Some observers say Delhi’s promises falling flat and unrest likely to increase
Five people were killed in Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday, thought to be the deadliest day in the region since it was stripped of its autonomy this summer.
Two non-Kashmiris – an apple trader from Punjab and a migrant labourer – were killed in separate attacks by suspected militants in Shopian and Pulwama, south Kashmir. A second apple trader was in a critical condition.
Earlier on Wednesday security forces killed three alleged rebels near Bijbehara town, 28 miles south of the main city of Srinagar.
Kashmir has been under a security lockdown since 5 August when the Indian government scrapped its special status. Mobile phone services were restored for some users on Monday after a 72-day blackout but internet services remain suspended.
Before Delhi’s announcement that it was to remove Kashmir’s autonomy, the leader of the region’s largest militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, had warned that the move would make Indians in the territory legitimate targets.
Indian officials argued that removing Kashmir’s special status, which granted it its own constitution and rules protecting land ownership, would bring greater development and rid the state of terrorism.
Some policy experts say the high death toll on Wednesday undermines such pledges. “The government’s claims are really falling flat,” said Khalid Shah, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. “My sense is that the violence is only going to increase, it’s not going to decrease, and to what extent, where it leaves Kashmir, is very difficult to say.”
An insurgency has waxed and waned on the Indian-administered side for three decades, and tens of thousands of people have been killed. Critics say Delhi’s actions have undermined the political mainstream and created fertile ground for militant groups.
Kashmir’s most prominent political and business leaders as well as the president of bar association are all in detention. Officials said such detentions were to prevent unrest, but others warned of a dangerous power vacuum.
Last weekend a spokesman for al-Qaida in Indian Subcontinent described Indian-administered Kashmir as “the worst prison” and called for attacks against the Indian government and army.
In Anchar, a neighbourhood of Srinagar where residents have fought back against security forces, graffiti on the wall reads “Welcome Taliban”.
In an attempt to win over Kashmiris, the Indian government placed a front-page advert in one of the region’s most popular newspapers, Greater Kashmir, urging people to resume normal life. “Closed shops, no public transport? Who benefits? Are we going to succumb to militants? Think!”, the advert said.
In Srinagar, government offices are operating but shops are open only during early morning hours and children are not attending schools. Residents told the Guardian that the refusal to open businesses was an act of defiance. Some reported that residents were complying with a shutdown because they were afraid of being targeted by militants.
Arshad, who lives in south Kashmir, where sympathies for militants are widespread, said he would welcome “any external support” that came for Kashmir’s separatist struggle.
“We cannot fight this war on our own, we need external support whosoever it be,” he said. “So far Pakistan has pleaded our case and supported us, but even if South Sudan or China offer us help I will be the first to raise their flag here,” he said.
Arshad, who has a postgraduate degree and who agreed to be identified by his first name only, said Delhi had restricted all scope for all political activities in the region, which would push militants to the centre stage.
“I think militants will now have a dual role of carrying out the armed struggle as well as taking over the role of political leadership and I feel they are already doing that,” he said.
Originally published opn www.theguardian.com