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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Modi visits Kashmir as unilateral ceasefire offer falls flat

Indian PM opens hydropower plant that is the latest development project aimed at quelling local unrest

Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi waves as he sits next to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during the inauguration if the 330mw Kishenganga hydroelectric project in Srinagar on May 19, 2018. Tauseef Mustafa / AFP
Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi waves as he sits next to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during the inauguration if the 330mw Kishenganga hydroelectric project in Srinagar on May 19, 2018. Tauseef Mustafa / AFP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the strife-torn region of Kashmir on Saturday, days after his government suspended army operations against separatist militants and Pakistani troops across the border for the holy month of Ramadan.

In Srinagar to inaugurate a new hydropower station, Mr Modi called upon young Kashmiri men to leave militant groups, give up their guns, and return to mainstream life. He said the ceasefire was intended as “an awakening call to those who exploit Islam” and bend it to terrorism.

The Ramadan ceasefire was a measure urged by Mehbooba Mufti, head of Jammu & Kashmir state's coalition government in which Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is partner. “Mothers in Kashmir have slept without anxiety since the first day of Ramzan [Ramadan],” Ms Mufti said.

However, the ceasefire has very quickly proven to be a unilateral measure. Hours after it went into effect on Wednesday, militants fired at an army patrol in Shopian district. The soldiers retaliated but there were no deaths on either side, the government said.

On Thursday, Pakistani troops fired shells over the border, killing four civilians and a soldier, Indian police said. Another nine people were killed in cross-border fire on Friday.

“Sad that while our country took the lead in starting peace initiatives with cessation of operations during Ramzan, Pakistan has shown no respect whatsoever for this holy month,” Ms Mufti said on Twitter.

Militant groups and nationalist outfits have called the ceasefire meaningless. In a joint statement, separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik called it a “cosmetic measure”.

“The people of Kashmir are peace-loving and believe in permanent peace rather than a relaxation in killing for one month,” they said. “People want a permanent halt on war thrust by India.”

Mahmood Shah, the local chief of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, also rejected the ceasefire, calling it “nothing but drama”.

Indian security forces patrol in Srinagar during a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open a hydroelectric power project in Jammu and Kashmir on May 19, 2018. Dar Yasin / AP Photo
Indian security forces patrol in Srinagar during a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open a hydroelectric power project in Jammu and Kashmir on May 19, 2018. Dar Yasin / AP Photo

The ceasefire comes during a time of high unrest in Kashmir. Between January 1 and May 13, 33 civilians, 30 security personnel and 72 militants were killed in shooting or shelling, according to a tally by the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Police data shows that at least 69 young Kashmiri men have joined militant groups this year. Thirty-five of them joined after April 1, when the Indian army conducted a major counter-offensive, killing 13 militants and four civilians.

In Srinagar, Mr Modi pressed for more development of the kind embodied by the Kishenganga hydropower project, a proposed ring road around the city, and a new road tunnel through the Himalayas near the Zojila Pass. “Development will make Jammu & Kashmir stable, peaceful and progressive,” he said.

Pakistan has opposed the hydropower plant, claiming that it violates a river-water sharing treaty between the two countries. On Friday, the Pakistani foreign ministry said it was “seriously concerned" about the inauguration of the plant.

Peerzada Irshad, heads of the political science department at the University of Kashmir, said such infrastructure projects could only partially bridge the gulf between the Indian state and disaffected Kashmiri youth.

“If the prime minister inaugurates a tunnel, or a medical college, it will not go in vain. It will all count somewhere,” Mr Irshad told The National. “But the more the government defers a real conversation with alienated Kashmiris, the more this will rebound upon them.”

Last October, Mr Modi’s government appointed Dineshwar Sharma, a former intelligence chief, as its interlocutor in Kashmir. Mr Sharma was tasked with speaking to people across the region to get a sense of their problems of livelihood, their criticisms of the government, and their aspirations.

But Mr Sharma has no power to negotiate on behalf of the government. Ajit Kumar Singh, a research fellow at the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, called his role “talking for the sake of talking”.

“It’s true, you have to try different things,” Mr Singh said. “But Kashmir is not just a political problem. [The militancy] is a proxy war by Pakistan.” As a result, India’s security operations in the Kashmir valley would have to continue as long as the militancy continues, he said.

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