In Kashmir, Fears of Increasing Militancy

August 18, 2008

Author: Emily Wax

Source: The Washington Post

On a recent four-month trek through hundreds of Kashmiri villages, separatist leader Yasin Malik called on people to adopt his new Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence. Malik, a secular Muslim, soon became an icon of peace to many youths in this turbulent region that India and Pakistan have fought over for decades.

But Malik's commitment to nonviolence is now being tested amid a wave of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir. Over the past six weeks, tensions between Muslims and Hindus have left 34 people dead, most of them unarmed protesters shot by Indian security forces. Like many leaders here, Malik worries that Kashmir's separatist movement is once again on the verge of becoming an armed struggle.

"Such a show of violence is pushing Kashmiri people, especially our youth, toward revolution," Malik said in a telephone interview from his hospital bed after ending a hunger strike. "At this point, I think the international community has to step in. Otherwise, we fear a growing extremism. This kind of anger comes at the worst time."

After four years of relative calm, the Muslim-led demonstrations in Kashmir's capital, Srinagar, were the biggest since a separatist rebellion against Indian rule nearly 20 years ago, analysts say. India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir as their territory, and the nuclear-armed countries have fought two wars over the scenic Himalayan region since the subcontinent's bloody partition in 1947.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the rebellion, and thousands, including about 6,000 Hindu Kashmiris, have been forced to leave their homes.

Rising hostility in Kashmir comes at a time of deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan.