Security forces in Kashmir are on alert in view of a ‘Referendum March’ called by separatists on Saturday, a day after the central government held an all-party meeting to discuss the recent unrest in the Valley that has been under rolling curfew since the killing of a popular militant leader last month.
Authorities barricaded Srinagar’s commercial hub of Lal Chowk, and there was heavy deployment of forces on the 36th straight day of the curfew. There were barricades at every major intersection.
A march call by separatists from “every mohallah, village, locality, tehsil and district towards Lal Chowk” to demand azadi (freedom) prompted the arrangements.
Separatists issued a fresh protest calendar extending the ongoing shutdown till August 18. “If and wherever stopped, sit and continue protest for till Sunday evening,” the schedule said.
Mobile phone services, which were snapped late on Thursday night fearing large-scale protests and clashes after Friday prayers, were restored in the Valley around noon Mobile internet services remained suspended.
Dozens were injured in a crackdown on protesters after the Friday congregation prayers across the Valley.
A police statement said on Friday evening that “more than three dozen incidents of stone pelting” were reported from different districts of the Valley including “Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian, Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara and Bandipora”.
Suhail Wani, who was injured in southern Kashmir last week when securitymen fired at protesters, died at a Srinagar hospital early on Saturday, taking the death in the month-long unrest to 58.
Thousands have been wounded in protests after security forces gunned down Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8. Kashmiris have alleged atrocities by Indian armed forces during street demonstrations, and the use of pellet guns has been under the scanner.
Pakistani leaders have criticised India over the unrest even as New Delhi accused Islamabad of interfering in New Delhi’s affairs and backing terrorism.
PoK on agenda
At an all-party meeting in New Delhi on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government will reach out to the Valley but added that Jammu, Ladakh and PoK should also be talked about in the same breath when discussing Kashmir, underlining the government’s approach of taking care of the entire state and not just one region.
Modi asked the external affairs ministry to contact expats from PoK to gather information about the “pitiable conditions” in the region and apprise the global community.
The PM’s comments at an all-party meeting to discuss the volatile situation in Kashmir are being seen as an escalation of rhetorical hostilities between the two countries over the violence in the Valley.
A section in the Indian establishment favours a counter-offensive by New Delhi over human rights violations in PoK and Balochistan, where Pakistan’s security forces are accused of extra-judicial killings in a crackdown on groups seeking greater autonomy for the resource-rich province.
Hours after Modi’s remarks, the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party called for “moral, political and financial” support to the “freedom movement” in PoK.