India has accused its nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan of stoking violence in its Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, where normal life has remained severely disrupted ever since New Delhi revoked the state’s political autonomy in early August.
In a rare media briefing, Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, told journalists that Pakistan — furious at events that have “demolished” hopes of Kashmiri independence — was trying to push more than 200 militants and weapons into India’s picturesque Himalayan region.
“They are supporting terrorists. They are infiltrating terrorists into India. They are telling terrorists to disrupt the situation,” said Mr Doval, one of the architects of India’s Kashmir strategy. “They want to create an international opinion that what is happening is genocide. They would be very happy in case there is bloodshed. That would only further their objective.”
He cited instances of militants attacking Kashmiris seeking to resume normal activities, in one case killing a Srinagar shopkeeper who tried to open his store, and shooting several relatives of a prominent apple trader.
But Pakistani officials deny any role in the turmoil.
“By pointing fingers at Pakistan, Ajit Doval is trying to divert attention away from the real problem created by an Indian decision,” Iftikhar Durrani, a spokesman for Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, told the FT. “It is now India’s responsibility to deal with the situation in Kashmir, which is out of its control.”
Mr Doval said the severe restrictions enforced in the Kashmir Valley since August 5 — including the detention of hundreds of Kashmiri political and civil society leaders and the suspension of all internet and mobile phone services for nearly 8m people — were necessary to ensure public safety.
“Internet and mobiles are dangerous from a security point of view,” he added.
Yet even as New Delhi silences Kashmiri voices, Mr Doval insisted that most state residents supported New Delhi’s decision to revoke Jammy and Kashmir’s special status and overturn its ban of outsiders buying property in the state, moves that he said would bring greater prosperity, new jobs and opportunity, to the troubled region.
“I’m fully convinced that the majority of Kashmiris, except for some miscreants instigated by unfriendly powers, are totally in support of this,” he says.
Western governments have largely accepted India’s stand that revoking Kashmir’s autonomy was an internal matter for India. However, there is growing international concern over the impact of the protracted clampdown on a region already scarred by the legacy of a violent Pakistani-backed separatist insurgency that claimed an estimated 45,000 lives, mostly in the 1990s and first decade of the current millennium.
Kashmiris have been effectively muzzled since New Delhi’s controversial to rescind their autonomy. Nearly all mainstream Kashmiri politicians and prominent civil society leaders including businessmen have been detained or put under house arrest since the political reorganisation. Foreign journalists have been barred from visiting.
Some Kashmiris, including Shah Faesal — a former civil servant who resigned from the prestigious Indian Administrative Service to start a political Kashmiri party — have been prevented from leaving India at the New Delhi airport, forcibly returned to Kashmir to be detained.
As the lockdown enters its fifth week, the international community has become more vocal about its humanitarian concerns.
“We urge authorities to respect human rights and restore access to services such as the internet and mobile networks,” US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told reporters last week, adding that Washington was “very concerned by widespread detentions, including of local political and business leaders, and the restrictions on the residents of the region”.
Additional reporting by Farhan Bokhari