Valley of the Brawls

Tensions Rise in Kashmir

Indian policemen clash with Kashmiri protesters during a protest in Srinagar, August 2008. Danish Ismail / Reuters

Today’s Kashmir Valley looks worryingly similar to the Kashmir of the 1980s, just before the region erupted into a bloody insurgency that threatened the stability of the Indo-Pakistani border. Yet in recent years, international security analysts have overlooked the region. In part, that is because there has been some good news: violence in Jammu and Kashmir declined steadily between 2001 and 2012, thanks to increased security measures, international pressure, and serious political engagement with separatists and the Pakistani government. Since then, however, India’s continued military control of the valley has stoked political grievances without providing meaningful economic dividends.

Members of the Jammu & Kashmir police, army officials, a former chief of India’s foreign intelligence agency, and a former Indian national security adviser have expressed fears that the region could once again see major conflict, pointing to its rising religious radicalism, communal tensions, and what they have called a significant increase in militant violence.

In fact, following a steady decline in violence—there were fewer than 100 fatalities in 2012 for the first year since the beginning of the insurgency—the numbers have again begun to rise. Recent data from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs reveal that casualties in Kashmir have almost doubled since 2012, to 185. Over the same time frame, independent estimates show a steady rise of major incidents (from ten to 24) and suicide attacks  (from zero to six). The controversial February 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri terrorist who was sentenced to death for his role in the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, triggered a new wave of public anger and violence. This uptick resembles the buildup of instability in the 1980s, with palpable unrest and periodic terrorist attacks that eventually bubbled over.

The revival of militant organizations, particularly in southern Kashmir, poses another alarming trend. Several Kashmir-based observers, journalists, and analysts suggest that the once defunct militant group Hizbul Mujahideen has been resurrected because of a swell in recruits. Even more concerning, most of the new recruits are young,

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