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Valley sarpanch shot dead

Srinagar, Feb. 24: Suspected militants tonight shot dead a sarpanch at Kalantra Payeen village in north Kashmir’s Pattan area, making it the first political killing in the Valley since Afzal Guru’s execution on February 9.

The killing has triggered a fresh scare among panchayat members and there are fears it will lead to another wave of resignations.

The killing of a panchayat member last month prompted dozens of members to resign or flee their homes.

Police sources said Javed Ahmad Wani, who was affiliated to the ruling National Conference, was shot at and critically injured at 7.40pm by suspected militants inside his house. “He succumbed to his injuries on way to hospital,” a police officer said.

Suspected militants had killed a sarpanch, Habib Ullah Mir, 70, on January 11 and critically injured another panchayat member, Zoona Begum, next day at Sopore in north Kashmir, triggering a wave of resignations.

Bashir Ahmad Malik, Valley secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, said over 80 resigned after the January killing. “Many others fled their homes and some of them are yet to return… ,” he said.

Panchayat members have been fighting for empowerment, security and salaries ever since they began to be targeted by the militants in 2011. The elections held two years back saw a record 80 per cent participation despite boycott calls by the militants.

Militants had warned that they would avenge the execution of Afzal Guru but it is not clear whether the fresh killing has anything to do with his hanging. The members, have, however, been attacked on several occasions in the past, in which five have lost their lives.

The attacks and lack of empowerment of panchayat members had emerged as a major issue last year.

A full-fledged rural body election was held two years back in Jammu and Kashmir after three decades and chief minister Omar Abdullah claims it is the biggest achievement of his four-year-old rule.

Malik, the panchayat conference secretary in the Valley, said the latest killing will lead to more panic. “…. The government is not interested in addressing our issues. It only sheds crocodile tears every time a member is targeted,” he said.