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Kashmir's young rebels

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Fahad Shah

Sixty-nine years ago, the partition of British India gave birth to two new countries: India and Pakistan. Over the years both countries have evolved to be stable, but their contention with each other hasn’t pacified. The two nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars over Kashmir – a mountainous territory divided between India and Pakistan. August 1947 brought freedom to India and Pakistan but snatched it from Kashmir – a princely state left to face decades of political and social crisis.

Fast forward to the present and Indian-controlled Kashmir shows that one’s independence is another’s prison. Once again this year, Independence Day (August 15 in India's day after Pakistan’s Independence Day), India was celebrating while people in Kashmir observed it as black day. Every year, the region looks grimmer and grimmer. The authorities impose strict curfews, including restrictions on all civilian movements. The streets are deserted and blocked by barbed wire blockades; phones are jammed, and the Internet is down. Kashmir becomes an open air prison.

Born in the era of armed rebellion against India that started in the late 1980s, a new generation has again turned to guns to demand their promised right to self-determination. The epicenter of this new wave of armed rebellion is mainly South Kashmir. According to police records, there are 77 militants active in South Kashmir, among whom 70 are locals. Their recruitment is increasing.

In Kashmir, young boys in their teenage years are dropping out of schools, colleges, and jobs to live in the forests, knowing that their decision may lead to death at any moment. They don’t wear school uniforms anymore; instead, they wear camouflaged olive green uniforms. They don’t carry a bag of books; instead, they carry a backpack of ammunition and assault rifles. Most of these boys haven’t seen their families for months or even years. They are famous among the youth. Their pictures go viral on social media.

Rising Militancy

The Srinagar-based general officer commanding (GOC) of the 15 Corps of the Indian army, Lt. Gen. Subrata Saha, recently said that the number of new militants is increasing in the region. Saha told reporters that there has been a growing trend of educated youth joining militant groups, especially in southern and northern Kashmir. “A time comes when such movements surge and this is the time when the movements have increased across the state. But at the same time we have also intensified our operations accordingly,” Saha said.

The killings never stop in Kashmir. Last year, 220 people were killed, among them 106 militants, 52 civilians, and 45 Indian troopers. This year, in just the first seven months, 104 people have been killed, which includes 48 militants, 22 civilians, and 24 Indian troopers. According to police records, 76 militant attacks were carried out in Jammu and Kashmir in the first seven months of 2015, compared to just 86 attacks throughout 2014. There are 185 militants active in the state, as per the police.

 

Line of Control: The de facto border between India and Pakistan

Gunfire broke out on last Friday near the disputed Kashmir border between India and Pakistan, leaving nine dead and 62 wounded. Both sides claim that the other started the unprovoked firing and shelling.

The attack comes days after four Kashmiri rebels and one Indian army trooper were killed near the border in India-administered Kashmir. Pakistan also accused India of injuring a civilian    after firing on a Pakistan Rangers’ station. These are just the most recent incidents along the so-called Line of Control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan, in Kashmir, which has seen a significant uptick in violence in recent months, part of a general rise in instability since late 2012.

An analysis of violence along the Line of Control by the Stimson Center shows that since 2012, shots have been fired at least once every five days in Kashmir. The rise in incidents along the border has many Kashmir observers concerned. Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed worry over the recent deaths in Kashmir and called on leaders in India and Pakistan “to exercise maximum restraint.”

Clearly, as Friday’s bloodshed shows, that hasn’t come to pass, as regional tensions simmer. Talks between both countries' national security advisers were canceled   after participants failed to agree on a meeting agenda and Pakistani officials met with Kashmiri pro-independence leaders, angering Indian officials. A meeting between the heads of the Pakistan Rangers and the Indian Border Security Force in New Delhi is scheduled for next month.

The canceled meeting dashes any hope that followed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting in Russia last month, on the sidelines of the SCO summit. Surprising many observers, the meeting resulted in a joint statement in which both sides agreed to discuss common terrorism concerns and have military leaders convene on border stabilization. Whether or not these meetings happen is another question. And as violence continues, there is a real possibility that it will be canceled as well.

India and Pakistan both claim the territory of Kashmir, which has been the subject of three wars since both countries gained independence from the British in 1947. The Line of Control was drawn up in 1971, dividing the disputed area into two parts, with one administered by Pakistan and the other by India.

In 2003, following a 14-year insurgency led by Kashmiri separatists, Pakistan proposed a cease-fire, which India accepted. This led to a sea change in relations between the two neighbors.

The cease-fire, and the optimism that came with it, is now dead. But that doesn’t mean that the current violence will escalate. The recent attacks “are fairly normal.

But political tensions seem likely to stay at the same heightened level of the past week for the foreseeable future. Following the canceled meeting between national security advisers, there are no plans for Modi and Sharif to meet during the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month.


Thursday, Sep 03, 2015 2:02 pm


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