SRINAGAR: Suspected militants on Sunday killed two policemen guarding the home of a pro-India politician in Indian-administered Kashmir in the first such attack in the restive region since national elections got underway, police said.
Two rebels sprayed bullets towards the home of a National Conference politician who was inside meeting party workers in the town of Khrew, 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of the main city of Srinagar, an officer and a party official said.
“The two policemen died before reaching hospital,” the officer at the scene told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The attack sparked a gunbattle with government forces on patrol in the area that left both of the militants dead, the officer said.
Yawar Masoodi, a youth leader of the National Conference which rules at state level in the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan region, and the party workers were unharmed.
The militants fled into nearby mustard fields after snatching the police officers’ weapons. Government forces chased them, sparking the gunbattle as reinforcements from a nearby army camp also moved in, the officer said.
“Both the attackers were later neutralised and the snatched weapons also recovered,” Inspector General Nalin Prabhat from the federal Central Reserve Police Force told AFP.
At the time, Masoodi was in a “closed door meeting” with party workers discussing election campaign plans, said National Conference spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu.
“These two individuals arrived at the gate. On being stopped for frisking by the police guards they suddenly took out weapons from under their ferans (traditional Kashmiri tunic),” Mattu told AFP.
It is unclear why Masoodi, who is not an elected member of parliament nor standing in the polls, was singled out for attack. Rebels have long fought for independence or for the merger of the territory with Pakistan.
Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, from the National Conference party, said the attack highlighted security concerns for all politicians in the region. The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead in the past 25 years.
“The attack on Yawar’s residence is evidence of the continued risk associated with being a mainstream politician in Kashmir,” Abdullah said on Twitter.
The district in the Kashmir Valley where the attack took place will go to the polls on April 24 as part of India’s mammoth elections that are staggered nationally over six weeks.
The Hindu nationalist opposition, led by hardliner Narendra Modi, is expected to sweep to power when results are announced on May 16, ending the Congress party’s decade-long national rule.
Modi is disliked by many Muslims over claims that he failed to stop religious riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat state where he was chief minister. The riots killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947 but each claims the territory in full. About a dozen rebel groups have sporadically been battling Indian forces since 1989.
Violence has sharply declined during the last decade, but anti-India rebels regularly attack government forces and low-level pro-India political officials.