Armed police and paramilitary soldiers deployed amid fears that killing of Burhan Wani could spark violent protests
By Associated Press
Kashmiri Muslim girls (top) look from the windows of their house as an Indian
paramilitary officer stands guard during restrictions in Srinagar.
Photograph: Farooq Khan/EPA
Indian authorities have imposed an indefinite curfew in most parts of Kashmir, a day after government forces killed the top rebel commander in the disputed Himalayan region, officials said, describing it as a major success against fighters opposed to Indian rule.
Thousands of armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear fanned out across most towns and villages, including the summer capital, Srinagar. They laid razor wire and erected steel barricades on the streets and drove through neighbourhoods warning residents to stay indoors.
Burhan Wani, chief of operations of Indian Kashmir’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in fighting on Friday after Indian troops, acting on a tip, cordoned a forested village in the Kokernag area, said police director general K Rajendra. Two comrades of Wani were also killed in the gun battle, he said.
In his early 20s, Wani had become the face of militancy in Kashmir over the last five years. He was a household name and his video clips and pictures were widely circulated among young people in Kashmir. Unlike the rebel leaders of the early 1990s, Wani did not cover his face in videos widely circulated on phones and the internet.
Insp Genl Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani described the killing as the “biggest success against militants” in recent years. As news of his death spread, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in several places in Kashmir, denouncing his death and chanting slogans against Indian rule.
Indian officials, fearing more violent protests in the troubled region, suspended an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave which draws about half a million people each year. Officials also suspended mobile phone services in southern parts of Kashmir and blocked mobile internet in the rest of the region to prevent anti-India demonstrators from massing.
Shops, businesses, schools and government offices were shut following the security lockdown and a general strike called by anti-India separatists. Authorities also postponed school and college examinations and suspended rail services.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed in entirety by both. On India’s side, separatist politicians and rebels reject India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and have been fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan since 1989. Separatist leaders asked people to march to southern Tral town for Wani’s funeral on Saturday.
Rajendra said Wani’s body was handed over to the family but warned that no one would be allowed to march to Tral. “Only locals would be allowed to participate in his funeral,” he said. However, hundreds of protesters came out in several neighbourhoods in southern Kashmir, chanting: “Go India! Go back,” and: “We want freedom.”
Most citizens in the mostly Muslim region have long resented the Indian presence, and support rebel demands for independent or merging with Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir, since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.