Military roadblocks on Kashmir’s main highway are delaying ambulances carrying patients and leading to confrontations with motorists that occasionally turn physical, residents and medical staff say, as India’s crackdown on separatists in the region causes major disruption to daily life.
Kashmir is the northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term "Kashmir" denoted only the Kashmir Valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal Range.
Since 1947, the greater region of Jammu and Kashmir has been embroiled in a territorial dispute between India, Pakistan and China—with India controlling approximately 43% of the land area of the region and 70% of its population. Pakistan controls roughly 37% of the land, while China controls the remaining 20%. Kashmir is widely regarded as the world's most militarized zone—the region has witnessed three major wars between India and Pakistan, another limited war between India and China, numerous border skirmishes, high mountainous warfare, an ongoing insurgency, and internal civil unrest.
On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in the Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir, India. The attack resulted in the deaths of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and the attacker. The responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. The attacker was Adil Ahmad Dar, a local from Pulwama district, and a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed. India has blamed Pakistan for the attack. Pakistan condemned the attack and denied any connection to it.
Tensions in Kashmir, a mountainous region claimed by both India and Pakistan, have been elevated since a suicide car bomb attack killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the region on Feb. 14.
The nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought two wars over the territory, which is divided between them, both launched airstrikes last months, forcing world powers to urge calm.
Tensions between the two countries have temporarily eased. But India has kept up pressure on militant groups on its side of the contested border, boosting its military presence there and arresting hundreds of alleged separatists. Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops patrol the valley, and motorists say security around military convoys has increased delays.
Roadblocks on a 100-kilometre (60-mile) stretch of NH-44, Kashmir’s picturesque main highway linking the summer capital of Srinagar with the rest of India, are sometimes trebling the time it has taken for sick patients to reach hospitals in the capital, several users of the road.
India’s military denies this, saying troops are instructed to stop traffic for only a few minutes at a time, and that ambulances and school buses are getting priority.
“School buses, ambulances will be given priority during the convoy movements,” said Indian defence department spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia on Monday. “We have given directions to the troops on the ground that they are not stopped.”
However, the Kashmir Private Schools Association sees no difference in the security forces approach, and say it may have to close down the schools because the disruption is so great.
A rail line intended to link mountainous North Kashmir to the winter capital of Jammu is more than a decade behind schedule.
That means the highway - India’s longest that begins in Srinagar and terminates at the country’s southern tip - is a vital lifeline to Indian-administered Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region where many residents say they feel cut off from the rest of Hindu-majority India.
Some residents also allege that troops have damaged cars during roadblocks.
Our assessment is that the anti-insurgency operations in the valley have yet again inconvenienced the daily life of Kashmiri residents, as it has for the past few decades. We believe that despite the massive disruptions, the anti-insurgency operations are pivoted to fight the resurgence of highly motivated militia in the valley.
Image Courtesy: Owais Khursheed (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fly_over_in_Srinagar.jpg), https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode