Indian security forces shoot dead Kashmir protesters

Indian security forces fired into crowds of protesters for a second day on Tuesday as they defied curfews in Indian Kashmir, killing a reported 14 people, in the worst violence seen in the region since an anti-Indian uprising in the 1990s.

The demonstrations were sparked when Hindus of the Jammu region, near the plains of India, began blocking the main highway in the state—preventing Muslim traders from selling their goods.

The clashes have broadened into a pro-independence protest and raised fears that relations between India and Pakistan could once again be destabilised.

Although the army imposed the first curfew in the Kashmir valley in 13 years, it was almost immediately broken. More than 20 000 Muslims defied the ban in Bandipora, about 64km north of Srinagar, Indian Kashmir’s summer capital, to take to the streets in the morning.

Police also fired on another protest rally just south of Srinagar, killing two people.
A local journalist was also killed.

The funeral of a Kashmiri separatist leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, was another flashpoint, with security forces facing down 10 000 people who defied the curfew to take the body to Srinagar’s main mosque.

Aziz was killed on Monday when police fired into a large crowd of Muslims trying to march to the Pakistani portion of Kashmir in protest against the “Hindu blockade” of the highway linking the Kashmir valley with the rest of India.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, head of the separatist umbrella group the Hurriyat Conference, said that India “should not be surprised at the nationalism of Kashmiris. There has been a facade of normalcy in Kashmir. Tourists coming and mobile phones arriving do not mean that people are not angry.”

Farooq said India had “wasted chances to come up with a creative solution with Pakistan and Kashmiris”. He added: “I think the blockade made people realise that Kashmir at the moment totally depends on India and that we need to be economically independent.”

Under Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan had begun a peace process with India and refrained from making statements about troubles in Indian Kashmir. But the new Pakistani government surprised the Indian government on Tuesday with a statement condemning “the excessive and unwarranted use of force against the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir”.

Navtej Sarna, the Indian foreign affairs spokesperson, hit back saying: “These statements constitute clear interference in the internal affairs of an integral part of India—such statements by leaders of a foreign country do not help the situation. Nor do they contribute to creating the atmosphere necessary for the dialogue process between India and Pakistan to move forward.”

Strategic analysts raised concerns that Kashmir, divided between Pakistan and India but claimed by both, could destabilise relations on the subcontinent.

“The first thing is the whole event is very undesirable in terms of both the domestic situation and its linkage with the larger bilateral peace process,” said C Uday Bhaskar, a senior strategic analyst. “I see this will have a bad impact and considering that Pakistan is going through a bad turmoil now; the overall impact on the peace process will not be very positive.”

Indian Kashmir, formally known as Jammu and Kashmir, has been rocked by violence between Hindus and Muslims in recent weeks. The troubles began in May when the state government handed over 25ha of land for pilgrims to Amarnath, a Hindu shrine in the Himalayas.

Muslim protests faded after the government rescinded the order, but Hindu nationalists in Jammu responded by blocking the key highway linking the Kashmir valley, with its Muslim majority, to northern India. Some analysts fear Hindu nationalist right-wing groups may keep the issue burning.

Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, held emergency talks on Tuesday night but there appeared little progress towards peace in Kashmir.—

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