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Asia

Continued violence in Kashmir overshadows talks between India and Pakistan

As India and Pakistan try to revive their stalled peace process, the crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir continues to fester to the detriment of relations between Islamabad and New Delhi.

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol a deserted street during a strike in Srinagar

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol a deserted street during a strike in Srinagar

The Muslim-dominated valley, which is claimed by both countries, has been on the boil for weeks after security forces shot dead 15 people in separate incidents during street protests. Thousands demonstrated again on Thursday after a curfew in the summer capital, Srinagar, which lasted several days, was lifted.

The street violence gripping Kashmir has been called a "Kashmir intifada", with observers likening it to the uprisings of young Palestinian stone-throwers against Israeli forces. The new protesters favor marches, sit-ins and throwing stones at the security forces whose presence dominates all the cities in the region.

Kashmiris shout freedom slogans during the funeral procession of two civilians

Kashmiris shout freedom slogans during the funeral procession of two civilians

Anger is brewing

Mukhtar Ahmad who has participated in the demonstrations says it is almost a throwback to the early 90s when armed conflict broke out.

"I remember that period when people used to gather spontaneously – shouting anti-India and pro-freedom slogans and marching to the UN office. This is like almost an action replay. The anger is similar where people are ready to come out and protest."

Over the last fortnight a curfew was in place in Srinagar and other towns after stone-throwing mobs clashed with security forces.

Jammu and Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah

Jammu and Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah

Young generation

New Delhi has blamed separatists and militant groups for instigating the protests, which are seen by most people locally as a spontaneous reaction to perceived abuses by security forces, economic stagnation and political deadlock.

"I think the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is extremely serious, tense and the whole state is really going through one of its most turbulent periods," explains Amitabh Mattoo, a former vice-chancellor of Jammu University and a close watcher of developments in the state.

"The reason is clear. There is a young generation of Kashmiris who have been born or who have grown up in the last 20 years of militancy and conflict who have only seen violence, who have only seen bunkers in Srinagar and other places in the Valley, and who have often faced harassment, have been seen with suspicion by parts of the establishment and with a sense of hopelessness."

Kashmiris throw stones at Indian policemen

Kashmiris throw stones at Indian policemen

Ahmad explains that the protests are not against the state's chief minister:

"Omar Abdullah is just a figurehead who represents the Indian government in Kashmir. The anger is not so much against him as it is against the Indian government. But since he is the representative, he has to face the heat."

The police have failed

Recently an all-party meeting convened by the Jammu and Kashmir government decided to set up an independent commission to probe the killing of 15 civilians by security forces. This has brought an uneasy truce but many realize it would require just another small incident to trigger another wave of protests.

Mattoo says the police failed in their efforts to return things to normalcy. "The police were not able to enforce the curfew and when people came out, they provoked the police enough to fire. Then they sought the help of the army who had greater discipline, who had a certain greater deterrent value."

The immediate task facing Omar Abdullah's government is to instill a sense of confidence among the state's youth. Another round of violence could easily see the situation spiral out of control.

Author: Murali Krishnan (New Delhi)
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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