Violence up in Kashmir as more youths join militants

Seeds of chaos are being sown to reap political advantage, according to critics of India's government
Violence up in Kashmir as more youths join militants

Kashmiri protesters and government forces clash after Friday prayers during the last Friday of Holy month of Ramadan in Srinagar on June 8. (Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP)

Violence has spiked in the Indian-ruled part of Kashmir, with more than 170 deaths so far in 2018, amid fears that strife will worsen further ahead of national elections next year.

A new United Nations report details the most bloody period of the past five years.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released investigation findings on June 14 focused on violence between June 2016 and April this year.

The report accuses the Indian army of unlawful killings, sexual violence and using firearms, notably shotguns, against civilian protesters.

As the Indian government intensified efforts to crush militants, more young Muslims were becoming insurgents.

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According to publicly released official figures, there were some 80 new recruits in the first five months of this year.

"The situation on the ground is worrisome and the only thing holding back many youth from the militancy is the lack of guns," said a police official posted in South Kashmir where there has been a surge in militancy.

The number of youths taking up arms in the Kashmir Valley started to dwindle from 2010.

However, this trend was reversed after pro-Hindu Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and launched a security crackdown.

The estimated number of youths who became active militants was put at only six in 2013.

But that had increased to 53 in 2015, 88 in 2016 and 126 last year, according to data presented in the state legislature.

Officials estimated that some 200 young people would join the armed insurgency in 2018

"They seem to have developed a sense of isolation [from mainstream India] and a fear that Islam is in danger and therefore they should pick up arms and fight," said the police official.

Casualties had also increased this year, according to data compiled by the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.

In the first six months of 2018, at least 173 people were killed in Kashmir; 95 militants, 40 security force personnel and 38 civilians.

This compared, for example, with full-year deaths tolls of 183 in 2011, 117 in 2012 and 181 in 2013.

In 2014, 2015 and 2016, there were 193, 173 and 267 people killed respectively and in 2017 the total number of people killed was 358.

Ghulam Ahmad Mir, from the state opposition Congress party, said the "muscular" security approach of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had increased violence as well as angering the population.

The BJP sought to benefit politically by deliberately creating chaos, Mir told ucanews.com.

Gulzar Ali, a political commentator based in Kashmir, said violence escalated after the BJP came to power because Muslims in Kashmir began to view the government in New Delhi as anti-Muslim and pro-Hindu.

More than being just political, the situation on the ground now had more of a radicalizing religious dimension, Ali added.

Kashmiri Muslims closely watch developments in the rest of India where religious minorities, particularly Muslims, are being persecuted by government-patronized Hindu groups.

"Muslims in Kashmir fear their religious identity is in danger and that they should intensify their fight," said Ali.

Noor Mohammad, a professor of political science at the University of Kashmir, predicted that in the lead-up to the 2019 national elections security operations would be increased.

He suggested that this would be done so the government could present itself as taking a tough stand against Islamic separatism as well as protecting Hindu interests.

The Kashmir issue was branded as a "Muslim problem" in a Hindu country, Noor said.

Kashmir’s chief religious cleric and separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said the new U.N. report was a victory for ordinary people that had drawn international attention to rights’ abuses.

Since militancy intensified in 1990, this is the first time that the U.N. has probed human rights violations in Kashmir.

The U.N. said resolution of the conflict could only be achieved through meaningful dialogue that included the people of Kashmir.

The conflict dates back to 1947 when India and Pakistan became separate states after British rule ended. Both countries claim Kashmir in full and have fought three major wars and myriad skirmishes over it.

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