Updated at 7:02 p.m. ET on 2018-04-01
At least 14 people, including 11 suspected militants and three soldiers, were killed in ferocious fighting in Indian Kashmir on Sunday during the largest single-day counter-militancy operation mounted in the disputed region in years, officials said.
Four civilians were also killed in anti-India protests that broke out across the region after Sunday’s three gunfights between suspected insurgents and security forces in south Kashmir, authorities said. The day was the deadliest one so far in 2018, according to information from the authorities and official casualty figures from recent violence tallied by BenarNews. More than 100 protestors were injured in Sunday's violent street demonstrations, officials said.
“These militants are hell-bent on continuing violence in Kashmir. Their killings today is a major success for out security forces,” Indian Kashmir’s police chief, S.P. Vaid, told BenarNews. “Unfortunately, we lost three brave soldiers during the gunfights. Eight other security personnel were injured.”
The anti-militancy operation was the biggest mounted in one day in Indian Kashmir since 2010, Vaid said. Eight years ago, security forces were struggling to prevent militants from regaining a foothold in the Himalayan territory, which is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, Vaid said.
An outbreak of insurgency on the Indian side of Kashmir, known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir, has claimed more than 70,000 lives – a majority of them civilians – since the late 1980s. Before Sunday's deadly fighting and other incidents, at least 76 had been killed in violence across Kashmir since Jan. 1, according to numbers provided by regional authorities.
“We are committed in our endeavor to eliminate each and every active militant to restore peace in Kashmir. We will never allow militants to succeed in their nefarious designs,” Vaid added.
Sunday’s firefights ended around 6:30 p.m. (local time) and mopping up operations were under way, Indian officials said.
The protests that followed the gunbattles in the districts of Shopian and Anantnag prompted authorities to suspend internet services and shut educational institutes across Indian-administered Kashmir indefinitely. The four civilians were killed when police opened fire on a crowd of thousands of anti-India demonstrators who surged into the streets, including people who threw stones at officers, Agence France-Presse reported.
While condemning the deaths of the four Kashmiri civilians during Sunday’s protests, separatist leaders called for a complete shutdown of the region on Monday.
According to the Indian army, some of the suspects killed in the gunfight in Shopian were behind the abduction and killing of an off-duty officer last year.
“Two militants slain in the gunfight were responsible for killing Lt. Col. Umar Fayaz. The officer was abducted while he was on leave and was later killed by the militants,” Lt. Gen. A.K. Bhatt, who heads the Indian Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps, told reporters.
“[Today] is a special day for our forces. They killed at least 11 militants in three gunfights. The killings are a major setback to militant groups,” Bhatt said.
He appealed to Kashmiri youths to shun the path of militancy.
“A militant is destined to meet the same fate one day,” he said.
‘Mindless killing spree’
The police identified seven of the 11 confirmed slain militant suspects as Zubair Ahmad Turray, Yawar Ahmad Itoo, Ishfaq Ahmad Malik, Nazim Ahmad Dar, Adil Ahmad Thoker, Ubaid Ahmad Malla and Riyaz Ahmad Thokar – saying they were all Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) operatives. HM is the oldest and largest rebel group in Indian Kashmir.
“Besides killing an army officer last year, this group of HM operatives was involved in a series of attacks on civilians and security forces,” a police official, who requested anonymity, told BenarNews.
The identities of the remaining four slain rebels had yet to be ascertained as of Sunday evening, he said.
“One of the militants was captured alive after he surrendered during an encounter in Anantnag district,” the official said.
India’s arch-rival, Pakistan, condemned Sunday’s killings and appealed to the international community to play a more active role in resolving the Kashmir issue.
Cross-border tensions have been high lately as Pakistani and Indian military forces have exchanged fire since the start of 2018 in some deadly skirmishes along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto boundary that divides Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
“We condemn the indiscriminate use of force by the Indian forces that led to martyrdom of young and innocent Kashmiris,” according to a statement issued by that country’s government on Sunday.
The “mindless killing spree” exposed the inhuman face of Indian forces, the Pakistani statement said.
“We urge the international community to play its role in promoting a lasting solution to the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the United Nations Security Council and aspirations of the common Kashmiris,” it added.