India deployed its army in Kashmir’s summer capital of Srinagar for the first time in nearly 20 years on Wednesday in an attempt to break an escalating cycle of violence that has killed 15 people and wounded many hundreds.
A long column of armored military vehicles drove through Srinagar in a show of strength after police failed to control weeks of street protests in the disputed region. The troops repeatedly fired live rounds into crowds of stone-throwing protesters.
“We would like to make [our intervention] as short as possible,” Indian Minister of State for Defense Pallam Raju told local television. “It is not a situation the army would like to be in.”
The move threatens to raise regional tensions ahead of a visit by Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna to Pakistan next week. The hostile neighbors have fought three wars over Kashmir and continue to dispute ownership of the former Himalayan princedom, India’s only Muslim majority state. Peace talks have been stalled since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 that Delhi blames on a Pakistani-based militant group.
An overnight exchange of fire on the border killed two Indian troops and wounded a Pakistani soldier and several villagers, reports said.
Indian officials said the army’s deployment in Srinagar had been formally requested by Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah.
The last time the army took to the streets of Srinagar was in the early 1990s at the height of the insurgency against Delhi’s rule. The city is usually patrolled by local police or paramilitaries from the central reserve police force.
“It remains to be seen if it will have a sufficient psychological impact to stop the protests,” Professor Gul Mohammed Wani of Kashmir University said. “I don’t think the problem will diminish, however. It is primarily a question of politics and there is no political movement at all at the moment.”
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