A cyclical problem
The bloody protests in Indian Kashmir get much bloodier
BEARING the stiffening corpse of Anees Ganai, a 17-year-old boy, thousands of Kashmiri men marched on Srinagar’s gaudy, 15th-century main mosque on August 3rd. “Anees! Your blood will start a revolution!” they chanted, adding the refrain of Kashmiris, “Azadi!”, “Freedom!” During two months of violent protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir the mosque had been barred to stop crowds gathering. The killing of around 45 people in that time—including 29 in the past week—most shot by police, suggests that the policy failed. As the mob surged, the police drew back.
Even by its turbulent standards, the Indian-held portion of Kashmir is in chaos. Each day, defying curfews, crowds in Srinagar and several outlying districts gather to pelt stones at police. A paramilitary bunker near the line dividing Indian from Pakistani Kashmir was ransacked this week, and a police station torched. The local economy is choked, as so often in two decades of insurgency and protests. The road to Srinagar is closed and supplies of blood, medicine and baby milk are short.
This is becoming seasonal. Since 2008, when a row over land given to Hindu pilgrims sparked the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two decades, Kashmir has seen annual summer unrest. Last year’s was provoked by the killing of a woman and a girl—gang-raped and murdered by the police, said locals, accidentally drowned, said the government. This year’s was sparked by the death of another youth, Tufail Ahmed Mattoo, brained by a tear-gas canister on his way from class.
The protests may peter out. India’s central government has sent an extra 30,000 troops to reinforce its armies in Kashmir. This week the state’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, visited Delhi to beg for more. And with Kashmir’s apple harvest fast approaching, its farmers, who produce 60% of India’s apples, will need to get their crop to market. But if Kashmiris choose to put down their stones, it may not be for long.
What could break the cycle? The government sees the answer in better local services and more jobs. But it would, having long denied the great extent to which Kashmiris want rid of India. While the insurgency raged, backed by Pakistan, the government could blame its neighbour. But as fighting eased and protests rose, blaming Pakistan got much harder. Kashmiri separatist aspirations are the heart of the problem, as Mr Abdullah hinted in Delhi, by calling for a political solution to it.
Short of separation, which would be impossible even if a third of Kashmir were not in Pakistan, it is hard to know what could satisfy Kashmiris. A few obvious things would help. India could stop its soldiers shooting protesters. It could repeal the draconian powers its forces enjoy and move garrisons from town centres. These measures have been discussed, yet nothing is done: because of opposition from security forces, the usual official Indian sloth and a (more forgivable) reluctance to trust that the proxy war with Pakistan is over.
The wretched state of Kashmir serves as a pretext for Pakistani hostility to India. This makes war more likely and incites Islamist militants. Hence Barack Obama’s proposal, on the presidential campaign trail, to appoint a special envoy to Kashmir. And hence David Miliband, Britain’s then foreign minister, suggesting a connection last year between terrorism in India and its occupation of Kashmir. India responded by expressing strong displeasure to both.
That may, subconsciously perhaps, have encouraged David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, to suggest that some in Pakistan export terrorism, and sometimes help Afghanistan’s Taliban. He was right. Yet this has riled Pakistan no end. Urging Mr Cameron to show more balance, Pakistan’s prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, naturally referred him to the ongoing misery in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
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