Police have arrested at least 150 members of the Kashmiri separatist movement in the Indian administered section of the region. This has led to rising tensions amongst the residents regarding an increase in anti-India protest. These police crackdowns began following the Valentine’s Day suicide bombing targeting a paramilitary convoy done by a Kashmiri level. This bombing, occurring in the Pulwama District in Kashmir’s south, killed a total of 42 Indian soldiers and remains to be the worst attack against Indian government forces in the region’s turbulent history.
The region of Kashmir has been highly volatile since the partition of India carried out by British colonizers in 1947. As it stands, the better part of the Kashmiri population wants an independent state despite partition logic demanding that they join either India or Pakistan. Both nuclear powers have laid claim to the region, fighting three of their four wars over the valley, already the world’s most militarized region. Given the choice between the two nations, most Kashmiris prefer to merge with the Islamic nation Pakistan, participating in civilian street protests against the Indian administration.
The Indian government places the blame for the suicide bombing on Pakistan and promised what they called a “jaw-breaking” response. This resulted in police entering neighbourhoods overnight and arresting leaders and activists mainly from Jamaat-e-Islami. Jamaat-e-Islami is a religious and political group that fights for Kashmir’s right to self-determination and greater autonomy. The head of this organization, Abdul Hamid Fayaz, and pro-independence leader of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, Mohammed Yasin Malik, were among those arrested during this crack down.
The Joint Resistance Leadership, made up of 3 Kashmiri leaders including Malik have called for a strike to protest these arrests. Mirwais Umar Farooq, one influential leader, states that “such illegal and coercive measures against Kashmiris are futile and will not change realities on the ground.” Other political leaders are espousing the notion that “you can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
The air of tension and fear has mounted in the region. Over this weekend, Indian fighter planes and military helicopters have occupied the airspace over the region. Furthermore, 10 000 additional paramilitary soldiers have been sent to the valley. Amongst the public, there seems to be the fear that these arrests and the increased military presence may lead to a military strike by India against Pakistan. There exists also a fear that these events are the precursor to a change in Kashmir’s status in India’s constitution.
This status is that according to article 370 of the constitution, Kashmir is allowed to retain its autonomy in all matters excluding defence, currency, and foreign affairs.
This general atmosphere of fear and apprehension is manifesting itself in desperate actions from civilians. “People are buying rice, edible oil, pulses, eggs, and other essentials in bulk, we are busy and supplies are running out,” laments Mohammed Amin Rather, the owner of a grocery store in the Rajbagh area of Srinagar.
As it stands, the situation is a tense one that is still developing. It is likely that Kashmir will be a key issue in the Indian general election coming in April/May. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, promises a strong response to the Pulwama attack and is using this issue to distract the Indian public from his failure to deliver on other key campaign promises. This means that we are unlikely to see a de-escalation of tension and aggressive tactics in the Kashmiri region from the Indian side. What remains to be seen is the response from Pakistani and Kashmiri groups.
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