Unidentified gunmen shot dead a leading separatist in Indian Kashmir on Tuesday while four suspected militants were killed in a gunbattle with security forces elsewhere in the disputed Himalayan region, police said.
Two men armed with pistols barged into the house of Hafizullah Mir, 55, who was president of the separatist group Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) in Anantnag district, and shot him execution-style, a senior police official said.
“After identifying him, the gunmen told Mir they wanted to talk to him and then they fired a volley of bullets from point-blank range,” Altaf Khan, senior superintendent of police in Anantang, told BenarNews. “Mir was pronounced dead at the hospital.”
Mir’s wife, Wazira Akhter, 44, was wounded in the shooting that killed her husband, investigators said.
Mir was released from jail last month after serving two years for his alleged role in provoking anti-India protests in south Kashmir.
A preliminary investigation suggested that another gunman stood watch outside the house, Khan said, adding a manhunt was under way to track down the suspects.
Shortly after the shooting, demonstrators clashed with security forces in Shopian, a district in south Kashmir.
At least eight anti-India protesters were injured, police said. Witnesses said authorities used tear gas and pellets to disperse the protesters.
Separatist leaders, religious groups and Syed Salah-u-Din, the chief of the Pakistan-based militant group Hizbul Mujihideen, condemned Mir’s killing and blamed it on Indian agencies.
Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an alliance of top-ranked leaders that advocates the separation of Kashmir from India, called on business owners to impose a shutdown on Thursday to protest Mir’s killing.
“Indian rulers used their agencies to eliminate a highly educated, sensible and visionary pro-freedom leader,” JRL said in a statement. “His sincerity and sacrifices have earned him a distinguished status in the state’s political circles, especially in south Kashmir.”
Election largely peaceful
Mir’s killing took place as residents in several districts of Jammu and Kashmir state cast their votes in the local village administration polls, police said.
On Tuesday, polling for the second phase of village administration election remained largely peaceful amid a shutdown, officials said.
The Kupwara district drew the highest turnout among voters – at nearly 70 percent – compared with only 1 percent of voters who went to the polls in Anantnag, Shaleen Kabra, the state’s chief electoral officer, told reporters.
During the first phase of polling on Nov. 17, about 64.5 percent of more than 537,000 registered voters cast their ballots in the region grappling with a separatist insurgency. About 52 percent cast their votes during the second phase on Tuesday, officials said.
Both India and arch rival Pakistan have territorial claims on Kashmir and have fought wars over it. More than 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed during the insurgency since the late 1980s.
The voting will take place over nine phases, with the third one scheduled for Saturday.
Separatists and militant groups have called for a boycott of the polls, describing the elections as a ploy by India to mislead the world community about the Kashmir situation.
Political analysts said the government should create more jobs to address the desperation and sense of alienation among Kashmiri youths, as a security measure against the violence.
“With more local youths feeling alienated and turning to the vicious cycle of militancy, the government’s catch-and-kill policy with regard to local youth turning to militants has started to backfire,” Noor Baba, a Srinagar-based political analyst, told BenarNews. “It is a typical case of violence begets violence, which the government must realize.”