Kashmir violence raises new security worries for India

13 August 2009

NEWDELHI-SRINAGAR: A spurt in violence in Kashmir shows militants may have abandoned a strategy of backing peaceful street protests to fight Indian rule, raising fears of sucking in Indian and Pakistani troops to their tense border. Separatists groups hoped that months of street protests last year could galvanise into a massive anti-India movement, but the demonstrations petered out and New Delhi carried out two rounds of peaceful elections in the state, despite boycott calls. 'The militant groups do not want the administration to settle down and are using violent tactics now as people in the region are talking peace and even voted in large numbers,' Naresh Chandra, a former envoy to Washington, said. 'Pakistan continues to aid militants crossing over from their side and this could raise tension between troops also,' he said. A rise in tension could be a blow for the United States, which wants India and Pakistan to resume a peace process, paused after November's Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, so that Islamabad can focus its security efforts on its Afghan border. Since July, 30 people have been killed in firefights along a military Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, and 14 infiltration attempts have been made, double than last year during the same period, Indian officials say. Two-decade-old separatist violence in Kashmir has fallen since India and Pakistan, which claim the disputed Himalayan region in full, began a peace process in 2004. Also, state polls held last year in Kashmir saw a turnout of more than 60 percent, despite a boycott call by separatists. People also came out to vote during the April-May general election held this year, prompting some separatist leaders to talk about a shift of strategy from backing peaceful protests to adopting violent tactics. 'They (Pakistan-based groups) find things have gone far too peaceful ... They don't wish for this prolonged peace and stability,' Deepak Kapoor, India'a army chief, told reporters this week in New Delhi. 'Hence you see heightened activity, heightened attempts to try to get as many people in before the winters come, snow falls and passes close,' Kapoor said. Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani reiterated Pakistan's stance that resolving issues such as Kashmir was important for regional stability, which Indian experts said was a ploy to keep the Kashmir issue alive. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. 'Pakistan is trying to convince the western world that Kashmir is raging and these militants are all freedom fighters fighting to free Kashmir from Indian rule,' Amulya Ganguli, a defence expert, said. 'As Pakistan is coming under huge international pressure to act against militants it is opening all pressure points against India and Kashmir is a forefront of that strategy,' Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research said. (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sugita Katyal)