Srinagar: Panic stricken former militants and sympathizers of separatists have started migrating out of Kashmir's Sopore town following the killings of former militants and active supporters of separatists by unidentified gunmen.
So far, four former militants or active supporters of the separatist movement have been killed in Sopore town during the last six days.
The latest was Aijaz Ahmad Reshi, a former militant belonging to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen group, who was killed on Monday in Mundji locality of Sopore.
What has triggered the panic among the former militants and active supporters of separatists especially those close to hardline senior separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani, is that these killings are reminiscent of the 'Ikhwani period' in the Valley during which dozens of separatist supporters and militants were killed.
Those 'pro-India' militant commanders included Kuka Parray, Javaid Shah, Yusuf Gadru, Azad Nabi, all of whom were later killed under mysterious circumstances.
The 'pro-government' militants were called 'Ikhwanis' because the first such group that came to light in mid 1990s was the 'Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon' headed by Kuka Parray.
Parray had later formed a political party, Awami League and fought and won the state assembly elections from north Kashmir's Sonawari seat.
On September 14, 2003, Parray was killed in Hajin area of Bandipora district by unknown gunmen.
These 'pro-government' militants were also called 'renegades' because at one or the other point in time, they had been part of separatist guerrilla groups in Kashmir.
Although Srinagar city did not have a major presence of the 'pro-government' gunmen during the late 1990s, rural areas especially in the north and the south had predominant presence of such gunmen who moved openly with weapons.
These gunmen worked in close tandem with the security forces to become the eyes and ears of the army and the special operations group (SOG) of the state police.
Intelligence officers believe they 'pro-government' gunmen had played a significant role in breaking the backbone of separatist violence in Kashmir although over a period of time, these gunmen had become uncontrolled militias involved in timber smuggling, extortion, intimidation and rape.
Fear and consternation has started haunting the common man and the separatist rank and file in Sopore town since the mysterious killings took place.
A senior intelligence officer said at least three dozen former political activists of separatist groups and former militants have migrated out of Sopore town and adjacent areas during the last four days, fearing reprisal attacks from unidentified gunmen.
Senior separatist leaders including Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and others have blamed 'Indian agents' for these killings.
Separatist leaders here see Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's statement that terrorists would be used to neutralize terrorists in future as the precursor of the present attacks against former militants in Sopore.
It all started last month when a lesser known guerrilla group calling itself 'Lashkar-e-Islam' claimed responsibility for attacks on people owning cell phone tower land and those associated directly with the mobile phone operations in Sopore town.
Three people were killed and four others were injured in the attacks against people connected with mobile phone operations in north Kashmir last month.
Lashkar-e-Islami had threatened people and companies of dire consequences if they did not stop cell phone operations in the Valley.
After people connected with the business met Geelani, he had called Lashkar-e-Islam a group of 'Indian agents' and asked the affected people to resume their normal business activities connected with mobile phone operations.
Whether the present selective killings of former militants and active supporters of separatism indicate is a revival of the 'IKhwani era' or not would have to be watched, but the fact remains that panic and fear is running high in Sopore and other areas in north Kashmir.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)