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As civilians get caught in the crosshairs, Kashmir braces for unrest this summer

Four civilians were killed on Wednesday in a gun battle between militants and security forces in Kulgam, taking the over all death toll since April 1 to 29 . These deaths are expected to fuel public anger, and protests.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2018 21:44 IST
Ashiq Hussain
Ashiq Hussain
Hindustan Times, Srinagar
Kashmir,Kashmir militancy,Kashmir unrest
Security personnel patrol the streets following an encounter with militants in Khudwani village, Kulgam district, south Kashmir, on Wednesday. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)

Four civilians and a soldier were killed in Kashmir on Wednesday, the latest in a spate of deadly gunfights that threaten to push Kashmir into a spiral of protests for the third straight summer.

Officials said the civilians were killed in crossfire as security personnel engaged a group of militants in the southern village of Khudwani.

A senior state police officer, on the condition of anonymity, said two militants escaped. Soon after the incident, more retaliatory protests were held in the region.

With Wednesday’s incident, Kashmir has recorded 29 deaths — civilians, security personnel and militants included — since April 1. Official accounts and news reports analysed by HT show that since the beginning of 2018, 48 militants, 22 civilians and 21 security personnel have died in gunfights, protests and targeted killings.

The state police chief rejected concerns that these incidents foretell more conflict. “The summer will be fine. Our network to tackle militancy won’t stop but we give due consideration to any civilian death. We are working on that parameter,” said inspector general of police, Kashmir, SP Pani.

But another senior police official, who did not want to be identified since he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said such deaths trigger more anger.

“The re-emergence of local militancy is very a dangerous trend. People are emotionally involved with local boys who are in the age group of 16 to 22. Their deaths trigger more anger and prompt more youth to join militancy,” said the officer, a senior superintendent of police.

Since the beginning of a drawn-out unrest since July 2016 — when local militant leader Burhan Wani was killed by security forces — Kashmir has recorded a spike in young men joining the militancy.

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti told the state assembly in February this year that in 2017, 126 men from the region joined outfits such as the Hizb-ul Mujahideen — an increase of 44% compared to the year before and highest in the seven years since such records have been compiled.

According to an official in the Jammu and Kashmir police who did not want to be named, of an estimated 240-250 militants active in the region, 140-150 are locals.

Wednesday’s deaths add to the problems of the administration led by Mufti, who is currently trying to quell anger over the gangrape-murder in Kathua. The Kathua incident is complicated by the fact that the suspects have found support from groups connected to the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mufti’s coalition partner.

(with inputs from Abhishek Saha in Srinagar)

First Published: Apr 11, 2018 21:43 IST