India withdraws security provided to Kashmiri leaders
Pro-independence leaders say they had never asked for security as tensions rise after suicide attack on troops
By Zahid Rafiq
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
Three days after a deadly suicide car bombing in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government withdrew police security and vehicles provided to five Kashmiri pro-independence leaders.
The leaders include Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads a faction of the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Bilal Lone, Hashim Qureshi and Shabir Shah.
Some 44 Indian troops were killed on Thursday when an explosive-laden vehicle rammed into a paramilitary bus along the Jammu-Kashmir highway, media reports and official sources said.
Jaish-e-Mohammad, a militant group, claimed responsibility of the attack releasing pictures of a 22-year-old suicide bomber.
This is the worst attack in decades in the insurgency hit region and comes months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a second term in general elections.
According to orders issued by the state government, all security and vehicles provided to the leaders will be withdrawn by Sunday evening.
“We don’t need any security. We had never asked for it,” Farooq said in a statement. “It was the government’s decision to keep it, today it is their decision to remove it. It is not an issue for us.”
One of the leaders, Shah has been in Tihar prison in Delhi since July 2017.
India has been quick to point fingers at neighboring Pakistan with Modi promising a strong response and withdrawing trade privileges to Pakistan.
Islamabad has denied the allegations and condemned the attack.
The withdrawal of security comes amid a visit by India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Srinagar, who in a Friday news conference said the government was planning to “review the security of the people working at the behest of Pakistan and its intelligence agency ISI”.
"There are elements and forces who take money from Pakistan and the ISI. I have asked the officials concerned to review their security," Singh had told reporters, referring to pro-independence leaders.
Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965 and 1971 -- two of them over Kashmir.
Also, in Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire came into effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.