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Kashmir: March 2018 update

Published Thursday, March 15, 2018

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. By mid-October 2016 at least 91 civilians had been killed, thousands arrested and thousands more injured.

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.

For example, there was an upsurge in protest and violence in March-April 2017 around by-elections held in central and south Kashmir. On voting day there were clashes between protestors and the security forces that left eight civilians dead and over 200 people injured. Overall, the turn-out was reportedly in single figures.

In August 2017, in the worst attack on a security installation since the 2016 Uri attack, eight Indian police were killed in a militant attack on their camp in south Kashmir. February 2018 saw another significant militant attack on an Indian army base, in which six soldiers and one civilian were killed. The incident revived the war of words between the two countries, with India once again threatening retaliation.

The director of one Indian think-tank has predicted: “We are looking at a tense summer in Kashmir”.

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. Western governments continue to restrict themselves to urging India and Pakistan to resume dialogue in pursuit of a resolution.

One of the few experts to express any optimism is Gareth Price at Chatham House, who claimed last year that the Indian Government might have got to the point where it was beginning to develop a “plan”. He was referring to its appointment of a retired senior intelligence official, Dineshwar Sharma, as an interlocutor.

But Price acknowledged that previous similar initiatives by the Indian authorities over the years have all foundered, including most recently in 2012. He also accepted that the prospects for a wider resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan, without which most observers accept that peace will be impossible to achieve, appear remote.

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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