By Amin Masoodi
Villagers discovered the beheaded body of a civilian Friday in an orchard in Indian-administered Kashmir, a day after suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants abducted him, police said.
Authorities said the victim was the second civilian killed by militants in separate incidents this week in the troubled Himalayan region, where the Indian-controlled side has been shut down since Monday following an outbreak of violence that left 20 people dead on April 1. As of Friday, more than 170 people had been injured during five days of clashes between anti-India protestors and security forces, officials said.
“Exhibiting its brand of brutality, the terrorists have left the body headless,” Kashmir’s Zone Police said in a Twitter post Friday.
The latest killings occurred as intelligence agencies were warning of a significant spike in militant attacks on security forces and civilians following the killings of 13 separatist rebels by Indian forces in a single day last weekend.
“We have information that Pakistan-based terror groups such as LeT and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) have joined hands with Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Kashmir’s oldest and largest separatist group, to launch attacks on security forces and civilians,” an Indian intelligence officer who asked to remain anonymous told BenarNews.
The 13 militants were gunned down in three separate encounters in south Kashmir on Sunday, the deadliest day of the year so far in Indian Kashmir. Three security personnel were also killed during the gunfights, while four civilians were killed in police firing after anti-India demonstrations to protest the killings turned violent.
“These outfits have suffered heavy casualties at the hands of our security forces in recent months. They are trying to regroup to mount major attacks to disrupt any chances of peace in the region. We have already informed our forces that they should expect a significant increase in armed assaults in Kashmir,” the intelligence officer said.
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir. An outbreak of insurgency on the Indian side, known as the state of Jammu and Kashmir, has claimed more than 70,000 lives – a majority of them civilians – since the late 1980s.
Kidnapped from homes
The latest civilian who was killed, Manzoor Ahmed Bhat, 24, and his father, Abdul Gaffar, 50, were kidnapped early Thursday after suspected members of Pakistan-based LeT stormed their house in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, police said.
Bhat’s body was found on the outskirts of the district’s Hajin area. Gaffar managed to escape but was recovering at a hospital after being shot, police said.
“The brutal killing of young Mazoor Ahmed is highly condemnable but should also serve as a reminded of where society is headed. The scourge of terror has hit a new low as the brutality of this act has left us all in shock,” Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, said in a tweet.
The young man and his father were abducted two days after a taxi driver, Muntazir Ahmad Parrey, 33, was found dead within hours of being taken by suspected LeT operatives from his father-in-law’s home in Bandipora, according to authorities.
Police identified the mastermind of the two killings as local LeT militant Mohommad Saleem, an official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity, adding that efforts to capture him and his accomplices were ongoing.
Ravideep Sahi, inspector general of Kashmir’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), said officials expected a spike in militant attacks in the region with the tourist season approaching in May.
“Militants have always shown desperation to disrupt the tourist season by attacking security installations to create terror among visitors,” Sahi told BenarNews.
“But, this year, their desperation has grown because of the severe damage security forces have inflicted on rebel outfits by killing their members,” he added.
About 730,000 tourists visited Indian Kashmir last year, the lowest in six years, according to official figures. About 840,000 tourists visited Kashmir in 2016 and 920,000 the preceding year.
S.P. Vaid, Indian Kashmir’s police chief, said the situation was under control. He urged tourists to ignore threats and visit Kashmir in large numbers.
“The situation is very much in our control and tourists need not panic,” Vaid told BenarNews. “We are here to safeguard tourists and locals,” he added.
Meanwhile, according to a defense analyst, militant outfits in Indian Kashmir are struggling to survive.
“Indian forces have stepped up counter insurgency operations in recent months, and gunned down several suspected rebels. These groups may coordinate and launch attacks in the region to ensure violence continues in the region,” retired Maj. Gen. Ravi Arora told BenarNews.
India needs to act tough against Pakistan to stop on-going ceasefire violations on the Line of Control (LoC), a de facto border dividing Kashmir between the two sides, another expert said, adding these ceasefire violations were intended as a cover for Pakistani militants to sneak into Indian territory.
“Pakistan will make desperate attempts to push more JeM and LeT operatives into India. Pakistan believes LeT and JeM cadres fight more effectively than local militants,” retired Maj. Gen. G.D. Bakshi, a New Delhi-based security analyst, told BenarNews.
On Friday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif accused India of trying to resolve the Kashmir issue “through the barrel of the gun.”
Sunday’s killing of 17 people “by the Indian occupation forces is totally unacceptable and should be unequivocally condemned by the international community and human rights community around the world,” Khawaja said, according to the Press Trust of India.