Srinagar: Twenty-one people, including 11 security men, were killed in a string of militant strikes in Kashmir Friday, days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to campaign for the assembly elections.
In the deadliest attack, heavily-armed militants stormed an army camp in the border town of Uri, killing three policemen and eight army men, including a lieutenant colonel, before the third phase of state elections Tuesday (December 9).
Six militants were also killed in the gun battle that began after the insurgents cut through a wire fence around the heavily-fortified artillery camp and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the security forces in their bunkers. The gunfight lasted close to six hours.
In the other attacks — all within 12 hours of the Uri strike — two Lashkar-e-Taiba militants were killed in an encounter in Soura as they tried to sneak into Srinagar while gunmen hurled a grenade at a bus stop in Tral in south Kashmir, killing two civilians and injuring five. Militants also fired at a police search party in Shopian near Srinagar, but there were no casualties.
Modi condemned the attacks and said they were “desperate attempts to derail the atmosphere of hope” in the wake of a high voter turnout in the first two phases of polling.
“125 crore Indians bow to our brave Army men who sacrificed their lives. These men lived & died for the nation. We won’t forget them,” he tweeted.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah wrote on the micro-blogging site, “… (the attack) shows the desperate levels militants will go to disrupt peace and normalcy.”
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said it was possible the attack “happened because of elections”.
Police said the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Soura attack was aimed at disrupting Modi’s upcoming visit and plans by BJP ministers to campaign in the city.
“We are looking at this attack in the context of the upcoming visit of the Prime Minister. As of now, all we can reveal is that they (the militants) were out to create terror in Srinagar,” AG Mir, inspector general of police, Kashmir range, told Hindustan Times.
The Prime Minister’s Monday poll rally venue at the Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium is less than 10 km away from the Soura encounter site where top Lashkar commander Qari Israr was killed in a three-hour gunfight.
Authorities have beefed up security around the venue with reports of more militants active in the Valley, who may have sneaked into the city too, said sources.
The attacks came close on the heels of outlawed Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, saying the Kashmir election was no substitute for a plebiscite, which India promised more than six decades ago.
“Pakistanis and Kashmiris are blood brothers and they cannot be separated,” Saeed, who roams around freely in Pakistan, told supporters in Pakistan. “The elections in Kashmir cannot be a substitute of plebiscite.”
He told thousands of people Friday his organisation would continue to help the Kashmiris. “No one can stop us in our just struggle,” Saeed said at a Jamaat-ud-Dawah convention in Lahore.
The violence comes as the BJP makes its most serious bid yet to win power in the state, banking on votes in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, and Buddhist Ladakh. It is also capitalising on the rise of independents and splits elsewhere in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
The Peoples Democratic Party is expected to emerge as the single largest party in the state where anger against the ruling National Conference is running high.
Turnout has been high so far in with over 70% of the electorate defying a poll boycott call by separatists to vote in the first two phases of the election in a bid to stop the BJP from making inroads in the Valley.
Rajnath slams Pakistan
Accusing Pakistan of giving shelter to terrorists, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said militants wanted to trigger fear psychosis among people in Jammu and Kashmir and they were frustrated by the high voter turnout.
Targeting Pakistan, he said, “Militants are entering this country from Pakistan and resorting to death and destruction here.”
“Is it not true that these terrorists get shelter on Pakistan’s soil? … but they (the neighbour country) keeps denying the fact.”
At the recently held Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the home minister had said terrorism in India was “completely Pakistan-sponsored”.
“If Pakistan is facing problems in stopping this (terrorism), then they should talk to India. We are willing to help them,” Singh said on Friday, talking to reporters at Pargwal border belt of Jammu district and in Rajouri during the course of addressing poll rallies.