Jammu and Kashmir is listed as one of the ten conflicts to watch for in 2021 after a spike in violence in 2020 was registered as being the highest since 2016.
According to a newly released report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) Project, the fragile situation in Kashmir has the potential to see violence exacerbate in 2021.
ACLED listed Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, as one of the 10 conflicts to watch for in 2021 alongside others such as Yemen, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The grim projection of the organisation is based on analysis of the events which took place in 2020, the most violent year since 2016 when the region witnessed months-long protests against India. They had been triggered by the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani.
Accusing the Indian government of virtually destroying any chances of peace in the region, ACLED pointed to India’s abrogation of Kashmir’s special status. New Delhi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomous status by dividing it into two centrally-ruled territories on August 5, 2019.
According to the report, a surge in activity of domestic and foreign militants in Kashmir could be the result of policy shifts ushered in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
It also added that in 2020, India focused on deflecting opportunities for negotiation and tightening control of Kashmir, while promoting pro-Indian politics in Jammu and Kashmir. At the same time, Indian forces used the coronavirus lockdown to strengthen intelligence gathering and to intensify military operations.
ACLED, a non-governmental organisation specialising in disaggregated conflict data collection, analysis, and crisis mapping, claims that India and Pakistan are unlikely to make the necessary effort to sort out the conflict bilaterally in the near future.
Pakistan and India have been accusing each other for violating the 2003 border cease-fire agreement. New Delhi’s Home Ministry said that Islamabad violated the agreement 5,133 times, while Pakistan accused Indian troops of violating the agreement more than 1,600 times in 2020.
The report also mentioned the killing of dozens of civilians and soldiers, saying they were the highest since the signing of the border agreement in 2003.
Referring to the Modi government’s efforts to bring demographic changes in the territory, the ACLED report said: “An ongoing exercise aimed at redrawing the local legislative assembly segments will shift the power to the Hindu-majority Jammu region” and that the resulting marginalisation of Muslims “could in turn spur militant activity in the region.”
Commenting on the possible outcome of marginalisation of Muslims in the occupied territory, the report said that a Hindu jeweller, who had acquired domicile residency rights, was shot dead on December 31 last year, and that the son of a Hindu owner of a restaurant was shot three times in a high-security zone. The report made clear that in the past 30 years, the restaurant and several other businesses run by Hindus had never been targeted.
"To add to the preexisting tension, a new law allowing Indian citizens from other states to claim residency and purchase land in J&K has sparked concerns over potential demographic changes that would render the Kashmiri Muslim majority a minority,” the report said.
It added that the redrawing of Assembly constituencies in 2021 is expected to shift political power to the Hindu-majority Jammu division and away from Muslim-majority Kashmir.
The disputed region has been divided between Indian and Pakistani rule since 1947. In 2019, India revoked Article 370, which preserved Jammu & Kashmir’s semi-autonomy and ruled that the state would be separated into two federally-run territories: Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, as of October 31, 2019.
India has also taken the step to allow non-Kashmiris to own land and houses in the territory. By reinstating military, New Delhi also inflicted a complete communications ban on Kashmiris, throttling access to the internet with a policy that’s been called “digital aparthied”.
Furthermore, a curfew came down on Kashmir on August 3, 2019 put in place largely out of fear that separatists would launch violent protests around the first anniversary of New Delhi’s annexation of the state.