Militant commander Burhan Wani would have been given a “chance”, but the Jammu and Kashmir government didn’t know he was one of those in the hideout where he was killed, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said on Thursday.
It was the first comment from Mehbooba Mufti on the shootout of July 8 and sparked a controversy with the National Conference calling her remarks “a cruel joke from a completely clueless” Chief Minister.
Mehbooba Mufti said security forces told her that “three militants were hiding” in a house in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area “but they didn’t know who they were”.
“How do we know about an encounter? What can I say? I believe that had they known he (Wani) was there, he would have been given one chance as the situation was fast improving in the state,” she told reporters.
She seemed to suggest that had anyone known that Wani – a social media savvy rebel commander who was popular among young Kashmiris – was at the hideout, the government would have made arrangements to prevent the situation “from turning to what it is today” after his death.
Mehbooba Mufti said the situation turned volatile very fast in the Valley and the government did not have the luxury of time to prepare and prevent widespread violence in the aftermath of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander’s killing.
She said the then National Conference-led government of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had enough time to prepare security measures when Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was hanged in New Delhi on February 9, 2013.
“When Afzal Guru was hanged, Omar knew (about it). So he made all the arrangements in advance. We knew nothing and we came to know suddenly (about Wani’s killing). But despite that, we tried to impose curfew so that children do not come out.”
The National Conference ridiculed Mehbooba Mufti’s statement. “It is ironic and ridiculous that the Chief Minister is terming Burhan Wani’s killing a coincidence.”
A National Conference spokesperson said the government had already “released lakhs of rupees as reward money from the Chief Minister’s secret fund for those who took part in the encounter.
“If Mehbooba Mufti is deluded into thinking that she can try to make a case that she wasn’t aware of the encounter where a special team was dispatched from Srinagar to neutralize Burhan Wani, she is living in her usual fool’s paradise.”
Earlier, senior PDP leader and MP Muzaffar Beigh had sparked controversy saying the security forces had violated the guidelines on Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) laid down by the Supreme Court for any counter-terror operation.
Wani’s killing along with two of his aides has sparked the deadliest wave of unrest the Kashmir Valley has seen in years.
Nearly 50 people have been killed and thousands injured in the days of violence. The valley remained under continuous curfew for more than two weeks before it was partially lifted on Tuesday.
But normal life remained paralyzed on Thursday for the 20th day in a row in the entire Kashmir Valley due to a separatist-called shutdown and the government-imposed curfew at some places in south Kashmir.
Violent protests erupted at many places in the valley where there was no curfew on Thursday.
In south Kashmir’s Shopian district, young men took out a motorbike rally, holding Pakistani flags. Police used tear gas to disperse them as some protesters halted their bikes and threw stones at security forces.
Clashes between security forces and protesters also erupted in at least a dozen places in Srinagar.
The curfew is likely to be reimposed across the Kashmir Valley on Friday as separatists have urged people to reach Jamia Masjid in Srinagar’s volatile Downtown area for midday congregational prayers.
No mass prayers were held the last two Fridays in the biggest mosque in the state.