The arrest comes at a time when Aalam and his partners in a local alliance were regrouping for a showdown with New Delhi and its supporters in the disputed Himalayan state.

Aalam, who played an important role in the creation of the parallel Hurriyat Conference last month, following differences with the leadership of Kashmir’s main alliance of separatist parties, was picked up on Monday evening from his house in summer capital Srinagar.

Reports has said Aalam is being held in a local police station, but is likely to be shifted to a prison outside Kashmir on Tuesday after being formally detained under the state’s stringent Public Safety Act.

Under the law, any person suspected or found involved in anti-Indian or anti-social activities can be detained without trial for up to two years.

But a special committee comprising top security and civilian officials reviews each case of such detention from time to time.

The 32-year-old Aalam was made convenor of the breakaway Hurriyat Conference before Sayid Ali Shah Geelani, the current head of the breakaway wing of the Kashmiri separatist movement, took over as its chairman three weeks ago.

Aalam represents the Muslim League (Jammu and Kashmir) in the conglomerate. He was released from a 33-month-long detention, following a court directive in August this year.

Geelani, 64, has spent more than 10 years in different prisons within and outside Kashmir for espousing Kashmir's accession to or merger with Pakistan.

More arrests

Aalam's arrest comes close on the heels of the detention of another key player in the Geelani camp.

Naeem Khan, chief of the Kashmir Front, was arrested under the Public Safety Act, accused of siphoning money raised abroad to further the separatists’ cause, and on alleged terrorist violence in the disputed state.

At the weekend, the authorities also extended the detention period of two other prominent Kashmiri separatist leaders, Shaikh Abd al-Aziz and Mushtaq-al-Islam, arrested several years ago, again under the provisions of the public safety act.

On Monday, Aziz’s colleagues and supporters from the Peoples’ League organisation marched along the streets of Srinagar in protest.

Police quickly swung into action and arrested many on charges of violating prohibitory orders in force in the Kashmiri capital.

Violence has spiralled with toll
reaching 350 since September

Justifying the detention of Aalam and others, officials said they were necessary to preserve the peace and the political process underway in the state.

"In the interests of peace and also to ensure that irritants in the way of dialogue and reconciliation efforts are restrained we had to put these people behind the bars until better sense prevails upon them," said an aide of chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayid.

But various Kashmiri groups including the Peoples’ League, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and the Hurriyat Conference have criticised the government action.

"This speaks volumes about the anger at moral and political defeat India has suffered in and on Kashmir and also reflects its despotic demeanour notwithstanding its claim of being the largest democracy of the world," said Geelani on learning about Aalam's arrest.

Differences

Hurriyat Conference suffered a split last month after Geelani and others, rising in revolt against the conglomerate leadership, were accused of "betraying" the Kashmiris’ cause by trying to make friends with New Delhi.

Moulvi Abbas Ansari, Shia cleric and politician, who headed the alliance, strongly denied the charge and squarely held Geelani responsible for the crisis. Analysts believe that the detention of Aalam and Khan is a calculated move to weaken Geelani.

"It is a deliberate attempt to deprive him of his eyes and ears," said Gulam Nabi Sumji, leader of breakaway Muslim Conference, an important constituent of the Hurriyat Conference, which has also declared its support for Geelani.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the 14-year-old insurgency.

Kashmir watchers do not rule out the arrest of Geelani either.

In the 14-year-old insurgency more than 38,000 people have died according to official statistics. But the local separatist, political and human rights groups put the death toll between 80,000 and 100,000.

The level of violence has spiraled recently, with more than 350 people killed in September.

Latest deaths

Three Indian soldiers were killed on Tuesday when a bomb planted by suspected Kashmiri fighters,blew up on a key road, a military spokesman said.

The explosive went off under a small bridge, killing the three
soldiers whose bodies were thrown into the stream underneath, said Border Security Force (BSF) spokesman Neeraj, who uses only one name.

Kashmir's dominant group, Hizb al-Mujahideen, owned responsibility for the killing, saying five soldiers died.

Indian soldiers killed three Kashmiri fighters in two shootouts in the northwestern Kupwara district and another two fighters were shot by the Indian army near Patan township, 30 kilometres north of Srinagar, a police spokesman said.