India: Militant Attacks Surge in Poll-Bound Kashmir

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
2017-04-06
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170406-IN-kashmir-620.jpg Indian soldiers arrive at the scene of an attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy on the outskirts of Srinagar, April 3, 2017.
AFP

Separatist guerrillas stepped up attacks on security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir to disrupt elections set for next week in two key districts of the insurgency-torn region, security analysts said Thursday.

Two security personnel were killed and more than 20 others injured in three assaults on Indian forces in Srinagar district, beginning April 1. Voters in Srinagar and Anantnag districts are scheduled to go to polls on Sunday and Wednesday, respectively.

“Elections have always been an opportunity for militants to intensify attacks against the establishment in an attempt to demonstrate to the world that they don’t see elections as a solution to the decades-old Kashmir issue,” Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management, told BenarNews.

Militant attacks in Indian Kashmir – also called the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) – have “become very unpredictable,” Sahni said, adding that security agencies operating in the disputed region “need to strengthen their intelligence grid to foil such assaults on a more consistent basis.”

Suspected militants ambushed a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) party on Monday as it headed from Jammu to Srinagar for election duty, killing one officer and wounding six others. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based outfit, claimed responsibility for the attack.

A day earlier, a police officer was killed and 11 security personnel were injured when suspected militants hurled a grenade at a police and CRPF team patrolling the streets of Srinagar, the largest city and summer capital of J&K. Jammu is the winter capital of the state.

On Saturday, suspected separatists attacked the last bus of an army convoy near a hospital in Srinagar, injuring three soldiers.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has been grappling with a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.

India has on several instances blamed Pakistan, its arch-rival since the bloody partition of the sub-continent in 1947, for backing separatists in Kashmir. Pakistan has denied this charge, saying the struggle in Kashmir is a result of the Indian government’s oppressive rule in the region.

Test

Last month, posters appeared in parts of south Kashmir urging people not to vote in the upcoming elections, which are to be a test for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition in the state, led by Mehbooba Mufti. LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the largest separatist faction in Kashmir, have been blamed for the posters.

Mufti, who took over as the first female Chief Minister of Muslim-majority J&K last year, was criticized after violence erupted across the state following the killing of an HM leader in July 2016.

More than 100 people were killed and 10,000 injured, including about 4,000 security personnel and at least 6,000 civilians, in street clashes between anti-India protesters and government forces from July to November.

G.D. Bakshi, a New Delhi-based security analyst, said he agreed with the view that Islamabad, through militant outfits, was trying to disrupt the elections.

“There has been a manifold increase in infiltration attempts by LeT operatives through the Line of Control (LOC) of late,” Bakshi told BenarNews. The LoC is a de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

A security official said troops deployed in the region were undeterred by the recent attacks and are prepared to ensure smooth elections, whose results will be announced April 15.

“Elections in Kashmir have always been a challenge for security forces, and this time it is no different,” Col. Bhuvaish Chaudhary, a Srinagar-based spokesman for the CRPF, told BenarNews.

“Militants strike around the time of elections to show their presence at the international stage and create terror in the minds of people. But despite the real and present danger of attacks, our troops are in high spirits and ready to deal with militants,” he said.

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