Srinagar: National Investigation Agency (NIA) sweeps against separatists in Jammu & Kashmir since May 2017 did not reduce stone-pelting in the state, contrary to the claims of the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, according to a FactChecker analysis of data from the Jammu & Kashmir police.

However, police officials and analysts said the NIA’s raids have put the separatists on the back-foot.

“You have seen role of the NIA in Jammu and Kashmir, where incidents of stone throwing have come down …. If we plug sources of fake currency and terror funding, it will be a big blow to terrorism. NIA is doing a great job here. Its name sends fear down the spine of those indulging in terror funding,” Singh said on August 20, 2017, while inaugurating a residential complex of the NIA in Lucknow.

After its preliminary enquiry against separatist leaders of Kashmir in May and June 2017--for allegedly receiving funds from Pakistan-based groups--the NIA arrested several second-rung leaders, including close aides of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq since July 24, 2017. Geelani’s son-in-law, Altaf Ahmad Shah, was also among those arrested so far.

There were 201 incidents of stone-pelting in May 2017--the month when the NIA registered the preliminary enquiry and the first information report, according to Jammu & Kashmir police data, made available to FactChecker. This figure fell 54% to 92 in June 2017 and then rose 23% to 113 incidents in July 2017. As of August 19, 2017, there were 73 such incidents, data show. These figures are comparable to the incidents in January-March 2017 and April-June 2016.

Source: Jammu & Kashmir police *As of August 19, 2017.

The period between June and August 2017 was among the quieter periods, by Kashmir’s standards, in recent years: July-September 2016 saw a spike in violence following militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8, 2016, and April-May 2017 saw violence related to by-elections for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency.

“Stone pelting happens in Kashmir purely according to the objective situation,” Noor Ahmad Baba, political scientist and former head, department of political science, Kashmir University, told FactChecker. “It ebbs and flows as per the location of anger. For example, in recent times we have been witnessing most of the stone pelting incidents happening in south Kashmir where most of the killings are taking place--either of militants or civilians,”

“And people in other places, for example in downtown Srinagar, sometimes pelt stones to express their frustration and anger against the political uncertainty,” Baba said. “I don’t think it can be linked with NIA raids in the similar fashion when it was claimed that demonetisation in early November last year had caused a decline in stone pelting incidents.”

Police officials, who spoke with FactChecker on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the data, said the NIA raids had nothing to do with stone-pelting, as the violence is “mostly spontaneous”.

“It betrays [their] lack of understanding about Kashmir,” a top police official in Srinagar told FactChecker, referring to Delhi’s political establishment. There have been some cases where money has been used for fuelling unrest, but stone-pelting most often happens spontaneously following a security situation or allegations about human rights violations, the official said.

He, however, added that the NIA raids and arrests have “definitely shaken” the Hurriyat leaders. “They have never been tested and have always been handled with kid-gloves,” the police official said. “This is the first time that they are coming under scanner--that too so ruthlessly.”

There was a lukewarm response to the Hurriyat’s July 24, 2017, strike call against the arrest of its leaders by the NIA. On the other hand, locals observed complete shutdown on August 12, 2017, when separatists called a strike to protest a judicial challenge to Article 35A, a constitutional clause that empowers the state legislature to define permanent residents and accord special rights and privileges to the people of J&K.

(Parvaiz is a Srinagar-based journalist.)