As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prioritizes national security messaging as part of his reelection campaign, he's made controversial moves in the disputed Himalayan valley of Kashmir. That's raised fears of fresh instability in a powder keg region already prone to frequent eruptions of violence.
Modi, still vulnerable from December's narrow election victory in his home state of Gujarat, is likely looking to rally supporters ahead of a general vote next year. Taking a hard line on law and order is one way to do so, experts said.
"Now that Modi is beginning to campaign for another five-year term as prime minister — and hoping to advance his party's particular interpretation of a more coherent and unified polity — part of his campaign strategy is to embrace a tough approach to the insurgencies within India and burnish his credentials as a candidate firm on security," analysts at political consultancy Stratfor said in a note last week.
That's especially applicable in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where Indian soldiers have been engaged in a violent crackdown against militants.
The mountainous area is made up of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, a Pakistan-administered part commonly called Azad Kashmir and Aksai Chin, which is claimed by both Beijing and New Delhi. For decades, the entire valley has been plagued by violence amid territorial tensions between Pakistan and India that have resulted in regular exchanges of artillery fire, local independence movements and anti-India separatists. Complicating the matter are armed groups. Some, including Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba, are pro-Pakistan while others such as Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind operate on a pan-Islamic mandate similar to militant group al-Qaida.
But intensifying the military's crackdown in such a troubled area is inherently risky.
It "heightens the possibility of more draconian security policies carried out on the pretext of counter-terrorism," said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.
Clashes between Indian troops and Kashmiris have increased recently. A rare ceasefire announced by New Delhi in May to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan didn't last long. Civilian deaths, such as the shooting of prominent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari, continue to mount.