The terrorist attack on migrant labourers in Jammu and Kashmir's Kulgam, which left five people dead, is a worrying portent for the near future. With this attack, a total of eleven people from outside Jammu and Kashmir have been killed by terrorists in just two weeks.
The systematic targeting of civilians, particularly migrants from outside the state, is a throwback to the early-to-mid 1990s, the most violent phase of the Kashmir conflict. While the number of civilian killings in recent years is nowhere near that of the 1990s, the increase in such incidents, particularly after the abrogation of Article 370, should be a cause for alarm.
Violence against civilians over the years
Data from the Union home ministry shows that the most dramatic spike in civilian killings was in 1995, when the number crossed a thousand (1,031, to be precise) for the first time. The figure was 820 in 1994.
The year 1996 saw the highest number of civilians killed, at 1,341. Subsequently, a dramatic decline in such killings was reported after 2003, when a ceasefire between India and Pakistan was agreed upon. From 2003 to 2016, the number of civilians killed saw a drastic drop from 795 to 15. However, the number has again seen a jump since then " 40 civilian casualties in 2017 and 39 in 2018. This increase broadly coincides with large-scale protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
Terrorists in the Kashmir Valley have repeatedly attacked people from other states over the past three decades, and many individual stories bear this out. An India Today report from April 1990 mentions the ordeal of a retired subedar whose tenant was gunned down in Srinagar's Karan Nagar. Subsequently, according to the report, the subedar also received a death threat while at work. He did not even go back home, and his daughters loaded the family's belongings into a truck within a few hours. The family then went straight to a refugee camp in Jammu.
In 2007 as well, there was a hate campaign against migrants following the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in Langate, as noted in this Firstpost article. Two weeks after the child's death, a migrant worker from West Bengal Abdul Kalam was dragged out of his rented room in Drawani, near Shopian in south Kashmir, and shot through the head. Kalam had ignored jihadist calls issued after the child's death, for outsiders to leave the region. At the time, a Hizbul Mujahideen spokesperson was reported to have said, "The involvement of non-state subjects in criminal activities is increasing almost every day and is pushing the Kashmiri youth to all kinds of social evils."
While the targeting of migrants by terrorists is reminiscent of the 1990s, there are some major differences in the nature of the conflict at present. Mint has quoted former Indian Army officer Srinath Raghavan as saying that now, many ordinary Kashmiris are voicing their disaffection through direct confrontations with the Indian Army, which is more difficult for the army to deal with. He recalled in the 1990s, the army was in direct confrontation with insurgents and civilian deaths were largely "collateral damage".
Further, more and more terrorists are being killed in operations conducted near their native villages, underscoring that the share of local militants is rising. According to an article in Outlook, in 2017, at least 50 militants were killed in operations near their homes. Some senior police officials say that this is because terrorists now use their villages and nearby regions as operational areas, as they know the terrain and the people.
Also, the rise of the Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammed has also meant the use of different methods to carry out attacks. As another Mint article points out, the JeM's preferred modus operandi is large-scale suicide attacks and IED blasts rather than ambushes. The tactic of carrying out suicide attacks appears to have been inspired by not just the Taliban and Al-Qaeda but also the Islamic State.