Nine dead as India troops suffer new losses in held Kashmir battle


Four Indian soldiers, three rebels, and a civilian killed in Pulwama district of India-administered Kashmir, days after a suspected Kashmiri suicide bomber killed at least 44 Indian soldiers.

Residents said Indian troops destroyed five civilian houses with explosives and gasoline during the fighting.
Residents said Indian troops destroyed five civilian houses with explosives and gasoline during the fighting. (AP)

Indian troops suffered new losses on Monday in a battle with Kashmir rebels that left nine dead, officials said, just days after a major suicide bomb attack escalated tensions with neighbouring Pakistan.

The confrontation piled more pressure on the Indian government, which has blamed Pakistan for last Thursday’s suicide attack on a paramilitary convoy that killed at least 44 troops.

Pakistan has warned India against linking it to the attack without an investigation, saying that it was part of New Delhi’s “known rhetoric and tactics” to divert global attention from human rights violations in disputed Kashmir.

Several hours of shooting rocked the Pulwama district, south of Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, after officials said four soldiers, a policeman, three rebels and a civilian were killed in the latest clash.

An army major was among the dead, along with three rebels from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group which claimed last week’s attack, military and police officials said.

Six senior army men including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel were injured in the hours-long gun battle, a police official told AFP news agency.

“A police deputy inspector general has also suffered injuries,” the official said.

The identity of the rebels was not revealed but local media reports said one of those killed was Abdul Rashid Gazi, a Pakistani national whose role in Thursday’s attack was being probed by Indian investigators.

Houses destroyed

Monday’s fighting in Kashmir triggered anti-India protests and clashes, with local residents, mainly youths, trying to march to the site of the gun battle in solidarity with the rebels. Government forces fired tear gas at the stone-throwing protesters.

Residents said Indian troops destroyed five civilian houses with explosives and gasoline during the fighting.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing an election that must be held by May, has promised a strong response to the suicide attack and says he has given the military a free hand to tackle cross-border militancy.

Indian troops had earlier cordoned off Pinglan village in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, where the attack took place on Thursday.

An indefinite curfew has been imposed and police have asked people to stay indoors.

Mohammad Yunis, a journalist in Pulwama, said troops were searching the village.

Diplomatic breakdown

With tension mounting, Pakistan withdrew its envoy to India for consultations, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Twitter on Monday.

The ambassador was summoned to Islamabad for “consultations”, a government statement read.

India also recalled its ambassador to Pakistan after the suicide bombing.

Kashmir is at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. They both claim it in full but rule it in part.

India has withdrawn trade privileges offered to Pakistan and has warned of further action.

The Thursday bomb attack has sparked outrage in India with calls for revenge circulating on social media, and rising animosity towards Kashmiri Muslims in other parts of the Hindu-majority country.

The Confederation of All India Traders called for a nationwide strike to protest against the attack, and footage from Reuters partner ANI showed shuttered shops in several states on Monday.

Several fans and a Mumbai cricket official have asked India to boycott their World Cup match against Pakistan in June this year after a suicide bomber killed 44 members of the Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir last week.

India takes Pakistan to UN’s highest court

Meanwhile, India accused Pakistan of an “egregious” rights breach of an alleged spy who was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court, in a case on Monday at the UN’s highest court that has exacerbated tensions between the longtime rivals.

Indian lawyer Harish Salve told judges at the International Court of Justice that Pakistan’s claims of espionage and sabotage against Kulbhushan Jadhav have “always been strong on rhetoric and blurry on facts.”

Jadhav was arrested by Pakistan in March 2016 after he allegedly entered the country from Iran. Pakistan say he has been linked to 1,345 deaths in acts of terrorism in Pakistan, making secret trips to the country from Iran.