This is the third such assassination in J&K since the 2011 panchayat elections

Yet another sarpanch has been shot dead in Baramulla district of northern Kashmir. Local Sarpanch Habibullah Mir (52) died on the spot after he was fired upon on Friday while he was conducting an inspection of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) works under execution in Bumai village.

According to authoritative sources, Mr. Mir was outside a mosque when he was beckoned, at 12.15 p.m., by three persons clad in pherans (traditional Kashmiri gowns), who opened pistol fire, hitting the sarpanch in his throat.

Mr. Mir, who had joined the Congress party after being elected as sarpanch from Bumai Halqa in April 2011, was evacuated to the Sub District Hospital of Sopore. Doctors declared him as brought dead.

Deputy Inspector General of Police, North Kumar, Rajesh Kumar told The Hindu that the police had registered a case of murder and launched an investigation, though no clues were immediately available with regard to identification or the whereabouts of the assailants. Asked whether the assassins were militants or civilians carrying firearms, Mr. Kumar said he would answer such questions only after a visit to the bereaved family later tonight.

The DIG said this was the third assassination of a panch or sarpanch in North Kashmir since the panchayat elections were held in 2011. One of them was gunned down at Palhalan and another at Nowpora village of Sopore, in 2012. He said the investigation was underway into the mysterious killing of a deputy sarpanch at Nowpora. The probe into the killing at Palhalan village of Pattan had been completed and the charge sheet filed in a court of law, the DIG said. He asserted that the assassination at Palhalan was not the handiwork of any militant outfit.

Even as Mr. Kumar insisted that the assassins could not be identified immediately, authoritative sources revealed to The Hindu that three local militants of Hizbul Mujahideen were “strongly suspected” to have carried out the killing on Friday.

In an interview to Tehelka magazine last year, Hizbul Mujahideen supremo and head of Pakistan-based guerrilla conglomerate United Jihad Council Syed Salah-ud-din had purportedly issued a threat that militants would continue to target panches and sarpanches in Kashmir. However, the UJC chief had promptly issued a contradiction and asserted that the Valley’s panches and sarpanches were not on the militants’ hit list. Friday’s killing in Sopore is the first of its kind since the UJC chief’s interview and a clarification thereto last year.

Habibullah Mir was a member of the J&K Panchayat Conference. All 32 members of the Executive Committee had lately attended a conference in Jammu and urged the Omar-Abdullah-led coalition government to provide police protection to 33,500 local leaders in the State. Leaders in the United Progressive Alliance government have ruled out the security.

Condemning Habibullah Mir’s killing, , chairman of the Panchayat Conference Shafiq Mir — who led a delegation to meet Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi last year — called for the resignations of Mr. Abdullah and Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Institutions Ali Mohammad Sagar. Terming it unfortunate that Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Sagar had failed to take initiative in protecting panches and sarpanches, who were continuously being “threatened by the most dreaded terror organisations”, Mr. Shafiq Mir said the two leaders had lost the moral right to run the government.