Disquiet grows in Kashmir

Kashmir is at the heart of a conflict between India and Pakistan, with both countries regularly exchanging fire across the de facto border despite a ceasefire signed in 2003. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - Kashmir is continuing to feel the after-effects of the Pulwama attack, with police and security forces in the state cracking down on separatist leaders and organisations including the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The socio-political religious organisation has been banned by the Modi government following the Pulwama attack, on claims that the outfit supports secession and could cause trouble.

On Thursday (March 7), authorities charged separatist Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, under the Public Safety Act - a tough law under which authorities can detain anyone for up to six months - and a terrorist was killed by security forces in the Handwara district of Jammu and Kashmir.

Outside Kashmir, a group of Hindu right-wing nationalists beat up two Kashmiri vendors in the state of Uttar Pradesh and posted the video online, triggering national outrage and reviving disquiet among Kashmiris. Four people were arrested over the incident.

"Nothing will do more damage to the idea of India in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) than videos like these," tweeted National Conference party leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah.

Kashmir-based film-maker Hussain Khan said: "People are feeling scared. The gap (that Kashmiris felt with the rest of the country) has increased."

Dr Noor Ahmad Baba, of the Department of Politics and Governance at the Central University of Kashmir, said: "We have to live with any tension between Pakistan and India. We have to pay the price for the conflict due to shelling across the Line of Control."

Kashmir is at the heart of a conflict between India and Pakistan. Both countries regularly exchange fire across the de facto border, despite a ceasefire signed in 2003.

Thousands of people have been killed by violence fuelled by a separatist insurgency which began in 1989. India blames Pakistan for fuelling the separatist movement.

The Feb 14 Pulwama attack - in which a suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden car into a paramilitary convoy, killing 40 soldiers - has escalated hostilities.

The bomber has been identified as a local youth from Kashmir.

In retaliation, India launched air strikes against what it claimed was a terror camp belonging to Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which claimed credit for the attack.

Pakistan retaliated with tit-for-tat air strikes. There have also been attacks on Kashmiri students since the Pulwama ambush.

In recent years, there has been a deterioration in law and order with many young Kashmiris taking to pelting security forces with stones. There were also incidents like army personnel using a Kashmiri man as a human shield and the controversial use of pellet guns by security forces.

The Modi government's handling of Kashmir has seen a clampdown by security forces and little effort to reach out to the different stakeholders.

Analysts say the problem of Kashmir is also fuelled by hate-based politics ahead of general elections.

Mr Kavinder Gupta, the former deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has controversially called for the banning of madrasahs in Kashmir while Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy called for a boycott of Kashmir-made products after the Pulwama attack.

Security expert Ajai Sahni said: "Kashmir is our (India's) own problem. Terrorism would have been dealt with had it not been our mischief. Leaders are making polarising statements.

"Hate-based politics is being practised and there were attacks on students and mass arrests of leaders."

There has been criticism of the move to ban Jamaat-e-Islami with political leaders in Kashmir noting that a clampdown would only exacerbate matters. There have also been protests over the action against separatists.

"Our imams and moulvis are being arrested. Seventy- and 80-year-olds are being jailed. Offices of JeI have been sealed. We want the ban to be revoked and these elderly people released," Ms Mehbooba Mufti, the leader of the People's Democratic Party, told reporters. "Also, people should be told what their crime is, what is the charge that they face, what is the evidence on the basis of which they have been jailed."

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