Indian authorities shut down the internet in Kashmir on Friday, July 7, after multiple Kashmiri separatist groups called for a week-long protest to mark the first anniversary of the July 8 death of the Hizbul Mujahideen’s former commander, Burhan Wani. Police also prevented residents of Wani’s hometown, Tral, from moving around the town freely in a bid to prevent gatherings and demonstrations.
Those calling for protests include various separatist activists, including hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, more moderate Awami Action Committee Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik. These leaders have instructed people to carry out a “complete shutdown” of the Kashmir region on July 8, to visit the homes of slain separatist militants on July 9, and to protest on social media on July 11.
This coincides with a similar set of protests organized by the United Jihad Council (UJC), also known as Muttahida Jihad Council, MJC), an umbrella organization of separatist militant groups. Syed Salahudeen, the Pakistan-based leader of Hizbul Mujahideen and head of UJC who was recently designated as a terrorist by the United States, has called for people in Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), the border separating Pakistani and Indian Kashmir, to observe Hafta-e-Shuhuda (Week of Martyrs) to commemorate Wani’s death. Salahuddin asked supporters to begin the commemorations on July 7, to carry out strikes across Jammu and Kashmir on July 8 and 13, and to visit the families of militants on July 10-11.
Both commemorative programs threaten to destabilize the fragile security situation in the region. The Indian government has reportedly deployed thousands of additional military and paramilitary forces to the region and the state government announced a ten-day holiday for all schools beginning July 6. Violent clashes are likely.
Kashmir's security forces have been under increased pressure in recent months as militants have stepped up attacks on police and military troops. Armed clashes between protesters who oppose Indian rule and government forces have also become more frequent since the killing of Wani by security forces on July 8, 2016, which sparked widespread unrest in which more than 100 people were killed. Tensions were stoked again in late May 2017 after Sazar Ahmad Bhat, another former leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed during a security operation. Violent anti-India protests took place throughout the region in reaction to his death.Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in its entirety.
As a reminder, some foreign governments advise against travel to parts of Jammu and Kashmir state, in particular the border region with Pakistan, due to the high threat of terrorism and other violence.