At least 11 people were killed and scores wounded in southern Kashmir on Saturday as violence erupted over the killing of top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani , sparking fears of an upsurge in militancy in the region.
Wani’s body was buried in his hometown Tral amid mass wailing and angry anti-India slogans, a day after security forces gunned down the 21-year-old militant who was the face of militancy in Kashmir over the last five years.
Protesters hurled stones, looted police weapons and set fire to three police stations and two government buildings in towns south of Srinagar. Scores were injured on both sides and three policemen have gone missing, source said.
Saturday’s violence and its fallout are seen as a major political test for chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and her alliance with a party largely unpopular in the region, the BJP.
Experts fear Wani’s killing could become a rallying point for militants to revive an insurgency that has flagged from its peak in the 1990s when attacks were reported daily, the local economy tanked and residents fled the region in droves.
“Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he did on social media… Kashmir’s disaffected got a new icon y’day,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted on Saturday.
The conflict has officially killed some 40,000 people over the past quarter-century, although rights groups put the fatalities at more than twice that number.
Saturday’s deaths were reported from Anantnag, Kulgam, Bijbehara and Kokernag. One person drowned in the Jhelum as security forces sought to disperse a violent mob.
Expecting trouble during Wani’s funeral, thousands of armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear fanned out across the region and drove through neighbourhoods, warning residents to stay indoors.
Additional director general of Jammu and Kashmir police, SM Sahai, told reporters that officers were forced to fire at the crowds after being attacked. He said 96 policemen had been wounded.
Government sources in Delhi said the Centre had rushed additional paramilitary forces to Kashmir.
“We expected trouble after his killing… We hope the situation to calm down by tomorrow,” said a senior home ministry official who is not authorised to speak to media.
Many Kashmiris took to social media to pay their “tribute” to Wani, who joined the Hizbul when he was just 15 and became the poster boy of militancy in the Valley, recruiting scores of youngsters with provocative videos and posts.
Wani, the son of a school headmaster, took up the gun 10 days before his Class 10 board exams after his brother, Khalid, was reportedly humiliated by the armed forces during the 2010 street protests that shook Kashmir and left more than 100 people dead.
He was buried next to his brother, who was killed in crossfire between militants and police last year. Witnesses said at least two militants fired pistol rounds in the air to salute their fallen commander.
Despite the violence, the BJP-PDP coalition government indicated it will not back down, with BJP leader Ram Madhav saying an “uncompromising” fight against terrorism is important for development
Authorities closed the Jammu-Srinagar highway and prevented fresh batches of Amarnath pilgrims from proceeding to Srinagar from Jammu. Railway services were suspended and examinations scheduled for Saturday postponed.