A suspected militant and a police officer have been killed in a gun battle in Indian-administered Kashmir in what is believed to be the first clash with insurgents since the revocation of the territory’s special status.
Tensions remain high in the region, where there is a heavy security presence on the streets and a continued block on mobile and internet services. In Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar, posters appeared overnight urging people to defy a ban on public gatherings and join a mass march after Friday prayers this week to protest against Delhi’s decision to strip the region of its autonomy.
One of the posters, seen by Reuters, instructed the public to march to the office of the UN Military Observer group in Srinagar, which was set up in 1949 after the first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The territory is claimed by India and Pakistan in full and ruled in part by both.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump reiterated his offer to mediate in the “explosive” situation and said he would discuss the issue with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, this weekend.
“Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have Hindus and you have the Muslims and I wouldn’t say they get along so great,” Trump said at the White House. “I will do the best I can to mediate.”
Delhi maintains that the revocation of Kashmir’s special status is an internal matter but its actions have prompted fierce anger from Pakistan. Last week, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, threatened to “teach Delhi a lesson”and vowed to fight until the end against any Indian violations in disputed Kashmir.
In a further sign of escalating tensions on Wednesday, Pakistan said three of its civilians died as a result of Indian gunfire from across the heavily militarised line of control that divides the territory. Indian officials said one of its soldiers died and four were wounded after fire from Pakistani troops along the de-facto border, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Delhi, which has always refused third-party mediation over Kashmir, accuses Pakistan of fuelling terrorist activity in the region.
Kashmir police said a man who they said was affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group, was killed in an operation by security teams in Baramulla, northern Kashmir. One officer was also killed and another was receiving hospital treatment.
The suspected militant is not believed to have been a prominent figure in LeT, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the UN and has been blamed by the US and India for the Mumbai attacks in 2008, which killed more than 160 people.
Khalid Shah, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, an Indian-based thinktank, said it was unlikely officials would pursue high-profile militants as their deaths would risk attracting large funeral crowds.
Clashes are common between Indian security forces and militants in Kashmir, where an insurgency has been fought against Indian rule for decades. However, such actions appeared to have halted after the revocation of Kashmir’s special status, and officials were focused on maintaining law and order by enforcing a strict curfew.
“For two weeks the government deliberately didn’t conduct any operations and now there is a clear indication that they want to have an aggressive security stance against the militant groups and to make sure they are on the defensive,” Shah said.
Restrictions on movement have been eased and landlines restored in many areas, but mobile phone and internet services remain blocked. Some schools reopened on Monday but most families kept their children at home, fearing violence.
The Indian government said its decision to remove Kashmir’s special status would stimulate development and prevent terrorism. However, major resistance is expected in the region. Despite heavy security, demonstrations have been held against the decision.
Thousands of people have reportedly been arrested, including activists, lawyers and business owners, apparently to prevent unrest.
The revocation of Kashmir’s special status strips it of any autonomy, removing its constitution and rules that have prevented outsiders from buying land in the territory, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
Pakistan, which has long sought to internationalise the Kashmir dispute, has previously welcomed Trump’s offer to broker the matter. On Tuesday, it said it would take the issue to the international court of justice.