Pulwama attack: Nine killed in Kashmir gun battle

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Nine people, including four Indian soldiers and a policeman, have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir during a gun battle, police say.

The clash occurred in Pulwama, where more than 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a bombing last week.

That attack, the worst in decades, has fuelled tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

A civilian and three alleged militants were also among those killed in Monday’s confrontation.

Police say the three suspected militants who were killed are members of Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which said it was responsible for Thursday’s suicide bombing.

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Pakistan denies any role in the bombing, but India has accused the state of being complicit.

India recalled its top diplomat to the country in the wake of the attack and Pakistan has now also recalled its ambassador from Delhi for consultations.

What’s happening in Pulwama?

The operation lasted 16 hours on Monday, with heavy gunfire reported as Indian security personnel appealed to villagers to stay indoors.

Among the Indian soldiers killed was an army major, police and military officials said. They said another six members of the Indian military were also injured in the battle.

The operation targeted a residential area said to be a hideout for suspected militants.

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Indian security forces have been hunting for those with suspected links to JeM following Thursday’s bombing, which saw a vehicle packed with explosives ram a convoy of 78 buses carrying Indian security forces.

The suicide bomber was identified as a local Kashmiri aged between 19 and 21.

More than 20 people were detained on Sunday, according to police.

How high are tensions?

Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan since independence.

Both countries claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir but control only parts of it. They have fought two wars and a limited conflict in the region.

Thursday’s attack was the deadliest attack against Indian forces since an Islamist-led insurgency began in 1989. It sparked anti-Pakistan protests in some Indian cities and angry mobs targeted Kashmiri students and businessmen.

Mobile internet services in Indian-administered Kashmir were cut over the weekend and the Indian government has pulled security normally provided to at least five Kashmiri separatist leaders.

Isolated incidents of students from Kashmir being beaten up or evicted from their accommodation in northern Indian states have also been reported.

India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) offered help to students in need, but also warned of false reports.

Some on Indian social media have been offering their homes to those being targeted in response, using hashtags like #SafeHaven.

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In broader terms, there has been a spike in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir since Indian forces killed a popular militant in 2016. Significant numbers of young men have joined the insurgency in recent years and the funerals of well-known militants draw huge crowds who want to pay respects to “martyrs”.

India has been accused of using excessive force to control protests with thousands of people suffering eye injuries or being blinded by pellet guns.

How might India retaliate?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing an election later this year, has vowed a strong response and says he will give the military free rein.

The last time an attack on Indian forces close to this magnitude occurred in Kashmir was in 2016, when 19 soldiers were killed at a base. In response to that, India carried out “surgical strikes” which involved Indian soldiers crossing the de facto border to hit Pakistani posts.

This time analysts say heavy snow in the region could make that kind of limited ground response impossible. But there are fears that going further, for example with air strikes, could lead to Pakistani retaliation and a significant escalation.

So far India has focused on retaliation by economic and diplomatic means. It has revoked Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation trading status, raised customs duties to 200% and vowed to isolate it in the international community.

Despite tensions Pakistan is calm

By Secunder Kermani, BBC Pakistan correspondent

The threat of Indian military action has not provoked widespread concern amongst the general public in Pakistan. Previous attacks by militants like JeM, believed to have close links to the intelligence services, have been seen as attempts by the Pakistani military to prevent the civilian government developing too friendly a relationship with India.

However, since Imran Khan was elected as prime minister here, many have begun to believe both the army and his administration were united in wanting to improve cross border ties.

Whether Pakistan was involved in the attack or not, it seems unlikely concerted action will now be taken against JeM. Its leader has been in “protective custody” since another attack in 2016, but still regularly releases audio messages to followers.

The group has in the past been a useful tool for Pakistan’s intelligence services wanting to foment unrest across the border, and authorities may now be reluctant to confront them, in case they turn against the Pakistani state as some of their members have done in the past.

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