SRINAGAR: Authorities extended a curfew in a town in Indian Kashmir for a third day on Sunday as tensions rose after two people were killed and dozens wounded in Hindu-Muslim clashes in the disputed region.
Stores and buildings were torched in Friday’s clashes that erupted in Kishtwar town, 150 kilometres southeast of Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar after prayers marking the end of Ramazan.
Omar Abdullah, the state’s chief minister, addressed a press conference on Sunday and said local authorities would do “everything possible to restore calm in the region”.
The curfew extension came as Pakistan and India both accused each other on Sunday of fresh firing between their two borders.
The fighting is the latest in a spate of recent cross-border skirmishes between the two nuclear-armed neighbours who have fought three wars since independence from the British rule in 1947, two over the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.
The violence in Kishtwar broke out when several hundred Muslims staged a march and shouted slogans attacking India and demanding “freedom” before being assaulted by Hindus who objected to the demonstration.
Multiple groups have been battling Indian forces since 1989, calling for the territory to be made independent or become part of Pakistan, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians.
Authorities extended the curfew and deployed the army to prevent further outbreaks of violence after reports of fresh clashes emerged late on Saturday, Abdullah said.
Kishtwar residents have alleged members of the Village Defence Committees, controversial semi-official local groups drawn mostly from the Hindu community and armed by the government to fight militants in their neighbourhood, used weapons during Friday’s clashes. Abdullah said the government was considering options, including a possible recall of weapons from the committees.
“One option available to us is to ask people to deposit all licensed weapons in the nearest police stations,” he said. Shops and other businesses remained closed all weekend in Jammu, Indian Kashmir’s winter capital, in response to shutdowns called by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Businesses also stayed shut in Srinagar in response to a strike over the clashes called by a top Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Geelani, who had demanded “peaceful protests” following what he branded as “state terrorism” after Eid prayers.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan by a heavily militarised Line of Control but both the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals claim the Himalayan territory in full.
“One Border Security Force (BSF) soldier injured from sniper shots fired by the Pakistan soldier. We retaliated and the firing went on for some time,” N S Jamwal, a BSF official told media.
Pakistan on Sunday also accused Indian forces of firing on its border posts close to the eastern city of Sialkot in Punjab province.
“Indian Border Security Forces resorted to unprovoked firing on Pakistani Rangers posts near Pukhlian, Head Marala area, in Sialkot sector,” a senior military official, told media.
“Intermittent exchange of fire continues. No loss reported so far,” the official added on condition of anonymity. The official also added that after exchange of fire on the border in the Punjab province, the Indian troops then fired at the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed Kashmir region.
“Indian troops also resorted to unprovoked firing at LOC in Nakial sector near Kotli,” he said.
The escalation in firing comes days after India accused Pakistan’s military of involvement in an ambush in Kashmir which killed five Indian soldiers and punctured hopes of a resumption in peace talks.