SRINAGAR: Young men throw rocks and bricks at vehicles belonging to Indian paramilitary personnel as they leave the site of a gun battle on Tuesday.—AP
SRINAGAR: Young men throw rocks and bricks at vehicles belonging to Indian paramilitary personnel as they leave the site of a gun battle on Tuesday.—AP

SRINAGAR: A Kashmiri fighter and his aide were killed in a gun battle with Indian troops in held Kashmir’s main city on Tuesday, officials said, triggering protests and clashes in the disputed Himalayan region.

Scores of counterinsurgency police and paramilitary soldiers cordoned off a congested neighbourhood in Srinagar’s old quarters on a tip that some Kashmiri fighters were hiding there, said Pankaj Singh, a paramilitary spokesman. An exchange of gunfire began as troops scoured the area looking for them, he said.

The gun battle, the first in the city in two years, lasted about 12 hours and ended with the death of Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, a fighter with Kashmir’s largest resistance group, Hizbul Mujahideen, and his aide. Junaid, son of senior political leader Mohammed Ashraf Sehrai, joined the militant ranks in early 2018 after graduating in business management from the region’s main university.

Three soldiers and a police official were injured in the fighting, police said.

At least six houses were severely damaged during the fighting as explosions and gunshots rattled the city during a tight coronavirus lockdown.

Residents accused troops of setting the houses on fire and looting jewelry and cash from some homes. Singh said these were baseless allegations to malign troops. It was a clean operation with no collateral damage, he said.

Security officials said Junaid’s killing was a major success against Kashmiri fighters.

As the gun battle raged, authorities cut off most mobile internet and voice call services in Srinagar, a common Indian tactic when fighting erupts in the disputed region.

As news of the killings spread, scores of young men chanting anti-India slogans defied the lockdown and hurled stones at government forces, who fired tear smoke and shotgun pellets to disperse them.

No casualties were immediately reported.

India has stepped up its “counterinsurgency operations” across Kashmir in recent months during the coronavirus lockdown. Local fighters have also continued their attacks on Indian forces and alleged informants.

More than two dozen Kashmiris and about a dozen Indian troops were killed in April, the most in any month since August 2019, when India revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status and statehood and imposed direct federal rule.

Indian troops killed the region’s top commander and his close aide in southern Kashmir valley several weeks ago. On Sunday, a militant and a soldier were killed in a shootout in the remote Doda area.

Armed Kashmiri groups have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the groups’ goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020

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