Why do Kashmiris harass Indian soldiers

The situation in Kashmir is extremely dangerous for India

India has bred terrorists with the repression in Kashmir. Foreign fighters could also infiltrate there. Security experts in Delhi call for a military strike against Pakistan.

John Mushtaq trades in carpets, scarves and traditional products made from painted paper mache. He regularly commutes his goods between Srinagar, the largest city in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the capital Delhi. Business has been bad for a long time, but since last Thursday Mushtaq has “just been depressed,” as he says. That day, at least 42 police officers died in a suicide attack in the Pulwama district of Kashmir. Since then, many Kashmiri in northern India have feared for their lives.

Fanatic Hindu nationalists blame the residents of the disputed state between India and Pakistan for the deaths of the police officers, even though the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e Mohammad (Army of Muhammad, JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack. Kashmiri students report threats and physical abuse, and some have had their rooms terminated because landlords are afraid of devastation. According to the Indian media, twelve students in Dehradun and Uttarakhand complained that members of Hindu nationalist organizations affiliated with the ruling BJP party had beaten them up.

The Interior Ministry then called on all states to guarantee the safety of Kashmiri students. The Minorities Commission in Delhi called on the police to pay close attention. She warned against attempts to poison the atmosphere and start riots. The Central Reserve Police Force, the largest police force in the country, set up an emergency number for Kashmiris who feel threatened or harassed.

Two months before the elections, India's nerves are on edge. It is not the first time the country has discussed how to respond to a terrorist attack for which it blames neighboring Pakistan. But for the first time, an attack with a large number of fatalities occurred during the hot phase of an election campaign in which the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also under considerable pressure.

“The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) knows that it has a good chance of re-election if it plays its cards well now. If not, their chances will drop significantly, ”says political scientist Happymon Jacob from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. That makes the situation more dangerous than usual. In fact, the heated mood offers Modi the chance to present himself as the “savior of the motherland” after his party has lost popularity in recent months.

Many voters resent Modi for promising them better economic times before he was elected, but then unemployment in India rose slightly over the past four years. The prime minister has therefore long been under pressure from radical student organizations associated with his own party, and the pressure is increasing because of the attack.

India has often reacted cautiously to terrorist attacks. There was a reluctance to seriously consider attacking Pakistan because of the threat of tactical nuclear weapons use. Now, however, not only the tabloids, but also many security experts are calling for a military counter-attack.

According to Arka Biswas, a security expert at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in Delhi, India has the doctrine of "certain massive counterattack" in the event of a nuclear attack from Pakistan. But this is ineffective because Pakistan knows that India does not want a nuclear war. India must therefore make it clear that even below this threshold it has sufficient conventional military means at its disposal to react proportionally to the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons.

But that is easier said than done. Of course, Prime Minister Modi, who gave the Indian army a “free hand” after the attack, also knows that India's reaction must be a mixture of military means and diplomacy, but during the election campaign Modi has to present himself more than usual as a “strong man”. Attacks from the air along the so-called Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Indian part of Kashmir from the Pakistani part, or so-called “surgical attacks” by the Indian army are therefore conceivable in the coming weeks. These already existed in 2016 after a terrorist attack, but they did not have much effect.

It would be more difficult to attack bases of the terrorist organization JeM itself. Its headquarters are in the city of Bahawalpur in the Pakistani state of Punjab, even if Pakistan persistently denies that it has anything to do with the JeM. Civilian casualties could be expected, and it was also an attack on Pakistani territory. A direct attack on facilities of the Pakistani army would certainly result in counter attacks and thus mean war - with an uncertain outcome.

The question is whether Delhi is taking such a risk this close to an election. Modi knows that a war with Pakistan cannot solve the Kashmir problem. Even under his government, Delhi has done too little to signal to the people of Kashmir that it takes their concerns seriously. For a long time India relied on the fact that the majority there did not want to join Pakistan and fought the unrest in Kashmir purely militarily. Again and again there were civilian casualties.

The political games of the traditional parties in Kashmir no longer reach the youth. The fact that the state has been under the direct administration of Delhi since 2018 because the BJP collapsed the coalition government there has led to a lack of democracy that only fuels dissatisfaction. In recent years, a young generation of radicals has grown up in these conditions, who are also using suicide attacks as a means for the first time.

One of these young radicals was Thursday's assassin, Aadil Ahmed, who had recently joined the JeM. The organization was comparatively quiet for a long time, which is why the Indian secret service has apparently neglected the group. The governor of Jammu and Kashmir has admitted security failures after the attack.

It is a highly dangerous development for India. The JeM should also maintain contacts with the Afghan Taliban, which in turn are also supported by Pakistan and expect a return to power with the announced withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan. In this case, radicals of all kinds could infiltrate from Afghanistan via Pakistan to Kashmir with the usual clandestine support of the Pakistani military and continue their “jihad” there.

The reaction of Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan shows how far India has fallen behind strategically in the region. Khan calmly announced that, as in Afghanistan, the problem in Kashmir could not be solved through war, but only through talks.