By Peerzada Mohammad Amin
A former PhD student who became a militant leader in Indian Kashmir was shot dead with an aide during a gunfight with security forces on Thursday, while scores of anti-India protesters were injured in clashes that followed the killings, police said.
Manan Bashir Wani, 27, who became a top commander of militant group Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) after quitting his doctoral studies in applied geology early this year, was killed in northern Kupwara district, authorities said. The suspected aide who died alongside him was identified as Ashiq Hussain.
At least two dozen protesters were injured when police used smoke shells to disperse stone-hurling demonstrators in north Kashmir, officials said.
Police opened fire after Wani and his aide refused to surrender in north Kashmir’s Handwara town, authorities said.
“They were offered many chances to surrender and return to the mainstream, but they challenged the security forces and engaged in a gunfight,” Munir Khan, additional director general of police, told BenarNews. ”Both were killed in the retaliatory action.”
“Any local militant who is ready to give up arms and come back to the mainstream will be properly rehabilitated,” he said. “Misguided youth must realize that violence is not a solution to any problem and it can lead to death and destruction.”
Security has been beefed up in the disputed Himalayan region ahead of the third phase of civic polls scheduled for Saturday.
Amid a shutdown of shops and businesses called by militants, barely 3.4 per cent of the registered electorate cast their votes during the second phase of polling on Wednesday. Militants have asked the people of Kashmir to boycott the polls.
‘Chose death over life’
In January, a photo showing Wani holding an assault rifle and bearing a message that he had joined Hizbul Mujahideen – the largest and oldest of the militant groups in Indian Kashmir – went viral on social media, as news circulated that he had abandoned his pursuit of a PhD at Aligarh Muslim University in India’s Uttar Pradesh state to take up the armed separatist cause.
“His decision to join militant ranks has left me shocked and heart-broken. With folded hands I appeal to him to leave the path of violence and return home,” Shamima Begum, Wani’s mother, told BenarNews at the time.
“He has been a top student since his childhood. We were expecting that he would enter the civil service and make the family proud. But his step to join HM has shattered us,” she said.
‘Chose death over life’
On Thursday, separatist leaders in Kashmir condemned the killings of Wani and Hussain and called for a shutdown on Friday in their memory. There were protests in Srinagar too by university students.
Authorities have ordered educational institutions across Kashmir to be closed on Friday, and also suspended mobile internet service in north Kashmir following the killings.
Meanwhile, suspected militants on Thursday shot and killed a separatist leader in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, police said. He was identified as Tariq Ahmad Ganie.
India has deployed thousands of additional troops in the region to safeguard the civic polls currently under way. The polls conclude on Oct.16. Village administration-level polls are scheduled for next month.
Both India and arch rival Pakistan have territorial claims on Kashmir and have fought wars over it. More than 70,000 people, mostly civilians have been killed during the insurgency in the region over the last three decades.
Reacting to Wani’s killing, Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, urged India’s leadership to hold a dialogue with stakeholders including Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue.
“Now a PhD scholar, killed in a gunfight, chose death over life. His death is entirely our loss as we are losing young educated boys to violence every day,” she tweeted. “It is high time that all leadership in the country realize the gravity of this situation and facilitate a solution through dialogue with all the stake holders including Pakistan to end this bloodshed.”
Lawmaker Engineer Rashid condemned Wani’s killing and called for an end to bloodshed.
“Every time Indian security forces kill a militant, the leadership claims normalcy was returning to Kashmir,” Rashid said in a statement.
“Killing of militants is not a success but it adds to the alienation among the youths. It is high time India should realize that the Kashmir issue is a major source of discontent in the sub-continent and lasting peace can be restored only after its resolution,” he said.