By Mohammad Amin Pirzada
Security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir shot dead three suspected militants on Monday, including an alleged planner of last week’s car-bomb attack that killed 46 soldiers, authorities said.
Four Indian army soldiers, a policeman and a civilian were also killed during a 16-hour gun battle in Pulwama district’s Piglin village, about 10 km (6.2 miles) from the site of the Feb. 14 attack claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), officials said.
A senior police official who asked not to be named identified one of the slain suspects as Pakistan national Abdul Ghazi Rasheed and said he was “instrumental in plotting last Thursday’s attack.”
“Rasheed was active in south Kashmir for the past three months. He was an expert at making explosives,” said the official, who is part of a police team investigating the attack in which a militant rammed a bomb-laden car into a 78-vehicle convoy ferrying more than 2,500 paramilitary personnel.
Rasheed and another suspect slain Monday radicalized 22-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar, a local man identified by JeM as the militant who carried out the suicide attack, the official said.
The attack, described as the deadliest militant strike in strife-torn Kashmir in decades, ratcheted up tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, both of which lay claim to the disputed Himalayan territory in its entirety.
Following the attack, the Indian government revoked the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status granted to Pakistan to “diplomatically isolate” Islamabad, and warned the neighboring nation of a befitting military reply.
Addressing a rally in eastern India’s Odisha state on Sunday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh vowed to avenge those responsible for the attack, which has sparked wide-spread anti-Pakistan protests across the country.
“I understand everybody has this yearning about how best to avenge the terror attack. Being the Home Minister, I assure you our soldiers’ sacrifice will not go in vain. Our defense forces have been given a free hand to ensure the sacrifice doesn’t go waste,” Singh said.
Following Monday’s encounter, Singh told the Delhi-based news agency ANI: “The morale of security forces is high. They are being successful in neutralizing the terrorists.”
Kashmir has grappled with a separatist insurgency that has killed more than 70,000 people since the late 1980s.
Meanwhile, Kashmiris living in other parts of India claimed that they were facing the brunt of last week’s militant strike because the person who carried out the attack was a Kashmiri.
“A group of about 10 stick-wielding men barged into my shop shouting anti-Kashmir and anti-Pakistan slogans yesterday. They started hurling abuses at me before pulling us by our hair, slapping us and vandalizing my shop,” Hilal Ahmad, a garment merchant, told BenarNews in a phone interview from Patna city in Bihar state.
“They kept saying that we should get out of here and return to Kashmir where we belong,” he said.
As videos of Kashmiris being harassed and asked to vacate their rented homes in other parts of India emerged on social media, protesters took to the streets of Srinagar on Monday, calling on the government to ensure the safety of Kashmiris across India.
“If people in India will not stop targeting innocent Kashmiris, Muslims in Kashmir will be forced to treat non-locals here in the same manner,” Mushtaq Ahmad, a Srinagar resident who was part of the protests, told BenarNews.
The Indian government on Saturday issued an advisory to all states ordering security forces to ensure the safety of people from Kashmir.
An unnamed official of the Ministry of Home Affairs was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India that there had been reports of students and other residents from Kashmir being threatened and intimidated.
“Therefore, the home ministry issued an advisory to all states to take necessary measures to ensure their safety,” the official said.
At least 65 Kashmiris studying at the three universities in Uttarakhand state have temporarily left out of fear of attacks by Hindu groups, BenarNews has learnt.
“An atmosphere of fear is prevailing in the state after a few Kashmiri students were beaten up after the militant attack last week,” Naseer Bhat, a student at Baba Farid Institute of Technology in Dehradun city, told BenarNews.
Bhat, along with dozens of other Kashmiri students, has been provided temporary accommodation at the Jammu and Kashmir House in New Delhi.
Police in Indian Kashmir said steps were being taken to ensure the safety of Kashmiris.
“We have set up a helpline for Kashmiris residing across India. We request people who are feeling threatened to call the helpline whenever they feel they need help,” Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh told BenarNews.
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