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Fear in the valley as security intensified

Srinagar, Jan 18 : Fear has gripped village council members across the Kashmir Valley in the wake of the killing of one and a murderous attack on another elected village representative in Jammu and Kashmir. The army has now started night patrolling in areas where militants are believed to operate.

"The night patrolling is meant to dominate such areas and give a sense of security to the panches and sarpanches," a senior police officer said.

Director General of Police Ashok Prasad said the government was even considering providing security cover to elected village representatives in specific cases.

The attacks come at a time when relations between India and Pakistan have been strained since the Jan 6 killing of a Pakistani soldier allegedly in firing by Indian troops. Two days later, Pakistani soldiers brutally killed two Indian soldiers, beheading one of them, near the Line of Control (LoC).

After the panchayat elections in 2011, which were held in the state after a gap of 30 years, the elected village council members have been receiving threats through posters and statements from militants, asking them to resign from their posts.

Last year, Syed Salahuddin, chief of militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, said that as long as India continues to project elections as proof of the people's participation in democracy in the state, militants will target the village council members. He later retracted his statement.

The intelligence agencies, both state and central, believe the recent ceasefire violations by Pakistan troops on the LoC is directly related to the targeting of panchayat members by the militants in the hinterland.

"After all, both the (Pakistan) army and the militants have the same masters across the LoC," said a senior intelligence official here.

This perhaps is the reason that only after two successive attacks on village council members in north Kashmir's Sopore sub-division widespread panic triggered among them across the Valley.

Over 50 village representatives have so far publicly announced their resignations, displaying their identity cards before the media in Srinagar. The panches and sarpanches say that unless militants announce that they have pardoned them it might not be possible for them to return to their villages.

More than 38,000 village council members were elected in 2011 and providing security to each one of them is not administratively possible for the National Conference-Congress coalition government headed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

The recent attacks on a sarpanch and a panch in Sopore forced Abdullah to rush to Srinagar from Jammu, where he discussed the law and order scenario with top officers of the army, paramilitary, state police and state and central intelligence agencies.

In a nutshell, for thousands of those living close to the LoC and the international border in Jammu and Kashmir, and also those living in the hinterland, war and peace on the LoC has a direct bearing on their lives. (IANS)