India-Pakistan Tensions Cast Familiar Shadow Over Kashmir

1 December 2008
Agence France-Presse

Srinagar: Leaked intelligence on who might be behind the devastating Islamist attacks in Mumbai has been greeted with a deepening sense of dread and foreboding by Muslims in Indian Kashmir. An emerging consensus suggests the well-planned assault was the work of Lashkar-e-Taiba - the most powerful Pakistan-based militant group fighting against Indian rule in the disputed Muslim-majority region. That means an automatic escalation in tensions between India and Pakistan, which in turn spells trouble for Kashmir, over which the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947. One of the Mumbai gunmen holding hostages in a Jewish cultural centre had suggested that the treatment of Muslims in Indian Kashmir was one motivation behind the attack. 'Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir?' the militant told a television station by telephone during the attack. The Kashmir issue is, to many South Asian Muslims, what the Palestinian issue is to the Arab world - a reliable and fertile source of outrage over the mistreatment of disenfranchised Muslims. Rights groups like Amnesty International have criticised the sweeping powers India grants its security forces in Kashmir and accused them of using torture to quash the long-running Muslim insurgency in the region. Since June, around 50 unarmed Muslim protesters have been shot dead in unrest sparked by a state government plan to grant land to a Hindu pilgrim trust. But for Akbar Mantoo, a 41-year-old Kashmiri contractor, having such grievances cited by a gunman on a killing spree in Mumbai targeting Indian civilians and foreign tourists was appalling. 'It is very unfortunate that one of the attackers talked about Kashmir,' said Mantoo. 'We don't need supporters or sympathisers like them.' Tahir Mohiudin, a respected Kashmiri political analyst, said the brutal events in Mumbai risked a complete derailment of the India-Pakistan peace process begun in 2004 following a ceasefire agreement. Although the process has yielded little in terms of resolving the main disputes between the two countries, it has witnessed a major downturn in insurgency-linked violence. A bus service was started between Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir in 2005 and in October the de facto border was opened for trade. 'The people of Kashmir have been saddened by these senseless and mindless attacks,' Mohiudin said of the Mumbai killings. 'They know, ultimately, that it is they who will suffer if the peace process breaks,' he added. More than 47,000 people - more than one third of them civilians - have been killed since the armed insurgency in Indian Kashmir broke out nearly two decades ago. India has long accused Pakistan of arming and funding Kashmiri Muslim rebels, a charge Islamabad denies. Indian officials say Lashkar-e-Taiba has links to the well-funded Pakistani Islamist group Markaz-ad-Dawa-wal-Irshad, which recruits fighters for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lashkar, which wants to fold Indian Kashmir into Pakistan, first came into the spotlight when its fighters launched a suicide attack on a border guard camp, killing officers and soldiers. But the outfit's most audacious operation was an assault by armed gunmen on the Indian parliament in 2001, which brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Lashkar has been quick to deny any involvement in the Mumbai attacks. 'Unfortunately whenever bombs go off in India, Lashkar is immediately blamed and without any investigation,' its spokesman Abdullah Gaznavi told AFP on Thursday. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior Kashmiri separatist politician, who favours independence from both India and Pakistan, said Kashmiris had been as shocked and disturbed by what happened in Mumbai as everyone else in the world. 'I appeal to the media not to link these attacks with our political struggle. We don't approve of killing innocent people,' Farooq said.