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from Expert Zone:

India-Pakistan border flare-up a zero-sum game

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

At places along the Line of Control (LoC), barely a wire separates the Indian soldier and his Pakistani counterpart. The genesis of the recent flare-up was the killing of five Indian soldiers on the Indian side of the LoC. The media blitz in Delhi found more fodder with a spike in infiltration attempts and exchange of fire beyond the LoC at posts across the international border.

Hostilities reached their peak with the detection and elimination of a rather large group of infiltrators in the Keran sector north of Srinagar. In between, the militant groups in Kashmir valley seemed to have drawn inspiration and staged a well-executed attack on a police post and an army unit in Jammu and Kashmir, deep inside Indian territory.

What are the possible reasons for this spurt? Are these tactical with local commanders acting in isolation, or do they reflect a strategic design?

from India Insight:

More pilgrims mean more trouble for shrines in north India

Nestled in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand attracts increasing numbers of visitors every year. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of visitors to the state rose nearly 200 percent to 30.3 million. With major Hindu shrines located in the state, about 70 percent of the tourists who visit the state visit religious sites. That is a worrying sign for ecologically fragile areas such as Kedarnath – a small temple town located 3,583 metres (11,755 feet) above sea level and almost entirely washed out in recent flash floods.

The rush to the Himalayas has been accompanied by a haphazard pattern of growth that might not be sustainable. A study by infrastructure group IL&FS IDC Ltd showed that the carrying capacities – maximum number of persons an environment can support -- of various tourist centres in Uttarakhand reached saturation levels in 2010.

from India Insight:

Finding harmony in music and Islam

The grand mufti whose words against music ended the short career of an all-girl teenage pop band in Kashmir last month made me wonder: is music really un-Islamic? He said that if women indulge in indecent, immoral acts such as singing, it would be a step toward their destruction. Is it really that simple in Islam? Of course it isn't.

On one hand, you find words in the Qur'an such as "Zoor" – an Arabic word used for "falsehood" and musical expressions; "Laghv" – vain words and actions, useless entertainment;  "Ghina" – prolonged sonic vibration, with pitch changes to such an extent that it might as well be "singing", and of course, it's sinful. According to another interpretation, singing, reciting poetry and playing instruments is allowed on occasions such as weddings and other festivals. Then there is debate going on all the while.

from India Insight:

‘Nobody can stop you if you engage in art with dignity’: Zila Khan on singing and Islam

The members of Praagaash, an all-girl band in Kashmir, split up this week after an influential cleric deemed their music un-Islamic. Zila Khan, one of India’s most popular sufi singers and daughter of sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, spoke to Reuters about how singing is closest to worship and meditation and how children should be allowed to sing.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Questions about Grand Mufti of Kashmir and Islam are best answered by experts in the field of religion. I am an expert in music, it will be no use pondering on subjects that I am not an authority on. There will be more experts to say better things on this issue. I can, however, talk about music, on my journey as a singer and the issue of women’s rights.

from India Insight:

Firing on LoC: Blame game and spillovers continue

Firing between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed region of Kashmir has left five soldiers dead (two Indians and three Pakistanis). In India, the issue became a front-page story with the media expressing outrage over reports that the body of one Indian soldier was allegedly mutilated by the Pakistanis.

The incident fuelled tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours and Indian political parties have minced no words in their calls for retribution.

from India Insight:

LoC killings: Is a third-party probe the way ahead?

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The death toll on the Line of Control in Kashmir is four since Jan. 6: two from India's military, two from Pakistan's. One thing is sure: neither side started it, judging by what you hear from both countries' armed forces and from media reports.

from Photographers' Blog:

Among the fields of saffron

Pampore, Indian-administered Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

On a cold autumn morning Abdul Rashid Mir and his 7-year-old daughter Ishrat, wearing traditional attire and carrying small baskets, arrive in a field in the Konibal area of Pampore to collect saffron flowers. Rashid and Ishrat are happy to see their field covered with saffron flowers in full bloom. As the temperatures warm through the morning the saffron fields are abuzz with activity.

Saffron has been grown in Kashmir since the Mughal period, which began in the 16th century when saffron bulbs — a species of crocus — were brought from Iran. The bulbs of the Crocus sativa flower are sown on an estimated 3785 hectares (9352 acres) of well drained clay loam land in May and June and the flower is harvested in November.

from Photographers' Blog:

Healing Kashmir’s wounds

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

When I saw four young Kashmiri boys at a music contest perform English and Urdu tunes in Srinagar, I could not believe my ears and eyes that it was really happening in Kashmir.

Kashmir's centuries-old music was silenced by the sounds of bomb explosions and booming guns after a bloody revolt against Indian rule broke out in this disputed region over two decades ago. Music schools, liquor shops, beauty parlors and cinemas were closed in the Valley in 1989 and conservative Islamic ideas were propagated by armed militant groups.

from India Insight:

Kashmir: we love you, we don’t love your mini-skirt

Imagine this: some tourists, from India and abroad, fly to Jammu and Kashmir, and are eager to escape the confines of Srinagar airport and to get themselves a lungful of that pristine Himalayan air.

Upon arrival, they are advised to visit the official clothier's outlet of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department before they hit the
streets. They need to make a stop there so they can shed any "objectionable" attire and don a traditional pheran to respect the "local ethos and culture" of India's northernmost state.

from India Insight:

Did pro-India militias kill Western tourists in Kashmir?

A government human rights commission in Kashmir on Tuesday evening said it will review records from the 1995 abduction of Western tourists after a new book claimed that four of six foreign tourists were murdered by a pro-India militia to discredit India’s arch-rival Pakistan.

On July 4, 1995, Americans Donald Hutchings and John Childs, as well as Britons Paul Wells and Keith Mangan were kidnapped by the little known Al-Faran militant group while trekking in the Himalayas near Pahalgam, 97 km (60 miles) southeast of Srinagar.

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