Tensions in Indian-administered Kashmir rose Sunday over the weekend deployment of at least 10,000 paramilitary troops to the troubled region despite authorities’ assertions the move was routine.
India maintains a deployment of 500,000 soldiers in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region, which has been divided between the South Asian nation and Pakistan since their split in 1947.
The region has seen a resurgence of hostilities in recent years, while locals are fearful about the loss of special privileges after India’s Supreme Court last year began hearing a case challenging a constitutional provision.
Officials said the movement of troops — set to rise to 20,000 — was to relieve exhausted personnel deployed since local civic polls last year and now monitoring an annual Hindu pilgrimage.
“Troops have been working constantly for seven months. Some have to go on leave and some for training outside,” Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh told AFP.
“We have requisitioned for 200 companies (20,000 troops), more might arrive.”
A senior security official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the deployment was to guard against possible protests about a decision or event, without giving further details.
He added that India’s security set-up in Kashmir was “being re-oriented like never before”.
Locals told AFP they were worried Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government wanted to set aside a constitutional provision — Article 35A — which would allow Indians from outside the disputed territory to buy land there.
The deployment follows the uproar sparked by US President Donald Trump after he claimed during a meeting with Pakistani PM Imran Khan that Modi asked him to mediate in the Kashmir dispute.
India has long insisted the issue can only be resolved bilaterally, and strenuously denied Trump’s claims.
India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir, a part of which is also controlled by China, for decades.
In February, a suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group killed 41 Indian troops in Indian-controlled Kashmir, prompting tit-for-tat airstrikes between the two countries.
India’s part of Kashmir was brought under New Delhi’s direct rule in June 2018 after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support for its local partner and dissolved the elected local government.