India claims fighters from Pakistan active in occupied Kashmir

SRINAGAR: An estimated 300 fighters are operating in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian military commander in the mountainous region claimed on Tuesday, as New Delhi seeks to stabilise the restive Himalayan territory.

Kashmir is claimed in full by both Pakistan and India, although both nuclear-armed neighbours only control parts of the region.

“As per our data, 82 Pakistani and 53 local terrorists are active,” Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi, who heads the northern command of the Indian army, told reporters, without offering evidence. The identities of another 170 fighters were unknown, he added.

New Delhi has long accused Pakistan of backing armed fighters, along with pro-freedom groups, in the occupied portion of the region.

Islamabad denies the Indian accusation, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to the separatist movement.

“All such allegations by Indian military officials are completely absurd, unfounded, frivolous and baseless,” a Pakistan security official said, asking not to be named.

An Indian security official, who declined to be named since he is not authorised to speak to the media, said this is the highest number of fighters operating in Indian Kashmir in a decade.

In August 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked the special status of the occupied valley, and split the Muslim-majority region into two federally administered territories.

The reorganisation was enacted with a communications blackout and a harsh security clamp-down, with the government flooding the heavily-militarised region with additional troops.

Many of those restrictions have been eased and the Kashmir valley known for snow-topped mountains and lush vistas received more than 16 million tourists this year, the most since British colonial rule ended in 1947.

Dwivedi said that the security situation in occupied Kashmir had improved since the reorganisation but weapons and ammunition were still coming through from across the border.

“Small weapons are being used to target non-J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] residents who come here to earn their living,” he said, referring to attacks on migrant workers.

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