Eight suspected fighters and two Indian soldiers were killed in a series of counterinsurgency operations in occupied Kashmir, police said on Thursday, as many shops were shut in parts of the region to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whose killing triggered open defiance against Indian rule.
The deaths in five separate incidents starting on Wednesday came as violence in the Himalayan region has increased in recent weeks.
India’s military said two soldiers and two fighters were killed on Thursday in a clash along the Line of Control (LoC).
Earlier, the Indian army said its soldiers killed a suspected fighter.
Four suspected fighters were killed in two separate gunfights with Indian troops in southern Kashmir’s Pulwama and Kulgam districts early on Thursday, the Indian army said. It said soldiers recovered two rifles and two pistols from the sites of the clashes.
On Wednesday, troops apprehended a senior fighter, Mehrajuddin Halwai, in the northwestern Handwara area, and after an interrogation he led them to a hideout where he was killed in a firefight, police said in a statement.
At the hideout, Halwai “picked up his hidden AK-47 rifle and started firing indiscriminately upon the joint search party which led to an encounter”, the statement said.
It was the second such incident in 10 days.
On June 29, police said a suspected fighter being held in custody was killed during a gunfight between government forces and another fighter after he was taken to a house where he had allegedly concealed a rifle in the region’s main city, Srinagar.
Many fighters have been killed in the past when they were taken by government forces to recover weapons, in what rights groups and residents have called extrajudicial killings.
Burhan Wani's death anniversary
On Thursday, many shops and businesses in the Kashmir valley, the heartland of the anti-India rebellion, remained shut to mark the fifth death anniversary of Burhan Wani.
Government forces patrolled streets and sealed off Wani’s hometown in anticipation of anti-India protests. Wani was killed along with two associates in a brief battle with Indian troops in 2016.
Separatist leaders called for a general strike to honour Wani, whose death led to months of massive protests and clashes in the region. At least 100 people, mostly young men, were killed and thousands wounded, including many who were blinded by shotgun pellets fired by Indian troops.
Wani’s death gave new life to the struggle, which had declined to only about 100 fighters in scattered groups. Officials say that since his killing, hundreds of young men have joined the fighters’ ranks.
There was no independent confirmation of any of the five incidents.
The Foreign Office on Thursday paid tribute to Burhan Wani for his "selfless contribution to the just struggle for right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people".
In a statement, it said that "Wani, through his sacrifice, has come to rightly symbolise the indigenous Kashmiri struggle against the illegal Indian occupation." Since his martyrdom, hundreds of Kashmiri youth have "lost their lives at [the] hands of the Indian occupation forces", it added.
The FO stated that Pakistan would continue to stand by the people of occupied Kashmir until the dispute was resolved according to resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the wishes of the region's people.
"This day should also serve as a reminder to India to end its egregious human rights violations in [occupied Kashmir], and take concrete steps towards the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute as per the UNSC resolutions."
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry paid tribute to the "hero of Kashmir" on his death anniversary, saying Wani symbolised Kashmir's "yearning for freedom".
"How will an India unable to combat Wani's voice defeat the emotions of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris?" he asked.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif said Wani's killing "gave a new life & hope to the freedom struggle against oppressive Indian military apparatus".
"He will forever live in his people's hearts," he tweeted.
Additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui.