Just last month, video footage of a young man tied to the front of an army vehicle being paraded in villages located in central Kashmir's Budgam district went viral. On Monday, Major Leetul Gogoi, who tied the young man to the front of the vehicle was awarded the army chief’s commendation card.
Colonel Aman Anand, an army spokesperson, said in a statement, the officer was awarded for “sustained efforts in CI (counter-insurgency) operations," which many saw as recognition for using a human shield to set an example to other protesters who will meet a similar fate.
The army officials defended the inhumane act as a measure to save its personnel from protesters' stone-pelting. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said in a statement that Major Gogoi was sent to help by officials at a polling booth that was allegedly surrounded by hundreds of stone-pelters.
“The poll booth is symbolic of democracy. He should not be criticized. The army should be applauded. They are guarding our northern and north-eastern frontiers admirably,” Rohatgi said.
Taking the army's side, the Indian government said the officer-in-charge “did a smart thing and defused a nasty situation," the Hindustan Times reported.
The video has further intensified the animosity between the army and the civilians in the militant valley, triggering a series of protests in Kashmir amid ongoing anti-Indian government rallies and protests. The separatists deemed it “expected lines from an oppressor."
The longstanding conflict is taking a new turn as sections of the 70-year-old Kashmir separatist movement seem to be aligning with the ideals of al-Qaida.
Zakir Musa, the commander of Kashmir's s largest anti-India militia has explicitly distanced himself from the movement in the valley as well as from elements who wish to merge with Pakistan. According to the Guardian, Musa has declared his fight as “exclusively for Islam, so that Sharia (Islamic law) is established here."
An audio statement made public through social media in the past weeks showed the growing ideological rift between Kashmir’s old guard of separatist leaders and a new, social-media savvy generation of rebels heavily influenced by radical Islam.
The militant went on to praise the Taliban “because (it) wants an Islamic system in Pakistan”, adding, “We do love Pakistan because that country was created in the name of Islam. But there is no Islam at present, so we are unhappy with it. We have to do jihad with Pakistan as well.”
In response, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of Kashmiri separatist groups comprising of the traditional leaders of the movement, distanced itself from the new wave of militants' comments, the Guardian reported.
“Terrorism and freedom movement are poles apart,” it said. “Our movement has nothing to do with these world level groups and practically they are non-existent in our state,” it said in a statement.