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Security in Kashmir

06 August 2019

On 5 August, India's Home Minister Amit Shah introduced four bills in parliament's upper house regarding Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state, including legislation to abrogate Articles 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution - which grant special autonomy to Indian Kashmir - and a bill to bifurcate the state, establishing it as a union territory. On 4 August, the Indian government imposed curfew-style restrictions in J&K, suspended all telecoms services, and placed former state chief ministers under house arrest, possibly to avoid mobilisation of local protests. This followed an additional paramilitary deployment of about 40,000 personnel from 27 July. At the time of publication, the bills were still being debated in parliament.

The redrawing of J&K as a union territory will enable the central government to oversee state security. The new bill, if passed, would allow partial statehood for J&K. This means that Kashmir will retain a state legislature, but law and order will be overseen by the central government instead of a state police force, which is currently in place. This centre-led deployment would enable the Indian government to continue the hardline militaristic approach that it has maintained in J&K since the state government was dissolved in June 2018, leading to increased curfews, increased preventive detentions, and continued cordon-and-search operations against suspected militants.

Pakistan will likely respond by encouraging separatist unrest in Indian Kashmir, increasing the risk of skirmishes along the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan's foreign office condemned India's withdrawal of J&K's special status and will likely raise objections at international forums. However, Pakistani diplomatic criticism is unlikely to affect Indian policy, which is likely to drive Pakistani attempts to encourage protests and separatist attacks against Indian security forces in Kashmir. Such moves would be intended to highlight local Kashmiri opposition in the eyes of the international community, to disrupt the abrogation process, and to impose costs on the Indian military. The extent of Pakistani support for militancy, however, will probably be restrained by the increased international scrutiny over Pakistan's connections with Kashmiri separatist groups - including through the Financial Action Task Force and the International Monetary Fund - that has led to a broad government crackdown on Kashmiri separatist activity in Pakistan. Nevertheless, any increase in Kashmiri militancy would require increased militant infiltration and arms smuggling across the LoC, which would almost certainly trigger intensified skirmishes between the Indian and Pakistani militaries involving artillery and small-arms fire. The risk of Indian airstrikes, artillery attacks, and missile strikes against suspected militant sanctuaries in Pakistani Kashmir would also increase.

The risk of protests within Kashmir will remain low in the immediate outlook, but civil society-led protests are likely in major cities. The Indian government's pre-emptive security measures adopted on 4 August were likely intended to avoid any localised civil unrest against the proposed abrogation. The government has not announced a timeframe for lifting the restrictions, and mass protests in Srinagar and other districts of Kashmir therefore remain very unlikely in the immediate outlook. However, protests are highly likely after the restrictions are lifted, involving thousands of people with civilians engaging in stone-throwing and security forces retaliating using tear gas, pellet guns, and possibly live fire. Meanwhile, civil society-led protests in other major Indian cities (particularly the capital New Delhi) are currently likely, but these will involve a few hundred people at most and will likely remain peaceful.

Abrogation proposals will probably strengthen Pakistan-based militant groups' intent to carry out attacks in Indian Kashmir and the rest of India. IHS Markit has assessed an increased intent among Pakistan-based militant groups to carry out attacks in Indian Kashmir and the rest India, particularly given the Indian government's hardline approach within Kashmir during the past two years. The proposed abrogation further underscores this intent, but the threat of actual attacks will probably be limited. Militant activities in India have the potential to splinter, with an indigenisation of militancy within Kashmir, a weakening of Pakistan-based groups' capability, and new localised Islamic State-linked cells emerging in southern India. However, India's counter-terrorism efforts have significantly improved since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which will probably limit various groups' intent to attack mainland India. Nevertheless, if attacks do occur, these would target less secure crowded marketplaces, religious sites, public transportation systems, and hospitality establishments in major Indian cities including Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, and New Delhi.

Indicators of changing risk environment

Increasing risk

  • Continued security restrictions in J&K beyond the one-week outlook would increase the likelihood of civil society-led protests in other Indian cities.
  • Renewed suspension of Pakistani airspace would indicate intensifying military alert levels in Pakistan, raising the risk of skirmishes along the LoC.
  • Continued rationing of food and water supplies in Kashmir would indicate Indian preparation to engage in cross-border skirmishes along the LoC.
  • The Delhi Metro network was placed on high alert following the announcement of abrogation. Continued similar alerts across other transportation networks would suggest potential terrorist attack threats.

Decreasing risk

  • Abrogation articles being challenged in India's Supreme Court would limit the risk of civil society protests within and outside Kashmir, even if temporarily.
  • Indian withdrawal of "high operational alerts" for the Indian army and air force would indicate a reduced likelihood of cross-border skirmishes with Pakistan.


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