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Violence looms large in Kashmir

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
June 20, 2018

India-administered Kashmir has been placed under direct federal rule after PM Modi's BJP party ended its alliance with a local party there. It may lead to a spike in violence in the already restive state, say analysts.

Indien Kashmiri Polizisten
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Mustafa

India's federal government in New Delhi took direct control of the state of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday after the country's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew from its long-troubled alliance there with the People's Democratic Party, a Kashmiri political outfit.

The BJP announced its decision to pull out of the coalition on Tuesday, saying that the three-year alliance had become "untenable" in the wake of increasing terrorism and violence in the state.

"We are saying that continuance in (PDP-BJP) government had become untenable. The responsibility for this kind of scenario lies with the other side," BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said after announcing the decision to pull out from the government.

Read more: Kashmir violence: Has Modi's policy failed?

Mehbooba Mufti, the president of the PDP and the state's top official, resigned after the BJP withdrew its support, paving the way for direct rule. Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra will now take all key administrative decisions in the state on behalf of the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind until a new coalition is formed or fresh elections are held. 

Despite the development, observers say day-to-day life in the violence-prone state is unlikely to change significantly for the residents of Kashmir.

Contradictory alliance

The BJP-PDP coalition government was formed in 2015 following difficult and extended negotiations due to the vast gulf that separates the two sides on a host of issues, including the law that grants special powers to Indian military personnel stationed in the militancy-hit Muslim-majority state. The PDP wants the law scrapped, while the BJP supports it.

The BJP has also consistently advocated a tough approach in Kashmir. But the PDP favors reconciliation and dialogue, prompting the BJP to often accuse it of having a "soft" approach towards separatists in Kashmir.

The BJP's decision to walk out of the alliance comes days after New Delhi announced it would resume anti-militancy operations in the state. The federal government had suspended these operations during the Muslim month of fasting, but resumed them after Eid.

The PDP was reportedly unhappy over the move and keen to extend the ceasefire with armed groups. After tendering her resignation, Mehbooba Mufti said, "muscular policy will not work or be successful in Kashmir. We can't treat the state as an enemy territory."

Read more: 

Rape and murder of eight-year-old divides Jammu and Kashmir

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The three years of the coalition government has seen increased violent demonstrations by the youth, especially after the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani by security forces in 2016, spiraling attacks by rebel groups and disagreement over the handling of the case of the fatal gang rape of an 8-year-old girl in Kathua.

Some allege that the BJP's decision was prompted by electoral considerations.  

"The 2019 election is approaching and the BJP had to salvage their hardline image and appease their constituents in Jammu. They will now try to push hard their Hindutva agenda across the country," PDP politician Naeem Akhtar told DW.

The BJP, however, cites the "deteriorating security situation" in the state as one of the main reasons for the party's pull-out. It has also criticized the PDP for neglecting development works in parts of the state like Jammu and Ladakh. "There was no development in the state. Violence was rising and a lot of youth were joining militant ranks. If we had continued, we would have lost more political capital," the state BJP chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi told DW.

First-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir

A renewed offensive?

Now that Kashmir is placed under direct federal control, some observers fear Modi's government will govern the state with an iron fist. Indian army chief, General Bipin Rawat, on Wednesday said the imposition of direct federal rule will not have any impact on the ongoing military operations in the valley.

"Operations were being carried out earlier as well. Then we saw a phase of suspension of operations because we wanted people to get a chance to offer their prayers during Ramzan without any kind of problem. Despite that, terrorists continued with their activity, which is why the suspension of operations was cancelled," he said.

Security forces have strict rules of engagement, and that they will "take action" in accordance with them, Rawat added.

Read more: What is Pakistan's militancy issue all about?

But some commentators argue that military operations against militants inside the restive state will not be effective unless India resumes its dialogue process with Pakistan. 

Both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir and have twice gone to war over it since independence from Britain in 1947. India blames Pakistan for fomenting the rebellion in its only Muslim-majority state. Pakistan says it only provides moral support to the insurgency.

Any intensification of the insurgency or deterioration of the situation in Kashmir carries the risk of prompting confrontation between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

"Military operations are set to begin with a renewed thrust to eliminate Kashmiri militants and smash their networks. This will lead to more infiltration and attacks in Kashmir. The option is to engage Pakistan in a dialogue," strategic expert Happymon Jacob told DW.

Jacob, who has been part of several Track II negotiations with Pakistani officials, says pursuing an unconstrained militaristic policy would be detrimental to the interests of the people in Kashmir.

"Firing and shelling is not the solution to establishing peace and deterrence. What has it achieved so far? There will be more bloodshed and misery for the people in Kashmir," Noor Ahmad, an academic, told DW.

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11