Frustration is growing among Kashmiris who fear New Delhi is trying to alter the demography of the Muslim-majority state.
It's unlikely that the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will even reach out to Kashmiri politicians, leave aside separatists, in a bid to control the spiraling violence in the disputed Himalayan territory, experts say.
New Delhi is relying increasingly on its army to curb militancy, raising fears of further escalation. There are also concerns that this can turn into a broader conflict with neighbouring Pakistan, which India accuses of supporting Kashmiri militants.
“I don’t think this (Modi) government is looking for any political compromise," said Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray, director of Mantraya, a New Delhi based think tank.
"It will take an even more hardline approach to deal with militancy. A more hardline approach means more security operations, more deployment of forces and more violence. Caught in between are the Kashmiri civilians who are going to suffer," he told TRT World.
More than 30 people including civilians have been killed since early October as a new wave of violence has swept across the disputed territory.
In one of the deadliest days for the Indian military in recent years, nine soldiers were killed in a militant attack on October 11.
Little-known outfits with names like Resistance Front and People’s Anti Fascist Front have come forward to take responsibility for attacks including those on civilians.
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir. The two nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought multiple wars over the region, control parts of the scenic valley.
A deadly new trend
A Sikh teacher and her Hindu colleague were shot dead inside a school on the outskirts of Srinagar earlier this month. Militants had checked identification cards of the staff before choosing their targets.
Indian police said other civilians who have been killed include migrants from other parts of India and Kashmiri Muslims who militants accuse of working with the security forces.
More than two dozen civilians have been killed so far this year, leading some migrant families to leave Kashmir and giving all the more reason for leaders of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to demand stricter military intervention.
Indian security forces have claimed killing more than a dozen militants this month in armed clashes including six on Tuesday.
It often uses brute force to deal with militants.
The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act gives security forces wide powers to arrest, kill and destroy property in counter insurgency operations, according to the Human Rights Watch.
An Indian military commander told The Hindustan Times that militants have been able to inflict damage on the army as they use a new strategy of attacking in pairs of two in densely forested regions like the Rajouri sector.
New Delhi blames Pakistan for the surge in violence, saying it has recorded four major cross-border infiltrations in the last two months.
But Amir Rana, director of Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, said pointing fingers at Pakistan feeds into India’s narrative of deflecting attention from the growing dissatisfaction among Kashmiri people.
“Pakistan is under a lot of pressure from the international community and the FATF to do anything like that,” he told TRT World, referring to the Financial Action Task Force, a global money laundering watchdog.
FATF, partly at the behest of India, has put pressure on Islamabad to clamp down Kashmir-focused militant groups.
Rana said Pakistan has disrupted the infrastructure of militant groups, which was active in the 1990s.
“We hardly ever hear that these militant groups are involved in any activity on the Pakistani side of Kashmir anymore.”
What drove Kashmiri youth to the edge is an endless military intervention in their personal lives which grew manifold in the last two years, he said
A battle for self determination
Tensions increased in Indian administered Kashmir since August 2019 when New Delhi stripped the region of its nominal autonomy.
Modi’s government revoked Article 370 of the constitution, which gave a special status to Kashmir, and reduced the state into a union territory led by the federal government.
A strict security lockdown was imposed after the constitutional change in which thousands of political activists were arrested and internet service remained suspended for months.
There’s a widespread fear of demographic change in what India considers its 'only Muslim-majority state'.
“The violence in Kashmir should be seen in the context of the very intense past two years,” said Hafsa Kanjwal, an expert on South Asian history. “There are huge levels of censorship and people are not able to speak up.”
Militant attacks on Hindus and other minorities in Kashmir work in favour of the Indian state as it is then able to tighten control over the region and project itself as a saviour of minorities, Kanjwal said.
Kashmiri politicians, even those who have towed New Delhi’s line, were also detained as almost all the leading political groups across sectarian divide have called for restoration of the region's statehood.
Modi promised in June to hold the elections but nothing has come out of it. A political vacuum has added to anger and frustration among Kashmiris.
But Kanjwal said that formation of a government, comprising Kashmiri leaders, is unlikely to curb militancy.
“I don’t think Kashmiri militant groups care so much about the state elections.”