SRINAGAR: The Opposition National Conference is demanding a probe into the alleged ransacking by the Army yesterday in the restive Hajin area of North Kashmir where property was damaged by the forces and even the grass meant for livestock was set ablaze.

A complete shutdown is being observed in Hajin and its adjoining areas today with all the shops and commercial establishments shut and traffic off roads, in protest against the alleged attack by the Army yesterday on the civilian population and their property during a search operation.

Residents of Hajin locality alleged that a group of army soldiers went berserk in the area on Wednesday afternoon during which they targeted residential houses, commercial establishments and vehicles parked in the area, and also assaulted few pedestrians.

“They broke windows of some homes and shops which created an atmosphere of terror in Parrey Mohalla, Bon Mohalla and Khos Mohalla localities. Before leaving, they set fire to stacks of dry grass kept in the fields for livestock,” a resident of Parray Mohalla said over phone, wishing anonymity for the fear of reprisal.

“Such actions are disconcerting and condemnable. The matter should be probed by the state government and strict action should be taken against the culprits. Such incidents are a great setback to reconciliation,” Junaid Mattu, the NC spokesman, said.

The Army’s Srinagar based spokesman could not be reached for comments. An Army official said the soldiers of a Rashtriya Rifles unit came under attack of stone-pelters in Hajin area “without any provocation which forced our boys to retaliate”.

According to doctors in Bandipora, at least five protesters were brought to a hospital in the district with firearm injuries – one of them had a bullet wound in ankle while the rest had pellet injuries, from the site of clashes that broke out in the area.

A video from the scene of clashes shows plumes of smoke billowing out from the stacks of dry grass that were allegedly set in fire by the Army during clashes while locals are seen running helter-skelter, cursing their fate.

“How low can they stoop to punish an entire village, ransack houses, vandalise property, damage vehicles and set on fire piles of grass meant for cattle feed in paddy fields? Are these collective punitive measures also part of healing touch policy? As evidence there are pictures, videos and eyewitness accounts,” Gowhar Geelani, a political commentator, wrote on Facebook.

Once a hub of state-backed militia called Ikhwan which broke the back of militancy in Kashmir, Hajin, a densely interwoven cluster of more than two dozen villages in the mountainous north Kashmir, has become a new headache for forces carrying out counter-insurgency operations in the Valley.

According to senior police and army officers, the area has emerged as a new hot-bed, especially for foreign militants, in north Kashmir due to massive public support for militancy and its unique topography “which makes it easy for militants to disappear without trace”. In past, forces carrying out search operations had to beat a hasty retreat due to stiff resistance from residents.

(Cover Photograph of Pakharpora encounter BASIT ZARGAR)