An Indian policeman patrols in downtown Srinagar on July 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Danish  Ismail
An Indian policeman patrols in downtown Srinagar on July 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Danish Ismail

While the Indian government has been discussing the potential benefits of a Ramadan ceasefire in the embattled state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Army has been accused of opening fire on civilians in the northern state when people broke their fast at sunset.

On Monday evening, four girls were injured, two of them critically, after soldiers from the 34 Rashtriya Rifles allegedly fired on a gathering of protesters who objected to the Army setting up a stall for Iftaar at DK Pora village in Shopian district in southern Kashmir.

The director-general of Police SP Vaid told reporters that some people rejected the Army’s Iftar gesture as ‘Haraam’ – forbidden for Muslims – and threw stones at the soldiers. The Army spokesman said the facts were still being ascertained.

The recent announcement of a “Ramadan ceasefire” had given new hope to the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). But security officials were yet to receive any formal orders from the government on how to extend an olive branch in the region, which has been wracked by a long-running insurgency.

On May 16, New Delhi agreed to J&K Chief Minister Mebhooba Mufti’s proposal for a ceasefire during Ramadan. The Ministry of Home Affairs, headed by Rajnath Singh, announced the conditional ceasefire by asked security forces not to launch an operation against militants during the holy month.

However, the ministry clarified that security forces “reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if [it becomes] essential to protect the lives of innocent people”. It announced the ceasefire on social media through its Twitter account, saying: “The Centre asks Security Forces not to launch operations in Jammu & Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan [Ramadan]. Decision taken to help the peace-loving Muslims observe Ramzan [Ramadan] in a peaceful environment. HM Shri @rajnathsingh has informed the Chief Minister, J&K of Centre’s decision.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi subsequently visited Kashmir and hailed the ceasefire, hoping that it contributes to bringing peace to the restive region.

No formal ceasefire order given to Army

Security officials endorsed New Delhi’s stance and no Cordon and Search Operation had been carried out since. Yet, the Army did not receive any formal order with regard to the ceasefire.

Top officials in the Indian Army and state police told Asia Times that except for a “public handout” issued through the Press Information Bureau, they had yet to receive any formal orders from the Home or Defense Ministries “defining technicalities and other contours of the ceasefire and to which extent it has to be applied and how.”

The press handout throws light largely on the need for a ceasefire than how it has to be implemented on the ground. “Government has been trying to create an environment free of terror and violence to enable the Muslim brothers to observe Ramzan [Ramadan] in a peaceful manner and in [a] conducive environment so that terrorists do not exploit their religious sentiments,” it said.

“However, if it is essential for protecting the life of the common people, the security forces will be compelled to take appropriate action. It is expected that all Muslim brothers and sisters following the true tenets of Islam will cooperate in ensuring the success of this initiative during the holy month of Ramzan,” it added.

A senior official said the ceasefire was being implemented by taking the public statements from the ruling party into consideration. “When the Prime Minister and the Home Minister say something it becomes an order and we are executing it in the larger interest of the democracy. But, yes, you can say receipt of a formal order is awaited,” the official said on a condition of anonymity.

‘Ceasefire not for terrorists’

But Amit Shah, national president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has already dropped a bombshell by saying the ceasefire does not apply to militants. “Don’t take the ceasefire decision in a wrong way… This ceasefire is not for terrorists. This ceasefire is for people to discharge their religious rituals in a peaceful manner,” Shah said while speaking at the India TV Conclave.

“When the army or paramilitary forces take action, it is not limited to terrorists only,” he said, adding “A big area has to be covered, schools and homes have to be vacated and after that, action is taken. So, the decision was taken to take no action during Ramadan.”

Earlier this month, after an all-party meeting, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti appealed to the central government to consider a unilateral ceasefire in the state starting from Ramadan in mid-May till the completion of the annual Amarnath yatra, a Hindu pilgrimage, in August. She said a ceasefire would provide relief to the public and help create a better atmosphere in the state, which is struggling to restore peace.

The ceasefire came at a time when the Indian Army had launched a major offensive under ‘Operation All Out’ to counter militants in the region. Around 60 militants have already been killed this year alone, while at least 218 were killed last year.

The spring of 2018 is proving to be the deadliest of the decade in Kashmir. After 40 killings — mainly militants and civilians — in April, 19 people were killed in the first week of May.

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