PKONWEB Report (Islamabad) — ‘Kashmir is no longer safe for Kashmiris’, read the latest headline in The Independent UK. ‘The (Indian) soldiers think we are their enemies now,’ one Kashmiri tells the paper days after jets flying low overhead heralding a dramatic escalation of tensions in which two nuclear-armed nations launched airstrikes against each other for the first time in history.
Even in the best of recent times, Kashmir has been described as the most highly militarized place on Earth, with an estimated 650,000 armed Indian security personnel stationed in a small valley surrounded on all sides by mountains.
Both India and Pakistan administer part of Kashmir, and both claim it in its entirety.
Between the strikes and tensions with the Indian security forces, the current crisis is killing businesses, shutting down schools and making the youth stay home or loiter on the streets.
“Day by day we are becoming more stressed. Financially we are losing, our education is disappearing, our businesses are being lost, and it is taking its toll on our minds,” said one Muslim Kashmiri.
On Women’s Day thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets. It was a powerful, emotive scene. The (forgotten) women of Kashmir, said one tweet.
The armed police have been enforcing greater restrictions on movement and crackdowns on separatist political groups since the Pulwama attack, and one Mr Kapra spoke angrily about being blocked from walking to his own shop.
“Whenever I go outside and see the armed troops standing there, I feel harassed,” he says. “In the rest of India, the army are there to help you. Here, because they are a show of force, you can’t even ask them for an address. And if you see them doing something wrong, they are not accountable for anything.”
A medical student Aabru Jaan, 22, said she has felt a change in the behavior of the Indian paramilitary forces since 40 of their officers were killed at Pulwama.
“We feel like the soldiers think we are their enemies now,” she said.
Like Mr Kapra, she says “just going out and about” has become a challenge.
“There are so many restrictions, more soldiers have been called here, and because the situation has been so intense I feel like Kashmir is no longer safe for Kashmiris,” she says.
India has vowed to kill all the militants in the country’s only Muslim-majority state if they do not give up arms, after a 20-year-old local man killed 40 paramilitary troopers in a suicide attack last month. Indian security forces have killed 18 militants in Kashmir since then, the army said on Monday.
Mehbooba Mufti, who was chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir from early 2014 to June last year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party withdrew support for her regional party, said the ongoing crackdown on militants and those supporting freedom could further alienate the people.
“Once you start choking the space for dissent in a democracy, people feel pushed to the wall and then it leads to further dissent and alienation,” she said.
India should talk to Pakistan and separatists in Kashmir, Mufti said.
“This confrontational attitude – no talks, no discussion -has an impact,” Mufti said. “Whatever relationship we have with Pakistan, it has a direct impact on Jammu and Kashmir and we are the worst sufferers of this animosity.”
Mufti, whose father was also a chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the tough stance by India would only lead to “some calm on the surface”. India killed 248 militants in Kashmir in 2018 – the highest in a decade.
According to The Economist, India’s government is intensifying a failed strategy in Kashmir. Resentment is growing ever stronger.