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Valley under lockdown on I-Day eve as Pakistan raises hostilities

Independence Day 2016 Updated: Aug 14, 2016 23:18 IST
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A masked Kashmiri protester holds a Pakistan flag next to a graffiti of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani in Srinagar.(Waseem Andrabi/ HT Photo)

Pakistani flags were raised in several places in Kashmir on Sunday, the neighbour’s independence day, as the Valley remained under a tight security blanket with curfews and restrictions in place and all communication blacked out on the eve of India’s freedom celebrations.

Escalating hostilities, Pakistan’s high commissioner in India, Abdul Basit, dedicated his country’s celebrations to “Kashmir’s freedom”, following up on Islamabad’s proposal to send food and medicines to the state — where the killing of a militant commander has set off a cycle of violence that has left 58 dead, thousands injured and sparked a war of words between the neighbours.

Terming Pakistan’s offer “absurd”, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “India and others in the region have already received enough of Pakistan’s trademark exports — international terrorism, cross-border infiltrators, weapons, narcotics and fake currency.”

The hostilities continued with the Pakistan army firing at Indian posts along the Line of Control in Jammu’s Poonch sector. Indian troops retaliated and the firing was on when reports last came in.

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Militants appeared in south Kashmir’s Rudwani village where they hoisted Pakistani flags and offered gun salutes, police sources said.

The familiar green-white flags came up in several areas of Srinagar, too, along with photos of slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, in the early hours but were removed by the police later.

In south Kashmir, where Wani hailed from, protesters clashed with troops in Pulwama district and nine people were injured. In Tral, there were reports of Aasiya Andrabi, who heads the all-woman separatist group Dukhtaran-e-Millat, being injured as forces lobbed teargas shells at a rally she was leading. In Budgam district, two protesters were injured in firing.

A police statement said there were nine stone-pelting incidents across the state, adding that troops “exercised maximum restraint”.

The police prevented separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq — the latter was also detained — from marching to the capital’s commercial hub, Lal Chowk. The separatists have called for a civil curfew and black day on Monday to oppose the government’s Independence Day celebrations.

But the security establishment said it was prepared for any eventuality, in view of the boycott call and the overall situation in the Valley, where normal life has remained paralysed for over a month now.

”Curfew has been imposed in Srinagar and in the towns of Anantnag, Awantipora, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Sopore and Bandipora,” a police spokesperson said, adding that restrictions are in place elsewhere.

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Security has been beefed up in Srinagar, especially around Bakshi stadium where the main government event will take place.

Broadband services were suspended across Kashmir along with mobile phone networks, except the state-owned BSNL, on Saturday night.

“Is saal ki jashn-e-azadi hum Kashmir ki azadi ke naam karte hain (we dedicate this year’s independence day celebrations to Kashmir’s freedom). We are confident the sacrifices of the people of Jammu and Kashmir will be successful,” Basit said in an address at the Pakistan high commission in Delhi.

The statement came a day after India rejected an out-of-turn proposal from Pakistan for talks on Kashmir.

On Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s promise to send supplies to Kashmir, Swarup said, “A communication was apparently delivered to our high commission in Islamabad on August 12. I can only characterise its contents that propose sending supplies to the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir as absurd.”

The MEA spokesperson said India “completely and categorically rejects this purported communication from the Pakistan foreign ministry”.

Pakistan has hailed Wani as a martyr and said Kashmir will one day be a part of it. India holds the neighbour responsible for the current situation in the Valley. On August 9, it summoned Basit to issue a demarche over his country’s continued support to cross-border terrorism , saying it was fuelling unrest in Kashmir.

At an all-party meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is ours”.