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India to halt anti-militant operations in Kashmir for Ramadan

SRINAGAR: India will suspend operations against militants in Kashmir during the month of Ramadan, the government said on Wednesday.

The move follows weeks of sporadic violence in the state. More than 130 people have been killed this year in militant violence, prompting calls by the Jammu and Kashmir state government for a ceasefire during the fasting month that begins this week.

Federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh has ordered security forces to halt cordon and search operations across Kashmir, the government said. Only last weekend, soldiers killed five suspected rebels in an operation in Shopian district that prompted protests from hundreds of people who pelted stones at the security forces.

“Decision taken to help the peace loving Muslims observe Ramzan [Ramadan] in a peaceful environment,” the home ministry said in a Twitter post.

From Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to the man on the street, there was universal acclaim for the ceasefire announced by the central government in the state during the holy month of Ramadan.

“I wholeheartedly welcome the Ramadan ceasefire and would like to thank [Prime Minister] Narendra Modiji and [Home Minister] Rajnath Singhji for their personal intervention,” tweeted the chief minister, who on May 9 sought the ceasefire.

She added: “The month of Ramadan is a harbinger of peace and such a decision will go a long way in creating a peaceful and amicable environment for a sustained dialogue.”

Former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah asked the militants to reciprocate to provide relief to the people during Ramadan.

“On the demand of all political parties [except the BJP, which had opposed it], the Centre has announced a unilateral ceasefire. Now if the militants don’t respond in kind, they will stand exposed as the true enemies of the people,” he tweeted.

Amitabh Mattoo, adviser to the chief minister, commented: “Let us all celebrate this moment and make sure that we now have a permanent end to violence. A great chance for Pakistan and all militant groups to respond.”

Separatist leaders remained tight-lipped but the common man was overjoyed.

“Believe me, I have not been able sleep in peace during the last many months due to the impeding danger of an encounter in our area. The decision has come as a great relief and ordinary Kashmiris like me only hope the decision is reciprocated by militants,” said a resident of Pulwama district who did not want to be named.

In Srinagar, there was elation.

“This was the most immediate requirement for indicating a mindset favouring a dialogue rather than violence. Ramadan has created another ray of hope for us,” said Firdous Ahmad, a shopkeeper in the city’s uptown area.

Transporters, shopkeepers, businessmen and even pavement sellers were happy.

“We need a break and this could not have come at a better time than Ramadan. If the government has walked two steps, let the separatists walk at least half a step. It is only by taking such small steps that the march to peace and honour can start,” said Shakeel Ahmad, a businessman in the old city area of Srinagar.

The decision not to initiate combat operations against militants during Ramadan comes barely two days before Prime Minister Modi visits the state on May 19.

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