This article about Kashmir misstated the number of Kashmiri Hindus who were forced to leave their homes during fighting in the region from 1989 to 1991. The number is estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000, according to human rights groups.
In Kashmir, Fears of Increasing Militancy
Monday, August 18, 2008
NEW DELHI, Aug. 17 -- On a recent four-month trek through hundreds of Kashmiri villages, separatist leader Yasin Malik called on people to adopt his new Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence. Malik, a secular Muslim, soon became an icon of peace to many youths in this turbulent region that India and Pakistan have fought over for decades.
But Malik's commitment to nonviolence is now being tested amid a wave of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir. Over the past six weeks, tensions between Muslims and Hindus have left 34 people dead, most of them unarmed protesters shot by Indian security forces. Like many leaders here, Malik worries that Kashmir's separatist movement is once again on the verge of becoming an armed struggle.
"Such a show of violence is pushing Kashmiri people, especially our youth, toward revolution," Malik said in a telephone interview from his hospital bed after ending a hunger strike. "At this point, I think the international community has to step in. Otherwise, we fear a growing extremism. This kind of anger comes at the worst time."
After four years of relative calm, the Muslim-led demonstrations in Kashmir's capital, Srinagar, were the biggest since a separatist rebellion against Indian rule nearly 20 years ago, analysts say. India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir as their territory, and the nuclear-armed countries have fought two wars over the scenic Himalayan region since the subcontinent's bloody partition in 1947.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the rebellion, and thousands, including about 6,000 Hindu Kashmiris, have been forced to leave their homes.
Rising hostility in Kashmir comes at a time of deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan. The United States recently uncovered evidence backing India's allegations that Pakistani intelligence agents helped plan a July 7 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, that killed at least 40 people. Pakistan has denied involvement.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is credited with shutting down a pipeline of radical Islamist fighters flowing into Kashmir to support an armed separatist struggle. But his impending impeachment has raised fears of a power vacuum in Pakistan.
"Pakistan has to put its political house in order before we can say what it means for Kashmir," said Bharart Bushan, editor of the Mail Today, a popular English-language newspaper in New Delhi.
The current crisis in Kashmir began after the state government promised to lease forestland to a board that runs a Hindu shrine. The deal would have allowed tents and restrooms for Hindu pilgrims visiting the site. The board was set up after 1996, after the deaths of 200 Hindu pilgrims and mountain guides from cold and hunger in a blizzard.
When Muslim protests erupted over the land deal, Malik offered the Hindu pilgrims blankets and rice. He instructed Muslim youths to treat the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims with respect, and most have.
Then, the Kashmir government revoked the land grant, enraging the Hindus, who launched their own protests by blockading roads to New Delhi, cutting off Kashmir's main trade route and crippling farmers during the height of the apple harvest. Malik went on his hunger strike, hoping to convince Hindu protesters and the Indian military to open the roads.
Tensions are also high in Jammu, the predominantly Hindu region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Three Hindu protesters died after protests in Jammu, and two leaders have committed suicide, saying they were saddened by the local government's reversal.