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Kashmiri Muslims fear a central government takeover after failed ceasefire

Insurgents in Kashmir have been fighting Indian rule for 30 years. They want independence, or to be part of Pakistan.

by Angad Singh
Jun 29 2018, 4:00pm

“All three terrorists eliminated. Good job, boys,” tweeted the chief of police in India’s conflict-ridden Kashmir.

The victory tweet went out Friday afternoon, after security forces engaged in a gun battle with militants holed up in Pulwama, Kashmir. Besides the "terrorists," at least one civilian was reportedly killed in the melee when local protesters threw stones at police in attempts to disrupt their operation.

It's the latest incident in a fraught Muslim-majority area where Kashmiris have long felt oppressed by the Indian government’s heavy-handed rule.

Even Eid, the traditional day for celebration in Islam, was marked by violence. Hundreds of Muslim youth took to the streets in Kashmir to protest against the government’s rule, throwing stones at the police — and facing harsh fire in return.

For 30 years in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, protestors, armed groups, and Pakistani-backed Muslim militants have rebelled against the government — and tens of thousands have been killed in kidnappings, executions, skirmishes and raids.

It was supposed to get better under the state’s last chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti. Starting in 2016, she took a reconciliatory approach toward the state’s Muslim population in hopes of reducing the violence. Then May of this year, she negotiated a pause in offensive military operations, a ceasefire meant to help the state’s Muslim population peacefully celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.

At first, Mufti’s coalition partners from the hardline-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were reluctant to support the deal. The BJP’s stance has traditionally been one of harsh punishment against Kashmir’s rebellious Muslims.

But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the BJP, pushed the deal through.

“The idea of Ramadan ceasefire is to give Kashmiri youth a sense of stability and a chance to progress,” Modi said in a visit to Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.

But the ceasefire didn’t work. Violence continued throughout the holy month. Dozens of civilians, insurgents, and security forces were killed. It culminated on Eid.

One casualty that day was Shiraz Ahmad Naikoo, in the southern town of Anantnag. Police say he had mishandled a grenade, but his cousin Asif Hussain told VICE News Shiraz was shot.

"He went to do Eid prayers, and these oppressors, these animals, these merciless people, they killed him mercilessly.” Hussain told VICE News. “He used to hang out with me, he used to chit-chat with me… I knew him: Where would he have gotten a grenade from?”

Altaf Thakur, a BJP spokesperson in Kashmir, has little sympathy for protestors like Shiraz. He believes foreign powers are backing separatists.

“If he was innocent… he should’ve been at home at the time; it was Eid,” said Thakur. “Whoever is a stone-pelter, they are terrorists. It is fully organized and it’s backed by Pakistan.”

The Eid protests were the last straw for both the local BJP in Jammu and Kashmir, and the central government.

Watch: Meet the man photographing the women who lost their families in the Kashmir Valley

The center resumed offensive security operations immediately after Eid, pinning the blame on Muslim insurgents for not respecting security forces’ “exemplary restraint.”

The BJP then withdrew from a coalition with Mufti’s party in Jammu and Kashmir’s state parliament, forcing her to abdicate her role as the state’s chief minister.

Without a chief minister, “governors rule” was imposed in Kashmir, which basically puts the BJP-led federal government in charge.

And now that the BJP has watched a reconciliatory policy with the state’s Muslim population fail, governor’s rule could easily translate into increased security operations.

Similar operations prompted the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to release a report during Ramadan, which criticized both armed groups and the state for excessive force that led to human rights violations. They recommended that India “fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir.”

This segment originally aired June 21, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.