What is behind the recent surge in violence in Kashmir?

Spate of suspected rebel attacks and crackdown by Indian security forces since early October leaves 33 people dead in the region.

Indian security personnel stand guard on a street in Srinagar [Danish Ismail/Reuters]

A surge in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir in recent weeks, including a spate of suspected rebel attacks on civilians and a widespread crackdown by security forces, has left at least 33 people dead in the heavily militarised region since early October.

Kashmir, which is claimed in full by India and Pakistan but ruled in parts by the two neighbours, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against New Delhi since the 1990s.

What is happening?

The fresh wave of killings by suspected rebels appear to be directed at non-Kashmiris, including migrant workers, and members of the minority Hindu and Sikh communities in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.

On Sunday, suspected rebels shot at three migrant workers in Kashmir’s Kulgam district, killing two and wounding one, a day after two labourers from northern India were gunned down in two separate incidents.

Last week, two teachers – one Hindu, another Sikh – were shot dead inside a government school in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar.

Suspected rebels have killed a total of 11 civilians since October 6.

Who is behind the killings?

Indian security officials have said that some of the assassinations have been carried out by The Resistance Front (TRF), which they describe as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based rebel group, and Hizbul Mujahideen, a group traditionally made up of local fighters.

India says Pakistan supports the armed rebellion in Kashmir, a charge denied by Islamabad. Pakistan says it only provides diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiri people.

New Delhi has struggled for decades to dampen secessionist sentiments in what had been its only Muslim-majority state.

Reasserting New Delhi’s control in August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished Article 370 of the constitution, ending the region’s autonomy and removing its statehood by splitting Indian-administered Kashmir into the two federal territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Migrant workers wait with their belongings inside a railway station to board trains to their home states following attacks by suspected rebels, on the outskirts of Srinagar [Danish Ismail/Reuters]

The TRF emerged in the wake of the August 2019 reorganisation of Kashmir, which was accompanied by a harsh communication and movement lockdown in the Kashmir valley to forestall any large-scale protests.

In recent attacks, TRF members have mostly used easily concealable small arms like pistols to shoot at people.

In a statement on social media earlier this month, TRF said it was not going after people on the basis of their religion but only those working for Indian authorities.

The Reuters news agency could not immediately verify the authenticity of the statement.

What has been the response?

Indian security forces have launched a wide crackdown, killing 13 rebels in the last two weeks in multiple operations across the Kashmir valley.

Last week, after the two teachers were killed in Srinagar, authorities detained more than 300 people for questioning, most of whom were subsequently released.

Those detained included members of the banned religious organisation Jamaat-e-Islami, an umbrella alliance of separatists known as the Hurriyat Conference, and others with previous links to rebel groups.

During the past week or so, the Indian military has also been battling rebellion in a forested area in the Jammu region, which abuts the Kashmir valley, and has lost nine soldiers – the most number of casualties in a single operation in recent years.

Why is the latest violence significant?

The assassinations have spread panic among some sections of the population, with dozens of minority Hindus and migrant workers fleeing the Kashmir valley towards Jammu and other areas.

Political leaders in the region have condemned the killings but have also questioned the Modi government’s policies after deciding to split the former state in 2019.

“None of these people deserved to die,” former State Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet.

“One wonders what will it take for GOI (government of India) to realise that its policies have been a monumental failure in [Indian-administered Kashmir] at what cost?” she said.

Source: Reuters