Kashmir shut by strike, security day after deadly fighting
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A security clampdown and a strike sponsored by separatists fighting against Indian rule shut down most of Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday, a day after deadly protests and fierce fighting killed 16 combatants and four civilians.
Armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear fanned out across the region and patrolled streets in anticipation of anti-India protests and clashes.
Authorities also imposed a curfew in some towns in southern Kashmir and in the old parts of the disputed region’s main city of Srinagar, the urban center of protests and clashes against Indian rule.
Shops and businesses closed in other areas where no security restrictions were in place. Separatist leaders who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir called for a shutdown on Monday and Tuesday to protest the killings.
Authorities shut schools and colleges and canceled university exams in an attempt to stop protests by students.
Despite the suspension of classes, anti-India protests erupted at the University of Kashmir, where many students gathered in the main campus in Srinagar and shouted slogans such as “Go India, go back” and demanded an end of Indian rule over the region.
Officials also halted train services and cut cellphone internet access in the most restive towns, and reduced connection speeds in other parts of the Kashmir Valley, a common government practice aimed at calming tensions and preventing anti-India demonstrations from being organized.
Troops laid steel barricades and razor wire on roads and intersections to cut off neighborhoods as authorities anticipated widespread protests.
At least 13 rebels and three Indian army soldiers were killed in Sunday’s fighting in three gunbattles in southern Kashmir, where a new generation of rebels have revived militancy and challenged New Delhi’s rule with guns and effective use of social media.
As the fighting raged, large anti-India protests erupted in several parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir and at least four civilians were killed and dozens injured.
Residents said government troops fired live ammunition and shotgun pellets into the crowds of mostly young protesters, causing injuries. They also said one of the civilians who died in southern Shopian near a gunbattle on Sunday was being used as a human shield against rebels by the Indian army.
An army officer, who declined to be named in keeping with army regulations, rejected the accusation and said the civilian was killed in the crossfire with insurgents.
In the past, such allegations have rarely been probed, and some accused military officials have been rewarded.
According to hospital officials, many of the injured were hit by shotgun pellets in the eyes, causing widespread anger across Kashmir. In 2016, Srinagar’s main hospital alone received hundreds of patients who had been injured in their eyes and blinded by shotgun pellets after some of the biggest protests against Indian rule in response to the killing of a charismatic young rebel leader, Burhan Wani.
On Sunday, doctors treated and operated on over 50 young men brought to the hospital, most of them hit in the eyes by pellets. A doctor said about 30 could lose their eyesight.
International rights groups have repeatedly condemned the Indian crackdown and called on it to stop using shotgun pellets against protesters armed only with stones. However, government troops have continued using the weapon.
On Monday, the Indian chapter of rights group Amnesty International tweeted that Indian “security forces must refrain from using excessive force against protesters in Kashmir. Internet shutdowns must not be blanket or indefinite.”
Also on Monday, doctors and paramedics at the main hospital in Shopian held a sit-in protest against government forces for firing inside the hospital’s premises Sunday night when many injured were being treated. The medical staff said troops tried to stop them from performing their duties.
No one was reported injured in the firing.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. The protests have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning that tough action would be taken against stone-throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
In Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi convened a special Cabinet meeting which condemned the killing of “innocent people in Kashmir by the Indian forces,” a government statement said.
It said Abbasi asked the international community to urge India to allow fact-finding missions to be sent to Kashmir and asked the United Nations to appoint a special representative to Kashmir “where India, encouraged by the silence of the international community, continues to kill with impunity.”
Separately, Pakistan’s powerful army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said in a statement that violence against Kashmiri people “can never suppress a just indigenous political struggle for self-determination.”
Hundreds of Pakistanis also rallied Monday in the port city of Karachi against India and condemned the killings in Kashmir.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which in recent years has seen renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.