India Insight

Kashmir calms down, but peace still distant

Soldiers patrol the scene of a shootout in Srinagar November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailWinter has come to Kashmir, a scenic valley deep in the Himalayas, cooling tensions in the disputed region after months of violent anti-India demonstrations.

At least 110 people have been killed since June. Dozens were wounded, mostly by police bullets, during the protests – the biggest since a revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989.

A separatist strike, curfew and security lock-down, that dragged on for over four months and closed much of the region, have ebbed away and the streets across Kashmir are abuzz with activity again.

Authorities say the arrest of some “hard-core” protest organisers and the onset of winter helped to calm the protests.

But there is no optimism across Kashmir valley that peace has returned.

Nayeem Akhtar, chief spokesman of the state’s main opposition People’s Democratic Party says the weakening of anti-India protests should not be mistaken for an end to the problem.

from Photographers' Blog:

A job to do on the Srinagar streets

After offering special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, I got myself ready to cover the large Eid prayer congregation at Eid Gah in downtown Srinagar where senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was scheduled to address thousands of Muslims.

Kashmiris attend an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Soon after the end of Eid prayers, Farooq called for a protest march to Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar. Continually shooting pictures I followed the tens of thousands of demonstrators shouting "we want freedom". When they reached Lal Chowk, the shouts turned to violence and I saw protesters damaging the clock tower. Again Farooq addressed the people calling for anti-India protests. I ran to the office nearby to file the pictures.

A protester holds an Islamic flag on Kashmir's clock tower as he shouts anti-India slogans during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Ismail

As I finished filing I received a call from Sheikh Mushtaq, Reuters Kashmir correspondent, he told me protesters had set fire to police and government buildings. I rushed out to take more pictures. By the time I finished transmitting them I had worked 14 hours straight and, having fasted all day, was extremely hungry.

Is Lashkar-e-Taiba behind Kashmir protests?

India has blamed the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group for violent anti-India demonstrations sweeping across the Muslim-majority valley in which 11 people have been killed so far.

Policemen stand guard in front of closed shops during a curfew in Srinagar July 2, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailIn Indian Kashmir, authorities extended a curfew on Friday and deployed thousands of troops to quell fresh protests that have spread to other parts of the disputed region.

“We think it is the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) which is active in Sopore (in north Kashmir),” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.

Kashmir — blocked road to Paradise?

A few days ago, a friend called to share plans for a week-long holiday. She had convinced her family to take the vacation in Kashmir, the perfect opportunity to escape the scorching heat of New Delhi.

It was a good time to visit the Valley. The uproar over the May 29 Shopian case — in which locals blamed the death and rape of two women on Indian security forces — had died down.

Or so it seemed.

Then my friend called again. She sounded glum and I soon knew why. The trip had been cancelled.

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