India Insight

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures August 15, 2010

Flooding and mudslides have again dominated the week's coverage in Asia. Reports that one fifth of Pakistan is now under water and over 20 million have been affected by the rising waters. In the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu over a 1000 people lost their lives as a mudslide swept through the town of Zhouqu. It is easy to become visually tired looking at images of people wading waist deep in flood water or seeing another image of a relative weeping for a loved one. In the pictures below even the most jaded eyes and souls must feel the passion of the pictures as photographers tell the story and bring home the desperation of their subject's plight.

Adrees Latif, chief photographer Pakistan, captures a moment that if it wasn't so sad would almost be funny. People, whose lives have been shattered by flooding, loss of their homes, hunger and the risk of disease suffer the final humiliation as a relief truck sweeps by driving water over their heads, the driver oblivious of the scene. In another picture  in a  camp for the displaced  Karachi based photographer Akhtar Soomro photographs a boy sitting in isolation who hurriedly eats, his eyes glaring out of the image as he keeps guard in case someone, imagined or real, tries to steal his food.

PAKISTAN-FLOODS/

Residents being evacuated through flood waters dodge an army truck carrying relief supplies for flood victims in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district in Punjab province August 11, 2010. The floods have ploughed a swathe of destruction more than 1,000 km (600 miles) long from northern Pakistan to the south, killing more than 1,600 people.   REUTERS/Adrees Latif

PAKISTAN-FLOODS/

A boy fleeing from flooded village eats his food handout in a makeshift relief camp in Sukkur at Pakistan's Sindh province August 10, 2010. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari returned home on Tuesday from official foreign visits to a chorus of criticism over his government's response to the country's worst flooding in 80 years. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Shanghai based photographer Aly Song, flew, drove and then  finally hiked the final 5 miles into the mudslide stricken town of Zhouqu. Working closely with stringers, Aly and the team produced images that scream from the page; a man bent over and standing in isolation, holds his head in sheer grief as the search and rescue carries on behind him. The image of the girl in the red dress stopped me in my tracks as I remembered haunting "red dress" scenes in the mainly black and white Spielberg film "Schindler's List".  Two other striking images from Zhouqu are the workers resting, dwarfed by the crumpled buildings in the background and the faceless rescue workers, heads bowed, wearing full protection against airborne disease, listening to instructions from their leaders, who to me appear resigned in the accepted knowledge that they are no longer looking for survivors, but are to be employed to try and stop disease spreading from the decaying bodies.

U.N. concerned over Kashmir unrest

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed concern over the weeks of violent anti-government protests in Kashmir which have killed more than 30 people, dragged in more troops and locked down the disputed Himalayan region.

Policemen stand guard at a barricade set up to stop Kashmiri protesters during a curfew in Srinagar August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliA separatist strike and security lockdown has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region at the core of a dispute between India and Pakistan.

“In relation to recent developments in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Secretary-General is concerned over the prevailing security situation there over the past month,” Farhan Haq, Ban Ki-Moon’s spokesperson said in a statement.

In Kashmir, India now struggles with “children of conflict”

Kashmir has been seething since early June. Life across the Muslim-majority valley has been completely disrupted by curfews and protest strikes since some of the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two years erupted a month ago.

A Kashmiri Muslim man crosses a deserted road marked with graffiti during a curfew in Srinagar July 16, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/FilesSeventeen people, mostly teenage protesters, have been killed by security forces in near daily pro-freedom demonstrations fuelling anger across the disputed Himalayan region.

India blames Pakistan-based militants for the ongoing Kashmir protests but Kashmiris say the protests are spontaneous.

Hindu pilgrims brave Kashmir violence to seek salvation at cave shrine

A combination photo shows Hindu holy men and pilgrims during their trek to the cave of Lord Shiva in Amarnath, 141 km southeast of Srinagar June 21, 2009. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files

Protest strikes, curfews and violent demonstrations have paralysed Muslim-majority Kashmir valley over the killing of 15 civilians in the past month and the deaths blamed on government forces.

Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers are struggling to control near daily street protests that have grown into bigger anti-India demonstrations recently.

But tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims chanting hymns are daily trudging to a cave shrine where they worship a naturally formed ice stalagmite as a symbol of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction and one of the most revered Hindu deities.

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.

Killing of civilians fuels Kashmir anger

Supporters of separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq shout slogans while being detained by police during a protest in Srinagar June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliJust days ago, scenic Kashmir, torn by two decades of war, was near normal.

Thousands of tourists were flocking to the region and honeymooners were once again gliding in shikaras, small Kashmiri boats, across the mirror-calm Dal Lake.

The disputed Himalayan region has seen a significant drop in violence between Muslim rebels and security forces.

But now the Valley is again under siege in the backdrop of rising public anger.

Of Kashmir’s “staged” killings and south Asian peace process

When the prime ministers of India and Pakistan held talks on April 29 and signalled an unexpected thaw in their frigid relations, troops in Indian Kashmir reportedly lured three civilians to work as porters.

A Kashmiri village girl cries during the funerals of three villagers killed in an alleged fake gun battle by security forces in Nadihal, about 70 km (44 miles) north of Srinagar May 29, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailThe next day, security forces allegedly gunned down three on the Line of Control (LoC) and passed them off as infiltrating militants from the Pakistan side.

Last week, police exhumed the bodies after three families in north Kashmir’s Baramulla area said the slain men were innocent relatives who had gone missing days before the ”border clash”.

In Kashmir, nearly half favour independence

Nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country, according to a poll published by think tank Chatham House.

A man walks past closed shops during a strike in Srinagar June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files London-based Chatham House says the poll is the first to be conducted on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), a military control line that has separated Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire between two rivals in 1949.

The poll has produced startling results. On average 44 percent of people in Pakistani-administered Kashmir favoured independence, compared with 43 percent in Indian Kashmir.

Amnesty International on rare visit to Kashmir

Amnesty International member Ramesh Gopal Krishan meets Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of Kashmir's All Parties Hurriyat Conference, before a meeting in Srinagar May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

New Delhi has allowed a team from rights watchdog Amnesty International to visit strife-torn Kashmir for the first time since an armed rebellion against Indian rule broke out over two decades ago.

The two-member team arrived earlier this week to assess the human rights situation in the region where officials say more than 47,000 people have been killed since 1989.

Local human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000 dead or missing.

Amnesty International has in the past reported on human rights violations in the disputed Himalayan region and accused both government forces and separatist rebels of abuses against
the people of Kashmir.

India-Pakistan “secret pact” – was Kashmir accord just a signature away?

India and Pakistan held secret talks for more than three years, reached an accord on the thorny Kashmir issue and had almost unveiled it in 2007 before domestic turmoil in Pakistan derailed it, former Pakistani foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has revealed.

A Border Security Force(BSF) soldier stands guard next to the national flags of India (L) and Pakistan near the Pakistan border in Chamliyal, 45 km west of Jammu, June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Amit GuptaKasuri says the two nuclear-armed rivals, who rule the Himalayan region in parts, had agreed to full demilitarisation of both the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir with a package of loose autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control, a military control line that divides the region between two nations.

“We agreed on a point between complete independence and autonomy,” Kasuri told Times of India.

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