Kashmir clashes emerge despite curfew as mourning for Wani continues

Widespread anti-India protests erupted throughout divided Kashmir, even as authorities prevented tens of thousands of people from offering Friday prayers in big mosques. 

Danish Ismail/ Reuters
An Indian policeman checks an identity card of a woman during a curfew in Srinagar July 14, 2016.

Widespread anti-India protests and clashes erupted in dozens of places in divided Kashmir, even as authorities prevented tens of thousands of people from offering Friday prayers in big mosques with a lockdown in place for a seventh straight day.

Government forces armed with automatic rifles and in riot gear ordered residents to stay indoors around the region, but protests started after people prayed in smaller, neighborhood mosques. Troops fired live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas to disperse rock-throwing crowds who chanted pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.

At least one teenage boy was killed and two others injured after army soldiers fired guns to stop hundreds of villagers who attacked their camp with rocks in northern Kupwara area, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters. Another young man was killed and two others injured on Friday evening after troops fired at protesters in southern Yaripore village, he said.

Earlier, in the same village at least seven policemen were injured, one seriously, after someone hurled a grenade at a police station during clashes, the officer said.

At two other places, in northern Baramulla and Sopore areas, six people, including two siblings, were injured in the clashes, the officer said.

Four injured, one reported to be critical, were brought to the main government hospital in Srinagar, the key city in the region, which has struggled to treat hundreds of wounded in clashes spread over nearly a week.

The largest protests in years erupted last weekend after Indian troops killed the young leader of the largest Kashmiri rebel group in a gunbattle. Burhan Wani had been the face of Kashmir's militancy. The clashes have killed at least 34 people, mostly teens and young men, and a policeman.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and most people in India's portion resent the Indian troop presence and want independence or a merger with Pakistan. Since the 1990s, more than 68,000 people have been killed in Kashmir's uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.

Wani was "seen by supporters as a sort of Che Guevara of Kashmir for his use of social media, video messages, and new methods of recruiting to inspire dozens of young men to pick up guns," as The Christian Science Monitor reported last week:

Wani sowed the seeds of a new rebellion following his beating by Indian soldiers in 2010, after he and his brother Khalid returned from buying some cigarettes for the soldiers. Wani joined the rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen in October 2010 and advocated armed rebellion in the absence of any political solution, despite peaceful resistance movements. ...

Wani gained support for his militancy amid ongoing killings and torture carried out by Indian troops. In the past 27 years, around 70,000 people have been killed and 8,000 have disappeared; tens of thousands of people have been charged for anti-national activities. A senior military commander recently said that the Army, estimated more than half a million personnel in Kashmir, is losing the battle for the narrative, and it has become difficult to conduct anti-rebel operations due to strong public support.

However, the Intelligence Chief of the police, S. M. Sahai, told a news agency that the large number of protests does not signify support for Wani, arguing instead that there are many other issues that complicate youths’ lives, and that they should pursue education and jobs. Critics counter that many who protest belong to affluent families, suggesting that financial woes are not driving force for protest. 

On Friday, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paid tribute to Wani as a "soldier of independence" and vowed his country would continue extending political moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris. He urged his countrymen to observe "black day" on Tuesday to express solidarity with "Kashmiris who are facing atrocities at the hands of Indian forces."

His office released a statement saying the National Assembly and Senate would convene to discuss Kashmir.

Separatist politicians extended call for protests and a shutdown of the region for the next three days. The leaders thanked Pakistanis for their solidarity and appealed to Kashmiris locally and abroad to observe the "black day" called by Sharif, said a joint statement by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik issued in Srinagar.

In New Delhi, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup asked Pakistan to desist from interfering in India's internal affairs and destabilizing the situation. Pakistan or any other external party has no standing on Kashmir, he said in a statement. "Glorification of terrorists belonging to proscribed terrorist organizations makes it amply clear where Pakistan's sympathies continue to lie."

Meanwhile, New Delhi eye specialists who went to Kashmir to help expressed concern over the use of pellet guns by Indian security forces. At least 100 people have had operations for eye injuries caused by pellet guns and they needed advanced treatment, with doctors saying most will lose partial or complete eyesight.

Sudershan Khokhar, an ophthalmologist from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said he had not witnessed so many injured at one time in three decades.

"During wartime, I think you will get such injuries," the Indian Express newspaper quoted Khokar as saying. "It (pellet guns) shouldn't be used here or anywhere."

Officials said 1,500 injured have been treated in hospitals, and at least 150 police and soldiers also were injured.

Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this report from Islamabad.

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