Friday, January 13, 2012

Imtyaz Ahmad Ganaie, whose house was destroyed in an army encounter against militants in Sopore, Indian Kashmir. Photo by Anuj Chopra

Old Wounds, Fresh Attacks in Kashmir

By Anuj Chopra

SOPORE, INDIAN KASHMIR - Delicately lifting the hem of his pheran, a loose-fitting Kashmiri gown, Imtyaz Ahmad Ganaie stumbles barefoot across heaps of scattered rubble and detritus.

“Only bricks and stones remain,” he says, looking ashen, as he pointed at his house, destroyed during a three-day gun battle in February 2010 between Indian troops and militants. “Mortar shells destroyed everything.”

For nearly 70 hours, military helicopters beat overhead amid loud explosions and gunfire as a cat-and-mouse game ensued between soldiers and militants hiding in Ganaie’s crowded village of Chinkipora in Sopore.

His family, like other residents caught in the crossfire, managed to flee to safety, but nearly two dozen houses were flattened or severely damaged in the hunt which also left four Indian soldiers dead.

The disputed region of Kashmir is a victim of history’s caprice. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, it has been the focus of three wars between both nuclear-armed rivals since independence in 1947. Nearly 100,000 people have lost their lives since militancy first erupted in this Muslim-majority state two decades ago. But in this verdant landscape replete with flaming-red Chinar trees and apple orchards, militancy had ebbed to an all time low in recent years.

In the last decade, militancy related fatalities declined continuously since their peak of 4,507 killed in 2001. For the first time in two decades, killings in 2008 were well below the ‘high intensity’ mark of 1,000 per year for the third consecutive year.

However, this brash encounter with battle-inoculated militants is an ominous sign of a new, lethal wave of militancy returning to haunt Indian-administered Kashmir after a long lull.


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