Unidentified Gunmen of Kashmir

File Photo

There is a killing on the streets of Kashmir and it is highly likely that the blame goes to this nefarious “unidentified gun man”. The term “unidentified gun men” has now become a part of our day to day lives, with people like me, who have grown-up listening to this term right from our childhood. It is so that this “cult” is everywhere, in every sphere of Kashmir life, capable of committing murders, day-in and day-out, while maintaining its anonymity even though it walks among us unmasked. The emergence of this term “unidentified gunmen” (in context to killings in Kashmir) came with the emergence of armed struggle against the Indian rule in 1989. During early and late 90’s when the militancy as well as the Indian counter-attack to it were at peak, this “unidentified gunmen” was attributed to numerous killings on both parts of the political and ideological divide. This phenomenon of unidentified gunmen has caused a kind of psychosis in the brains of Kashmiri people which instills a fear of being continuously under somebody’s watch; following you like your shadow and could pull out a gun in a market place or in a park and shoot at you.

I remember during late 90’s, when I was a young boy and for the first time came to know about a killing by the so-called “Na maloom Bandook Bardaar” (unidentified gunmen) in downtown Srinagar. I was so terrified by the fact that they could kill anyone; anytime; anywhere and easily disappear without leaving any clue whatsoever for police to trace them. For days I refused to go to toilet alone, such was the fear and I can only pity the kids of Kashmir going through this fear now. In the evenings, I would pray to grow up soon and think of strategies to catch this “Na maloom Bandook bardaar” which had created paranoia among the people. I would imagine how grateful and relieved the people of Kashmir would be when these unidentified gunmen would be caught and punished. However, little did I know that the people who are supposed to hunt them down were not going to do that, not because they are not capable of doing so, but because it serves their interests or the interests of their bosses and could well be in secret friendship with these killers. What else explains the inability of the authorities to unmask these perpetrators for more than two decades?

A place like Kashmir which is marred by political strife for decades becomes a sanctuary for proxy agencies, fielded by powerful people, which cover their ulterior motives and present a more virtuous face. Here political parties use proxy agencies to execute crimes against their rivals to score points, while claiming to be the victims. And, in-between this political drama, the common Kashmiri has been facing the burnt. There is an unprecedented network of agencies and agents working in Kashmir and we hardly know which agency is doing what behind the scenes. In a scintillating piece of investigative journalism, (The Eerie NGO Phenomenon in Kashmir) Parvaiz Bukhari, a noted Kashmiri journalist, revealed that “there are nearly 16,000 NGOs, most of which are unregistered, working in Kashmir and many of which have affiliations with powerful people in Intelligence Bureau and political parties.” In 2013, General V.K. Singh (retd.), the Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, admitted to The Hindu Newspaper that “Technical Services Division (TSD) which he set up as the Army Chief, worked with politicians and some pro-India NGOs to blunt anti-India propaganda of separatists” and further revealed that “money had been paid by Army to NGOs like J&K Humanitarian Services Organization (JKHSO) and Yes Kashmir”. He also attributed the 2011 Panchayat elections and a sudden end to the 2010 stone- throwing protests as two major achievements of the role played by NGOs.

In wake of the recent statement made by Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar trying to justify the use of proxy agencies to neutralize the state targets, many in Kashmir believe that these unidentified gunmen who have recently been on a killing spree, particularly in Sopore town, a hot bed of anti-India and separatist activities, could be acting for the state. After all, the state has such a huge nexus of intelligence agents in the garb of NGOs and other humanitarian agencies which on ground have churned collaborators, pitted a brother against a brother, a neighbor on a neighbor and a phenomenon of “Na Maloom Bandook Bardaar (unidentified gunmen)”.

A version of this article appeared in Greater Kashmir on June 23, 2015.