India: Kashmir on Edge Ahead of Republic Day

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
170124-IN-Kashmir-1000.jpg People in Jhiri, a village in Indian Kashmir’s Kanachack district, walk near a wall damaged by mortar shells allegedly fired from the Pakistani side of the border, Jan. 22, 2018.

A civilian’s killing by security forces on Wednesday fueled more street protests across Indian Kashmir, as deadly incidents of cross-border shelling this week ratcheted tensions with Pakistan ahead of India’s Republic Day celebrations on Friday.

Around 35 people have been killed since the start of 2018 in incidents of violence related to a local insurgency, authorities said.

The death toll includes at least 13 people, among them seven civilians, who died in exchanges of fire this past week across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. More than 60 villagers on the Indian side were wounded in cross-border shelling, according to the authorities.

On Wednesday, civilian Shakir Ahmad Mir, 17, was killed when police opened fire to disperse anti-India protesters who were demonstrating at the site of a shootout that had left two suspected militants dead in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, an official said.

The exchange of fire with the suspects also critically wounded two teenaged residents of the area, Indian Kashmir’s police chief, S.P. Vaid, told BenarNews.

The killings came amid a flare-up in violence in the insurgency-ravaged Himalayan region as India prepared to host a plethora of dignitaries during its annual Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 26.

Security has been stepped up across Kashmir, Ravideep Singh Sahi, Inspector General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), told BenarNews. The violence ahead of the celebrations was a challenge for the government, he admitted.

“The situation is fragile, but under control. We have made adequate security arrangements – a layer-wise security cover – to ensure that the Republic Day celebrations pass off peacefully,” Sahi said.

Security forces defused a homemade bomb planted near a railway station on the outskirts of Pulwama district on Wednesday, he said.

At least 20 people, including a dozen suspected militants and nine security personnel, besides Mir, lost their lives in separate incidents since the beginning of the new year, police said.

‘Republic Day madness’

This figure does not include the dozen or so people who were killed in cross-border firing with Pakistan, which also claims the territory as its own. The Indian side of the LoC, known as Jammu and Kashmir, is grappling with a separatist insurgency that has claimed over 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.

The Pakistan Foreign Office, however, rejected the allegation and instead blamed India for the violence, saying that four of its soldiers were killed in unprovoked firing by the Indian side on Monday.

Pakistan and India have fought three full-blown wars, two of them over Kashmir, since the Indian sub-continent was partitioned in 1947 at the end of British colonial rule.

Local Kashmiris said they were being harassed by Indian forces in the name of ramped-up security measures ahead of Jan. 26.

“They [Indian police] have set up check points all over the state. Between Srinagar and Kupwara, which usually takes around two hours to travel by road, they have put up 10 check-posts. It took us 10 hours to cover that distance,” Tanvir Ahmad, a Kupwara resident, told BenarNews.

“They ask all the passengers really strange questions, such as why your beard is so long, why you are wearing such clothes. It’s the Republic Day madness,” he said.

Irshad Ahmad, a resident of Bandipora district, said he could not buy medicine for an ill friend because local pharmacies were closed amid security precautions in the run-up to Friday’s national celebrations.

“Everywhere in the country, people are eagerly waiting for Republic Day to begin. We are also eagerly waiting, but for the Republic Day to end,” he told BenarNews.


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