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Jihad relocation?

Murali Krishnan, New DelhiJune 28, 2013

The violent militancy that gripped Kashmir Valley for decades could return after the departure of NATO forces from Afghanistan, according to experts. New Delhi must address the concerns of those in the state.

Supporters of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a separatist party, throw stones at Indian police personnel during a clash in Srinagar May 30, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Danish Ismail)

Bilal Bhatt, a 25-year-old college dropout in Srinagar has been monitoring events in the Kashmir Valley closely for the last six months. He is apprehensive and feels the levels of violence have abruptly risen and could escalate further.

Atmosphere vitiated

"Since the execution of Mohammad Afzal in February for his role in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, there has been disquiet among the youth. And now I am seeing these periodic attacks on security forces where militant groups have become more brazen," Bhatt told DW from Srinagar.

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik also said the volatile ground situation in the Valley had the potential to change for the worse and youth could take recourse to the gun if violence in the region spiraled out of control.

An Indian policeman stands guard behind concertina wire during a general strike in Srinagar June 25, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Danish Ismail)
Separatists called a general strike to coincide with the visit by Manmohan Singh and Sonia GandhiImage: REUTERS

"So far dialogue with New Delhi has not resulted in any tangible dividends. India must show greater flexibility with Kashmir and address the aspirations of the people there," Malik told DW.

Though India and Pakistan formally called out a ceasefire in 2003, both countries have failed to reach at an agreement over the Kashmir dispute. Recent incidents on the Line of Control involving the armies of the two countries and also in the Kashmir Valley have once again proved that without resolving the core issue, relations cannot be normalized.

There is growing sentiment in New Delhi that the conflict could spread in the coming months after the NATO mission in Afghanistan ends in 2014 and American troops withdraw. The worrying signals are already manifest. Kashmir is again becoming a target for Islamist jihadists.

More violence anticipated

Early this week eight soldiers were killed and several injured in rebel attacks in Jammu and Kashmir on the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Militants have escalated attacks on security forces since March this year, killing 27 security officers, with the latest incident the deadliest so far.

General Shankar Prasad, a former director general of the Indian Army's infantry division believes the level of militant-linked violence in Jammu and Kashmir will increase.

"The Taliban is supported by Pakistan and soon after the pullout from Afghanistan, they are going to link up with Pakistan and elements there are going to give them encouragement to create more problems in Kashmir. Let us be quite clear that we have to be prepared to face a higher level of insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir," Prasad told DW.

An Indian army soldier runs for cover at the scene of an encounter with separatist militants in Srinagar June 24, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Danish Ismail)
June's violence was the worst since India hanged separatist Mohammad Afzal Guru in FebruaryImage: REUTERS

A recent US think-tank study published in April only accentuates fears of more violence. It specifically states the Pakistan establishment which uses the militant group, Lashkar-e-Toiba as a proxy to wage a low-level war of attrition in Kashmir, may even do it potentially to serve as a "release valve for domestic challenges."

"The writing is on the wall. Youth who have seen only death and destruction all these years feel their freedom is being suppressed by the Indian state. There is a possibility that they might join Islamist fundamentalist groups from Pakistan and Afghanistan if these groups make inroads into Kashmir," says Tauseef Jameel, a political science student.

Experts feel the competition between India and Pakistan in post-American Afghanistan will increase violence in Kashmir, making cooperative solutions to Afghanistan's problems even harder. To a large extent, then Islamabad's relations with New Delhi will largely depend on how Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif deals with the Pakistani military and the Taliban.