Threat of military crackdown looms in Kashmir after massive blast targets Indian forces

More than 40 Indian paramilitary personnels were killed after an explosive-laden vehicle rammed into their convoy

February 17, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Pulwama attack
Site of the Pulwama suicide bombing in which over 40 Indian security personnel were killed. (Photo: The Financial Express)

In a move that could see an increase in violence in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the far right Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a ‘heavy response’ to the suicide blast against Indian forces. At least 45 Indian soldiers were killed in a deadly fidayeen (suicide) attack on Thursday in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district when a militant drove his explosive-laden vehicle into the army convey travelling on the Srinagar-Jammu highway near Awantipora. More than a dozen were seriously injured in the attack, which is considered to be the deadliest in a decade. Soon after the attack, India withdrew the Most Favoured Nation trade status to Pakistan, claiming that Islamabad was providing support the anti-India militant groups in Kashmir. This move will allow India to hike customs duties on goods Pakistan exports to India.  

The responsibility for the attack has been claimed by the underground armed group Jaish-e-Mohammad. Around 3:15 pm in the afternoon on February 14, one sports utility carrying 350 kgs of explosives made its way into the CRPF (Central Reserve Paramilitary Forces) convoy of 78 vehicles. The explosive-laden car rammed into a bus which was part of the convoy, with both vehicles exploding on impact. Witnesses said the intensity of the blast was such that it triggered earthquake-like shock waves in the area and was heard even 10-12 kilometres away. In a statement, Jaish-e-Mohammad identified the suicide bomber, 19-year-old Adil Ahmad Dar, a resident of Gandibagh area of Kakapora, as the one who carried out this attack.

The attack has created a fear among the Kashmiri population of a massive military crackdown. Since the Hindu conservative government of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India in 2014, Kashmir has witnessed a sharp rise in violence. The valley currently has the largest military presence in the world, witnessing numerous human rights violations and enforced disappearances. An armed insurgency for self determination began in 1990s supported by Pakistan after the Indian government rigged the 1987 elections in Kashmir.

Attacks on Kashmiris in other parts of India

Following the blast, Hindu extremist groups have begun targeting Kashmiri muslims in different parts of the country. In what are clear attempts to communalise the country’s population and increase tensions, Kashmiris are being harassed, beaten up, and being asked to leave the country. These extremist groups, primarily Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have orchestrated attacks on Kashmiris living in the neighbourhood region of Jammu, Kashmiri students studying outside their state, and others working out of their state.

In Dehradun city of Uttarakhand, Kashmiri students have been facing relentless attacks by these right wing forces.  

A Kashmiri student in Dehradun said, “Since yesterday [February 15] we are receiving threats from the members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal who have given us 24 hours ultimatum to leave Dehradun, else we will be killed. They have also threatened several institutions to send all enrolled Kashmiri students back to Kashmir.”

Spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Students in Uttarakhand, Nasir Khuehami told NewsClick, “Nearly 12 students have been beaten up by right-wing activists and are hospitalised. The students were beaten-up when they were returning after offering the Friday namaz.”

The situation is even more tense in Jammu, where Bajrang Dal and VHP mobs burnt around 10 cars of Kashmiris and damaged around 80. The mob also attacked homes of Kashmiris. Reportedly, the police did not intervene in these attacks.

In the eastern state of Bihar, meanwhile, Kashmiri traders who migrate to the state capital Patna during the winter months to sell clothes also faced violence and threats to evict the area.

Mohd Basheer Ahmad, a Kashmiri shopkeeper, said, “We have been pained by the killing of CRPF jawans in a terror attack in Pulwama, but it was unfortunate that some people targeted us, suspected and taunted us to take revenge.”

According to Ahmad, a group of 25 to 30 people, armed with iron rods, hockey sticks and bamboo sticks, attacked and abused them, and tried to loot the woollen items and the money, but were resisted by the shopkeepers. Their shops were vandalised and faced considerable damage.

Three shopkeepers- Majeed Ahmad, Rayeesh and Abdul Bari – sustained injuries as a result and had to be admitted in a nearby government hospital.

Responding to the hatred filled rhetoric against Kashmiris which is still continuing, the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Association (KTMA) and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industries held a peaceful demonstration in J&K capital Srinagar on Saturday, and called for a valley-wide shutdown.

Chief Organiser of KTMA, Mohammad Lateef, told Newsclick that growing attacks on Kashmiris was an attack on communal harmony which can’t be tolerated at any cost. Government must look in to the matter and take action against the culprits.

Organizations demand an end to government’s militaristic approach

In an attempt to curb the armed separatist movement in Kashmir, Indian forces launched ‘Operation All Out’ in 2017. Since then, Kashmir has witnessed a large number of military operations against militants.  This ultra militarist approach by the Indian government has led to a massive increase in violence and civilian deaths in the region. The data by Indian home ministry notes that there has been a 167% increase in the number of civilian killings in 2018 compared to 2015. According Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), around 160 civilians were killed in the year 2018.

The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 by the Indian armed forces led to the eruption of a series of protests in the valley seeing huge participation. Around 100 civilians were killed by the armed forces who opened fire at these protests. Post 2016, the region saw a large number of youths joining the militancy to fight Indian forces.  

The rising violence in the region is blamed on the jingoistic approach to the Kashmir issue adopted by the Narendra Modi led government. Many political parties, rejecting Thursday’s attack and increasing violence in region called upon the political established to find a political solution to the issue rather than mindless militarism.

Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation condemned the attack and demanded immediate initiation of dialogue with all stakeholders to find a political solution.

Following the attack, the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), a group of separatist political parties, in a statement noted that it regretted every killing that happens on its soil. It further added that the delay in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, “the denial to engage with the sentiments and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir” and instead the use of a muscular military approach to counter an essentially political and human problem, is wreaking havoc in Kashmir.