In the late afternoon hours this past Thursday a young Kashmiri man, Aadil Ahmad Dar, drove a vehicle full of explosives into a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir. More than 40 Indians were killed in what is now being cited as the most violent single terrorist attack in Kashmir in the history of the conflict and struggle there.
The terrorist organization, the Army of Muhammad (Jaish-e-Muhammad), claimed credit for the attack. The group is alleged to raise money and base its operations out of Pakistan according to reports from both India and the United States. Pakistan denies this allegation.
A previous major attack by the Army of Muhammad in Kashmir resulted in significant crackdowns from India in the summer of 2016. The death toll of the terrorist attacks at that time was less than half of this recent event.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is already considered a Hindu hardliner by many in the region. This terrorist attack comes in a political environment in which India’s national elections are only weeks away. Pressure for an immediate and forceful response from the Indian military is being felt across the country. Tensions between Pakistan and India over Kashmir are already high. Many fear this recent terrorist attack may be the tipping point, providing both the political will and moral justification for the Modi government to retaliate and punish Pakistan.
Following the latest attack — the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir’s history — Modi warned that those behind it would pay a heavy price and that security forces have been given a free hand to act against terror. The Times of India newspaper reported Saturday that the military options — short of two nuclear-armed rivals going to war — could range from “shallow ground-based attacks and occupation of some heights along the Line of Control (cease-fire line) to restricted but precision airstrikes against non-state targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.” Associated Press
Kashmir has been the focus of competing power struggles between India and Pakistan since the British left the two nations to their independence in 1947. Currently, India controls most of the area. Many within Kashmir wish for either independence or to be ruled by Pakistan.
Fighting for these goals has taken shape among local bands of militants for decades. Originally these militants came from Pakistan to fight against India within Kashmir. The violence flared in the late 1980s and 90s. India has ruled over Kashmir with an increasingly oppressive and iron grip since that time. As a result, today’s militants in Kashmir are largely homegrown. While 2012 saw a record low in the number of militancy-related deaths in the conflict, in recent years the violence has escalated. For Kashmir, 2018 was the most violent year of the last decade.
According to officials, in the last year alone more than 250 militants have been killed in Kashmir.
See my Backgrounder on the Kashmir Conflict here
See also my Essential Guide to the History of India
Critics to the Indian government report that disproportionate force and oppression in Kashmir has intensified the resentment and will to fight back among the local population. India insists that Kashmir is the site of a proxy war being carried out by Pakistan against India.
Why This Should Matter To You…
India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers. The contested territory of Kashmir that separates and concentrates the conflict between these two rival states was accordingly identified by former US President Bill Clinton as, “The most dangerous place in the world.”
The potential for massive, violent warfare breaking out between these two nuclear powers is greatly intensified by this attack. The timing of the attacks with the upcoming elections provides an all too convenient timing for incredible violence and retaliation.
Voices I Am Following On This Issue
These are historians and writers I have followed and continue to follow as this issue in Kashmir unfolds.