India: Separatists’ Killings Trigger Clashes in Kashmir

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
160407-IN-Kashmir-1000 A Kashmiri woman touches the face of suspected militant Bilal Ahmad Bhat during his funeral procession in the village of Karimabad, south of Srinagar, April 6, 2016.

Angry residents of Indian-administered Kashmir clashed with security forces Thursday after two suspected separatists were shot dead earlier in the day, prompting police to impose a curfew in two southern districts of the restive region.

At least 40 people, including 10 policemen, were injured in day-long clashes in the Pulwama and Shopian districts of Jammu and Kashmir state, police said.

The violence erupted after a group of Kashmiris hijacked a police vehicle and set it ablaze to protest the killings of Naseer Ahmad Pandit and Inamul Haq, two top operatives of indigenous separatist faction Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), police said.

Pandit, 32, a former cop-turned-separatist, and Haq, 35, who allegedly masterminded the cold-blooded killing of three policemen last year, were gunned down in a joint operation by the police and the army in Shopian, some 55 km (34 miles) from Srinagar.

‘Great setback’

Security forces said the duo’s killing dealt a big blow to the separatist group, while adding that the outfit’s top leadership had almost been wiped out.

“Their elimination is a great setback to HM, which is desperately trying to reinforce cadres in south Kashmir,” Shalandar Mishra, the district police superintendent, told BenarNews, referring to the largest rebel faction in Kashmir.

Pandit, once part of a minister’s security detail before he decamped with two AK-47 rifles, and Haq were involved in a series of violent acts in the state, including several murders, Mishra said.

“With their deaths, I hope peace will get a boost in south Kashmir,” he said.

Since the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region in the Himalayas, has been a focus of tensions between India and Pakistan, which both have territorial claims over it. More than 70,000 people have been killed since a separatist insurgency broke out in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989.

“The top leadership of Hizbul Mujahideen is almost finished,” Maj. Gen. Ashok Narola of the Indian Army told reporters.

Narola said Pandit and Haq were “among 11 militants” whose photographs were widely circulated on social media last year.

“Of the 11, two were eliminated earlier and two today. The rest will also be dealt with. It is just a matter of time,” he said.

Police brutality

Kashmiri residents, who routinely protest the killings of separatists by Indian security forces who label them as terrorists, began pouring out on the streets after Bilal Ahmad Bhat, 27, another suspected HM member, was gunned down by security forces in Pulwama on Tuesday.

The residents alleged that while they intended to protest peacefully, police used force, even against women, and ransacked their homes on the pretext of conducting searches.

“They did not spare anyone, not even women. They too were beaten up when the police barged into houses while apparently conducting searches,” Hilal Malik, a Pulwama resident, told BenarNews.

“We are afraid there might be a similar action later in the night,” he said.

The army, however, said it was only trying to restore peace in the conflict-torn state.

“[The] army is committed to fighting militancy to restore peace in Kashmir, no matter what the situation. The locals, too, want restoration of peace and development. That can only be achieved after militancy is curbed,” Col. N.N. Joshi, a spokesman for the Indian Army, told BenarNews.


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