Militant attack in Kashmir shatters years of calm
The armed separatism of the 1990s had largely faded away, but a peace accord never followed. Frustration had been mounting in recent weeks over an execution and an expansive policing law.
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Although the gunmen, who were killed by police, have yet to be identified, the attack is likely to stir up further unrest in Kashmir, which has been seething in recent weeks over the secret execution of a convicted terrorist and ongoing human rights abuses by Indian authorities.
Police are saying that the two attackers reportedly hid guns in some cricket gear and mixed with youth playing the game in a nearby field in order to approach the camp, reports Reuters. Once at the police camp, the attackers opened fire on the police, killing five, and injuring five police and three civilians. (Kashmiri media quotes one eyewitness as disputing that the gunmen posed as cricketers.)
BBC News notes that the attack is the first major attack in Indian-administered Kashmir in three years. The BBC also published a slideshow of the paramilitary police securing the camp after the attack.
The Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attack, reports Kashmir Life. Indian Home Secretary Raj Kumar Singh earlier stated that the attackers were probably Pakistani, though he offered no evidence to that end.
"Both the terrorists who have been killed appeared prima facie to be not locals but from across the border, and the first impressions are that they are probably from Pakistan," he said, reports the Indo-Asian News Service.
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir, but the region is divided along a military cease-fire line. Polling has found that the mostly-Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley currently ruled by India prefers independence. Other communities in the Kashmir region disagree, however.
Indian news website Firstpost notes that schools, colleges, and commercial establishments were closed today as part of a strike called to demand the return of the body of Mohammad Afzal Guru, a convicted member of the December 2001 terrorist attack on India's Parliament who was controversially executed last month. Firstpost speculates that the strike may have helped reduce the number of casualties in the attack today.
Mr. Afzal Guru's execution – which took place in secret on Feb. 9 – sparked widespread anger across Indian-controlled Kashmir, whose mostly Muslim population feels that he never received a fair trial and was hanged on weak evidence. The unrest prompted a broad crackdown by authorities, who ordered a curfew, cut off media and Internet services, and caused deep reservations even among those sympathetic to India, the Monitor reported:
The anger and hurt is so deep that many who had started veering toward a politics of reconciliation have begun to change course.
Raja Muzaffar Bhat, a young anticorruption activist who had joined the pro-India Peoples Democratic Party, resigned from the group, saying on Facebook, "...I feel that there is no space for working democratically within the Indian state.”
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, former Interior minister of India, also criticized the hanging, saying he regretted that Delhi would not allow the family a last meeting, or possession of the body. Mr. Sayeed, at one point Indian Kashmir’s chief minister, said in a statement: “This reduces Mahatama Gandhi’s country, the world’s largest democracy and a genuine candidate for superpower status, to a banana republic.”
Analysts say that the execution was an attempt by India's ruling Nationalist Congress Party, which has been racked by a series of corruption scandals, to win back public confidence ahead of India's 2014 elections. The Monitor noted last month that the execution came just before a parliament session – as did the execution of 2008 Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab in November. The executions were India's first in eight years.
The unrest in Kashmir is further fueled by accusations of widespread human rights abuses in the region by the Indian government. In December, two human rights groups released a report accusing 500 specific perpetrators of criminal abuses, including enforced disappearance, killings, rape, and torture. The accused include Indian military, paramilitary, and police officials, who the report says are protected from justice by the policies of the Indian government.