SRINAGAR, India: A soldier in Indian Kashmir shot dead five of his colleagues Thursday before killing himself, an incident which experts said highlights the stress facing troops in the volatile region bordering Pakistan.
The soldier was on night duty when he opened fire on his colleagues who were reportedly sleeping in their barracks at a military camp, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the region’s main city of Srinagar.
“The soldier ran amok, killing five others before shooting himself dead in the camp in Ganderbal district,” army spokesman Lt. Col. Narinder Nahar Joshi told AFP.
A commission of inquiry was under way to determine what sparked the incident at the camp in Safapora village, including whether the soldier was suffering from stress.
He was a member of a counter-insurgency force called the Rashtriya Rifles posted to the heavily militarised Himalayan region and charged with tracking down suspected militants.
Indian forces have since 1989 been fighting some dozen militant groups seeking independence or the merger of the territory with Pakistan. The fighting has left tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, dead.
Several similar incidents have occurred in the past in the region, including one in 2011 when an Indian soldier killed four of his comrades after an altercation in a camp in Anantnag district.
On Thursday the soldier, posted on sentry duty, entered the barracks and started firing at his sleeping comrades before turning the gun on himself, according to the Press Trust of India quoting sources.
Although reasons for the shootings are not yet known, a defense expert said such soldiers, already working in a tense and hostile environment, are sometimes also badly managed by their superiors.
They can be denied leave for long periods, increasing resentment and piling on the pressure, Ajay Sahni, who heads the non-governmental Institute of Conflict Management in Delhi, told AFP.
The Rashtriya Rifles is made up of tens of thousands of soldiers drawn from the ranks of the army. Their personnel are shifted from one internal conflict to another.
“Bad leadership and poor management of leave, combined with protraction of duties under relentless stress, cause such fratricidal incidents,” Sahni said.
Sahni said the defense hierarchy has conducted many studies to try to better understand what leads to such incidents, although these have not been publicly released.
In recent years the army has tried to help soldiers deal with stress, including setting up helplines and yoga classes and distributing booklets on the signs of the condition.
Such incidents have also been reported from India’s insurgency-racked northeast, with a soldier gunning down six of his comrades in restive Manipur state in 2009.
The Indian government and security establishment have recently expressed fears of a possible escalation in rebel activity in Kashmir before the country’s general election due by May.
Kashmir is divided and administered separately by India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. The two countries have fought two wars since independence from Britain in 1947 over the region.
On Tuesday hundreds of angry villagers clashed with police near the de facto border with Pakistan following suspicions that security forces shot dead seven civilians they mistook for rebels.