Authorities have put India-controlled Kashmir under curfew amid growing concern over a three-week rash of targeted killings in the Kashmiri town of Sopore that has left six dead.
Hundreds of police officers and soldiers took to the streets in the regional capital of Srinagar and other Kashmiri towns to block planned protests over the murders of six activists and former separatists by unidentified gunmen in Sopore. Agence France-Presse reports that separatist leaders had called for a protest march today, accusing the government of responsibility for the murders, but authorities detained the leaders of the planned protests and locked down the streets. A top police official told AFP that “No one will be allowed to take part in any protest march anywhere.”
The murders in Sopore began soon after locals reported that posters started appearing that threatened violence against mobile-phone companies and related services in the area. The posters claimed that mobile signals were used to track rebels. The posters were signed by a group calling itself “Lashkar-e-Islam,” which was previously unknown.
The group appeared to carry out its threats when an employee of a mobile-phone company was killed in his office in Sopore on May 25. His peers in the industry then received threats that they would be next if they didn't shutter their businesses. Three days later, a man who leased his land to host a mobile tower was similarly murdered by unknown gunmen.
The Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday that after a brief hiatus, the killings resumed, and "slowly morphed from civilians to ex-militants. Last week, three of four people shot in the back of the head were part of the long-established anti-India Hurriyat Conference, a political group that advocates separation."
The Indian government claimed that the murders were all the work of Lashkar, supposedly a spin-off of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest militant group in Kashmir. But the Monitor reports that separatist and militant groups "have questioned the explanations given for the killings, saying the logic of militants killing fellow Kashmiri separatists is cockeyed."
The groups have all denounced the targeting of cellphone towers, and said after conducting detailed reviews of their ranks that there is no splinter group.
The former chief minister of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, who cooperated closely with the government of India while in office, says the murders point to a revival of the Indian Army’s counterinsurgency tactics of the late 1990s. At the time, the Army successfully “turned” many young Kashmiri separatists against their leaders. ...
Mr. Abdullah, who for a number of years stoutly opposed militants and separatists and sided with Indian authorities, said today that "There are apprehensions that Ikhwanis [pro-India gunmen drawn from the Kashmiri population] are being reinvented.”
The Associated Press notes that the four most recent victims all had ties to separatist groups or were former militants. AP notes that one of the victims, pharmacist and activist Sheikh Altafur Rehman, had been released from Indian custody only two days before he was killed.
But some Indian analysts with ties to the Army agree that Lashkar is behind the attacks. Ajai Sahni, the executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management, told Reuters that the attackers are likely self-radicalized militants trying to prove their anti-India bonafides.
"These youngsters are likely self-radicalized over the Internet and do not have necessary linkages to established terrorist formations for recruitment, and therefore seek to give positive proof of their commitment," he said.