SRINAGAR, INDIA -- When two dozen Indian commandos entered Kashmiri businessman Abdul Rehman's house a few weeks ago, they found a magazine on his living room table with a picture of President Bush on the cover. The soldiers grilled Rehman about the picture, Rehman said, and days later returned to arrest his two sons.
During interrogation at an army encampment, one of the sons said he was blindfolded and tied to a wall with his hands above his head. "They told me, 'You have been given good money by the Americans to kill the Hindus.' I said, 'We don't know anything about this. We are busy with business.' " Later, Rehman's son said, he was stripped, beaten and told that he would be killed, although he was released.
Today the walls and tables of the Rehman home are empty. The magazines have been removed and photos of Pakistani cricket and squash stars idolized by Rehman's grandchildren have been taken down. "We have destroyed them," he said. "The soldiers will be back."
The encounter is typical of Kashmir's civil war: brutal, angry, suspicious and filled with misunderstanding. There is no evidence that the United States supports Kashmiri separatists, but Pakistan does, and since Washington is an ally of Pakistan, some Indian soldiers pronounce guilt by association.
Poorly educated Hindu soldiers with India's security forces face the unenviable task of rooting out armed Moslem separatist militants from Kashmir's hostile population. When the soldiers abuse civilians, they provoke greater anger and offer themselves as targets for revenge, feeding a cycle of attack and counterattack.
Physical residue of the war between the government of India and the people of Kashmir is all around Srinagar: shattered glass in the streets, bullet holes in tenement walls, blood stains on steps where a suspected militant died six days ago.
Five months after long-simmering discontent erupted into violence, at least 350 civilians have been killed. The government confirms that 62 soldiers have died in ambushes by separatist militants, but military sources say the number of deaths is higher. Thousands of Kashmiris have been detained and arrested during searches by Indian security forces.
But the numbers fail to explain the anger felt by the valley's 4 million residents toward the government that has ruled them for four decades, and toward the Indian army that occupies their cities and villages.
The uprising has its roots in the 1947 division of the subcontinent into Moslem Pakistan and predominately Hindu India, with parts of the Kashmir Valley coming under control of each country.
Since then, India and Pakistan have disputed the sovereignty of Kashmir, a Moslem majority region, and have fought three wars along the Kashmiri border. Fears have escalated that another war could erupt if tensions are not eased.
Pakistan has demanded that the residents of Indian Kashmir be allowed to choose their future in a plebiscite. India has refused and accused Islamabad of arming and training Moslem militants in Kashmir. Some 30 groups are fighting Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir, the only Indian state with a Moslem majority, with some of the secessionists seeking independence and others union with Pakistan.
The anger that characterizes this war can be seen on Grattabal Nawakadal, once a bustling avenue in Srinagar's old city where laborers and tradesmen crowded in the street and vegetable merchants sang out prices in musical voices. Today the street is a forlorn war zone, empty and eerily silent.
Squads of soldiers stay together in small groups along the avenue, their backs to the shuttered storefronts and their fingers poised on their rifle triggers.
In alleys across the way stand young boys in loose, traditional dress, which is used by separatist militants to conceal AK-47 assault rifles. Women and old men lean from windows above, watching the soldiers and the boys, waiting for action.
Although they are nominally citizens of the same country, the Hindu soldiers and the Moslem residents of Grattabal Nawakadal rarely speak to each other, except in angry shouts after an ambush by militants or during a raid in the tenements by security forces. They are separated not only by religion, but by language and culture. The soldiers are mainly from the hot plains of India's south, far from the cool and rugged mountains of Kashmir.
"We don't dare to go before the soldiers," said Nissar Ahmed, whose brother was arrested during a raid on Grattabal Nawakadal five days earlier. "Their behavior is such that we don't dare to talk with them."
Prolonged curfews, midnight raids by soldiers, arbitrary detentions, thefts, frequent beatings -- the stories of abuse and deprivation told by Grattabal Nawakadal residents are echoed all across Kashmir.
The stories about the Indian troops have taken on a life of their own for Kashmiris. It hardly matters anymore whether the more extreme tales of rape and summary execution are true, since nearly everyone in Kashmir believes them -- and repeats them to stoke hatred against the soldiers.
"They think we are the enemy but actually we are here to protect them," said a mustachioed Indian officer stationed on the street, 50 yards from Ahmed's house in Grattabal Nawakadal. "They don't understand."
The officer, a well-educated English speaker from the southern state of Kerala, said he had been in Kashmir only a few weeks. He stands on the abandoned street from 7 in the morning until 7 at night, his pistol out of its holster and tucked in his belt for ready access. He watches the boys across the way and worries. "This is very difficult duty," he said. "A life is precious no matter whom it belongs to."
He has tried a few times to talk to the residents, but it has gone badly, degenerating into shouts and accusations about alleged excesses by his soldiers.
The officer suspects the residents' complaints are partly justified. The Indian jawans, or privates, do get angry after standing in the sun all day, listening to taunts and waiting to be ambushed, he said. "The jawans are the lowest class of the army. They stand for 12 hours with their gun pointing at the people and their shoulders tense and their morale goes down."
The officer said he tries hard to maintain discipline among the soldiers but when the sun goes down and he is not around, he does not know what they do.
Inside the tenements, residents howl in anger about the soldiers, their voices rising as they talk, until they are audible in the street.
The Hindu soldiers defiled their mosque by bringing dogs inside, the residents said, and then beat the worshipers, forced them to drink water during a holy Moslem fast, and hit them until they chanted the names of Hindu gods.
During a 15-day curfew, residents said, soldiers dumped kerosene into food supplies intended to feed children.
"They are very cowardly people, these soldiers," said a member of the neighborhood's food relief committee. "They are uniformed terror. Their fingers are always on the triggers."
Once during a long curfew, when there was a shortage of badly needed medicine, a community leader went to the mosque and called out to the soldiers through the loudspeaker normally used to summon residents for prayers.
A colonel answered through his own megaphone and said the community leaders could come outside without fear of being shot. They talked for a few minutes in the street and the colonel promised to arrange for medicines.
"Of course, he didn't bring any medicine, but at least we knew they wouldn't attack for a few days," said the community leader. "That is one thing that is difficult -- it's hard to sleep because we are expecting them any time to come and attack and loot.
"We don't lie. The officers have been kind. But these jawans are the worst."
Since Kashmir is largely an alien land to the jawans and other Indian soldiers, they often do not know whom to look for when they burst into the tenements after an ambush by militants on the street. Kashmiris have gone to great lengths to hide and protect the militants, despite the large sums of money offered by security forces to those who will become informants and the beatings meted out to those who do not cooperate.
Kashmiris say that possessing stamps or coins from across the border in Pakistan, where many separatist militants go to buy weapons and receive training, is regarded by Indian soldiers as evidence of subversion. Discovery of such items often is followed by arrest and beatings, Kashmiris say.
Not only have the Indian soldiers in the streets of Srinagar become targets for ambush attacks by militants, they have suffered the wrath of ordinary citizens. When the soldiers withdraw from their bunkers and curfew is lifted, they empty all of their sandbags and take the burlap sacks with them. Otherwise, they say, residents will come out within hours and set fire to the bags.
But when the soldiers are present -- which is most of the time, given the continuing curfews and searches for militants throughout Srinagar -- the residents of Grattabal Nawakadal and many other troubled regions of the Kashmir Valley stay inside, watching and waiting.
"I have a curfew pass but I don't dare go out," said a young bank employee in Grattabal Nawakadal. "The soldiers just don't bear our faces. We just don't want to be seen by them."