Suspected militants shot and killed a former political leader while critically injuring two of his body guards during a daylight assault in Indian Kashmir on Wednesday, police said.
The attackers ambushed a vehicle carrying Ghulam Nabi Patel, 63, a former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader, in Rajpora town in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, according to authorities.
The PDP, in alliance with India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has power in the disputed region of Indian Kashmir where a separatist insurgency has claimed about 70,000 lives since the 1980s.
“Initial inputs suggest [that] three heavily armed militants intercepted Patel’s vehicle and fired at him from point-blank range. We have launched a massive manhunt to track down the attackers, who managed to flee the spot,” Mohammad Aslam Chowdary, Pulwama’s senior superintendent of police, told BenarNews.
“The firing was so intense that his security guards could not retaliate. The militants’ fled from the spot after leaving the leader and guards critically injured,” he said, adding that Patel died on the way to the hospital.
Police suspect the attack was the handiwork of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the oldest and largest separatist group fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir. The group’s aim is to get Indian-administered Kashmir merged with Pakistan, which also claims the Himalayan territory in its entirety.
“We have not been able to identify the attackers yet, but we will not let them get away,” Chowdary said late Wednesday.
Mainstream ruling and opposition parties condemned Patel’s killing.
“[The] killing of [the] political activist is a cowardly act, which has achieved nothing but has left one more family devastated,” Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, said in a statement.
However, both the PDP and the Indian National Congress, India’s principal opposition party, also appeared to dissociate themselves with the slain political leader.
“Killings in all its manifestations are highly condemnable. Congress strongly condemns the killing of the PDP leader,” an unnamed party spokesman said in a statement.
A PDP leader who requested anonymity said Patel had resigned from PDP in October 2016.
“He was an active party leader who was instrumental in strengthening the party base. He later resigned citing some personal reasons and joined Congress,” the leader told BenarNews.
Ghulam Ahmad Mir, the Congress party chief in Indian Kashmir, said Patel was a member of the Congress party, “but that was years ago.”
“He had joined Congress but that was several years back,” Mir told BenarNews.
The state’s former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, slammed the PDP and Congress.
“Very tragic [that] a political worker assassinated by militants is being disowned by both the PDP and Congress. If they are not willing to own him, let’s call the slain a National Conference activist so his death is not in vain,” Abdullah said in a Twitter post. He belongs to the National Conference party.
Political activists and village heads often have been targeted by militants in Indian Kashmir to discourage Kashmiri youths from entering politics.
Between 2011 and 2015, suspected militants killed at least 10 village heads in south Kashmir, according to latest figures available from police.