Smoke billows from an Indian Air Force aircraft that crashed in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir on Feb. 27. Two bodies were recovered from the crash site. Officials said the aircraft crashed due to a technical failure. (Photo by IANS)
Panic is spreading on the India-Pakistan border as fears grow that war will break out between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Tension increased on Feb. 27 when Pakistan claimed to have shot down two Indian Air Force jets in a major escalation of the long-running Kashmir conflict. Pakistan has denied reports that one of its jets was shot down by Indian forces.
The situation has worsened since Pakistan-based Islamic terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 40 Indian soldiers in southern Kashmir on Feb. 14.
India on Feb. 26 launched airstrikes against the militant group's training camps across the ceasefire line in Kashmir, the first aerial bombing over the disputed border since India went to war with Pakistan in 1971. Authorities said India had received credible intelligence that the group was training fighters for similar attacks.
Many of the state’s 12.5 million people are panic-stricken due to the fresh wave of hostilities.
Rafiq Ahmad Khan, who lives in Srinagar city in the Indian border state of Jammu and Kashmir, has been anxiously stocking essentials like food and medicines in case war breaks out.
“There were always apprehensions that the two countries could enter into war any time and I think that time has come. All we can do is to pray for our safety and stock as many essentials as we can,” Khan told ucanews.com.
Promises of retaliation
Soon after the Feb. 14 attack, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned of an offensive against Pakistan for shielding terror groups that attack India. Pakistan, however, refuted India’s claims and promised retaliation if attacked.
The state government last week issued directions to doctors and other medical staff to not leave offices or go on vacation. It also directed hospitals to stock food, surgical items and medicines.
Officials of the government’s food supplies department were asked not to distribute rations to consumers after Feb. 25.
At least 100 companies of paramilitary forces were airlifted to Srinagar around midnight on Feb. 24.
Auto-rickshaw drivers read newspapers, with front page reports on the Indian air strikes against militant camps in Pakistan's territory, in Mumbai on Feb. 27. (Photo by Indranil Mukherjee/AFP)
Waheed Ahmad, a businessman in Srinagar’s old city, is worried about his father, who is suffering from asthma and needs constant oxygen supplies. “It is difficult to stock oxygen cylinders. I can only get one at a time. I wonder what I will do if war takes place,” he said.
Aijaz Ahmad Mir, a resident of Pulwama in southern Kashmir, told ucanews.com that the situation is turning worrisome with each passing day as there are fears that a full-scale war is about to break out.
Imitiyaz Hussain, who is studying engineering in Delhi, was called back home by his family in Kashmir after the tense situation emerged.
“Students studying outside in their thousands have begun returning home to be with families. It is a very peculiar situation for the people of Kashmir and only time is going to tell us what will happen,” Hussain told ucanews.com.
Crackdown against religious organizations
Police have launched a massive crackdown on members of various Islamic organizations in Kashmir including Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat–e-Ahle Hadees. Hundreds of their workers, activists and senior members have been detained during night raids.
“The massive crackdown on an almost politically dormant religious party, rounding up hundreds of young people and resistance leaders and activists throughout the valley, aims to instill fear and create panic to subdue and strangulate an entire population,” said senior civil society member Hameeda Nayeem.
Nayeem said the airlifting of 100 companies of paramilitary forces to supplement the swelling numbers of armed forces also aimed to create fear in people.
Indian security forces and National Investigation Agency (NIA) personnel seal off the sector as they launch a raid at the Kashmiri separatist leader Mohammad Yasin Malik's residence in Srinagar's Maisuma area on Feb. 26. (Photo by Habib Naqash/AFP)
Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti also condemned the crackdown on religious organizations in Kashmir. She accused PM Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to appease Hindu voters with such tactics.
“It is unfortunate that the state has been made part of election strategy. There are attempts being made to destabilize the situation in the state and create war hysteria to secure votes,” said Mufti.
Jammu and Kashmir has suffered violence for the last 30 years. An estimated 100,000 people have died, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after Muslim militants began an armed struggle in 1990 to free the region from Indian rule.
The conflict in Kashmir dates back to 1947 when India and Pakistan become separate states after British rule ended. Both countries claim Kashmir in full and have fought at least three wars and countless skirmishes over it.