India Grapples With Changes In The Kashmir Insurgency
15 November 2003
The New York Times
Shopian: More young Kashmiri men appear to be joining a guerrilla campaign for independence in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, according to Kashmiri political leaders and human rights groups. A rise in local involvement could be a new setback for India in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only majority Muslim state and the scene of a 14-year insurgency that has been the cause of two wars between India and Pakistan. Indian officials have long pointed to the presence of foreign militants in Kashmir as proof that the struggle is being spurred not by Kashmiri popular sentiment but by Pakistan, India's longtime rival. A year after a new state government was elected with a 'healing touch' policy, Kashmiris say that human rights abuses by Indian security forces have continued, fueling a rise in young Kashmiris joining the insurgency, which has killed 40,000 to 80,000 people. Two recent attacks in Srinagar, the state capital, also featured Kashmiri militants working with men believed to be from Pakistan. Kashmiri officials and human rights groups said they had heard reports that small groups of young Kashmiris had been caught trying to cross into the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, apparently to receive military training. An Indian Army spokesman said more than 40 young men had been stopped trying to cross in the last three months. In separate interviews in Pakistan, three commanders of the militant group Hizbul Mujahedeen told a Pakistani journalist that his group had seen an increase in Kashmiris joining the insurgency. They said roughly 250 Kashmiris had crossed into the area controlled by Pakistan for training this summer. Indian officials said support for the insurgency was waning and accused Pakistan of sending even more foreign militants into Kashmir. In an interview, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the chief minister of the new state government, said Kashmir was safer and better governed. 'The people's attitude has changed,' he said. 'They know the gun will not solve their problem.' While Kashmiri human rights advocates credited the new state government with reducing corruption and improving some services, they said continued human rights abuses by Indian forces was fueling support for the insurgency. They said it was impossible for state officials to control security forces that report to the federal government in New Delhi. 'They can't do anything,' said Parvez Imroz, chief of the Public Commission on Human Rights, a Kashmiri group. 'They are helpless.' Mr. Imroz's group reported at least 21 killings of detainees by security forces. Human rights groups said disappearances nearly tripled, to 116, in the first year of the new state government. Indian officials did not produce figures of their own, but Mr. Sayeed said any complaints were being aggressively investigated. There was no way to confirm the figures independently. The Indian government bars international human rights groups from operating in Kashmir. The conflict has left more than 2,500 people dead, including 841 civilians so far this year, according to the rights commission. Both the commission and the government report a decline in deaths of about a third. In this pastoral village in the hills of Kashmir last month, two young men Indian officials declared foreign terrorists were killed after taking a half dozen local farmers hostage. Residents said one of the men was a Kashmiri from a nearby village. The other was from Pakistan. Instead of condemning them, villagers called the men heroes and accused Indian forces of looting homes and shops during the standoff. The body of the young Kashmiri was buried in his home village. Local families buried the stranger in a place of honor here, the village's communal graveyard. They planted flowers at his head and his feet, to make his burial place a thing of beauty. As families harvested apples in sun-dappled orchards on a recent afternoon, they praised him and the young Kashmiri man who fought and died at his side. 'They did the right thing,' said Zahoor Ahmed Naikoo, an 18-year-old local farmer who was taken captive. 'Kashmiris want freedom from India.'