The deadly fidayeen (suicide attack) strike in Srinagar on Wednesday, which occurred after three years, has brought back gory memories of blood and bombs. Many in the state government, however, say it was a one-off incident.
Two fidayeen guerrillas of the Hizbul Mujahideen outfit, which owned responsibility for the suicide attack, entered the playfield of the local police public school in Bemina along with some local boys who usually play cricket there during holidays.
Following the separatist protest shutdown call, school authorities had ordered closed the school. The shutdown call came as a blessing in disguise: Had it been a regular day at school, innocent school children may have been caught in the crossfire.
The fidayeens opened indiscriminate automatic gunfire and hurled grenades at a posse of CRPF troopers who were preparing to move out on law and order duties.
Five troopers were killed in the shooting. In retaliatory firing, the fidayeens were killed.
Nine others — three civilians and six CRPF troopers — sustained injuries in the fierce gunfight.
A civilian was killed in CRPF firing when troopers of the same battalion that suffered casualties at Bemina fired in Saidpora area of Srinagar, which is en route to the hospital where the troopers were going to donate blood to save their critically injured colleague.
CRPF top brass said the vehicle carrying blood donors was attacked by a stone-pelting mob, and the troopers resorted to firing in self-defence. Locals refuted the CRPF version asserting that the firing was unprovoked.
Separatists stepped in, calling the CRPF firing "vengeance" for the death of their colleagues at the hands of fidayeen guerrillas.
State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah rushed to Srinagar to review security in the wake of the fidayeen attack.
One wonders whether the hanging of Afzal Guru on February 9 has given a new lease of life to the guerrilla resolve to attack security forces.
The fact that the guerrillas have succeeded in carrying out a suicide attack in Srinagar city, which the state government claimed had no militant presence, has set alarm bells ringing.
The pro-active push by the state chief minister for revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some parts of the state, including Srinagar city, will have to rest at least for the time being.
The ruling National Conference party claims the fidayeen attack is a one-off incident, and should not be blown out of proportion to impinge on larger peace prospects while discussing AFSPA revocation.
The central government is determined not to take any chances with the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir as has been stated by union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde while commenting on the fidayeen attack.
A predominant component of the CRPF is deployed on law and order duties in the presently volatile Valley to assist local police.
In order to avoid any civilian casualties during mob control operations, police and CRPF personnel are deployed with minimum firearms.
The strategy has worked well so far.
The state administration is in a catch-22 situation: In the wake of the fidayeen attack, can security forces continue to manage law and order without carrying firearms for self-defence or not?
Batons, pepper guns and tear gas canisters may be good enough to deal with stone-pelting mobs, but would these deter fidayeen?
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)