3 Kashmiri men killed in staged gunfight, says family

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir, KARACHI, Pakistan

The family members of three missing cousins in Indian-administered Kashmir have alleged that the Indian army killed the trio in a staged gunfight last month and passed them off as militants.

Muhammad Yusuf, a sheep farmer, told Anadolu Agency that his son Abrar Ahmad, 25, and his two cousins, Abrar Khatana, 18, and Imtiyaz Ahmad, 21, left home on July 16.

Hailing from Rajouri area of Jammu region, the three were bound for the neighboring, apple-producing Shopian district in Kashmir Valley, where they planned to work in orchards.

“Arbar [Ahmad] talked with his wife on the night of July 17. While talking, his phone went off. That was the last we heard from him,” said Yusuf.

On Monday, he said they identified the three from the photos of those killed in an operation on July 18.

Yusuf said the local civilian administration did not permit them to visit Kashmir so that they could apply for exhumation of the bodies.

“They said we will permit you but they didn’t say when. My demand is that their bodies should be handed to us and their killing should be investigated. They had gone to earn a livelihood but were killed for no sin of theirs. My son was married only four years ago. He has an18-month-old son,” Yusuf said.

Meanwhile, World Minorities Day was observed Tuesday, Pakistan urged the international community to act to stop the “ethnic cleansing” of Kashmiris.

“If Muslims are the target today, it was the Sikh massacre in 1984. It’s not only about Muslims. Dalits [lower-caste Hindus] and Christians are also being exterminated systematically. Minorities are being killed under a plan,” said Shehryar Khan Afridi, the chairman of parliament’s Kashmir Committee.

Addressing a seminar organized by local think tank the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS) in the capital Islamabad, Afridi said Pakistan has set a model of equal treatment to its minorities and the world needs to learn from it.

He was referring to the revival and return of several places of worship to minorities, in addition to the opening of the Kartarpur border crossing with India, allowing Sikhs to visit the resting place of the founder of their religion in Pakistan late last year.

Accusing New Delhi of unleashing a “reign of terror” against Indian minorities, particularly Muslims, Afridi called for an immediate end to atrocities being meted out to minorities in general and “Kashmiris in particular.”

“It’s about time that the developed world must intervene before it’s too late. India under a genocide plan is killing its minorities, and Muslims are a special target of Indian subjugation.”

He warned that if the UN and prosperous world failed to stop the “systematic bloodshed and ethnic cleansing of Kashmiris in India, Kashmir may become a nuclear flashpoint which may have an impact beyond the region.”

Masood Khan, president of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir, said Kashmiri society was very compassionate and there was full religious freedom for minorities in Azad Kashmir.

“Unlike Pakistan, which was created in the name of Islam, India was created in the name of secularism. However, the BJP government has unleashed a reign of terror towards Indian Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits,” he charged, referring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

A large number of Hindus, he alleged, were being brought to Kashmir to change its demography.

Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, said the country’s Christian community valued guaranteed religious freedom and equal treatment by the government.

“We are included in the flag of Pakistan, and my brethren have died for Pakistan and we fought for Pakistan. We can set a new model of harmony, coexistence and prosperity of minorities in Pakistan,” he said, referring to the white color in the Pakistani flag which represents the country’s minorities.

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