An Indian military operation in the Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir has resulted in the death of four rebel separatists including the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. Riyaz Naikoo was one of the most wanted men in Kashmir, spending the last eight years on the run and evading Indian security forces. His luck ran out on Tuesday when he was killed by Indian troops in his home village of Beigh Pora. Naikoo had assumed command of Hizbul Mujahideen after the group’s former leader Burhan Wani was killed by security forces in 2016. Naikoo’s killing comes days after militants killed eight Indian security officers in two separate encounters in northern Kashmir.
On Wednesday morning, Indian authorities locked down mobile internet access across the region to prevent large crowds from gathering to mourn Naikoo’s death. The underlying fear here is that such a gathering will lead to more violence and unrest in the region. As a nationwide lockdown to combat COVID-19 continues across India, fighting between separatists and Indian security forces and army troops in Kashmir has intensified. Separatist groups like Hizbul Mujahideen have been fighting against Indian rule for decades, desiring either independence for the Kashmir region or to join Pakistan.
The next month will likely see tensions rise, and fighting increase in Jammu and Kashmir. Snow is beginning to melt in the mountainous region, making it easier for militants to cross the border from Pakistan. Historically, May is the time of the year when infiltration activities across the Line of Control reach their high point.
COVID-19 is affecting the Kashmir region just as it is practically everywhere else. The difference here is that Kashmir is already one of the most dangerous places on the planet, rife with religious, and national tensions. Actions over the last year, specifically the ambush of Indian security forces by Pakistani-backed militants and the subsequent clash between Indian and Pakistani military forces last February, as well as India’s move to incorporate its Kashmir territories into the greater union have heightened tensions even further.
Over this past weekend, the situation in Kashmir escalated once more when Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged artillery fire across the Line of Control. Civilian areas were apparently targeted by both armies, a violation of the 2003 ceasefire accord. There were civilian casualties on the Pakistani side of the LoC at least. The Pakistani military has accused India with violating the frontier repeatedly since last Friday. Flareups in Kashmir occur from time to time, but with the world’s attention presently focused on the pandemic, and both countries reeling from COVID-19 the chances of a major military confrontation rise considerably with each passing day.
In other conflict zones around the world, attempts to bring about ceasefires during the pandemic have met with some level of success. Syria, and Yemen have quieted down with the respective combatants now more focused on fighting the virus instead of each other. In Kashmir, however, it has been business as usual, so to speak.
Author’s Note: Short update today, apologies. I’ll post again tomorrow and then over the weekend. I hope everyone is staying safe, and sane. 😊 –Mike
Kashmir is a long-established flashpoint and the focal point of Indo-Pakistani hostilities since 1948. 2019 saw the disputed region flare up once again, almost leading to open conflict between India and Pakistan in February. A suicide bombing by a Pakistani-supported terrorist group killed 40 Indian security personnel. Two weeks of rising tension followed, culminating with Indian and Pakistan launching airstrikes on targets in each other’s territory. The situation remained tense and then in August India’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special status threatened to spark a major conflict.
Over the past few days the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) has deteriorated with ceasefire violations bringing on cross-border shelling, and raids by Indian and Pakistani troops. The latest bout of fighting comes on the heels of Pakistan accusing India of moving medium-range ballistic missiles into Kashmir, and allegedly removing fencing in areas along the LoC. The Pakistani foreign minister warned India against “any misadventure” at the line, highlighting Pakistan’s concerns about events in the area.
Kashmir will continue to be an area worth monitoring in 2020. As the Modi government continues to project its nationalist-fueled domestic and foreign policies, the prospect of Kashmir erupting in fighting again remains high. Pakistan has relied on diplomacy to challenge India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, those efforts have not forced India to reconsider its designs for J&K and its millions of Muslim residents. The Modi government’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is causing headaches on the domestic front. Violent protests, and unrest have broken out across India as opposition to the bill grows. Pakistan is worried India could be thinking about engineering a military conflict somewhere along the LoC to divert attention away from the anti-CAA protests.
As is evident above, the dynamic on the ground in Kashmir is made up of many moving parts. More important is the fact those parts are becoming more brittle as time goes on. Going into the new year, it will not take much to turn the region into a conflagration that could spark a major war, or worse. Bear in mind that both India, and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons.
A growing number of Western media outlets, particularly in the United States, are beginning to regard the latest Pakistan-Indian crisis as now beginning to ease. Pakistan’s release of the Indian pilot who’d been captured after ejecting over Pakistani-administered Kashmir territory is a step in the right direction. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s action has certainly defused immediate escalation, but danger still remains. Khan, and his counterpart in New Delhi Narendra Modi are not out of the woods. The possibility of this crisis worsening before it improves cannot be ruled out just yet.
Following the pilot’s release, hostilities in the vicinity of the Line of Control (LoC) broke out again. India and Pakistan targeted each other’s military posts and villages in close proximity to the border. Casualties were suffered on both sides of the LoC, including five civilians, and two Pakistani soldiers dead. Although tragic, exchanges of artillery fire like this are common and rarely enough to spark escalation. However, given what’s happening at the moment, it would be more productive for India, and Pakistan to refrain from taking any further military actions in Kashmir.
Pakistan and India are being urged to sit down and talk by a host of nations, NGOs, and supranational bodies around the world. Today, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) adopted a resolution pushing the rival nations to resolve their issues ‘through peaceful means.’ Yesterday, Russia offered to act as a mediator between Islamabad and New Delhi to ease tensions. Pakistan was fast to accept the offer, yet it is unclear if India has even mulled it over.
Pakistan has reopened its airspace with heavy restrictions which are expected to remain in place until 4 March, 2019. This essentially means that most of Pakistani airspace will remain closed longer than expected, which will undoubtedly lead to further complications and delays for all air carriers in the region.
Tensions between India and Pakistan are at their highest level in decades after India launched airstrikes against a militant group’s training camps in Pakistani territory. These strikes were in retaliation for the terrorist attack on 14 February that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Pulwama. The militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack, and it was JeM’s camps that the Indian Air Force targeted and struck. Violence in the Kashmir region increased following the 14 February attack, with militant groups on both sides making cross-border raids.
Tuesday’s air strike was the first time Indian aircraft have violated the Line of Control (LoC) since 1971. The attack was made by 12 Indian Air Force Mirage 2000s. Multiple suspected JeM camps were hit with 1000kg bombs. The Mirages were escorted by Su-30MKI Flanker-H fighters. There was no engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighters.
On Wednesday, the Pakistani F-16s violated Indian air space and struck targets in close proximity to Indian Army positions. Pakistan claims it shot down two Indian MiG-21s that responded to the airspace violation, while India is claiming it shot down a Pakistani F-16. Apparently one Indian pilot is in the custody of the Pakistani authorities or armed forces. The fate of the second pilot is unknown.
The responses to the events of the last two days from Islamabad and New Delhi and been measured, and urge restraint. Whether or not these words become action remains to be seen. Predictably, the rest of the world is also urging restraint. Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers as well as bitter rivals. The fact that both nations have nuclear weapons adds a new dimension to the current crisis.
There will be regular updates on the crisis in Kashmir in the coming hours, and if anything major should develop it will be reported.