Kashmir remained locked down amid reports of continuing protests and violence for a third day on Monday, as the government began efforts to forge a political consensus in Delhi to deal with the unrest sparked by the killing of a young militant commander.
A top home ministry official said Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair a meeting on Tuesday to discuss ways to end the protests which erupted after troops shot dead last week Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old commander of Kashmir’s largest militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. At least 24 people have been killed in the violence.
Across Kashmir, roads remained empty and shops shuttered on Monday but confrontations continued despite a round-the-clock curfew in most of the Valley. By noon, crowds ignored the clampdown to gather in parts of Srinagar and towns south of it but troops repelled them.
A mob in southern Kashmir’s Kulgam district took a policeman hostage, demanding the release of a youth arrested for stone-pelting. “A head constable was abducted by a mob at Behibagh and held hostage,” a spokesperson said.
Security forces remained the prime target as militants hurled a grenade on a police station in Srinagar late on Monday, wounding at least 13 CRPF personnel. Dozens of protesters pelted stones at an Indian Air Force base outside Srinagar before paramilitary police chased them away.
The annual Amarnath Yatra, which was suspended after Wani’s death, resumed on Monday from Bhagwati Nagar base camp in Jammu. Pilgrims moved in convoys under CRPF protection.
“The pilgrimage to the cave shrine restarted. About 1,500 pilgrims in 34 vehicles have left the base camp,” said Sunil Gupta, the senior superintendent of police in Jammu.
Around 20,000 pilgrims were left stranded in Jammu and Kashmir’s winter capital following the volatile situation in the Valley.
In New Delhi, home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Opposition leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and Omar Abdullah, in what was the first concerted move by the government in three days.
The government could seek an all-party meeting once calm returns to Kashmir, sources said.
In her first comments on the violence, Gandhi said, “There can be no compromise on matters relating to national security.
“Terrorism must be dealt with firmly. Even so, the death of so many of our citizens and attack on security forces is very painful.”
Earlier in the day, national security adviser Ajit Doval cut short his visit with Modi to Africa. He held a meeting with Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley and defence minister Manohar Parrikar, among others, to discuss the situation in Kashmir.
“If there are problems, there are solutions. We are quite confident and competent of finding solutions,” Doval told PTI news agency.
Government sources said efforts were also on to hold an all-party meeting in the Kashmir valley after state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti called up on state opposition leaders to suggest ways to defuse the situation.
At least 23 civilians and one policeman have died from wounds sustained in clashes over the weekend, as security men used live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas to try to break up the protests.
Most of those killed were young men under the age of 26 from southern Kashmir, police said. In addition, more than 150 civilians and 100 government troops have been injured. At least 10 of the wounded civilians were in serious condition.
Top home ministry officials said they were surprised at the intensity of the public unrest in southern Kashmir. “We were prepared for unrest post (the) death of Burhan Wani and had deployed forces in Pulwana and Tral… as well as Srinagar,” a senior official said.
“However, despite the deployment in Anantnag and Kulgam due to the Amarnath Yatra, the mob attacked no less than 40 CRPF pickets and some 22 (J-K police) pickets along the route.”
The government was also concerned about the looting of about 35 INSAS rifles, SLRs and pistols from an armoury in Kulgam district on Saturday, a source said.