Fresh violence swept troubled Kashmir and its capital despite one of its tightest and most suffocating curfews of the current unrest, as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stayed in Delhi, insisting he was “putting pressure” on the Centre for a political package ahead of a union cabinet meeting on Monday.
Late on Sunday, police vans announced indefinite curfew across many towns and the first night curfew in Srinagar since the militancy of the 1990s. The government disabled Internet data cards, security checkpoints refused to honour curfew passes, and there was no loosening of curfew after 7 pm, as is usually the case.
“We appeal to you not to leave your houses, you could be shot at if you do,” late-night announcements said in downtown Srinagar.
On the 92nd days of the current disturbances, the toll climbed to 70 with the death in a Srinagar hospital of a 35-year-old stone thrower who took a bullet in his neck six days ago.
Abdullah said Sunday’s violence was confined to a handful of places in Srinagar, but the police reported unrest in several towns, with the house of Education Minister Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed coming under intense attack from protestors in Anantnag, an hour south of Srinagar.
Even as the police registered first information reports (FIRs) against Kashmir’s chief priest, the moderate separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and emerging hardliner Masrat Alam, of instigating Id violence, the Mirwaiz told the Hindustan Times there could be hopes for peace if the cabinet fulfilled these conditions:
•Announcing the repeal of, not amendments to, the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), especially in areas like Baramulla, Kupwara, Rajouri and Poonch, where the army is heavily deployed.
•Removing the “more dangerous” Public Safety Act, under which anyone can be detained for up to two years without trial.
•“Gradual demilitarisation” of the Valley’s major cities, by moving paramilitary camps of the CRPF and BSF. It would make a “huge difference”, said the Mirwaiz.
“Nothing will happen with half-hearted cosmetic gestures,” the Mirwaiz said. “Only concrete measures will do.”
Criticised for being in Delhi when the Kashmir was burning, Abdullah said he was not on a private visit but as “a prelude” to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
"Since I am in Delhi, it is obvious I will stay with my family," he told HT.
On Saturday, Abdullah — who also wasn’t in Srinagar when the first unrest began in June — appeared on news channels to say the Mirwaiz had betrayed his trust by leading crowds to Lal Chowk after Id prayers. The Mirwaiz accused Abdullah of lying.
“Three FIRs have been registered against Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at three police stations of Srinagar. At Lal Chowk area, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (and others) by their speeches instigated the public to resort to arson and damage public property,” said a police spokesman.
Charges and counter-charges continued over Saturday’s arson. Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, released on Saturday, criticised the FIRs against the Mirwaiz and Alam. He alleged the involvement of Ikhwanis (pro-government gunmen) in the arson.
The offices of a Chief Engineer, a security barrack at the Hazratbal shrine (housing a hair of the prophet), and the Crime Branch Headquarters were set on fire. A police spokesman said “cases of social and public importance, like rape and murder, human-rights violations, land scams and corruption scandals were under investigation at Crime Branch”.
The Mirwaiz said the FIRs against him were the same “oppressive tactics” in use for the past 20 years. He denied his men were involved in the arson.
“As per eyewitnesses, the fire started from the top of the building mysteriously, and no protester was seen around it,” said the Mirwaiz. “How could a building that is fenced by a 20-ft-high brick wall and razor wire start burning from the top? It raises serious doubts, and that need to be impartially investigated, so that the conspiracy behind the arson is known.”
The FIR against Bhat and compatriot Mehraj-ud-Din Kalwal is for instigating violence at the Hazratbal shrine on Saturday. “They caused disaffection among public by their speech,” said the police spokesman.