Kashmir Is on the Boil, Once Again

“This surprise attack has an immediate context and that context is Afzal Guru’s hanging,” Mr. Wani said. “Kashmir is on the boil.”

For many people in the Kashmir Valley, Wednesday’s deadly attack on an Indian security camp, which left five security personnel and two militants dead, was not a surprise.

Some describe it as the lid finally blowing of a pressure cooker that had been waiting to explode since the Indian government’s execution of a local man, Muhammad Afzal, for his role in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.

There is a growing sentiment in the Kashmir Valley that peaceful protests are no longer effective, Gul Mohammad Wani, a political science professor at the University of Kashmir, explained .

“This surprise attack has an immediate context and that context is Afzal Guru’s hanging,” Mr. Wani said. “Kashmir is on the boil.”

The threat of a return to the violent militancy that gripped Kashmir Valley for decades is particularly frightening now, analysts said. Instability in the Af-Pak region is expected to increase significantly after the NATO mission in Afghanistan ends in 2014 and American troops withdraw, and a volatile Kashmir Valley could once again become a magnet for militants seeking to carry out terrorist acts.

Young men who feel their freedom is being suppressed by the Indian state might join Islamic fundamentalist groups from Pakistan and Afghanistan if these groups make inroads into Kashmir, warned Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a law professor at the Central University of Kashmir.

“If the sense of deprivation of the youth is not addressed, then they can turn to whatever ideology they feel can get them out of the oppression,” he said.

Many Kashmiris believe that Mr. Afzal was framed and that he did not receive a fair trial. They were further enraged by the central government’s failure to inform his family members before his execution on Feb.9, and its refusal to return his body back to them after he was killed. Further heightening tensions was a government clampdown on personal liberties in Kashmir after the execution.

Despite severe restrictions on when citizens could leave their homes and the blocking of Internet traffic on cellphones, protesters and stone-pelting youth clashed with security forces in different parts of the Kashmir Valley in the week after Mr. Afzal’s hanging, resulting in three deaths and several injuries. After the curfew was lifted, separatist leaders called for shutdowns and strikes to demand the return of Mr. Afzal’s body

Earlier this month, two men in their 20s involved in funeral prayers and protests for Mr. Afzal died, one shot by police and the other found hanging in his hostel room in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

On March 2, Mudasir Ahmad Malla, 29, a Kashmiri who was studying at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, was found hanging in his hostel room. The local police said it was suicide, but some Kashmiris say they suspect foul play because Mr. Malla had led funeral prayers for Mr. Afzal in Hyderabad.

On March 5, Tahir Ahmad Sofi, 25, was killed when Indian troops opened fire at stone pelters during a protest about Mr. Malla’s death and the government’s failure to return Mr. Afzal’s body. Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, broke down in tears while addressing lawmakers in the state assembly about Mr. Sofi’s death March 5.

“Is this why we have been holding the flag of this country?” he asked. “That again and again I have to ask for apology from people, that again and again I have to answer for every bullet,” he said. “Why did they fire? What was the need to open fire?”

On Wednesday, five men unconnected to the militants who attacked the police camp were shot, allegedly by police forces, one fatally. A curfew was again imposed in the region on Thursday.

The continuing tension between locals in Kashmir and police forces is fueled in part by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives the police nearly unlimited power in the region.

In his emotional speech after Mr. Sofi’s death, Mr. Abdullah, who has been calling for the repeal of the act in parts of Kashmir, pointed out that this law shielded the soldier from prosecution for killing the youth. “I am not mad that I have been demanding AFSPA revocation,” he said.

Lt. Gen.Baljit Singh Jaswal, who from October 2009 to December 2010 led the Northern Command in Jammu and Kashmir State, however, said that the suicide attack on Wednesday had made the case for “serious introspection” about the viability of lifting the act. 

“Kashmir changes with the weather,” he said in a telephone interview about Wednesday’s attack. “AFSPA should stay 100 percent.”

After witnessing the events since the hanging of Mr. Afzal on Feb. 9, Nayeem Raja, a hotel manager, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that he has experienced a change of heart. The 24-year-old explained that he had been on the side of the Indian government since peace and stability was essential for running a successful tourism business.

“Who doesn’t want peace,” he said. “But I don’t think I can support the Indian government anymore.”

While many Kashmiris say their support for the Indian government is fading, others are embracing violence. A 21-year-old student in Kashmir University, who requested his name not be used to avoid any retaliatory action by the authorities, told India Ink that he endorsed Wednesday’s suicide attack.

“We take it as a part of resistance whether it is violent or non-violent. We will never disassociate ourselves with resistance,” he said in a telephone interview. “For that if we are called radical, then we are.”

Reflecting on the violent nature of the attack, the student said that young Kashmiris felt that they had no other option left.

“We have learned that peaceful methods of resistance like protests don’t work,” he said. “The Indian state is simply crushing our aspirations and giving us no political space,” he said.

Indian officials have blamed Pakistan for the suicide attack. The home secretary, R. K Singh, told journalists on Wednesday that the two attackers who were killed “appeared not to be local boys, but from across the border.”

General Jaswal warned last year that Pakistan continues to pose a threat to Kashmir. “This kind of thing keeps happening,” he said. “Pakistan always tries to exploit an event and they got an event,” he added, referring to Mr. Afzal’s hanging.

Rejecting these accusations, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Office, Moazzam Ahmed Khan, said in a statement, “We feel that this trend of making irresponsible statements and knee-jerk reactions by senior Indian government functionaries have the potential of undermining the efforts made by both sides to normalize relation between the two countries.”

Hizbul Mujahideen, a local militant group, which is pro-Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call with Kashmir News Service, a local newswire.

-The New York Times-


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