India’s government is intensifying a failed strategy in Kashmir

GUNS HAVE slipped back into holsters and diplomats behind their desks; the Samjhauta or “Concord” Express has resumed its reassuring bi-weekly chug connecting Lahore Junction and Old Delhi Station. Relations between India and Pakistan are returning to the normal huffy disdain after a week of military brinkmanship. For the divided and disputed border region of Kashmir, there is relief. Yet in the Kashmir Valley, a fertile and densely populated part of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, this comes tempered with weariness. For its 7m inhabitants, most of them Muslim, a return to normal means a large and growing pile of frustrations. Some, such as bad government services and a deepening shortage of jobs, are familiar to all Indians. Others are unique to the valley.

Pakistan views the valley’s Muslims as sundered citizens; its constitution prescribes what should happen not if, but “when”, Kashmiris vote to join Pakistan. And since independence in 1947, Pakistan has never ceased trying to hasten this moment by sending guerrillas over the border to stir up jihad—although this week it claimed to rounding up such militants. India, for its part, says that Kashmir was lucky to fall to a secular, democratic country at partition and not to its violent, narrow-minded neighbour. But Indian governments turn deaf the moment people in the valley speak of greater autonomy, let alone azadi (independence). Their efforts at counter-insurgency have been disturbingly bloody. The conflict has claimed 50,000 lives since the 1980s.

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The deafness has been especially pronounced of late. When Narendra Modi came to power in India in 2014, violence in the valley was near its lowest level in a quarter century. Perhaps jihadist action would have risen again anyway, but government policies plainly have not helped. Senior officials have called for the scrapping of constitutional clauses that grant the government of Jammu & Kashmir a few more powers than those of other states. Security forces have become even more heavy-handed. They use shotguns to suppress angry crowds, thereby blinding many protesters with metal pellets. An army officer who kidnapped a civilian and strapped him to a jeep as a human shield was not punished, but lauded and promoted.

Many Kashmiris were further alienated when Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had swept polls in Jammu, the largely Hindu part of the state, first joined in an opportunistic coalition government with a pro-independence party and then abruptly quit. This allowed Mr Modi to impose direct rule from Delhi. Those who had derided Indian democracy as a sham seemed vindicated.

Infiltration from Pakistan has been rife. In the words of Shivshankar Menon, a former Indian national security adviser, “When they think you are in trouble in Jammu & Kashmir, their temptation is to stir up that trouble.” Violence began to mount, and with it the intensity of the government’s response. When guerrillas hole up in villages, the security services tend to blitz their hideouts. Bystanders are often injured in the crossfire and their property destroyed. A growing proportion of the insurgents are local, even college-educated Kashmiris, not from across the border. Huge crowds gather at their funerals.

It was a local recruit of a group based in Pakistan who drove a bomb-packed minivan into a convoy of Indian police in the valley in mid-February, killing 40 and initiating the face-off with Pakistan. In response, online agitators and even BJP officials goaded mobs around India to attack Kashmiris. Omair Ahmad, an Indian writer, despairingly remarks, “The Indian right has always seen Kashmir as our Kosovo: a land to be loved, a people to be hated.”

In recent weeks Mr Modi’s government has escalated the repression in the valley, bringing in extra troops, rounding up non-violent activists and banning a moderate Islamic group that runs scores of schools, employing some 10,000 teachers. It has cut government advertising in local newspapers, their main source of revenue. Curfews and internet shutdowns have intensified. Senior officials speak, alarmingly, of the need to “instil India” in locals.

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