Unidentified gunmen have fatally shot a pro-India politician along with his father and brother in Kashmir, police said, in a first significant attack against India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members in the disputed region.
Gunmen fired at Sheikh Wasim Bari, a leader with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party in northwestern Bandipora town on Wednesday night, police said in a statement. The statement said “during indiscriminate firing,” Bari, his brother and father were injured but later died in hospital. Bari’s brother and father also were BJP members.
Police blamed rebels fighting against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region for the attack on Bari, who was an executive council member of the party in the region. He was reported to be 35 years old.
He helped the BJP to strengthen its base in the region and was considered the face of the party in Bandipora district.
Modi’s BJP-led government last year revoked Muslim majority Kashmir’s special autonomy to cement its grip over a region that has faced years of armed rebellion against Indian rule. Rebels have vowed to fight the change.
All 10 security guards of the BJP leader were arrested after the attack, said Kashmir Police Chief, Vijay Kumar.
According to police officials, at least two fighters fired at the three outside their home, which is about 100 metres from the town’s main police station.
Government forces cordoned off the area and launched a search for the attackers, police said.
Strike in Kashmir
Ram Madhav, the party’s national general secretary, said in a tweet that he was “shocked and saddened” by the killings.
No rebel group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since an armed rebellion erupted against Indian rule in 1989.
Kashmiris generally support the rebels’ goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
The killing was carried out on a day shops and businesses shut down in Kashmir to honour rebel commander Burhan Wani, who was killed on July 8, 2016, by Indian forces.
Roads were less busy than usual as the strike was observed in most areas of the Kashmir Valley and completely in its four southern districts, where Burhan, 22, was killed.
His killing gave rise to what came to be known as new-age armed rebellion that was marked by widespread use of social media, open display of arms and educated young people taking up arms.
At least 116 rebels have been killed in a military offensive launched by India since January.
Deadly border firing
Earlier on Wednesday, Indian and Pakistani soldiers barraged each other with mortar shells and gunfire along the highly militarised frontier in Kashmir, killing a woman and wounding another in the Indian-controlled portion of the Himalayan region, officials said.
Pakistani troops hit Indian positions at two places in southern Poonch district along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the two countries early on Wednesday, Indian army spokesman Lt Colonel Devender Anand said.
Anand called it an “unprovoked violation” of a 2003 ceasefire accord between the two nuclear rivals. He said Indian troops “retaliated befittingly,” and the fighting continued for 45 minutes.
The 60-year-old woman was hit by a splinter while visiting relatives near the de facto border, civil administrator Rahul Yadav said. Another woman was injured and was being treated at a hospital.
Pakistan did not immediately comment. However, in the past, each side has accused the other for starting the border skirmishes in the region that both claim in its entirety.
There has been almost daily fighting over the last several months along the rugged and mountainous frontier between Indian and Pakistani soldiers, leaving dozens of civilians and soldiers dead on both sides.
The Indian military says Pakistan has so far this year committed more than 2,500 ceasefire violations, while Pakistan claims that Indian forces violated the ceasefire 1,595 times this year.
India and Pakistan have been on maximum alert since February 2019, when Pakistan said it shot down two Indian warplanes in Kashmir and captured a pilot, in response to an air raid by Indian aircraft targeting rebels inside Pakistan.
India said the strikes targeted Pakistan-based rebels responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in the Indian-administered Kashmir.
Relations between the two countries have further strained over Kashmir since last August, when New Delhi revoked the Muslim-majority region’s decades-old semi-autonomous status, touching off anger on both sides of the frontier.