Tensions Over Kashmir Rise as India Tightens Security

By Jeffrey Gettleman

Video player loading
Indian authorities say life is returning to normal in Kashmir. But thousands of people have been detained, and the military still patrols the streets, firing pellet guns and tear gas to quell protests.CreditCreditAtul Loke for The New York Times

NEW DELHI — The Indian government imposed fresh restrictions on the disputed Kashmir region on Friday, telling people to stay off the streets as the crisis there dragged into its fourth week.

According to reports in the Indian media — foreign journalists have been barred from entering Kashmir — security forces set up barricades, more businesses closed down, and public transportation had ground to a halt.

The Indian government is coming under more criticism for the intensifying restrictions it has imposed in Kashmir since Aug. 5, when the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi unilaterally scrapped the autonomy that the disputed region had held for decades.

On Friday, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, said in an op-ed in The New York Times that “if the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, there will be consequences for the whole world as two nuclear-armed states get ever closer to a direct military confrontation.”

Both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, and several times in the past, the two nations have gone to war over Kashmir. Pakistan claims part of Kashmir as well.

Mr. Khan and others have complained about the Indian security forces cutting off internet and phone service to millions of Kashmiris and rounding up more than 2,000 people, including nearly the entirety of Kashmir’s elected leadership, who are being held without charges.

The United States is “very concerned by reports of detentions and the continued restrictions on the residents of the region,’’ said a spokeswoman at the American Embassy in New Delhi.

“We urge respect for human rights, compliance with legal procedures, and an inclusive dialogue with those affected,” the spokeswoman said.

India has dismissed Pakistan’s fears of a looming conflict, saying that Pakistan is trying to scare the world into intervening in Kashmir, which India considers an internal matter.

Mr. Khan keeps lashing out, saying that India broke its own laws in revoking Kashmir’s autonomy and that the Modi government was “fascist.

India has rejected these criticisms and hit back at Pakistan, which has long meddled in Kashmir. In the 1990s, Pakistan backed thousands of jihadist militants to sow chaos in the Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir.

More recently, India has accused Pakistan of helping the small group of Kashmiri militants fighting against Indian rule. Pakistan is predominantly Muslim, as is Kashmir, while India is a predominantly Hindu nation.

For years, Hindu nationalists who have been pushing for Hindu supremacy in India have had their eyes on Kashmir. The wider state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the restive Kashmir Valley, is India’s only Muslim-majority state. Its inclusion in India’s union was seen as an important symbol of India’s commitment to secularism, laid out in the Indian Constitution.

But the Hindu nationalists who are now ascendant in Indian politics saw Kashmir as an unruly, Muslim-dominated fringe area that needed to be brought to heel.

On Aug. 5, Mr. Modi’s home minister, Amit Shah, announced on the floor of Parliament that the Indian government was erasing Kashmir’s autonomy, ending its statehood and dividing the territory in half.

Mr. Shah and Mr. Modi have said this will bring peace and prosperity. Kashmiris are furious, but there is little they can do.

In the weeks leading up to the announcement, thousands of Indian troops were bused into the region, adding to the hundreds of thousands of security forces already stationed there.

And in the hours before the announcement was made, security forces swept the valley in the middle of the night and methodically arrested elected representatives, business leaders, teachers, human rights defenders and students as young as 14.

Critics said that even under India’s tough public safety laws the lockdown was illegal and that Mr. Modi was bending the Indian legal system to cut off any possible criticism in Kashmir and silence anyone with a voice.

On Friday, the streets of Kashmir’s biggest towns were deserted. Friday is often a tense day: It is the Muslim day of prayer, and in Kashmir protests often erupt as crowds stream out of the many mosques.

The authorities routinely beef up security presence on Fridays, but residents said this Friday was much heavier than usual. Just about all businesses were closed, out of a pervasive sense of fear.

On Thursday, a shopkeeper who had opened his shop for a few hours was shot dead. The police blamed the attack on militants who they said were trying to intimidate anyone from resuming anything close to a normal life.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.