Two people, including an armed militant and a policeman, were killed in India’s disputed Kashmir region on Wednesday in the first clash after the federal government scrapped the territory’s autonomy.
Police said the gun battle in Baramulla, a town 33 miles west of Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, erupted on Tuesday evening after an armed militant fired on a police cordon-and-search party.
In the ensuing fire fight, which lasted over eight hours, the militant was shot dead and two policemen were wounded, with one of them dying later in hospital, officials said. Police also claimed to have recovered ‘incriminating material’ including arms and ammunition from the militants hideout. Armed insurgents fighting Indian-rule in the Muslim-majority region since 1989 have pledged to continue their fight for independence, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP government annulled Kashmir’s autonomy and right to make its own laws on 5 August. The government also revoked the seventy-year-old restrictions on property purchases and government jobs in Kashmir, opening them up to people from outside the region. In anticipation of a backlash, the authorities imposed a lockdown across Kashmir by suspending telephone, Internet, television and radio services, some of which were partially restored earlier this week. A curfew was also enforced in many regions. The government has deployed more than 50,000 paramilitary personnel in the Himalayan region, in addition to some 500,000 army soldiers already based in Kashmir to man the restive Pakistan border and to fight the insurgency that has claimed over 70,000 lives.
People carry signs as they chant slogans to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir, during a rally in Lahore Credit: Reuters
Meanwhile, hundreds of political leaders and Kashmiri activists placed in ‘preventive custody’ by the police have urged locals to defy the authorities and join a mass protest march after Muslim prayers on Friday. “Every person, young and old, men and women, should march after Friday prayers” the Joint Resistance Leadership representing major Muslim separatist grounds declared on a poster. Another poster warned Kashmiris against the federal government’s strategy of changing the demography of Kashmir by flooding it with outsiders. In the meantime, Modi spoke to his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Tuesday evening regarding violent demonstrations over Kashmir outside the Indian High Commission in London on India’s independence day on 15 August. Foreign Ministry officials in Delhi said Modi told Johnson in their telephone conversation that ‘vested interests were pursuing their agenda (on Kashmir) with violent means’. “PM Johnson regretted the incident and assured (Modi) that all necessary steps would be taken to ensure the security of the High Commission, its personnel and visitors”, an Indian foreign ministry statement declared.