Will Modi win revive Kashmir militancy?

SRINAGAR: While keeping a cautious tack of Indian elections, the global press has been displaying its unease over the Indian media's extravagant predictions that Narinder Modi will make it to the Prime Minister's seat.

Guardian in its latest analysis has quoted experts fearing recycling of Kashmir's almost emaciated militancy. Security officials in India, according to the report, are concerned that the imminent withdrawal of US combat forces from Afghanistan will trigger increased violence, especially in Kashmir.

The newspaper has profiled a dead militant, Asif Wani, who it said got radicalized after he was arrested during the 2010 uprising. "A studious but not devout teenager, Wani appears to have been radicalised during 13 months in prison after arrest in 2010 for his role in demonstrations in Kashmir against Indian authorities."

He disappeared from home six months after his release without charge and joined a local militant groups. Officials say Wani was linked to the murder of at least one local elected councillor – a frequent tactic by extremist groups to intimidate local communities – and was killed with two other young men he had met in jail.

The conflict in Afghanistan has acted as a pressure valve for many of the most extreme groups and the Pakistani security establishment "might feel the need to let them vent", said Nigel Inkster, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Violence in Kashmir has been declining steadily since 2001 with 49 people killed so far this year, according to the Institute for Conflict Management, a Delhi-based thinktank. In 2001, more than 4,000 died.

There are about 150 armed extremists operating in Kashmir, according to local intelligence estimates, a fraction of the number even a few years ago.

Modi, 63, is reviled by many Muslims in south Asia due to persistent allegations that he allowed, or even encouraged, mob violence in 2002 in the western Indian state of Gujarat shortly after he took power there. More than 1,000 people died, largely Muslims, in the violence that followed a fire on a train, which killed 59 Hindu pilgrims.

"Though the politician has denied any wrongdoing and a supreme court investigation did not find evidence to uphold the charge, the events of 2002 are repeatedly mentioned in extremist propaganda across the region," the newspaper reported Tuesday.

Indian security officials say many militants detained locally refer to their anger at the riots of 2002 to explain their involvement in extremism.

The Guardian report has quoted serving and recently retired western counter-terrorism officials as having warned that a victory for Modi could lead to increased recruitment to extremist Islamic organizations in the region and reinforce propaganda efforts of violent international groups such as al-Qaida.

"The concern is people who would have remained on the fringes of militancy in calmer times may now be drawn in," the newspaper quotes one US-based security official and frequent visitor to south Asia.

Another recently retired US official described Modi as a "lightning rod both for internal and Pakistan-based militant groups".

There are some signs of an increasing radicalization among India's 150 million-strong Muslim community though the number involved in violence remains extremely small.

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