Kashmir authorities on Thursday asked residents to stay away from sites known to have counter-insurgency operations and imposed prohibitory orders in areas within three kilometres of three such locations, PTI reported. The order follows Indian Army chief Bipin Rawat’s statement that many locals were colluding with militants and would be penalised accordingly.

“The district administrations of Srinagar, Budgam and Shopian advised people not to move towards or assemble near the places where encounters take place between security forces and militants to avoid loss and injuries,” an official told the news agency. Ambulances, medical, paramedical staff and government employees are exempt from the new order.

Meanwhile, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh asked members of the Opposition to refrain from politicising the Army chief’s statements. “We appeal to political sections and the Congress to not indulge in any kind of politicking at the cost of security forces’ morale,” Singh said while adding that Rawat’s comments were misinterpreted.

Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar also defended Rawat’s statement. He reinstated that stern action will be taken against stone-pelting civilians who try to disrupt anti-terror operations in Kashmir. Parrikar, however, said that the Army does not treat every Kashmiri as a terror sympathiser. “Those who obstruct the operations are trying to protect the terrorists, and his [General Rawat’s] comment is based on that... We do not consider that everyone is on the other side,” he added.

Opposition parties had criticised Rawat’s comments. On Twitter, National Conference spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu stressed the need to engage the state’s alienated youth instead of issuing threats and warnings, “which will only compound their hostility”.

The Army chief had linked “higher casualties” in the forces to the alleged lack of support from locals in the Valley. Rawat’s comments came after four Army personnel were killed in encounters in Bandipora and Handwara on Tuesday. Rawat also reportedly said stone-pelters who halt Army operations will be treated as “overground workers of terrorists” and threatened to fire at them.

On February 14, the family of civilian Ishaaq Majeed Reshi had alleged that he was killed by security forces while in custody. Reports that Reshi was killed in an encounter between security forces and a group militants in Kulgam had surfaced on February 12.