Conflict

When war frenzy kept Kashmir on the edge

Even as belligerent guards have apparently been lowered now, many in Kashmir are still wondering about a slew of advisories shot by government on heels of the “pre-emptive” strikes. The panic buying and distressed stockpiling in anticipation of war had only created an alarm and added to the miseries in the valley.

Such was the hysteria that a high-heeled woman from Srinagar’s plush area of Peer Bagh had raised eyebrows with her sudden cry inside a provisional store: “I want three egg cartons.” Even as desperate times were calling for desperate measures, the lady’s panic buying had only attained manic level, given how dozens were already struggling to get a dozen eggs home, in anticipation of the “harsh days” ahead.

Within days, some of these provisional stores and petrol pumps would run dry, and add to the commoner’s agony. Another dent in the fair-weather Jammu-Srinagar highway had already stalled the fresh supplies in to the valley.

But what was happening, hardly anyone seemed to have a clue. Even some top police officers were caught napping when suddenly asked to activate their men to deal with the possible “law and order” situation.

“Probably, there might be a war,” a police officer posted in security wing assumed the day 100 additional paramilitary companies were flown to the valley. “Maybe, there might be an adverse decision on Article 35-A, or even on Hurriyat. Nothing is certain. We’ve been asked to stay alert.”

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Whether this was a posturing or not, but one thing was for sure, Kashmir was up against some ‘big event’. And with rumours already running rampant, the officials tried to play firemen—arguing, “there’s nothing to panic about”.

“But in Kashmir, hardly anyone was buying those hollow assurances,” says Waseem Bhat, a Srinagar-based contractor. “Some of my friends in government would tell me that they were just asked to implement some eleventh-hour orders without any brief.”

Amid that make-believe confusion, a commoner in Kashmir was simply bracing up for tough times ahead. Among them was young Asif Amin, a graduate student, and a PUBG warrior.

Rush at one of the petrol pumps in Srinagar amid panic stock piling. (Photo: Faisal Khan)

On a lazy day when this online soldier was in the middle of some virtual war, he was alerted by the actual war by his parents. He was sent to a local departmental store for some mandatory shopping. But an hour later, he returned empty-handed.

“It was a war situation out there,” Asif recalls the hour’s madness. “I saw this lady shouting at someone, ‘Baby food! Don’t miss it. It’s important. We won’t get it later, if we don’t get it now.’ ”

By then, petrol pumps had turned into crisis spots where panic buying was peaking with each passing second. Streets, shop fronts, mosque hamaams and even living rooms were agog with speculations.

“The men with good pocket strength further escalated the crisis in the market by resorting to mass shopping,” says Hameed, a grocer. “There’s this man, known to me, who took Rs 50 thousand worth stock from my shop in one go.”

ALSO READ: Beyond hysteria: The real and human cost of war

Already, then, people on Kandir-waans—shops of community bread-makers—were discussing the strategy of Indian media houses — screaming “revenge”, and “all out war”.

“Rather than showing how Kashmiris are beaten in mainland India, the ultra-nationalist media and their anchors discussed how to line up tanks and Bofors launchers to bombard the other side of LoC,” Hameed continues.

“What phoney losers they are! These war-mongers should’ve been better dispatched to frontlines to face the real war. Why only these gullible and poor Indian paramilitary men who’re fighting someone else’s war in Kashmir should suffer? Didn’t we see how some of them cried like babies when they lost their colleagues in the recent Handwara gunfight? So, let these anchors come and fight this ‘dirty war’ and suffer its consequences. I believe, then, they might start talking about the peace process and resolution of Kashmir dispute, which is the root cause of all the tensions in the region.”

But despite braving the latest belligerence, Kashmir is neither knew to wars, nor crisis.

The valley’s landlocked nature had forced natives to develop a hoarder’s custom. To brave the rough wintery weather, this system acted as the way of sustenance.

“The same culture helped Kashmiris to brave the last 30-year-old period of insurgency marked by frequent curbs, curfews and clampdowns,” says Imtiyaz, a resident of Old City. “This recent panic buying is an offshoot of the same custom and mindset [to brave the harsh period]. Thing is, we’re in the state of war since long now, and therefore this behavior shouldn’t surprise anyone. Do we’ve a choice?”

It all started after the suicide attack in Lethpora area of Pulwama in which 49 CRPF personnel were killed.

However, what happened lately isn’t that simple either.

A slew of official advisories—calling for immediate ration availability, cancellation of leave for medical staff and cops—had given an impression that Kashmir is about to face some big clampdown. The rumours in this regard only added to the hysteria.

The tense situation especially was proving challenging for patients. Even as medical staff was put on high alert, the impression was given that all this was happening as per some routine. “We were just asked to immediately join the duty without being briefed much about the background,” says Dr. Amir Shafiq, a general physician.

ALSO READ: Amid war hysteria, Kashmiri unionists raise a war cry over Article 35-A

Even cops gone for vacations were asked to report back to their postings, immediately.

“We Kashmiris believe in our own compulsive rumours,” says Asima, a senior government official. “A big attack had just happened at Pulwama and the government was only trying to ensure that the situation shouldn’t go out of hand in Kashmir. And therefore, those arrangements were put in place in war-footing.”

Even then, majority didn’t take the official explanation on its face value.

“My uncle called and suggested to dump stocks,” says Basharat Khan, a banker from south Kashmir. “He said nobody knows what but something is about to happen.”

All these speculations were only adding to the distress, as everyone was sure that Indian Premier Narendra Modi—vowing “befitting reply” over Pulwama bombing—might do something in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.

And then, Balakot happened.

War looked inevitable. But just then, the Indian pilot suddenly landed in Pakistan custody. The subsequent olive branch from Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan possibly thwarted the war. And with that, Kashmir crawled back to ‘restive normalcy’.

 

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