Clashes and Indian Kashmir marks key anniversary

Pakistani Kashmiri women march to mark the death anniversary of popular rebel leader Burhan Wani.
Pakistani Kashmiri women march to mark the death anniversary of popular rebel leader Burhan Wani.

Government forces threw tear gas and clashed with stone-throwing protesters in Indian Kashmir on Saturday (8), as the volatile Himalayan region marked the anniversary of a hugely popular rebel leader’s death.

Thousands of troops have fanned out across Indian-administered Kashmir, where authorities have imposed a widespread curfew and cut off all internet services after separatist leaders called for a week of demonstrations.

Disputed Kashmir has seen an explosion of protests against Indian rule since government forces shot and killed Burhan Wani a year ago.

The death of the charismatic 23-year-old, who had built up a big following on social media, sparked an outpouring of grief and anger that spilled into the streets and led to months of clashes with security forces.

Nearly 100 people died in the months that followed and many more sustained serious eye injuries from the pellet guns used by government forces to quell the protests.

Separatist leaders — most of whom were either detained or confined to their homes in the run-up to the anniversary — had called for a week of protests from Saturday to mark Wani’s death.

All roads leading to the rebel leader’s home town of Tral in south Kashmir have been closed and authorities have seized thousands of motorbikes to prevent people travelling between villages in the area.

Witnesses and police said clashes broke out when protesters tried to reach the family home on Saturday morning and were blocked by government forces.

Police fired tear gas canisters when protesters threw rocks at them — an increasingly common tactic in the region.

Wani’s father said there was a huge military presence outside the family home.

“There were so many soldiers outside I couldn’t go out. It wasn’t possible for me to visit my son’s grave today,” Muzzafar Wani said.

Around a dozen protesters were injured, one of them critically, when government forces fired pellet guns into a crowd of protesters in the town of Shopian in south Kashmir.

The crowd became angry when troops entered a mosque to remove a sound system that was being used to play songs calling for a free Kashmir.

The anniversary comes at a time of heightened tensions along the Line of Control, the de-facto border that divides the disputed Himalayan territory between India and Pakistan.

On Saturday India said a soldier who was home on leave and his wife had been killed and several other civilians injured in cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops.

Pakistan said two of its civilians had been killed in firing from the Indian side, one of them a 22-year-old woman. It said it had lodged an official protest with the Indian envoy.

Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan since 1947, is one of the most heavily militarised spots on Earth with a long history of conflict.

Both countries claim the territory in full, and have fought two wars over it.

The streets of the main city of Srinagar were deserted on Saturday, with all shops and businesses closed.

One senior police official said authorities had not ordered an official curfew in the city, but had invoked a colonial-era law that bans assembly of more than four people and is often used to prevent rioting.

Across the border, more than 3,000 people — led by militant organisations fighting to claim all of the disputed region — took to the streets of Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir, to mark Wani’s death, chanting anti-India and anti-US slogans.

In his address to the crowd, Syed Salahuddin, leader of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and who the US classifies as a terrorist, called upon the Pakistani government to “give military support to Kashmiris to push the Indian troops out of Kashmir.”