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Top India security official: Despite death, Kashmir peaceful

By EMILY SCHMALL and SHEIKH SAALIQSeptember 7, 2019
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Injured Kashmiri businessman Mohammad Ashraf Dar lies on a hospital bed in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Four people, including a child, got injured after suspected rebels opened fire in north Kashmir late Friday, according to Jammu and Kashmir Police. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
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Injured Kashmiri businessman Mohammad Ashraf Dar lies on a hospital bed in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Four people, including a child, got injured after suspected rebels opened fire in north Kashmir late Friday, according to Jammu and Kashmir Police. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s top security official said Saturday that the death of a Kashmiri teen who was struck with pellets fired by security forces was unfortunate but demonstrated that the crackdown in place in the restive Himayalan region for more than a month has been largely peaceful.

“If there’s one incident that has taken place, that’s good,” National Security Adviser Ajit Doval told reporters in New Delhi. “Zero would be better, but one is good.”

Asrar Ahmed Khan, 19, died Tuesday at a hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city, from head injuries sustained during a protest Aug. 6, the day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government revoked an article in India’s constitution that had given India’s only Muslim-majority state the right to its own laws and banned outsiders from owning land.

To prevent uprisings, the Indian government imposed a security lockdown and communications blackout that has since been partially lifted in most of Jammu and Kashmir, which India’s Parliament voted last month to downgrade from a state into two federally administered territories.

The single death, Doval said, was “itself a tribute” to the success of the operation. Khan is the only death Indian authorities have officially acknowledged, but residents of the Kashmir Valley, the center of a 30-year armed movement against Indian rule, allege that others have been killed in the crackdown.

Security forces have used pellet guns, tear gas and slingshots with marbles to quell sporadic protests since last month.

On Saturday, four Kashmiri journalists covering a Shia Muslim religious procession in Srinagar that has been banned in Kashmir since the beginning of the insurgency were injured when a scuffle broke out between participants and police and paramilitary soldiers.

Police fired pellet guns and tear gas at the procession of hundreds of people in the city’s downtown, and fired live ammunition into the air, said videojournalist Yafrab Khan, adding that police broke his camera.

Another journalist, Bilal Ahmed, showed bruises on his back that he said were caused by police batons. “I told police I’m not a processionist but a professional photographer. They still beat me up,” Ahmed said.

Police area superintendent Sajad Shah said he needed to confirm what happened. “We will probe,” he said.

Doval said that ongoing restrictions on movement and communications — cellphone and internet services remain blocked in the valley, home to about 7 million people — were meant to keep Pakistan-funded and organized militants from instigating violence and disorder.

Pakistan, which has fought two wars with India over Kashmir, broke off diplomatic ties in the wake of the revocation of the article that gave Kashmir special status. Both Pakistan and India administer a piece of Kashmir while claiming the region in its entirety.

After a Kashmiri member of a Pakistan-based militant group attacked a paramilitary convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir in February that killed 40 soldiers, India retaliated by bombing an alleged terrorist training camp within Pakistan.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, has urged Pakistanis abroad to register their disapproval by demonstrating outside Indian consulate offices, and has warned that India is attempting “genocide” in Kashmir.

“Part of their strategy to wrest control is to create conditions in Jammu and Kashmir by which there is turmoil,” Doval said. “We were aware of the fact that Pakistan would do everything to disrupt this thing.”

On Friday, two Pakistani militants attacked the home of a prominent apple trader in Sopore, an area lined with apple orchards about 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of Srinagar, shooting four people, including the man’s 25-year-old son and 2-year-old granddaughter, Kashmir police spokesman Javaid Iqbal said.

Doval said that around 230 suspected Pakistani terrorists had attempted to infiltrate Kashmir, and that a “large number of weapons” were being smuggled in.

He said the clampdown on civil rights in Kashmir would continue until the threat of disruption from Pakistan ended, leaving open the possibility of indefinite curbs on communications and public assembly.

“We are determined to keep the situation peaceful,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Qureshi said Pakistan has denied India’s request to allow the Indian president’s plane to pass through Pakistani airspace on Sunday to go to Iceland. Qureshi said the decision was made due to India’s moves in Kashmir.

Also on Saturday, thousands of people in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir marched toward the highly militarized Line of Control that divides the territory between Pakistan and India to protest the lockdown in Indian-administered Kashmir. But senior police officer Raja Zulqarnain said the protesters would not be allowed to gather at the Line of Control due to security concerns.

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Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Roshan Mughal in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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