Sympathize Kashmiri separatists with terrorists

In the Kashmir conflict, the hour of the hardliner strikes

The Modi government's anti-terrorist policy has come under fire after the serious attack on Indian security forces. In the contested province, the population has radicalized.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced retaliation after the suicide attack in the Kashmir Valley that killed at least 40 security guards on Thursday afternoon. The terrorist groups and their backers would pay a very high price, Modi said in a speech on Friday. India’s army has a free hand to respond.

Half-hearted condemnation

The Pakistani extremist group Jaish-e Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst in 30 years. This has been officially banned in the Islamic Republic since 2002. But the Indian and American governments assume that Pakistan will tolerate Jaish-e Mohammad, who sometimes appears under a different name and wants to force Kashmir to join Pakistan. Its leader, the cleric Masood Azhar, is also said to be on Pakistani soil and recruit fighters from there. The Pakistani ambassador in Delhi was summoned to the Indian Foreign Ministry on Friday. Government supporters burned symbols of Pakistan in the economic metropolis of Mumbai. There were also rallies against the neighboring country in other cities.

Islamabad described the attack as "very worrying". Pakistan disapproved of acts of violence around the world and opposed allegations that it had anything to do with the attack on the convoy. An unequivocal condemnation of the bloodbath in Indian-controlled Kashmir sounds different. Under Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Pakistani security apparatus has taken action against violent Islamists in the past few months, but groups are clearly allowed to act to fight for a “liberation” of the troubled province claimed by both countries.

The White House in Washington issued a communiqué calling on Islamabad to immediately withdraw support from terrorist groups in the country. The USA, India and the United Nations classify Jaish-e Mohammad as a terrorist organization. India's repeated efforts to have its chief declared a terrorist by the Security Council have failed due to resistance from China. Pakistan opposed extradition as there was no evidence that the militant cleric Azhar was at fault.

Single track policy

Narendra Modi, who claims to be an advocate of tough anti-terrorism policies, is under pressure to act because of the Indian parliamentary elections scheduled for April and May. After the attack, the opposition Congress Party accused the government of having utterly failed in security policy. As an immediate measure, India Pakistan canceled the preferential tariffs - because of the insignificant trade volume of the two countries, this is of course only symbolic politics. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, one of the most influential voices in the cabinet, wants to ensure that Pakistan is isolated internationally.

Given the heated political climate, it would be astonishing if India limited itself to sanctioning Pakistan at the diplomatic level. In 2016, Jaish-e Mohammad stormed an army base and killed 19 soldiers. Then the Indian army carried out a military strike in the Pakistani part. The same group was believed to be behind the high-profile attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.

The central government has been administering the Indian part of Kashmir directly since the end of 2018. Modi's right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had previously dissolved its coalition with an influential regional party. As a result, the local government collapsed. Critics accuse Delhi of primarily using military means in Kashmir and boasting about how many terrorists they have eliminated. What is ignored, however, is the fact that more and more young people and children in the Indian part of Kashmir are radicalized. According to the think tank Observer Research Foundation, extremist organizations recruited around 70 people in 2015 and almost 90 in 2016. In 2017 the number rose to over 120, last year even to 192.

While bombers used to infiltrate Kashmir from Pakistan or Afghanistan, India now has to grapple with the unpleasant fact that a new generation of violent teenagers is growing up on home soil. The alleged suicide bomber on Thursday, Adil Dar, was apparently from the Indian district of Pulwama in Kashmir and is said to be a high school dropout. Before he rammed the motorcade of a paramilitary police force in a vehicle loaded with 350 kilograms of explosives, Dar declared in a propaganda video that he had joined the cleric Masood Azhar in 2018. In the past few years there have been clashes with security forces in the homeland of the suicide bomber. It is unclear how Dar managed to approach the closely guarded convoy.

Sympathies for the extremists

The Indian army experiences every day that the local population sympathizes with insurgents. Locals often stand in the way of the commandos that hunt down extremists. Of course, this tactic has led to an increase in civilian casualties. 150 civilians are said to have died last year, including many young people. This continues the spiral of violence. In addition, the residents suffer from the side effects of the anti-terrorist operations: the Internet or the telephone network is often turned off.

The conflict goes back to the independence of the former British India and the separation in India and Pakistan in 1947. In the part administered by India, militant supporters are fighting a separation of the predominantly Muslim Kashmir from the predominantly Hindu India. Tens of thousands of people have died in the Himalayan region since the 1980s.