Reuters | Wed Sep 15, 2010 | 6:22pm IST
A meeting of the Indian government and opposition parties to resolve spiraling separatist protests in Kashmir appeared to end in deadlock on Wednesday as four more protesters were killed in police clashes. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting came two days after 18 people were killed in the worst single episode of violence in two decades of violent rebellion against Indian rule and are the latest in a three-month long series of protests. The meeting failed to agree on a partial lifting of a widely-hated law that gives the army immunity from prosecution in case of civilian killings in the region. The only decision taken was to send a delegation of politicians to Kashmir.
Another 40 people were injured in the latest round of protests, in the Mendhar area of Poonch, a district which has rarely seen separatist demonstrations, about 120 km (75 miles) south of Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar. At least 90 people have been killed this summer, nearly all by police bullets. The protests appeared to have been sparked by reports of the Koran being destroyed in the United States but may have ballooned into anti-India demonstrations. "We had to open fire when our repeated attempts failed to disperse the mob who was trying to reach to a nearby Christian missionary school in the area," a police official said. Despite a U.S. pastor abandoning his plans to burn the Koran to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, there have been protests in Kashmir.
The latest deaths added pressure on the 77-year-old Singh, who has been criticised as being out of touch for failing to treat the protests seriously, underscoring policy limbo in New Delhi that may spill over into tension with Pakistan, which claims the region. The government has largely painted the protesters as inspired by Pakistan-based militant groups but
Singh on Wednesday appeared to signal a slight shift in opinion, hinting that some of the demonstrators may be inspired by local grievances. "While some of these protests may have been impulsive or spontaneous, it cannot be denied that some incidents were orchestrated by certain groups," Singh said.
NO MOVE ON SPECIAL ARMY POWERS
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act in ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ state gives security forces sweeping powers to shoot, arrest, search and detain people in battling a separatist insurgency. The law is widely hated by Kashmiris and is blamed in part for fuelling anti-India sentiment in the Muslim-majority valley. The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the army and some government members oppose any lifting of the act. Militant attacks, which first broke out in 1989, have declined considerably. But in the last two years street protests have mushroomed as many young Kashmiris have grown increasingly angry at living in one of the world’s most militarised regions. While a previous generation of Kashmiris often embraced militancy, a new generation has used street protests, Facebook and mobile phones to spread opposition, mindful of how violent attacks and an army backlash led to more than 47,000 deaths after 1989.
But the protesters face a government that has placed little priority on finding a solution to Kashmir. Once a central issue to relations with Pakistan, it has lost some regional weight to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s own militant problems. The international community, including the United States, has largely been silent over the deaths of many unarmed protesters. Kashmir is not a huge issue for many Indians and the controversy will unlikely play into electoral politics ahead of a host of state elections in the coming year.