Ever since the armed insurgency began in Kashmir in 1989, holding any form of election has always been a challenge because of militancy and threats, besides secessionists’ calls for boycotts. The latest killings of three special police officers at Shopian comes as a reminder of the dangers that lie ahead before the urban bodies and panchayat elections. Last week’s outrage is of a piece with the pattern of abducting and killing off-duty state police personnel. As many as 37 Kashmiri policemen have fallen to militant bullets this year so far in what is the worst phase of violence for the state police that has lost about 1,600 men during the three decade-old turmoil. Not surprisingly, the majority of police victims in recent months were soft targets at Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama and Anantnag districts of the south Kashmir, which has become the epicentre of a virulent upsurge in local militancy since the 2016 killing of militant Burhan Wani.
The latest horror came days after the Hizbul Mujahideen posted a video clip with a sternly-worded “resign or die” threat to police personnel in the Valley. Security agencies see it as part of militants’ sinister use of social media to ratchet up the fear factor in the ranks of the police. The 90,000-strong force is in the process of being mobilised as the frontier security ring for the local polls. Worryingly, the Shopian strike has led to unconfirmed reports of some policemen posting their resignations online to buy peace with militants. After all, policemen and their families are easy targets as compared to their counterparts in the army and paramilitaries stationed in heavily-secured camps.
A spike in militant strikes indicates a drift in the security situation, casting a shadow on the Centre’s gambit of wading through deep waters by holding local elections to kickstart the democratic process at the grassroots three month after the collapse of the coalition government. But, with the two major mainstream parties, the National Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, opting out of elections, the Valley is staring at a political vacuum filled only by fear.