Fri, May 12, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Kashmir student protests add to security concern

Reuters, PULWAMA, India

Indian policemen detain a student during a protest in Srinagar on April 24.

Photo: Reuters

Images of students confronting police on campuses have come to symbolize Kashmiri protests against Indian rule as much as gun-toting militants in fatigues, in what security officials and separatist leaders say is a dangerous new phase of the conflict.

The sharp rise in violence in recent weeks is more spontaneous than before, complicating the task of Indian security forces trained largely in counterinsurgency and poorly equipped to contain broader unrest.

A political stalemate in India’s only Muslim-majority state is a further hurdle to resolving the long-running Kashmir dispute, as is rising Hindu nationalism in some parts of the nation since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014.

“We can ensure that militant numbers remain relatively low and we have stopped the weapons flow. The bigger challenge is how to control protesters, how to engage with them,” said one senior army official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.

When security forces entered a college last month in Pulwama, 30km south of Kashmir’s summer capital of Srinagar, hundreds of students threw stones at their vehicles before fighting pitched battles inside college corridors and bathrooms.

Within days, widespread protests forced most colleges and secondary schools in Indian-controlled Kashmir to close. Teenaged girls took to the streets for the first time in years. At least 100 protesters were wounded.

“Every student is trying to say that we ... want nothing to do with India,” a 19-year-old protester said in the backroom of a Pulwama restaurant as security forces clashed with locals on the outskirts of town.

He asked not to be named because his father was a policeman.

A local police chief said security forces were steering clear of campuses to avoid provoking more violence.

APPEAL TO PARENTS

Police were appealing to parents to ensure children “do not indulge” in violence, Kashmir Inspector General of Police S.J.M. Gillani said, adding that most areas were back under control.

Unrest has simmered in Kashmir, home to a separatist movement for decades, since July last year, when a popular militant leader was killed, sparking months of clashes that left more than 90 civilians dead.

One of the world’s oldest conflicts, Kashmir’s troubles began when the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir was divided in 1947 between India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed rivals who fought two of three wars over the region.

An insurgency that erupted in 1989 against India has eased in recent years, but most Kashmiris yearn for independence, accuse security forces of widespread rights abuses and some support the few hundred militants still fighting.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of a Kashmiri separatist faction, said protesters were for the first time ignoring calls to stop.

“Today there is absolute hate for India,” he told reporters in Srinagar. “They don’t listen to anyone.”

Former special director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau A.S. Dulat said the Kashmir situation “has never been so bad.”

Still, New Delhi has stuck to its tough line, demanding an end to violence before talking with separatists.

“All these activities of stone pelting have to stop. Then will the government consider talking,” Indian Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman K.S. Dhatwalia said.

NO LEADER?

Politicians also say that, in contrast to earlier unrest, there is no obvious leader to negotiate with.

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