A protester was killed and about 30 people, including three officers of Jammu and Kashmir police, were wounded on Wednesday as violence flared up during Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to the restive state.
Kashmir Valley has been on the edge since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8, which triggered widespread unrest and prompted an intense security crackdown. The Valley is under curfew for a record 47 days and 68 people have been killed and thousands wounded in violent street protests.
Home minister Singh dashed to Srinagar on Wednesday for a two-day visit, his second in a month, as the Centre and state government struggled to bring peace to the strife-torn Valley. He met a political delegation as the Centre stepped up efforts to end the violence.
But protests continued on the streets, especially in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Amir Ahmad Mir, a 20-year-old from Ratnipora, was killed and at least 30 people were wounded in clashes with security forces who tried to stop a rally around 4am.
Mir was among the marchers and suffered fatal pellet wounds. He was hit by a tear gas shell in his abdomen, splitting his spleen, during a similar protest in February, his family said.
Anti-India slogans were heard outside Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital where people said their funeral prayers for Mir.
Home minister Singh is expected to review security arrangements with chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and governor NN Vohra before returning to Delhi on Thursday.
No meetings with separatist leaders have been scheduled, though.
However, Singh took to Twitter and asked people to meet him, invoking former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s mantra: “I will be staying at the Nehru Guest House. Those who believe in Kashmiriyat, Insaaniyat and Jamhooriyat are welcome.”
Singh’s use of the social media attracted ridicule as people referred to the ban on Internet in Kashmir.
“You have made Kashmir into a jail and you are talking about Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
He stood by the separatists’ stand for a tripartite dialogue, which would include Pakistan.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah, who had earlier met President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, led the delegation of Kashmir-based opposition parties.
Abdullah was not “hopeful of a breakthrough” after the meeting, and reaffirmed his demand for a political solution to restore peace.
“We met him and put forth the same points that we had discussed with the Prime Minister … the need to widen the scope of dialogue to all stakeholders. Situations like what happened in Pulwama today does not help,” the National Conference leader said.
The Peoples Democratic Party, which rules the state in alliance with the BJP, remained positive.
“The Prime Minister has shown a lot of seriousness and has talked about finding a permanent solution to the issue,” PDP spokesman Wahidur Rehman Parra said.
Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti maintained home minister Singh’s line, urging people to give peace a chance to revive a fairly successful reconciliation process the Vajpayee-led NDA government initiated in 2002.
But the political initiative to stop the post-Wani unrest had little effect on the streets, where curfew-bound people are getting increasingly hostile towards government forces. In Srinagar, clashes were reported in the Waniyar Safakadal neigbourhood after security personnel assaulted two motorcyclists for breaking prohibitory orders.
Militants were taking advantage of the situation. A grenade exploded on a police patrol in Pulwama, gravely wounding the district’s additional superintendent of police, the deputy superintendent of police and a station house officer.
Several of their colleagues were wounded too. They were shifted to the army’s base hospital in Srinagar.