Indian police officers and family members carry coffins of police officers who were killed by rebels, during a wreath laying ceremony at a base camp at shopian, about 63 kilometers south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Image Credit: AP

Srinagar: The bodies of three policemen abducted by militants were recovered in Kashmir on Friday, police said, as tensions mount ahead of local civic polls.

Police officers, many of them local Muslims, have been increasingly targeted in recent months in the territory rocked for decades by violence.

The increased focus on policemen seems to be in response to what appear to be new police tactics of detaining the family members of prominent militants.

The latest incident saw groups of armed militants raiding the homes of at least 11 policemen in the twin villages of Kapran and Batgund in southern Kashmir Valley.

They abducted three Special Police Officers (SPOs), as well as the brother of a police constable, police and witnesses said.

“Three bullet-riddled bodies of the SPOs were found lying in the fields,” a police officer told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The brother of the constable was released unharmed.

The SPOs are the lowest-rank police officers who are often deployed for counter-insurgency duties. Police authorities recently advised officers not to visit their homes without security and not for more than two hours at a stretch.

The police tweeted: “We have lost three of our brave colleagues in a barbaric terror strike ... We condemn this inhuman act and assure that all the culprits shall be dealt with under law.”

Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed “outrage” over the killings and asserted that dialogue was the only way out of the ongoing cycle of violence in Kashmir.

“Three more policemen have lost their lives to militant bullets. Outrage, shock and condemnation will be expressed by all of us on expected lines. Unfortunately, it brings no solace to the families of the victims.

“Clearly, with the rise in kidnapping of police personnel and their families, the centre’s muscular policy is not working at all. Dialogue, the only way forward, seems to be a distant dream for now,” she tweeted.

Militants warn of ‘eye for an eye’

The SPOs are engaged in counter-terrorism operations on a meagre remuneration of Rs6,000 (Dh305) a month. There are around 36,000 SPOs. They are given uniforms but, like other policemen, not all of them are issued weapons.

Last month, militants abducted 11 police officers and their relatives, after police detained family members of prominent militants and allegedly set ablaze the homes of two rebel leaders.

All of them were released the next day without harm, but a commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group warned of “an eye for an eye” next time if government forces did not stop harassing families of militants.

On Wednesday, an audio statement surfaced on social media in which Hizbul Mujahideen’s commander Riyaz Naikoo was heard demanding that the SPOs quit or face death.

Several SPOs publicly resigned after the warning.

Tensions in the region have been rising since India’s Supreme Court began hearing a case challenging Article 35A of the Indian constitution this year — a provision which bars Indians from outside the disputed territory buying land there.

Civic polls slated for October and November have added to the tension, with two of the main pro-India political parties saying they would boycott the vote.

Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the largest of the local militant groups fighting the Indian military in the disputed region, demanding independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians.

NUMBERS

The SPOs are engaged in counter-terrorism operations on a meagre remuneration of Rs6,000 a month. There are around 36,000 SPOs. They are given uniform but, like other policemen, not all of them are issued weapons.