Sectarian strife in Kashmir valley needs firm handling

Srinagar:  Deployment of the Indian Army and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is helping restore calm in Jammu and Kashmir’s central Badgam district where sectarian tensions have prevailed for nearly a week now.

Clashes between Shia and Sunni Muslims over trivial issues have occurred in the Valley in the past, but good sense has always prevailed and elements interested in stoking sectarian fires have been defeated.

Some among the Shia community in the affected areas of Badgam district have blamed the local police for “gross mishandling the situation encouraged the miscreants to spread sectarian fires”. I

Those who argue against the local police say a 55-year old woman, Fatima, was beaten with a rifle butt by a local policeman. Fatima was shifted to hospital in a critical condition. Fatima belongs to the Shia community.

The authorities on Wednesday morning deployed columns of the army and the CRPF, withdrawing the local police from the affected areas. The deployment followed overnight rioting in the area in which over two dozen houses were torched in sectarian clashes.

Yasin Malik of the pro-Azadi Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) went around the affected areas Wednesday on a peace rally. Residents in the affected areas said Malik’s move helped restore confidence among them.

Interestingly, the Badgam assembly constituency is represented by a Shia leader, Aga Syed Ruhullah of the ruling National Conference (NC). Members of the Shia community are not in a majority in the constituency, but the fact that Shia voters unitedly supported Ruhullah during the 2008 elections made his victory possible.

“If the Shias in Badgam get disgruntled with the NC, it would cost us the seat in the assembly elections (later this year),” said a senior NC leader here.

This has probably been the reason for many in the NC blaming the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Mufti Muhammad Sayeed for stoking sectarian troubles in Badgam.

The NC leaders have been blaming Sayeed’s confidante and senior Shia leader Molvi Ifftekhar Hussain Ansari for using his “influence” among the Shias in Badgam to fan sectarian fires.

Senior PDP leaders, including Sayeed, have appealed to the people to remain united and defeat anti-religion and anti-social elements responsible for fanning sectarian fires.

Senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, toeing his standard line, has said that there is a conspiracy behind the sectarian clashes in Badgam and that these have been started to distract the attention of the people from the Gool violence in which four people were killed and 13 others injured in paramilitary firing on July 18.

“There was a minor scuffle between two persons and mysterious hands manipulated it to the hilt to fuel sectarian clashes”, Geelani said here in a statement.

Syed Salahuddin, the Muzaffarabad-based supreme commander of the United Jehad Council (UJC) guerrilla conglomerate, also issued a statement appealing for calm between the two sects, but added that “agencies are always looking forward to creating a wedge among the Muslims to weaken the freedom struggle”.

Political overtones to the recent sectarian clashes in Badgam district notwithstanding, the fact remains that given the fragile security situation, Kashmir cannot afford a sectarian flare-up.

The sooner the Congress-NC coalition government headed by Omar Abdullah gets to the bottom of these clashes the better for the state.

If the local police were really partisan during the clashes, the involved officers deserve nothing short of being sacked.

by Sheikh Qayoom (IANS)

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