At least five members of the Indian security forces were killed today when militants attacked a base in Kashmir. Details are still emerging but Indian media said the gunmen had dressed in sports clothes and mingled with students playing cricket before setting down their kit bags, taking out weapons and opening fire.
The attack – the first of its kind for three years - happened at a base located alongside a school in a neighbourhood on the edge Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Five other security personnel were injured, as were several civilians. Two militants were killed. Others may have escaped and a search operation was ongoing.
The state’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, confirmed on the floor of the state assembly that five paramilitary personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had been killed in what he described as a “suicide attack”.
“A division of the CRPF was deployed at a camp here and children were playing cricket in the field when two militants fired grenades and attacked our division,” senior police officer, Abdul Gani Mir, told reporters, according to the Press Trust of India. “We have lost five of our CRPF personnel who gunned down the two militants.”
Anywhere up to 70,000 people lost their lives as a result of a separatist insurgency that took hold in the disputed Kashmir region in the late 1980s and the resulting operation by security forces.
In recent years the attacks have fallen off and Kashmir has again seen tourists from India and overseas return in record numbers. Today’s attack was the first on a security base since January 2010.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but suspicion will likely fall on the Pakistan-based militant group Laskhar-e-Taiba, the banned outfit blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. India’s federal home secretary RK Singh also said that the militants appeared to be from Pakistan but gave no further details.
While it is estimated anywhere up to 150 active militants from Pakistan-based groups remain in Kashmir, the strength of the security forces stands at around 600,000 – a level of militarisation that many Kashmiris liken to living under an “occupation”.
In an interview last month, Mr Abdullah, the chief minister, said the level of militancy stood at “less then five per cent of what is was in 2002”. He added: “It’s a significant decrease in levels of violence. Every year we have a 40 per cent decline.”
He attributed this to several factors – international pressure on Pakistan, development projects and an improved fence along the de facto border between India and Pakistan.
Yet in recent weeks tension has returned to valley following the execution in Delhi of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man convicted over the 2001 attack on India’s parliament. Following the hanging, which was carried out in secret and without Mr Guru’s family being informed in advance, a curfew was imposed in many parts of the Kashmir valley in anticipation of violence protests.
The attack on the paramilitary forces base in the Bemina neighbourhood of Srinagar came as a debate continues within India about whether the government should revoke legislation that gives special powers to troops on duty there. Critics say the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives effective immunity to soldiers, while the armed forces say the measures are essential to protect soldiers from malicious claims or legal actions.
The chief minister’s father, Farooq Abdullah, a minister with the federal government, said despite the attack, it was essential that the AFSPA was removed. “We have been saying the special powers act is needed only at borders. This is a part of the game we have to play, our enemies will continue to do this. I have seen worst than this, we will face them. [It] will have to go,” he said.