Such was Shujaat Bukhari’s stature in Kashmir that his assassination will not only be remembered for a very long time, but will also have an extraordinary impact on the ground situation in the near future.
Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir daily, had emerged over the past couple of years as Kashmir’s best known journalist — not only in the Valley, but also across the world. He had attended the Global Editors Network’s conference at Lisbon just a fortnight ago. In addition to his work as a journalist, editor and publisher, Bukhari was very active at conferences and other interactions regarding Kashmir.
His murder will therefore reverberate like an earthquake in journalists’ circles, the world of Kashmiri politics, and the sometimes cloudy world of geo-politics.
There will surely be speculation within Kashmir about which groups may have been behind this extremely bold attack. It is a long time since such a high-profile murder has been successfully carried out in the very heart of Srinagar.
Bukhari had just emerged from his office on Thursday evening, and was accompanied by two armed policemen who were with him for security. The assassination will cause huge unease among a range of politicians and other high-profile persons in the Valley.
Whoever is behind this assassination surely wants to boost the spiral of violence, which has already shown a sharp uptrend this year. Violence has continued to mount, notwithstanding the moratorium on initiating attacks which the Union government had undertaken during the month of Ramzan.
Ironically, Bukhari was murdered two days before Eid, which is likely to be observed in Kashmir on Saturday. This not only brings Ramzan to an end but also marks the beginning of the peak summer season.
Ceasefire under strain
This condemnable assassination immediately puts the government’s “ceasefire” initiative under severe strain. This is a poignant situation, especially since observers were hoping the government would extend the cessation of hostilities till the end of the Amarnath Yatra. The annual Yatra is to commence from 28 June, and will culminate on 26 August this year. It traditionally comes to an end on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, a full moon night.
With less than a year to go for the next national general elections, an attack during the Yatra could prove extremely costly for the political prospects of the government at the Centre.
A series of attacks in the recent past had already set the situation on edge within the Kashmir Valley. Two policemen on guard duty were murdered at the end of the night of Shab-e-qadr, considered the holiest night of the month of Ramzan, in Pulwama. Large numbers of people attend night-long prayers on this night. It was the very night during last year’s Ramzan when DSP Ayub Pandith was brutally bludgeoned to death near the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
There are many voices within the security forces complaining behind closed doors about the impunity with which militants have been acting despite a ceasefire being in force.
A few days ago, foreign militants were seen openly loitering around a marketplace in north Kashmir, and had even fired in the air after the nightly Taraavi prayers which take place during Ramzan. Several observers and senior members of the forces were upset over this open defiance.
In this light, Bukhari’s murder on the eve of Eid celebrations is bound to force a serious rethink regarding the non-initiation of combat operations against militants.
The cessation of hostilities for the month of Ramzan was announced by the Union home ministry. Some observers had expected that it would be extended until the end of the annual Amarnath Yatra. An earlier ceasefire had been announced by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in November 2000, also for the month of Ramzan that year.
Back then, the Lashkar-e-Taiba had taken over the militancy around 1997, and the militancy situation was extremely challenging, with a spate of suicide attacks taking place between 1999 and 2001.