Troops hunt Kashmiri rebels among ruins

The battle was supposed to be over, the militants dead, driven by the Indian army back into the flames of the 14th century mosque that the besieged Kashmiris had set ablaze to cover their escape.

But as reporters climbed through a hillside orchard for a first view of Chrar-e-Sharif, an explosion punched the air, then a second blast, and a third. "Get back," shouted an army spokesman as we ran up the hill to see what was going on. "There are still encounters happening."

Chrar-e-Sharif had been devastated. Not only had the mosque been burnt down but so too had most of the town. Indian authorities said 800 houses and shops were destroyed but it looked more like 1,500 to 2,000 buildings. The town looked like the blackened contents of a pot that someone had spilled down the side of the valley.

A few fires raged stubbornly, even though it seemed there was nothing left to burn. Soldiers prowled through the ashes looking for surviving militants. Clouds from the explosion clung over the town as though they had detached from the thunderstorms in the snowy Pir Panjal range a few miles away. Another explosion thudded, and shots rang out.

"Stay low," Brigadier Mohinder Singh cautioned. "There's some fire-fighting still going on.'' His 1,500 soldiers of the Punjab Rifles were trying to kill or capture the surviving Muslim insurgents who were barricaded inside the Chrar-e-Sharif mosque for several months. It is forbidden to even enter a mosque wearing shoes, let alone carrying weapons, but the insurgents had walked in with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Twenty-three of the 60 besieged militants had been killed by the army during their assault during the last two days. "Some militants are still holed up in there, but we can't rule out the possibility that they've sneaked out," the brigadier said. His men have yet to trap the militants' commander, a long-haired Afghan named Mast Gul.

Indian officials claim the militants, following radio orders from Pakistan, destroyed the mosque and town in order to blame it later on the Indian security forces. The militants' aim, said officials in New Delhi and the Kashmir capital, Srinagar, was to sabotage elections that India wants to hold within the next two months in the hope of finally quelling six years of Muslim unrest in the state. But hatred of India - and equally, fear of the militants - is so pervasive that most Kashmiris are unwilling to vote.

While recapturing Chrar-e-Sharif, Indian troops discovered a small explosives shop where - according to the brigadier - militants made the bombs used to blow up the mosque, The mosque contains the relics of Kashmir's patron saint, a Sufi mystic. The officer denied claims by Kashmiri militants that the fires in Chrar-e-Sharif were caused by troops.

Despite a 48-hour curfew in Kashmir, 300 angry refugees from Chrar-e- Sharif braved the shoot-to-kill orders to tell their story. "Our houses were set on fire by the army," yelled Abdul Kayoom. Next to him, a dozen men beat on their bare chests with grief and rage, while women howled. "We saw the army go into the market and set it ablaze," said Sarida Hassan, a student. "We've lost everything, even the dowry my mother was saving. Now I'll never be able to marry."

The Kashmiris' fury over the burning of the holy shrine spread yesterday throughout this Himalayan valley. Mobs set fire to government buildings and clashed with police in Srinagar and in scores of villages.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing