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Why Kashmir is still reeling from a rebel's death

July 8, 2018

Indian authorities have enforced a lockdown in Kashmir as separatists mark the death anniversary of Burhan Wani, a rebel leader killed by Indian forces. Why does India find it difficult to quell the insurgency?

A Pakistani girl lights a candle to show solidarity with Burhan Wani
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R.S.Hussain

Indian authorities beefed up security and shut down mobile phone and internet services in Kashmir after separatists called for protests on the second death anniversary of Burhan Wani, a young militant leader.

The 22-year-old rebel commander and his two associates were killed by Indian troops on July 8, 2016 in a brief gun battle.

Wani's death triggered a spate of violence that lasted for months and killed over a hundred people and injured thousands.

Despite security restrictions on Sunday, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the capital Srinagar in an open defiance to New Delhi's rule.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in India-administered 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.

Read more: UN calls for Kashmir inquiry into alleged human rights abuses 

Violence in Indian-administered Kashmir
Wani's death triggered a spate of violence that lasted for months and killed over a hundred people and injured thousandsImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/D. Yasin

Federal rule

In June, India's federal government in New Delhi took direct control of the state of Jammu and Kashmir after the country's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) severed its 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.

The three years of the coalition government in Kashmir has seen increased violent demonstrations by the youth, especially after Wani's killing.

In June, unknown gunmen shot dead Shujaat Bukhari, a prominent Kashmiri journalist. A voice of peace in the violence-wracked region, Bukhari also contributed to DW.

Indian authorities later claimed Bukhari was killed by Pakistan-backed militants.

Growing Islamization

Like rebel leader Wani, many Kashmiri youth are at the forefront of the new wave of violence. Experts say that many of these teenagers, born after the start of the insurgency in 1989, don't feel any association with New Delhi. According to the latest census, nearly 60 percent of Kashmir's male residents are under the age of 30, and 70 percent are below the age of 35.

"The state simply does not have enough jobs to keep its youth occupied. Apart from unemployment, there is also a need to work out a political solution," R.K. Bhat, a political science lecturer from Srinagar, told DW.

Experts say the jihadist groups are using this alienation and resentment to their advantage, as the decades-old anti-India movement is increasingly moving toward Islamization.

"The rise of Islamic radicalism in the region, fostered by the Afghan War in the 1980s, had a direct impact on the Kashmir conflict. The anti-India movement became more Islamized in the 1990s with the influx of militants trained in Pakistan," Agnieszka Kuszewska, a Krakow-based Kashmir expert, told DW.

Kuszewska believes Indian authorities must take long-term steps aimed at de-escalating violence in Kashmir.

"The security forces should be held accountable for their human rights violations so that the Kashmiri people would regain trust in state institutions. The rise of religiously motivated nationalism is also a worrying phenomenon, especially in religiously and ethnically diverse parts of Kashmir. It is vital to address this trend," she underlined.

Indian strategy

Contrary to the Indian government's claims, many Kashmiris support the cause of the separatists and came out in droves to protest against Indian rule and military operations in the state.

"Indian PM Narendra Modi's Kashmir strategy is two-pronged: financial support for Kashmir's development, and simultaneously using force against separatists. The policy hasn't really been successful as resentment against the state government and New Delhi has increased manifold in the past few years. The use of force doesn't go together with development," Ali Raza Syed, chairman of the Brussels-based Kashmir Council non-governmental group, told DW.

"Modi's aggressive Kashmir policy is a result of his Hindu nationalist BJP party's overall approach toward Indian Muslims," Syed added.

But Siegfried O. Wolf, director of research at the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), is of the view that Modi has not been successful in implementing his socio-economic agenda in Kashmir as a result of an ever-increasing jihadism in the valley.

"New Delhi has been forced to see Kashmir predominantly through a security lens. Therefore, the space for political dialogue is quite limited," Wolf told DW.

Read more: Arundhati Roy: 'India is colonizing itself'

Killing of Kashmir journalist shocks India, Pakistan

The Pakistan 'problem'

New Delhi believes the crackdown on Kashmiri rebels is necessary as the secessionist movement is not indigenous and receives backing from Islamabad. Pakistani officials say their support to Kashmiri Muslim separatists is only diplomatic.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the rebels in the portion it controls and sending them to the Indian side, a claim its neighbor denies.

Experts say that Pakistan's direct involvement in the Kashmir conflict began in the late 1980s, after which the somewhat liberal Kashmiri movement took on a more religious outlook.

Wolf says the involvement of Pakistan in the Kashmir conflict will always complicate the issue, as Islamabad's international reputation as an alleged Islamist hub is counterproductive for the Kashmir plight.

Read more: Opinion: The anniversary of hatred

"By encouraging militants in Kashmir, Pakistan has pushed India toward the present situation. Pakistani authorities believe that if India gets military involved in the Kashmir conflict, it will have a negative impact on India's economic growth and international repute. Also, India's rights violations in Kashmir helps the Pakistani military to justify its dominance inside Pakistan," Wolf said.

Toqeer Gilani, the president of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, wants both India and Pakistan to 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.

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

Indian govt. forces kill militant leader in Kashmir