NEW DELHI: Thousands of mourners across India attended the funerals on Saturday for some of the 44 soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in the Indian-Held Kashmir, as a round-the-clock curfew remained in force in part of the restive Indian Held Kashmir (IHK).
The paramilitary troops were killed on Thursday as explosives packed in a van ripped through a convoy transporting 2,500 soldiers in the disputed Himalayan region, the deadliest attack in a 30-year-old armed conflict.
The TV stations showed coffins wrapped in Indian flags being carried by thousands of people across their hometowns, after the bodies were flown to New Delhi late Friday for a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India has accused Pakistan of harbouring the militants behind the attack, which has sparked nationwide outrage and some public calls for war against the nuclear-armed arch-rival to avenge the killings. Two buses of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the 78-vehicle convoy were targeted by the bomber on a key highway in the Pulwama district, just outside the main city of Srinagar. Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility. “I feel proud of the martyrdom of my son. I expect the Government of India to avenge the killings,” Brish Soreng, father of one of the soldiers, told reporters.
“The perpetrators of the attack will be found no matter how much they try to hide,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a public rally on Saturday. He said India’s security forces had been given “full freedom” to mount a response. “When, where, by whom – our soldiers will decide.” India is garnering diplomatic support after the attack and has vowed to “isolate” Pakistan diplomatically in the international community, saying it has “incontrovertible evidence” of Islamabad´s role. Pakistan has rejected the allegations.
Street protests continued on Saturday across several Indian cities with demonstrators burning effigies of Pakistani leaders and Muslim cleric Maulana Masood Azhar, who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed. The shock attack has caused widespread anger across India and a violent backlash against Kashmiris elsewhere in the country.
The mob attacks on Kashmiri students and businessmen have been reported in the northern city of Dehradun, with some fleeing the city. A student, Amir Hussain of Shopian, studying in MM University, Ambala, Haryana, told Srinagar-based reporters over phone that one of his colleagues was thrashed by the mob. “We were in the market when a group of protesters, shouting anti-Kashmir slogans beat one of us,” Amir said, adding, some of the Kashmiri students have eaten nothing from Thursday fearing attacks by the mob outside. As per Amir, there are around 200 Kashmiri students trapped at the MM University. He appealed to the authorities of occupied Kashmir to request the Haryana administration to ensure their safety.
Curfew remained in place in Kashmir´s Hindu-majority Jammu city after mobs on Friday attacked Kashmiri properties, set fire to vehicles and pelted housing complexes with stones, prompting counter-protests in Srinagar. At least 12 people were injured in the city, local media reported, and internet access in the area was suspended. Angry Indian social media users furiously demanded retribution for Thursday´s attack, while several hawkish TV channels called for all-out war with Pakistan.
According to Kashmir Media Service (KMS), troops and police personnel raided Midoora, Laribal, Kakapora, Marhama and other areas and picked up 13 youths in connection with the Pulwama attack. The arrested youths have been lodged in various police stations. As per locals, soon after the Lethpora explosion, the forces personnel barged into the residence of a freedom activist, Mudasir Khan, at Midoora in Awantipora area of Pulwama on Thursday night. “The forces thrashed his family members, hurled abuses and ransacked their house,” locals said.
Massive deployment of Indian troops and police personnel has been made across southern areas particularly Pulwama, Awantipora, Tral and Sangam since Thursday night to conduct the raids. The attack has put Modi´s BJP on the back foot ahead of national elections due by May. Modi´s government in recent years has adopted an aggressive posture in Kashmir and shelved dialogue with Pakistan to boost its popularity after accusing the previous government of being soft on militants. “Revenge is the only word that comes to my Mind,” Modi government minister Babul Supriyo wrote on Twitter.
A meeting of political parties in New Delhi Saturday extended full support to the government in “fighting terrorism, defending India´s unity and integrity”. India has stationed some 500,000 troops in Kashmir, making it the most militarised zone in the world, following an armed rebellion that began in 1989. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict with most casualties civilians. Last year was the deadliest in a decade with almost 600 killed.
Meanwhile, Indian hackers on Saturday continuously attacked the website of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal told Geo News. “Half of our website was down in several countries following which we started to take action. We had anticipated this action; we know they [India] were panicking and would do something like this. The website has started being restored and would be completely restored soon,” he said, adding that India’s policy had no clarity. Dr Faisal further said a hacking attempt was also made on his phone through his Twitter account two weeks ago which was repelled. The Foreign Office spokesman says attacks by Indian hackers were an attempt to stop the right to information.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website is a major source of official information including authentic news on KSA Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit and news on Kashmir. Journalists and analysts anywhere in the world can access this news from the MoFA website and the attempt is to stop this access.”