Clashes as Kash­mir marks key an­niver­sary

Clashes as In­dian Kash­mir marks key an­niver­sary

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Res­i­dents in In­dian-con­trolled Kash­mir clashed with gov­ern­ment forces yes­ter­day as they de­fied a strin­gent cur­few on the an­niver­sary of the killing of a charis­matic rebel leader whose death trig­gered open de­fi­ance against In­dian rule. Of­fi­cials and wit­nesses said res­i­dents in the main city of Sri­na­gar and at least four places in south­ern Kash­mir tried to march on the streets while chant­ing slo­gans in fa­vor of rebels and end­ing In­dian rule. Po­lice and para­mil­i­tary sol­diers fired tear gas to dis­perse the crowds. The protesters re­sponded by hurl­ing rocks at troops. At least 15 peo­ple were re­ported in­jured in the clashes.

While Kash­mir has re­mained on edge, the In­dian and Pak­istani armies, which reg­u­larly trade fire and blame across the de-facto mil­i­ta­rized fron­tier that di­vides the dis­puted ter­ri­tory be­tween them, fired at each other’s po­si­tions, killing three civil­ians and an off-duty sol­dier, of­fi­cials said. Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary said two civil­ians were killed and three oth­ers wounded in the In­dian army’s “un­pro­voked” fir­ing and shelling at two places along the highly mil­i­ta­rized Line of Con­trol. In­dia’s mil­i­tary said an off­duty sol­dier vis­it­ing his home was killed along with his wife af­ter a shell fired from the Pak­istani side hit their house in Poonch sec­tor.

Army spokesman Lt Col Man­ish Me­hta called it an “un­pro­voked” vi­o­la­tion of the 2003 cease­fire be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. In­dia has ac­cused Pak­istan of arm­ing and train­ing the rebels, which Pak­istan de­nies. For the second straight day, gov­ern­ment forces sealed off the home­town of Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old rebel leader who was killed along with two as­so­ciates in a gun­bat­tle with In­dian troops last year. Wit­nesses said se­cu­rity forces or­dered res­i­dents in south­ern Tral town to stay in­doors. “I’ve never seen so many sol­diers in ag­gres­sive pos­tur­ing en­forc­ing a cur­few in my town.

This is an un­prece­dented re­stric­tion,” lo­cal res­i­dent Mo­hammed Hanief said by phone. Troops laid steel bar­ri­cades and coiled ra­zor wire on roads and in­ter­sec­tions to cut off neigh­bor­hoods as au­thor­i­ties an­tic­i­pated wide­spread protests. They also shut mo­bile in­ter­net ser­vices as part of the lock­down to stop ac­tivists from ral­ly­ing on­line sup­port. “We’re en­forc­ing strict re­stric­tions to deal with any law and or­der is­sues,” said SP Vaid, the re­gion’s po­lice chief.

Separatist lead­ers, who chal­lenge In­dia’s sovereignty over Kash­mir, called for a strike and protests to honor Wani. Most of the top lead­ers have ei­ther been de­tained or put un­der house ar­rest. Wani’s killing set off months of protests and deadly clashes across the re­gion, dur­ing which at least 90 peo­ple were killed and thou­sands in­jured. Wani, who at­tracted dozens of new re­cruits while us­ing Face­book and other so­cial me­dia sites, had re­ju­ve­nated Hizbul Mu­jahideen, the largest of Kash­mir’s mil­i­tant groups. Its top leader based in Pak­istani-con­trolled Kash­mir, Syed Salahud­din, was re­cently des­ig­nated as a “global ter­ror­ist” by the US.

In Muzaf­farabad, the cap­i­tal of Pak­istan­i­con­trolled Kash­mir, Salahud­din asked Pak­istan for mil­i­tary sup­port to mil­i­tants as he spoke yes­ter­day at a rally at­tended by thou­sands of peo­ple to honor Wani. “We don’t need only po­lit­i­cal, diplo­matic and moral sup­port. Now we need a solid mil­i­tary sup­port against In­dian forces,” Salahud­din said.

The death of Wani and the pub­lic fury it caused made the armed re­bel­lion main­stream in Kash­mir and gave new life to the mil­i­tant move­ment that had with­ered in re­cent years, re­duced to just about 100 fight­ers in scat­tered rebel out­fits. Of­fi­cials say that since his killing, at least 100 young men have joined rebel ranks, some of them af­ter snatch­ing weapons from sol­diers and po­lice. It also ce­mented a shift in pub­lic be­hav­ior by dis­play­ing anger at In­dian rule openly and vi­o­lently when troops raid vil­lages and towns to hunt rebels.

Vil­lagers who had learned to hide any sym­pa­thy they felt for fight­ers now speak of them openly with rev­er­ence and warmth and also en­gage in deadly clashes with gov­ern­ment forces dur­ing their coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tions. Rebel groups have been fight­ing since 1989 for Kash­mir’s in­de­pen­dence or merger with neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan. Nearly 70,000 peo­ple have been killed in the fight­ing and the en­su­ing In­dian crack­down. Anti-In­dia sen­ti­ment runs deep among the re­gion’s mostly Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion and most peo­ple sup­port the rebels de­spite a decades-long mil­i­tary crack­down. — AP


KASH­MIR: Kash­miri protestors (right) throw stones towards In­dian gov­ern­ment forces dur­ing clashes in Sri­na­gar yes­ter­day.

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