SRINAGAR: Army chief General Bipin Rawat's remarks on protesters in Kashmir came under sharp criticism from the Opposition National Conference and the separatists on Thursday.

General Rawat had Wednesday said people in Kashmir were not supporting the armed forces during counter insugency operations and those trying to disrupt such operations will be treated as 'anti-national' elements and as such dealt with sternly.

In a statement, the Opposition National Conference warned that such "aggressive, hot-headed" remarks will fuel the spurt in local militancy in Kashmir and make the challenge of engaging youth "insurmountable".

“The need of the hour is to understand and acknowledge the deep sense of isolation in Kashmir and deal with it with statesmanship and magnanimity. Threatening and warning youth ... would only push them farther from reconciliation”, the National Conference said.

In what looks like an endorsement, a day after the Army chief's warning, the state government on Thursday also issued an advisory, asking people not to assemble and stay away from the sites of counter insurgency operations for their safety. The advisory was issued by the district administrations of Srinagar, Budgam and Shopian

Meanwhile, reacting to the army chief, JKLF supremo Yasin Malik termed it as a "direct threat to the Kashmiri nation". In a statement, Malik said such "threats and intimidations cannot break the will of nations that have resolved to break the shackles of illegal occupation.”

“Issuing such statements has shown his anti-human attitude and lack of political wisdom. What army chief has said may add to the miseries of Kashmiris but it will also push many youth to the wall and drive them towards arms struggle and hence promote violence in this region," he said.

Moderate Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the Army chief's remarks "reflects a tyrannical mindset towards the people of Kashmir".

"The army chief needs to ask the executive of his country as to why is the institution of army being used by them to crush a mass political movement of people demanding their political right and why do people at the obvious risk to their lives gather? Only because they see them as freedom fighters pushed by the arrogance of Indian state which is not willing to address the Kashmir dispute politically and pushing educated youth towards armed resistance," Mirwaiz said.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani said in a statement, "It is clear indication that whole nation is against the occupation and should have served an alarm for Indian rulers that movement is not confined to a few but whole nation is determined to offer their serves for cherished goal.”

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR from Bandipora)