Indian authorities withdrew police protection for five separatist leaders in Kashmir on Sunday amid mounting fallout from a suicide bombing that killed 41 soldiers in the disputed region.
New Delhi has vowed to retaliate after a van packed with explosives ripped through a convoy transporting 2,500 soldiers across the Indian-administered territory on Thursday, the deadliest-ever attack in a 30-year-old armed conflict.
Indian officials said police protection had been withdrawn for Muslim cleric Syed Ali Gillani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Ghani Bhatt and Shabir Shah & other leaders.
“We have decided to withdraw the security of separatist leaders in the wake of the attack on security forces,” home affairs ministry spokesman A. Bharat Bhushan Babu told AFP.
Babu said the decision followed a call by the government for a review of security for those “taking money from Pakistan.”
Until Sunday, Indian police had provided security details for the five men out of fears that an attack on Kashmiri political leaders could lead to an outbreak of violence in the Himalayan territory.
Mirwaiz – who has received police protection since the 1990 assassination of his religious leader father – heads the Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of local political parties that seeks independence for Kashmir or its merger with neighbouring Pakistan.
A Hurriyat spokesman dismissed the significance of the government’s decision.
“It has no bearing, neither can it change the reality of the lingering Kashmir dispute or the situation on the ground,” he said.
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since both countries gained independence from Britain in 1947. Both claim the whole region and have fought three wars over the territory.