Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol a closed market area in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, on May 21, 2015.
(AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
Srinagar, India, AP—Hundreds of government forces with automatic weapons patrolled the streets of Indian Kashmir’s main city to stop a rally by separatists to mark the anniversaries of the assassinations of two Kashmiri leaders.
The two, Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone, had supported Kashmir’s right to vote on whether it should be independent or governed either by India or Pakistan, nuclear-armed nations that have fought two wars since 1947 over its control. The Himalayan territory is currently split by a heavily militarized line of control between India and Pakistan.
No one has been convicted of the killings, but they were believed to have been assassinated by militants for softening their stance on the issue.
Shops, schools and businesses closed and public transport stayed off the roads Thursday in Srinagar in response to a general strike call by separatists.
Authorities ordered residents in the old quarters of Srinagar to stay indoors and put Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who was scheduled to lead the rally later Thursday, and some other separatist leaders under house arrest.
Farooq was to have led a march to a cemetery where his father and hundreds of other Kashmiri separatists and civilians killed during the last 25 years are buried.
His father, Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq, Kashmir’s chief cleric, was killed by assailants 25 years ago, and Abdul Gani Lone, another separatist leader, was gunned down in 2002 at a public rally observing Farooq’s death anniversary.
Tight security measures have become common in Kashmir since 1989, when a violent separatist insurgency and ensuing crackdown by Indian forces left an estimated 68,000 people dead in the region.
While the armed rebellion has largely been suppressed, the region remains heavily militarized amid frequent street protests, with checkpoints along main roads, while the deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops and harsh emergency laws create more friction with the population.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is holding local polls with final results due on December 23 [Reuters]
An attack on an army camp in Indian-administered Kashmir has killed eight soldiers and three policemen, as the state votes in local elections, according to Indian officials.
Six of the attackers also died during Friday's assault, described by officials as a suicide raid on the army camp in Uri, near the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the disputed Himalayan region.
The attack occurred ahead of a visit to the region on Monday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Al Jazeera's Karishma Vyas, reporting from New Delhi, said that the attack started before dawn.
Uri is about 100km northwest of Srinagar, where Modi is due to campaign on Monday.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is holding provincial elections in phases, with results due on December 23.
"It's a highly sensitive time as the region holds several phases of local elections," our correspondent said.
Turnout was high for the first phase of voting on November 25, when more than 70 percent of the electorate cast their ballots in 15 constituencies.
Elsewhere on Friday, a firefight on the outskirts of Srinagar left one fighter dead.
Police also reported a grenade attack after an election rally in southern Kashmire that left one person dead.
About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or to merge the territory with Pakistan. The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
Reviving Ikhwanis? Parrikar's terrorism remark sparks political row in Kashmir
Srinagar: Union Defence Minster Manohar Parrikar’s statement on eliminating militants in J&K by "targeted killings" sparked a political row with both political leaders as well as separatists hitting out at the PDP-BJP coalition government for trying to take back Kashmir to the early nineties.
Hours ahead of his visit, Parrikar said in New Delhi that "terrorists" in the state can be neutralised with the help of terrorists. "We have to neutralise terrorists through terrorists only. Why can't we do it? We should do it. Why does my soldier have to do it?" he said.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah
accused the coalition government of trying to revive the brutal years of 'Ikhwan Raj', when militancy was at its peak and state-sponsored militia ruled the streets of Kashmir.
"Looks like Mufti Syed (CM) is reviving & empowering the Ikhwanis. That's the only way to carry out "terrorists killing terrorists" policy of MOD," Omar tweeted.
Reacting to the remarks made by the former chief minister, state Education Minister Naeem Akhtar said, let Omar Abdullah keep tweeting and that his government was "widening the democratic space in the state."
"Everyone in the state knows the parentage of Ikhwan and no one should have any doubt about it that it was National Conference which unleashed terror in Kashmir continuously between 1996 to 2002. They had established structure of their own. It was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who ended it all and people heaved a sigh of relief," Akhtar claimed.
When insurgency was at its peak in Kashmir in the first half of the 1990s, the state-sponsored counter insurgent groups were employed to tackle the militants, particularly in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. These counter-insurgents, known as Ikhwanis, were notorious for their disregard to human rights and torture.
While they actively helped security forces in tackling militancy, these groups were disbanded and many of them were absorbed in regular forces like the Army and Jammu and Kashmir police when the PDP-Congress coalition government came to power in 2002.
In far-flung villages of Kashmir, it was not the Army or police but the gun-wielding civilians who were feared the most and were often blamed for some of the worst cases of human rights violations. The disbanding of these private militias by then PDP-Congress coalition government had earned remarkable goodwill for the chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his party.
But the Defence Minister’s statement has put Mufti-led coalition government in a fix, not for the first time though. Ever since assuming office in March this year, the coalition partners have been speaking in contradictory voices on political issues. The latest addition to the list of contradictions is the issue of providing passport to senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, where both the parties have made public their disagreement.
Moderate Hurriyat, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said the government of India wants to reintroduce the gun culture in Kashmir. "It is a warning, that if you are on their side, we can kill you and no power on earth will hold us accountable, like the thousands of killings which are so often blamed on unidentified gunmen. This shows how India has ruled Kashmir in the last 25 years," Shahid-ul-Islam, spokesperson of moderate Hurriyat told Firstpost.
