NEW DELHI: At least 41 soldiers died in Indian-administered Kashmir on Thursday, in one of the worst attacks across three decades of bloodshed, reports AFP.
A 20-year-old bomber used a vehicle packed with explosives to tear through a convoy of Indian security forces on a busy highway outside the main city of Srinagar in a brazen daytime attack.Here are five things to know about the picturesque but conflict-plagued Himalayan territory:
Divided territory -
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim it in full and have fought two wars over the territory.
Rebel groups are fighting for independence of all of Kashmir, while some want the entire territory to be part of Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people have died since a revolt that broke out in 1989, with most casualties civilians. Last year was the deadliest in a decade with almost 600 killed.
India has some 500,000 troops in the region, making it the most militarised zone in the world.
Last year, a report from the UN human rights office called for a major investigation into abuses, highlighting India’s use of pellet shotguns that have maimed thousands.Militant attacks -
Several militant groups have been fighting Indian troops for decades in the Muslim-majority region.
Some 250 militants are thought to be active in Kashmir, down from several thousand at the height of the insurgency in the 1990s. Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has claimed responsibility for the latest attack, is widely considered to be one of the most active Pakistan-based insurgent groups fighting in Kashmir. The group is allegedly based in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
They are led by Masood Azhar, who was famously released from Indian custody in late 1999 after Pakistani militants hijacked an Indian Airlines flight.
The group is notorious for using suicide bombers in the Kashmir conflict and was also alleged to have masterminded a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi.
Daily violence -
Violence has been an almost daily occurence in Kashmir since the killing of popular young rebel leader Burhan Wani in a gun battle with soldiers in 2016.
Stone-throwing residents protesting against Indian rule have since clashed regularly with security forces.
Local residents often throng the sites of gun battles, throwing stones at Indian forces and helping militants escape.
Previous attacks -
Thursday’s death toll surpassed several major militant attacks in Kashmir, including a 2016 pre-dawn assault on an Indian army camp in Uri that killed 19 soldiers. In 2002, militants attacked an Indian army camp in Jammu city, killing 34 people including family members of soldiers.
The year before, 38 people were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosives into the state legislature building in Srinagar while two militants donned police uniforms and attacked people inside the complex.
Government response -
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of sending rebels into Indian Kashmir to further destabilise the territory—a charge Islamabad denies.
After the 2016 attack on the Uri army camp, India responded with strikes across the de facto border in Kashmir that divides the nuclear-armed nations.
The “surgical strikes” several kilometres inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir bolstered the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking reelection in the coming months.