Historic mosque destroyed in new Kashmir violence
Friday 12 May 1995
Indian authorities and Kashmiri militants blame each other for burning down the mosque, which contained the relics of a Sufi saint. What is certain is that 70 Muslim guerrillas - most of them Afghans and Pakistanis conducting a jihad (struggle) against the primarily Hindu Indian security force occupying Kashmir - had been holed up inside the mosque for several months. In the meantime, more than 8,000 troops sealed off the town, forcing thousands of Kashmiris to flee their homes.
The showdown began on Monday when someone lit a fire that raged through Chrar-e-Sharief, a hillside town of wooden houses. Who started the fire is disputed, but the blaze engulfed the entire town, burning down more than 800 homes and shops but not the mosque and Sufi shrine.
According to the government, early yesterday morning the trapped militants decided they would rather blow up the mosque than surrender.
Ram Mohan Rao, a government spokesman, said the besieged militants were commanded by an Afghan named Mast Guel, an orthodox Muslim opposed to the Sufi belief in Islamic saints. That is why, according to the Indian spokesman, he had no remorse over setting fire to the shrine.
But Kashmiri militants and local people tell a different story. Witnesses said the army attacked the town with mortars and shellfire at 3am yesterday. Soon after, the mosque burst into flames.
A firefighter, Shaukat Ahmed, told the Independent: "There was heavy shelling that hit some of the houses standing near the mosque. The fire spread to the mosque, and there was no way we could stop it." The mosque and shrine were made of carved wood and had withstood blizzards, rain and earthquakes for over six centuries.
Fighting raged throughout yesterday as Indian soldiers advanced through the ruins of the town towards the burning mosque where the remaining insurgents were pinned down. The army finally gained control of the charred rubble of Chrar-e-Sharief mosque. So far it has recovered the bodies of 20 militants.
Despite a shoot-to-kill curfew in Kashmir valley yesterday, protesters, including one demonstration by thousands of women, tried marching to Chrar-e-Sharief but were beaten back with batons and tear gas. In Pulwama, security forces fired into a large crowd, killing one man and wounding 10.
Prominent Kashmiri Muslim militants were placed under house arrest, though one leader, Shabir Ahmed Shah, slipped out to lead one small protest march before he was recaptured. In Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, gangs of protesters hurled stones at Indian troops in their bunkers.
The destruction of the mosque comes at a time when many Kashmiris - who are mainly Muslims - are wavering in their support of the insurgents. Srinagar sources said that with the mosque in ruins, the Kashmiris' hostility towards the Indian authorities has hardened again.
The Kashmiri guerrillas are divided between those who want to unite with Pakistan and others who want independence. Indian officials said the militants inside Chrar-e-Sharief mosque belonged to several pro-Pakistan factions, including Harakat-ul-Ansar, which in the past kidnapped several Britons trekking in Kashmir.
The Indian Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, described the mosque militants as "terrorists and foreign mercenaries", not mentioning Pakistan by name. Other Indian officials did, however. Rajesh Pilot, a home minister, warned Islamabad of "dire consequences" if it continued to "interfere" in Kashmir and hinted that India might invade an area of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan.
The mosque's destruction on a Muslim holiday is bound to enrage many of the India's 120 million Muslims.
The Prime Minister had planned to hold state elections in June or July as a way of restoring peace in Kashmir, where more than 10,000 people have died during the past six years of conflict. Few Kashmiri leaders are likely now to back the polls.
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
Ian Brady: Moors murderer announces his support for Ukip and the SNP
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Bali Nine executions in Indonesia: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford says she 'just wants to get it over with'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...
£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...
£26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Haulage company based on the Thorpe Indu...