Shujaat Bukhari was the third journalist to be killed in Srinagar’s Press Enclave over the past 30 years of unmitigated turmoil in Kashmir. The others were the AFP photographer Mushtaq Ali and the head of the NAFA news agency Parvaz Sultan.

Other journalists who have lost their lives in Kashmir include Mohammad Shaban Vakil, editor of the Urdu daily Al Safa who was dragged out of his office and shot dead in 1991, and Saidain Shafi, a stringer with Doordarshan who was killed in 1997.

These killings show the fraught nature of journalism in Kashmir. Not only do they capture for us the horror of the times we live in but also give us a sense of what journalists have had to go through to get the story.

The assassination of Bukhari on Thursday has again brought home this chilling reality. Here was a journalist who had been active on the scene for close to three decades and become an influential Kashmiri voice in India and abroad being killed for no apparent reason in broad daylight along with his two personal security officers.

Condemnations have poured in from far and wide, and from across the ideological divide. Both the United Jihad Council and the Lashkar-e-Taiba have condemned the killing. In fact, the Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin has sought an international inquiry. Similarly, quoting his chief Mahmood Shah, the Lashkar spokesman Dr Abdullah Gaznavi suspected a “conspiracy” behind the assassination.

Condemnations have come from mainstream and separatist political organisations as well. It is a familiar scene that plays out after every high-profile killing in Kashmir. Bukhari’s is no different.

This begs the question: who killed Shujaat Bukhari? The government and the militant groups have blamed each other. Militants see the hand of intelligence agencies while the government blames militants. What is more, in the absence of the whereabouts of the killers, it is rumour and innuendo that fills the space.

Bukhari’s killing has once again underlined that the situation in Kashmir hardly fits into the idea of a simple moral world, a fact that was laid bare by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark in The Meadow, their best-selling investigative work on the 1995 Al Faran kidnapping. The book reveals the kidnapping as a perfidious play of the conflict in a state where the identities of the victims and the perpetrators sometimes fuse. They call it a “game,” “a beautiful game”, which in its heyday in the 1990s had no boundaries. “India and Pakistan fought each other in the Valley by manipulating the lives of others,” the authors write. “Everything that happened here involved acts of ventriloquism, with traitors, proxies and informers deployed by both sides, and civilians becoming the casualties.”

Among those, civilians and journalists are the most vulnerable.

The game is on.

This article first appeared on Kashmir Observer.