Death toll hits a new peak in India-held Kashmir

SRINAGAR, Jan 1 (INP) – The most deadly year in a decade has left Indian-controlled Kashmir facing a grim future with militant groups and the New Delhi government digging in for an even fiercer battle in 2019, experts say.

Indian forces say they killed two infiltrators coming from Pakistan on New Year s Eve and authorities still virulently blame the neighbouring state for the three-decade-old conflict which has claimed tens of thousands of victims.

But Kashmir politicians and independent Indian experts say the presence of 500,000 troops in the former Himalayan kingdom and an election in India in 2019 leaves little hope for an end to the bloodshed.

The Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a rights group, listed 586 dead in its annual 2018 toll: 267 militants, 160 civilians — including 31 children — and the rest, state police and Indian armed forces.

Its list does not include the dozens killed in firing across the unofficial border between the Indian and Pakistani sectors of Kashmir. Both sides claim the region.

The numbers of dead militants and security forces are both the highest for a decade, as are the nearly 800 recorded clashes.

The bleak statistics all highlight the effects of a more intense government campaign — “Operation All-Out” — to flush out armed groups who want an independent Kashmir or merger with Pakistan.

Even the 20 recorded cases of suicide among Indian forces in Kashmir is a record, according to the JKCCS.