Chemical weapons in Kashmir? India and Pakistan trade charges through media

There has been no independent confirmation of claims of use of chemical weapons in KashmirDanish Ismail/Reuters

Even as the Kashmir valley in India is on the boil due to insurgency and cross-border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops, accusations of use of chemical weapons in the decades-long conflict have surfaced.

First, Pakistan accused Indian security forces of using chemical weapons in Indian-administered parts of Kashmir. Then a report emerged in India that Islamabad had supplied chemical weapons to militants. There is so far no evidence of use of these weapons in the Kashmir conflict.

"Reportedly, Indian forces in IoK [Indian-occupied Kashmir] are using ammunition containing chemical agents and precursors to kill Kashmiri youth and destroy Kashmiris' properties," Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Nafees Zakria said on 6 July.

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He did not offer any details on where these weapons were used, or which report he was quoting from.

He said it would be a serious violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which India is a signatory, if there is confirmation that Indian military forces resorted to the use of such deadly weapons against protesters or militants.

This is not the first time Islamabad is accusing India of using chemical weapons. Pakistan made a similar allegation in 1999 as well.

Pakistan's accusation was preceded by Lashkar-e-Toiba [LeT], the local Islamist organisation behind extremist attacks in Kashmir, alleging that New Delhi had crossed the "ethics" of warfare. "The ethics of any war demands not going beyond the limits of humanitarian ethics. But forces are constantly involved in the usage of chemical weapons in Jammu Kashmir," the LeT said in a statement on 5 July.

"Involvement of chemical weapons in warfare is an international crime. We demand the United Nations and Humanitarian organisations take notice of this barbarism," it added.

Indian security forces have often been accused of using excessive force against Kashmir residents, protesters and dissidents.

Within a week of the Pakistani accusation, a counter-claim was made in India, though not on record. People from Indian intelligence reportedly told the India media network News 18 that Islamabad supplied chemical weapons to the militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, said to be the biggest extremist organisation in Kashmir.

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According to purported audio excerpts obtained by the broadcaster, Pakistani forces have provided the extremist organisation with chemical weapons to carry out terror attacks in the Kashmir valley. "Till now we've used grenade launchers on the Indian army...killing just 3-4 and injuring a few. But now it's time to change our tactics. We will straightaway use chemical weapons...to kill as many as possible at the same time," one operative was quoted as saying.

There has been no independent confirmation of these claims. Still, the chemical weapons allegations are seen as a dangerous addition to the mix in Kashmir over which the two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two major wars.

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