There have been over 500 casualties so far in 2018 in just the India-administered portion of the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir in the Himalayas, marking the deadliest year in the area in almost a decade, Al Jazeera reported over the weekend.
“The Indian forces are armed with laws that protect them. They are trigger happy forces. They fear no prosecution, no accountability. They are here to kill people, especially youth,” Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, a senior separatist leader, told Al Jazeera.
“The youth have been shot in the head, in the neck, the abdomen. It was shoot-to-kill, not to disperse them,” he added, referring to an incident on Saturday involving the death of seven young Kashmiri civilians at the hands of Indian forces.
“No one is talking about it. The world is silent. This is a complete colonial approach to suppress people,” Farooq added.
Pakistan’s military and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have condemned Saturday’s incident as “state-sponsored terrorism” at the hands of India.
@OIC_IPHRC recently received detailed briefing on the worsening #humanrights situation in the #Indian occupied #Kashmir (#IoK). @OIC_IPHRC condemned the recent wave of violence against civilians & called on Indian Government to allow #OIC & IPHRC fact finding mission to visit IoK pic.twitter.com/R0wYwyIN0v
— OIC (@OIC_OCI) December 16, 2018
State sponsored terrorism by Indian Occupation Forces on innocent Kashmiris including unethical targeting of civilian population across LOC are highly condemnable.Bullets can never suppress unarmed brave Freedom Fighters.Indian Army must respect ethics of professional soldiering.
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) December 17, 2018
“There is mayhem. The soldiers fired bullets at unarmed civilians without a second thought,” Ruby Hamid, a resident of India-administered Kashmir, told Al Jazeera.
“This year has been the deadliest in the disputed territory in nine years with more than 500 casualties, including 146 civilians. …The disputed territory has witnessed an intermittent cycle of violence over the last few months as Indian forces intensified their operations against rebels, killing a record 230 rebels in less than a year,” Al Jazeera reported Saturday.
Prior to Saturday’s incident, the news outlet learned from human rights groups that a total of “535 people have been killed this year” in Indian-held Kashmir, including “246 separatist fighters, 144 Indian soldiers or police personnel and 145 civilians.”
In a move considered unprecedented, the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India this year took direct control of the Indian-held region of Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority territory in the country, following the collapse of a fragile coalition with a local political group.
Critics have accused the BJP party of a hardline approach against pro-Pakistan and separatist groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir. The BJP reportedly maintains links with Hindu extremists accused of persecuting Muslims.
China, its ally Pakistan, and their rival India all have competing claims of territory within Kashmir. However, China has mostly stayed in the shadows of territorial disputes between Pakistan and India, which have gone to war twice over the region. China does provide Pakistan with economic and military support.
Despite a 2003 ceasefire, India and Pakistan have repeatedly clashed in recent months along the border that separates the regions they respectively control in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LOC).
While New Delhi accuses Islamabad of backing Islamic terrorists in Kashmir, Pakistan blames India of violently oppressing pro-Pakistan separatists who are fighting for independence or in favor of a merger with Pakistan.
The killing of civilians at the hands of Indian troops has repeatedly triggered violent clashes between residents and Indian police across the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Saturday’s incident is no exception.
“Hundreds of Kashmiri youths, protesting the killings and shouting anti-India slogans, clashed with Indian forces in the south of the region,” Al Jazeera revealed. “Shops and businesses pulled down their shutters and Indian troops rushed to the streets to prevent further demonstrations. Mobile internet services were also suspended in the divided Himalayan region as authorities feared unrest would spread.”
“Armed soldiers and police on Monday fanned out across much of Indian-controlled Kashmir to enforce a security lockdown for a straight second day to stop anti-India protests and foil a call by separatists for a public march toward India’s main military garrison in the disputed region,” the Associated Press (AP) added.
On Saturday, Indian forces reportedly killed seven civilians and three armed rebels during clashes in New Delhi-administered Kashmir.
“A senior police official told Al Jazeera that a soldier also succumbed to his injuries after the clashes in Sirnoo village, taking the total death toll to 11,” Al Jazeera revealed, adding that 14-year-old Aqib Ahmad is among the dead civilians.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan blasted India over the killing of the seven civilians, threatening to bring up the issue at the United Nations.
Referring to Saturday’s incident, Dr. Abdul Rasheed Para of the district hospital in Pulwama, told Al Jazeera, “We have received six dead bodies since the morning. All of them had firearm injuries in the head, abdomen, and neck. Most of them were in the age group between 18 and 23 years. They were all young. Twenty-five people were treated with different injuries, some of them had bullet injuries, and some were hit with pellets.”
“The slain rebels” were members of the Pakistan-linked Hizb-ul-Mujahideen terrorist group, Al Jazeera learned from Indian officials.
The U.N. has largely ignored the deteriorating security conditions in Kashmir.