Kashmir violence drops further, but where’s the peace?

February 4, 2009

Violence in Kashmir is down to its lowest level since the separatist revolt began in 1989, but peace remains a distant prospect in one of the world’s most beautiful regions.

The Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Studies which tracks militant violence across South Asia says 541 people were killed in militant-linked violence in 2008, continuing the declining trend from the previous year when fatalities had fallen to 777. That was well below the 1,000 mark  used to define a high-intensity conflict and way lower than the 2001 peak of 4,507 deaths in a single year.

Just for purposes of comparison on a broad level, a separate analysis by the Institute shows that the number of people killed in militant-related violence in Pakistan hit 6,715 in 2008 from a 2003 figure of 189, reflecting a dramatic deterioration in the security situation.

So, as Pakistan fights the militants in its most serious internal challenge yet, some of whom it fostered to fight Indian forces in Kashmir, is peace at hand in the Himalayan region ?

Not by a long shot , going by the steady stream of street protests that seem to go off every now and then. Last year’s demonstrations, the biggest since the revolt began, over a government decision to hand over land near a Hindu shrine deep in Kashmir to a trust now seem to have become a watershed, giving new life to a movement that was despairing.

And because it is a street campaign, a sort of a non-violent struggle, it could be potentially more challenging to the Indian state than the guns and grenades of the militants, say Kashmiri leaders.

“India is not scared of any guns here in Kashmir – it has a thousand times more guns,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told the Wall Street Journal in this report in December.

“What it is scared of is people coming out in the streets, people seeing the power of nonviolent struggle.”

Is this really a civil disobedience movement, a leaf from Mahatma Gandhi’s book thrown in the face of those who rule India in his name?

{Reuters pictures of Gulmarg in Kashmir and a protest in Srinagar}

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