Indian police arrest hundreds amid violence in Kashmir
SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Government forces have arrested at least 500 people in a widespread crackdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir, local officials said on Sunday following a series of suspected attacks on activists and d targeted assassinations in the disputed region.
Attackers this week shot dead three Hindus and one Sikh in the region’s main city, Srinagar, in a sudden increase in violence against civilians that pro and anti-Indian Kashmiri politicians have widely condemned.
Local police blamed the spate of killings on activists fighting Indian rule in the region for decades. Officials said they had arrested more than 500 people in the Kashmir Valley for questioning in the past three days, the majority of detainees from the main city of Srinagar.
Police said activists from the rebel group The Resistance Front, or TRF, have shot dead seven people since last week, bringing the death toll from those attacks this year to 28. While 21 of those killed were Muslims, seven were from Hindu and Sikh minority communities.
Speaking to reporters recently, the region’s top police officer, Dilbag Singh, described the killings as a “plot to create terror and a community divide.”
TRF in a social media statement on Thursday claimed the group was targeting those who worked for Indian authorities and did not choose targets based on faith. The rebel group’s statement could not be independently verified.
Indian officials say TRF is the local front of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. The cell was formed after India in 2019 stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status, abolished its statehood and undertook a massive security and communications lockdown for months. Kashmir has remained nervous ever since, as authorities have also put in place a slew of new laws, which critics and many Kashmiris say could change the region’s demographics.
The killings last week appeared to spark widespread fear among minority communities, with many Hindu families choosing to leave the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley. Those killed included a prominent Hindu chemist from Kashmir, two teachers of the Hindu and Sikh religions and a Hindu street vendor from the Indian state of Bihar in eastern India.
Police say those detained in the ensuing crackdown include members of religious groups, anti-Indian activists and “surface workers,” a term the Indian authorities use to refer to militant sympathizers and collaborators. .
The Himalayan territory of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. The two rival powers with nuclear weapons claim it in full.
Rebels in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir have been fighting the New Delhi regime since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.