shells.
The unrest, which took the state government and the region’s separatists by surprise, spread to most distant corners of the Valley almost instantly even as the government ordered a communication blockade and imposed curfew.
Tral legislator and a member of the ruling PDPMushtaq Ahmad Shahsaid the situation in Tral had not changed since Burhan’s killing and blamed the Centre for “mocking” at the demands of the people. “The support for militants is not limited to Tral only. It is across entire Kashmir,” Shah said.
Even as there has been no civilian killing in Tral during the ongoing unrest, it is here that the seeds of a pro-militant unrest grew and got nourished amid popular support.
The road leading to Tral remains blocked near the Awantipora crossing as police and paramilitary personnel have set up a joint checkpoint to prevent any entry and exit. Inside the sub-district, Burhan’s grave — a mound of soil and an epitaph in the graveyard of militants — has become a site of reverence for locals.
“Since Burhan’s killing, people have been coming to his home and graveyard every day,” said a resident of Tral town. “During the nights, boys and young men stay awake and keep guard so that the police do not come and raid houses,” he said.
When the militants in Tral — among them the young teenager Burhan — began mounting a new-age insurgency, militancy around the region was fading and facing a battle for survival as Pakistan’s 2003 ceasefire along the LoCallowed India to build a multi-tier counter-infiltration grid that prevented infiltration by foreign militants — then the backbone of insurgency’s fighting machine.
At the end of 2012, the number of militants in Kashmir had fallen to 91 — a double-digit for the first time since insurgency erupted in the region in 1989. It is around this time that militants from Tral sub-district began to emerge on social media sites through photographs and rudimentarily shot videos, removing anonymity and providing a face to insurgency.
The gamble of giving up anonymity at the cost of a security risk delivered dividends for the militants — a group of whom was led by Burhan after 2014 — as it helped them establish a new method of communication with the locals.
In the past two years, signs of a pro-militant unrest were becoming increasingly clear. Civilians stormed encounter sites to help the militants escape, clashes erupted between police and civilians for possession of bodies of militants, and thousands began attending the funerals of slain militants — the phenomenon that had its genesis in Tral and had by the beginning of this year spread to all districts of south Kashmir.
With Burhan’s killing on the evening of July 8, the phenomenon had reached the entire Valley, paralysing the writ of the state government and pitching civilians against police and paramilitary forces.

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