Separatist groups ordered shopkeepers in Indian Kashmir to close their businesses Monday to protest the killings of at least eight suspected militants by security forces last week, along with five more rebels and a civilian in weekend violence.
On Monday morning, an Indian soldier was fatally shot in the disputed Himalayan region, officials said, as authorities beefed up security across Jammu and Kashmir state to prevent anti-India protests and maintain order.
“At present, the top priority of security forces is to instill a sense of security among the people ahead of civic body polls,” Dilbagh Singh, the region’s police chief, told BenarNews. “People should participate in the upcoming election without any fear as elaborate security arrangements would be made to ensure smooth conduct of the polls.”
On Saturday, the state election commission announced the first municipal vote to be held in Indian Kashmir after nearly 13 years would take place in phases, beginning on Oct. 8.
The slain soldier was identified as Mukhtar Ahmad Malik. Suspected militants shot and killed him at his home in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district where five militants and a civilian were killed in a gunfight on Saturday, police said.
On Monday, some Kashmiri separatist groups under the banner of the “Joint Resistance Leadership” ordered the shutdown.
Meanwhile, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh expressed hope that Pakistan’s new government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, would take steps to strengthen peace with India.
“India has already made efforts to seek peace with Pakistan. I hope the new government in Pakistan understands how good relations are built with neighbors,” Singh said.
However, he added, “we cannot change the nature of Pakistan.”
Earlier, during a visit to the state’s Jammu region, the minister inaugurated two pilot projects of “smart” border fencing, built under the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) program to foil infiltration bids by militants at the international border.
CIBMS comprises modern surveillance technologies such as thermal imagery, infra-red and laser-based intruder alarms, which form an invisible land fence in combination with hot-air balloons for aerial surveillance and ground surveillance at the border, according to the Press Trust of India.
India has accused Pakistan of sending armed infiltrators into Kashmir to wage battles with its security forces. Islamabad has denied the charges, claiming India has used brute force to suppress the “freedom movement” in the region.
Since the partition of the Indian Sub-Continent in 1947, the two neighbors have been locked in a territorial dispute over predominantly Muslim Kashmir. A de facto border called the Line of Control divides Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by both sides.
An outbreak of insurgency on the Indian side – known as Jammu and Kashmir state – has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s. A majority of the fatalities have been civilians.
On Sept. 13, eight suspected militants were killed and at least 35 people, including 13 security-force personnel, were injured in three separate gunfights and clashes.
Separatists have also called for a boycott of the upcoming municipal polls, terming them as a “political gimmick” to hoodwink the world community.
“Any electoral process is not a substitute to the right to self-determination,” the group said in a statement.