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Kashmir tensions boil over with civilian deaths

Protests and diplomatic wranglings reach a crescendo after a recent crackdown by Indian security forces.

Seven civilians were killed and at least three dozen more were injured Saturday when Indian security forces opened fire on a protest that grew out of a pre-dawn encounter between separatist militants and Indian armed forces in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

The purpose of the encounter carried out in Sirnoo Village by the Indian Army was to target three militants—including Zahoor Ahmad Thokar, an Indian Army deserter-turned-militant—that were reportedly hiding in a local orchard. The three militants in question, and one Indian soldier were killed in an exchange of gunfire.

That firefight then sparked civilian protests, with hundreds of people flocking to the site to chant anti-India slogans and call for an end to Indian rule.

Tensions between protestors and troops reached a boiling point and Indian forces fired teargas, as well as live ammunition into the crowd of protestors.

Local residents claim the violence against civilians on the part of Indian troops was deliberate.

“[Indian troops] fired at us as if they were practicing their guns,” said Shabir Ahmed, a local resident who accompanied some injured taken to a hospital in Srinagar.

Among the dead was Abid Hussein, a man who had recently returned home after completing his MBA in Singapore. He and his wife had welcomed a new baby just three months ago.

Following these civilian deaths, the Kashmiri Joint Resistance Leadership encouraged people to march on the Indian Army’s Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar in protest. This suggestion has been forcefully criticized by the Indian Army which responded saying, “the Indian Army strongly condemns this call by Pak Proxies and advises people not to fall prey to such designs of anti-national forces.”

In response to further calls to protest, the Indian Army imposed a curfew, and suspended train and internet services in the valley.

Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Satya Pal Malik has ordered Kashmir’s divisional commissioner, Baseer Khan, to probe the Pulwama incident and suggest precautions to minimise civilian casualties in anti-militancy operations in the future.

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti excoriated Governor Malik’s administration over the incident.

“No probe or enquiry is enough to bring the dead innocent civilians back to life and it would only further alienate the people,” Mufti added.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement via Twitter in which he condemned the killing of civilians on the part of the Indian Army.

“Only dialogue & not violence & killings will resolve this conflict,” Khan wrote.

A previous version of this piece incorrectly identified the separatist militants and the Joint Resistance Leadership as Pakistani, rather than Kashmiri. The piece has been edited to correct these errors.

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