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An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier sits inside a truck upon arrival with others in Srinagar on August 23, 2016, to join thousands of federal forces and local policemen already deployed in the Kashmiri capital to contain a 46-day-old unrest (Photo: AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA)
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Mustafa

A challenge to Kashmir's local movement

Shamil Shams
September 19, 2016

India has accused Pakistan of orchestrating a deadly attack on its soldiers in Kashmir. The assault is likely to divert attention from anti-India protests in parts of Kashmir and highlight the foreign militancy issue.


Suspected militants killed at least 17 Indian soldiers and wounded 30 in India-administered Kashmir on Sunday, September 18. Heavily armed militants launched an early morning raid on the Indian army's 12th brigade infantry base housing hundreds of soldiers in Uri, west of the region's main city of Srinagar, the Indian military said. All four gunmen were killed by Indian troops.

The Indian army said the rebels had infiltrated into the Indian part of Kashmir from Pakistan. Lt. General Ranbir Singh, the army's director general of military operations, said the initial investigations suggested that the militants belonged to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad group, which has been active in Kashmir for over a decade.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to denounce the killings. "I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished," Modi tweeted after the attack.

Indian policemen collect stones used by protesters during clashes in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian controlled Kashmir, on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 (Photo: Umer Asif/Pacific Press/Sipa USA/TNS)
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint for conflict between India and neighboring PakistanImage: picture-alliance/Pacific Press/U. Asif

Other Indian officials also slammed Pakistan for what they said had been a continued backing of Islamist insurgents in Indian Kashmir.

"I am deeply disappointed with Pakistan's continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups," India's Interior Minister Rajnath Singh said in a tweet.

Months-long protests

The situation in the Indian part of Kashmir has been volatile since the killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8. Since then, protests against Indian rule in Kashmir and clashes between separatists and soldiers have claimed over 70 lives. Life in the capital Srinagar and parts of the valley has been paralyzed by these protests and a curfew imposed by the state government.

New Delhi's response to the situation in Kashmir has been widely criticized both nationally and internationally. But the Sunday attack on the Indian army base might divert the attention from the Indian security forces' human rights violations to the foreign militancy issue. India claims the recent wave of protests has been fueled by Islamabad and Pakistan-backed separatist parties.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir - a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Worsening ties

The Indian civil society has called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to engage in dialogue with Kashmiri separatists. But New Delhi believes the crackdown is necessary as the secessionist movement in Kashmir is not indigenous and receives backing from Islamabad. Pakistani officials say their support to Kashmiri Muslim separatists is only diplomatic.

Experts now say that the attack in Uri will support the Indian government's narrative about Pakistan's role in insurgency.

"The secessionist movement in Jammu and Kashmir is fueled by Pakistan," said Varad Sharma, an Indian expert on Kashmir. "Pakistan uses terror as a strategic policy despite facing several terror attacks itself and losing thousands of its people. The jihadist infrastructure continues to operate from Pakistani soil. History tells us that the militants who operate in Kashmir are, mostly, either local Kashmiri Muslims or Pakistanis," Sharma added.

It is expected that the ties between India and Pakistan will get even worse after the Sunday attack. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be taking up the Kashmir issue at the UN General Assembly later this week, but the killings of Indian soldiers by alleged Pakistani militants might weaken his cause. On the other hand, Indian PM Modi is likely to use the General Assembly platform to portray Pakistan as a "terrorist state."

Peace activists have warned Islamabad and New Delhi to avoid confrontation and resolve the issue through negotiations.

Baseer Naveed, a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, told DW that if the Kashmir conflict persisted, fundamentalist groups in India and Pakistan would benefit from it. He said that rightwing groups in both countries wanted war and animosity, and that the leadership of both nations should sit down and resolve the dispute.

Indian policemen take position near the site of a gunbattle in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 (Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Khan)
Protests against Indian rule in Kashmir have claimed over 70 lives since JulyImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Khan

The need for a political solution

Despite New Delhi's claims of Pakistani interference, anti-India sentiment is strong throughout India's portion of Kashmir. Many resent the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops, and openly voice support for rebels who have been fighting since the 1990s to demand independence or a union with neighboring Pakistan.

Some Indian civil society members believe New Delhi cannot exonerate itself from the responsibility by accusing Islamabad of creating unrest in the valley. A number of rights organizations demand that the Modi government reduce the number of troops in Kashmir and let the people decide their fate.

"The Indian state survives in Kashmir only by using the might of its army, and the force of its guns. The people are no longer scared of the bullet," Sumati Panikkar, a leftwing activist in New Delhi, told DW.

Panikkar's views are echoed by Aditya Sinha, an Indian author and journalist: "Despite 69 years of opportunity, India has not earned Kashmiri trust," Sinha wrote in a column for the Mumbai-based Mid-Day newspaper, adding that India had "turned the valley into a part-garrison, part-open air prison."

Syed Ata Hasnain, a retired Indian army corps commander, who was deployed in Kashmir from 2010 to 2012, admits the situation in Kashmir is complex. "There is no denial in Delhi … that a problem exists," said Hasnain. "But no one seems to be clear on how to get into engagement with the people on ground," he added.

A handout photograph released by the Indian Press Information Bureau (PIB) on 25 December 2015 of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) speaking with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif (R), during their brief meeting at the airport in Lahore, Pakistan, 25 December 2015 (Photo: EPA/PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU/HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Ties between India and Pakistan have deteriorated over the past few monthsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Press Information Bureau

Toqeer Gilani, the president of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, believes the best way to engage with Kashmiris is that both India and Pakistan must step aside.

"We demand a solution to the Kashmir conflict based on freely expressed wishes of the people. It is high time India and Pakistan announce the timetable for withdrawal of their forces from the portions they control and hold an internationally-supervised referendum," Gilani told DW.

But most Kashmir observers don't see it happening in the near future. They say that while the Indian strategy to deal strictly with militants and separatists in Kashmir has partly worked out, sooner or later New Delhi will have to find a political solution to the crisis. Secession, they say, does not stand a chance.

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