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Kashmir: January 2019 update

Published Wednesday, January 2, 2019

This briefing covers events in Indian-administered Kashmir since 8 July 2016, which have been characterised by a dramatic upsurge in protest and violence on the ground – what some are calling the “worst crisis in a generation”.

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On 8 July 2016, Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old leader of the armed group Hizbul Mujahedin, was killed by the Indian security forces. Following Wani’s death, the Kashmir Valley saw its biggest outbreak of protest and violence since 2010.

As the clashes increased, a war of words also broke out between India and Pakistan, with the former reiterating its accusation that the Pakistani army provides support to pro-separatist armed militants. Within a month or so the war of words had escalated into firing bullets and shells at each other across the Line of Control. Infiltration and attacks by armed militants, which India accuses Pakistan of supporting, also increased.

In mid-September 2016, militants attacked an army base at Uri, killing 19 Indian soldiers – the army’s worst loss of life for 14 years. This provoked outrage across India and at the end of that month India retaliated with what it called “surgical strikes” against militant camps on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

Winter then brought some brief respite, but during 2017 protest and violence remained at high levels. Indeed, the International Crisis Group confirmed at the end of 2017 that it had been the deadliest year since 2010 in Indian-administered Kashmir, with over 200 militants, about 80 members of the Indian security forces and at least 57 civilians killed.

2018 has been even deadlier. Final fatality figures for 2018 are not yet out, but most estimates put the figure at 500-600 people.

In June, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, published a report on human rights violations on both sides of the Line of Control since 2016, urging the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into those violations. India rejected the report

In mid-June, the security crisis was compounded by deepening political crisis when the provincial government in Jammu and Kashmir collapsed and was soon afterwards replaced by ‘Governor’s rule’, which can operate for up to six months under the state constitution (see more below). In December, this was replaced by ‘President’s rule’, which can continue indefinitely.

As we enter 2019, the opposing forces on the ground in Indian-administered Kashmir appear to be in a ‘stand-off’, with all sides waiting for the other to blink and with few ideas circulating about how permanently to reduce tensions. Efforts to restore a ceasefire across the Line of Control have so far been unsuccessful, although winter is likely to reduce the number of clashes and incursions for the next few months. There have also been no substantive moves towards resuming negotiations that might address the ‘root causes’ of the conflict.

Critics say that the BJP-led government in India appears to prefer military solutions to political ones. For many on the Indian side, the ‘root cause’ that needs to be addressed first is Pakistan’s support for terrorism. Only then will a solution be possible.

The election of a new civilian government in Pakistan led by prime minister Imran Khan in 2018 has not so far made much difference to the situation. There appears to be no prospect of any shift in the official Indian position until the coming national elections are over. There may be a brief opportunity after the elections to change the dynamic, but there are few grounds for optimism.

It also seems highly unlikely that the international community will put its shoulder to the wheel. While the emergence during 2017 of an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Indian-administered Kashmir, along with some signs of support for so-called Islamic State, may cause Western governments some concern, it is highly unlikely that it will be enough to change what critics view as a ‘semi-detached’ stance on the conflict.

In addition, there seems little international anxiety that this festering dispute might trigger another full-blown conflict between India and Pakistan, two nuclear weapon states.

The Washington Post went so far last year as to claim that “the world no longer cares about Kashmir”.

For deeper historical background, see: Kashmir (March 2004).

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7356

Author: Jon Lunn

Topics: Asia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human rights, International politics and government, Terrorism

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