Khurram Parvez, who works with the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a prominent rights group, toldFirstpost that Defence Minister Parikkar was only reminding people of how India has fought militancy in Kashmir's two decade old conflict so far. "Using government sponsored militants has been a norm since 1994. It has been going on unabated, and in recent years due to decline in violence, the government sophisticated their tactics vis-a-vis government militants," he said.
"It is an ugly truth of the dirty war tricks that have been unleashed in Kashmir for years,” he added.
Fahad Shah, the editor of Kashmirwalla.com, an online magazine, wrote on his Facebook page that the defence ministers statement can only mean two things.
“The government is going back to mid 90s and reviving counter-insurgency groups, who were lethal and instrumental to kill thousands of civilians. And they will kill anyone they like under "intelligence-backed targeted killings". This means more killings by "unidentified gunmen" who are never traced,” he wrote.
Kashmir’s controversial lawmaker and MLA Langate Engineer Rasheed told Firstpost that Parrikar’s remarks indicate that BJP has started showing its “true colours” He said the intentions of the coalition government are clear, that it wants to revive counter-insurgency renegades.
“Parrikar’s threat to sponsor terrorists speaks of his arrogance and disrespect towards human rights. India must explain the constitutional validity of counter-insurgents and Village Defence Committees. These are all extra constitutional and illegal creations meant to give cover to the massacres of Kashmiris, by labelling the killers as unknown militants.
"Mr Parrikar's statement is a confession that Indian Army and other agencies lack professional skills and have not been able to control militancy, despite all the atrocities,” he said.
In Pictures: Kashmir's Meadow of Death
Tosa Maidan in India-administered Kashmir cleared of shells used by army in drills, but victims await compensation.
Budgam, India-administered Kashmir - The Tosa Maidan meadows, long used as a firing range by the Indian army in Indian-administered Kashmir, has been declared free of landmines following the expiration of its lease.
The landmines were responsible for many casualties and permanent injuries while the area was used as a firing range.
About 69sq km of Tosa Maidan in the central district of Budgam has been used for the past 50 years by the Indian army and air force for training purposes and heavy artillery drills. But residents of nearby villages like Lassipora, Drang and Shanglipora have protested against the use of the meadows due to the number of deaths caused by unexploded bombs scattered around.
Official figures state that since the lease was granted in 1964, 63 people have died
and 150 have been disabled from these littered shells. Locals say that number is much higher, so much so that Tosa Maidan is also called The Meadow of Death by villagers.
Last month Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, said that this year they would not be renewing the lease
for the army and would provide an alternate location for the exercises, even hinting that the area could become a tourist destination. By October 22, after an 83-day operation, the Indian army said it had finished demining the fields
However, the memory of a shell killing seven-year-old Simran Riyaz and blowing off her brother Fayaz Riyaz's limbs in May is still fresh.
On May 19, Simran and Fayaz were playing outside their house in Lassipora with a bag filled with soil, unaware that there was a littered shell in it.
"I checked the bag and it was filled with soil," Riyaz Ahmad Parray, Simran's father, told Al Jazeera.
"I insisted that they accompany me to the kitchen garden and play there but they adamantly refused. While I was on my way to garden I heard a big boom."
Manzoor Ahmad Parray, Simran's grandfather, who was at home at the time, said: "I was sitting inside the room and suddenly a blast shook our house. There was smoke coming inside through window. On seeing it I rushed outside. There I found body parts of my granddaughter scattered in a pool of blood. She was dead. Fayaz was screaming with pain."
The army said in a recent report that it had provided a compensation of 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,625) to the family of another victim, Bilal Ahmad Parray, who was killed in July.
In Pictures: Kashmir's flooded culture
Deadly floods in Indian-administered Kashmir destroyed thousands of books detailing the region's rich history.
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir - The disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir was ravaged by floods in September, a situation described as the worst calamity to have hit the region in more than a century.
While the flooding killed 281 people and damaged property costing billions of dollars, many remnants of Kashmir's history, culture and literature were also lost.
Sri Pratap Singh Library in Srinagar, capital city of Indian-administered Kashmir, is one of the oldest libraries in the region. Rare 6th century Gilgit manuscripts made on birchwood were destroyed. "Over 20,000 out of 45,000 books in the library were damaged by the floods. Around 100 rare books in Urdu and Persian, which are impossible to get back, were also damaged," said Ishrat Majeed, the chief librarian.
The Cultural Academy of Kashmir on the banks of Jhelum River remained submerged for days. The library housed about 250,000 books in 10 different languages of Jammu and Kashmir, but 70 percent were spoiled.
"Before the floods, we had over 1,000 titles of books on cultural history of Jammu and Kashmir, travelogues, flora and fauna, music, art and culture were present in the academy. We had an enviable collection of old dictionaries, encyclopaedias, anthologies and translation of old classics, which are all gone and destroyed now," said Muhammad Ashraf from the academy.
At the College of Education, books signed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, and Zakir Hussain, the first Muslim president of India, were lost.
"These floods have not only affected our past by damaging our history and cultural books, but it will have an impact as books which would have told our future generations about our culture, art and literature aren't there any more," said MS Ilahi, a professor at College of Education.
Kashmiris Demand Vote On Future