Tempers Cool In Kashmir After Summer Of Violence5 November 2010
Srinagar: As the first snows fall in the mountains of Indian Kashmir, tempers are also cooling after a summer of violence that saw more than 100 people die in street protests. For more than three months, thousands of protesters, many of them teenagers, fought pitched battles with security forces in the highly militarised disputed territory, with scores killed during police shooting. The deaths, which reached 18 in a 24-hour period in September on the worst day of violence, caused the biggest Kashmir crisis for the Indian government since the start of an insurgency against Indian rule in 1989. But for two weeks, the region has been mostly calm, attributed partly to a series of measures by the government designed to strangle the protests and defuse anger in the Himalayan region. For the time being, the cycle of violence has been broken - good news for Delhi ahead of the visit to India this week of US President Barack Obama, who has spoken before about the importance of resolving the conflict. 'Each death sparked fresh violence, but as there have been no more deaths the situation has calmed to a large extent,' Tahir Mohiudin, editor of the widely read Urdu weekly Chattan, told AFP. Under the government measures, strict curfews and the jailing of protest leaders have been coupled with softer measures designed to win goodwill. Sixteen security bunkers have been removed, 50 jailed protesters have been released and justice has been promised to the families of those killed during the unrest. After a high-level cross-party visit to the region, New Delhi has also appointed three experts to talk to protesters and separatists in a bid to open dialogue. 'They'll make some recommendations like the removal of more bunkers, providing relief to the people, repealing tough laws and releasing prisoners,' says Noor Ahmed Baba, a political science professor at Kashmir University. 'It depends on how seriously the recommendations are taken by New Delhi. Past experiences do not make me optimistic,' he said. The decline in violence may also be because in rural areas many are busy harvesting rice and apples. In the cities, some have begun questioning a protest movement that has left the valley's already weak economy in a shambles. Summer violence in 2008 and 2009 also petered out with the onset of the long hard winter in Kashmir, which brings freezing temperatures and regular snow falls that often cut off the Kashmir valley from the rest of India. Aware that most of the protesters this year are students, the government has also announced annual examinations, meaning many are now cramming for the tests instead of taking to the streets to throw stones at policemen. 'To tell you very frankly. I am a regular protester, but protests can wait. My exams won't,' says 16-year-old Yawar Dar. 'I will continue fighting India's occupation, but education is also important. After all, we have to run this state,' he said. Political discontent has simmered in Kashmir since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, when a Hindu ruler took his Muslim subjects into India rather than the Islamic republic of Pakistan. Today, after two wars over the area, Kashmir is administered in part by India and Pakistan, but claimed in full by both. Polls appear to indicate that most in Indian Kashmir favour independence. India would be reluctant to ever accede to the demands of separatists because it views the territory as an integral part of the state and would be unwilling to surrender an area to arch foe Pakistan. Observers say the lull in violence is temporary and more unrest is likely unless action is taken to address the demands for self-governance and resentment at heavy-handed security measures. The summer's violence underlined 'the extent to which India has failed to win hearts and minds among the new generation of Kashmiris,' Samina Ahmed, South Asia expert for the think-tank International Crisis Group, told AFP. 'It only takes one more local grievance for the cycle of violence to begin. Unless New Delhi addresses the structural problems that spark the violence, it's almost inevitable.'