The Indian administered region of Kashmir remains under a strict curfew for the third consecutive week following the killing of a popular militant leader earlier this month.
The slain young leader is said to be responsible for introducing what many see as a new face of anti-Indian militancy in the disputed region.
As Bismillah Geelani reports the killing has set off a chain of massive protests and violent clashes with Indian forces leaving dozens dead and scores wounded.
In Kashmir’s Southern District of Tral, More than a hundred thousand people have gathered for the funeral service of 22-year-old Burhan Wani.
A popular militant commander, Wani was killed along with his two associates in what the army claims was a gunfight between them and the militants.
But locals believe it was staged and describe the killings as extrajudicial.
40-year-old Abdul Hameed is among the mourners.
“It is a brutal killing and then they put restrictions in place so that people can’t come out and protest against this inhumane act. They have also arrested the entire leadership. It is time the internal community wakes up and asks India what kind of democracy it is that has kept a territory under illegal occupation for so long and is oppressing its people,” Hameed pleaded.
Burhan Wani became a militant when he was just 17.
According to his father Muzaffar Wani the final straw that pushed him over the edge came when his elder brother was mercilessly tortured by the army in his presence.
“The two brothers had planned a picnic. They cooked some meat and took some other food and went to a nearby picnic spot. Suddenly some army soldiers came there and picked them up. They were asking them to give them information about militants in the area. They hit the elder one with the butt of their rifle, breaking his skull, shoulder and nose. They also broke some of his teeth,” recalls Wani.
A few years later, the security forces killed his brother.
But by then Burhan had already become the poster boy of Kashmir’s new militancy.
Kashmir has been disputed territory between India and Pakistan since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the region after an armed uprising against Indian rule broke out in the late 1980s.
Although there’s no evidence that Burhan has been involved in any killings, he did use social media as a weapon to issue warnings and threats to Indian security forces and to recruit local youth into militancy.
Manmohan Khajuria is the former Director General of Kashmir Police.
“Burhan Wani is the man who changed the face of terrorism. Earlier the terrorists would hide and the security forces and intelligence agencies had to look for them. But here’s a man who dons an army fatigue with his name plate and goes on social media declaring who he is,” Khajuria stated.
Burhan’s daring attitude won him a huge following with many of Kashmir’s disgruntled young deciding to join his ranks, individuals like 19-year old Zakir Rashid.
His father Abdul told me he had sent his son out of the valley to study. But his militant experience left a deep mark on him.
Then one day Abdul found a letter in his son’s room. ‘Don’t search for me,’ it said, ‘I have chosen my path and it is the right path.’
According to government sources nearly 200 hundred locals have joined militancy in recent months and all of them are young, educated and from affluent families.
While security forces view Burhan Wani’s killing as a huge operational success, the aftermath has been nightmarish.
Soon after his killing, massive protests broke out across the valley with angry protesters attacking a police station, army camps and government installations.
Violent clashes between protesters and security forces have claimed at least 47 lives so far while more than 3,000 people have sustained serious injuries.
The government has also shut down telephone, mobile and internet service in the region amid a strict curfew that has now stretched into a third week.
The government says it is doing everything possible to ensure safety, but these claims are belied by the growing number of casualties.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is Chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of more than a dozen separatist groups. He accuses the government forces of a killing spree.
“What we are witnessing right now is the worst kind of state terrorism. There are no crowd control mechanisms in place. They could have used non-lethal weapons but what we see is most of the people who have received bullet injuries have been shot either in the head or in the chest so there is a clear purpose of shooting to kill,” says Farooq.
As the crisis in Kashmir deepens, India has rushed more forces to assist local authorities.
Meanwhile Pakistan has launched official protest with India over the recent killings.
Human rights groups and the United Nations have also expressed concern over the situation.