Srinagar: Curfew continued in many parts of the Kashmir Valley today, including pockets of Srinagar city and Pulwama district, as authorities braced for more protests for the fourth day after the killing militant commander Burhan Wani. The death toll in the violent clashes between protestors and security forces has now climbed to 30.
More than 350 people, including over 115 security force personnel, have been injured in the clashes after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Wani. The situation continues to be tense across the Valley.
Deputy commissioner of Pulwama, Muneerul Islam, said that the government would allow rations shops to open if peace was maintained today.
“If the situation remains peaceful, we will open all the ration stores tomorrow despite [it being] a public holiday,” he said.
The official said that authorities had strengthened presence of security forces in vulnerable areas of the city and elsewhere in the Valley to contain protests.
He said the restrictions were being enforced strictly to avoid further loss of life or damage to property.
PM Modi chairs high-level meet, appeals for peace
Back from a visit to four African countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a high-level meeting of union ministers and senior officials.
He was given a detailed presentation on the situation in Kashmir. The meeting was attended by home minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, minister of state for PMO Jitendra Singh, national security advisor Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar among others.
The ministers were briefed by chiefs of central security agencies about the steps taken to bring back peace and normalcy in the Valley.
“He has appealed to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to maintain peace so that the situation can normalise. He also expressed hope that no innocent person should face any kind of inconvenience or loss,” Jitendra Singh said after the meeting.
Modi also expressed satisfaction over the progress of the Amarnath Yatra and said whatever help needed by the state government will be provided by the Centre.
Singh said the Prime Minister had voiced concern over the situation and appealed for peace.
Forces have been asked to ensure security of Amarnath pilgrims and enhance vigil along the border to check fresh attempts of infiltration from across the border.
Sources said security forces were asked to ensure judicious use of force against protesting civilians.
Parrikar had told reporters yesterday that an overall assessment of the security situation in Kashmir had to be done by the home ministry. He said that the army was ready to provide any assistance like increasing force levels in any areas required.
Rajnath Singh postpones US trip
With Kashmir on the edge, Singh has postponed his visit to the US to attend the Indo-US Homeland Security Dialogue scheduled for next week.
A home ministry official cited the busy schedule during the coming monsoon session of parliament beginning July 18 as the reason for the deferment of the visit.
However, tension in the Valley could be the other key factor for the postponement of the home minister’s five-day visit to the US, sources told PTI. New dates have not been fixed, but the trip may now take place sometime in September, the official said.
Singh has held a series of meetings with top union ministers, officials and reached out to opposition leaders like Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah as parts of efforts to bring back peace and normalcy in Kashmir Valley.
Singh was supposed to lead the Indian delegation at the Indo-US Homeland Security Dialogue to be held in Washington. The US team was to be headed by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Charles Johnson.
Ban Ki-moon calls for “maximum restraint”
Expressing regret over the loss of lives and injuries in the clashes in Kashmir, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called on all parties to exercise “maximum restraint” to avoid further violence and hoped that all concerns would be addressed through peaceful means.
“The Secretary-General is closely following the recent clashes in Kashmir. He regrets the reported loss of dozens of lives and the injuries to many others,” a statement issued by Ban’s spokesperson said.
The statement said Ban “calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further violence and hopes that all concerns would be addressed through peaceful means”.
Earlier during the daily briefing yesterday, Ban’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the reports of the clashes in Kashmir, in which about 23 people have been killed so far and over 250 injured, “are of concern to us”.
Dujarric also rejected remarks by a Pakistani journalist that the UN chief, who had earlier in the day addressed the press on the situation in South Sudan, had “brushed aside” the Kashmir issue and was not taking note of the situation there.
“I think no one is denying that we are concerned about the situation in Kashmir. The fact that the Secretary General did not raise it as he did not raise many other critical situations around the world does not mean that he is brushing anything aside,” Dujarric said.
Internet services suspended, universities remain shut
Mobile internet and train services remained suspended across the valley for the fourth day. Mobile telephony was partially restored in the four districts of south Kashmir.
Normal life remained affected across the Valley because of the strike called by the separatists groups.
Public transport was completely off the roads while private cars and auto-rickshaws were seen plying at a few places.
Educational institutions were closed because of the ongoing summer vacations. The Central University of Kashmir (CUK), the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) and the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education (JKBOSE) have postponed examinations.
Most separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik, are either in custody or have been put under house arrest.
Statement by ‘concerned citizens’
Meanwhile, some concerned citizens have come together to express their “anguish at another alarming spiral of violence in Kashmir, when a discredited old playbook has yet again been deployed to wreak havoc with civilian life”. They said that while the circumstances behind the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani are yet to be fully explained, it was ironic that he was gunned down on a day the Supreme Court issued a far-reaching judgment in the context of encounters in the state of Manipur.
The group also said the civil unrest comes in the wake of rising discontent at the new political arrangements in Jammu and Kashmir, which had also been flagged by the intelligence agencies. “The BJP’s arrival in the portals of power and its determined pursuit of a majoritarian agenda, have much to do with this.”
“Excessive and indiscriminate lethal force continues to be used for purposes of law enforcement. This is in brazen contempt of the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which do not allow for departure even in exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or public emergency. Pellet guns, introduced in 2010 for crowd control, purportedly on the ground that it injures and does not kill, have caused permanent injuries and irreversible loss of eyesight to at least 92 young men.”
(with PTI inputs)