Authorities withdrew police protection for five separatist leaders in Kashmir yesterday amid mounting fallout from a suicide bombing that killed 44 paramilitary soldiers in the state.
New Delhi has vowed to retaliate after a van packed with explosives ripped through a convoy transporting 2,500 soldiers across the state on Thursday, the deadliest-ever attack in a 30-year-old armed conflict.
Officials said police protection had been withdrawn for Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Gani Bhat, Bilal Lone, Hashim Qureshi and Shabir Ahmad Shah.
“We have decided to withdraw the security of separatist leaders in the wake of the attack on security forces,” home affairs ministry spokesman A Bharat Bhushan Babu said.
Babu said the decision followed a call by the government for a review of security for those “taking money from Pakistan.”
Armed guards, vehicles and other facilities to the separatists were withdrawn by yesterday evening, sources said.
Shah is in custody in Delhi after being arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Srinagar on July 26, 2017, in connection with a terror funding case.
Security personnel were, however, deployed outside his residence in Srinagar where his family resides.
Other senior separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Mohamed Yasin Malik were not provided security cover.
Until yesterday, police had provided security details for the five men out of fears that an attack on Kashmiri political leaders could lead to an outbreak of violence in the state.
Mirwaiz – who has received police protection since the 1990 assassination of his religious leader father – heads the Hurriyat Conference, the separatist organisation.
A Hurriyat spokesman dismissed the significance of the government’s decision.
“It has no bearing, neither can it change the reality of the lingering Kashmir dispute or the situation on the ground,” he said.
“The government had decided on its own to provide security to separatist leaders which was never demanded in the first place,” the Hurriyat Conference said in a statement.
“Mirwaiz Umer Farooq in fact said many times during his Friday sermons that he wanted withdrawal of the security cover.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which faces a national election in the coming months, has adopted an aggressive posture in Kashmir and shelved dialogue with Pakistan after accusing the previous government of being soft on militants.
It withdrew trade privileges for Pakistan and imposed a 200% customs duty on all imports from its neighbour within hours of Thursday’s attack, which was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohamed (JeM) militant group.
Pakistan has denied any involvement in the attack and dismissed Delhi’s accusations, calling them “well-rehearsed tactics from (the) Indian playbook after such incidents in the past”.
Thursday’s bombing has caused widespread anger across India, with some demonstrations and TV news channels demanding military action against Pakistan.
More street protests were held across India yesterday.
Protesters in New Delhi burned effigies of Pakistani and JeM leaders while attacks on Kashmiris were reported in different cities.
The home ministry said on Saturday it had ordered increased safety measures for Kashmiri civilians following reports of mob attacks.
A man believed to be Kashmiri was beaten by a crowd in New Delhi that accused him of chanting anti-India slogans, witnesses said.
He was rescued by police.
Media reports said about a dozen people, including Kashmiris, had been arrested for making “derogatory” statements about the attack on social media.
A round-the-clock curfew remained in place in Jammu city, the Hindu-majority region of Kashmir, after mobs vandalised and torched properties belonging to Kashmiris.
Internet services were cut across the state.
A shutdown was observed in Muslim-majority districts of Kashmir, including the main city Srinagar, following Thursday’s attacks.
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