Bold attack on Kashmir minister leaves guard dead

AP News
Posted: Dec 12, 2011 6:31 AM
Bold attack on Kashmir minister leaves guard dead

Suspected rebels opened fire on the law minister in India-controlled Kashmir in an unusually brazen attack that killed one of his police guards and wounded three others, police said Monday.

The shooting Sunday night in Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir, marked the second in two weeks targeting a member of the Himalayan region's governing party.

Although rebels who oppose India's rule in Kashmir were suspected in the attack, one ruling party member suggested it may have been carried out by Indian army elements intent on thwarting any moves to lift regional security laws that give the military special powers.

Law Minister Ali Mohammed Sagar was unharmed in the attack, having escaped by ducking and crawling into his house, a police officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with media.

Sagar had been greeting guests arriving for his niece's engagement party when gunmen sprayed the area with bullets before fleeing the scene. Police guard Gulzar Ahmed was killed. Two other guards and Sagar's driver were wounded.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, launched less than two weeks after police said suspected rebels shot and wounded a member of the state's governing National Conference, a pro-India party.

The attacks were relatively bold for recent years, since Indian forces have largely suppressed insurgent strikes and Kashmiris have turned instead to holding street protests in resisting Indian rule and demanding independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan.

A senior governing party leader cast doubt over the police claims that rebels were involved, and suggested that the army also had a motive in disrupting security after recent calls for lifting draconian laws that give them impunity in the region.

"You cannot blame militants for everything," said lawmaker Mustafa Kamaal, the uncle of Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

"The army cannot escape suspicion," Kamaal said, noting its reluctance to give up its "unbridled powers" under the 1990 Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said the army would not comment on Kamaal's allegations.

The army has argued loudly against lifting the act _ which many troops refer to as their "holy book" _ by saying such a move could lead to an escalation in militant activities.

Indian troops have been stationed in parts of Kashmir since the region was claimed by both India and Pakistan during the subcontinent's 1947 partition at the end of British rule. Since then, Pakistan and India have fought two wars over the territory, and maintain heavy troop deployments along a U.N.-drawn Line of Control.

After Muslim separatists began a violent campaign of attacks within the territory in 1989, India imposed the Special Forces Act in 1990 granting troops permission to search homes and make arrests without warrants and to shoot suspected rebels on sight without fear of prosecution.

More than 68,000 people have since died in rebel violence and subsequent Indian crackdowns.

Indian authorities argue the Special Forces Act has been essential in restoring calm to the region, but it has also helped to alienate Kashmiris, and rights activists accuse troops of misusing the powers and killing civilians in staged confrontations.

In October, the chief minister suggested the act could be partially withdrawn.

The central government, however, has shown little interest in lifting the act.