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Kashmir - State of unrest

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    Kashmir - State of unrest

    State of Unrest
    Ten years into Kashmir's bloody uprising, India, Pakistan and the rebels are as far apart as ever. Now matters are spiralling out of their control

    James Nachtwey/Magnum Photos for TIME
    A woman tries to identify the body of a slain rebel in Kashmir, where locals long for an end to the bloodshed.

    Summaya and Muhammad Ashraf Bazaz should have been celebrating the birth of their third child about now. Ashraf, a 30-year-old bank executive, had booked a room for Summaya, 25, at a Srinagar maternity hospital for the third week of November. A final consultation with the family gynecologist early in the month had confirmed that the pregnancy was progressing without a hitch. After the visit, the Bazazes hired an auto-rickshaw to take them to the home of Summaya's parents.

    They were stopped at a police checkpoint at Nowhatta, a congested borough of old Srinagar. There had been some shooting farther up the road, the policemen said, so the rickshaw should wait. A little later, they were told it was safe to proceed. The three-wheeler had traveled barely 20 m when it came under a barrage of gunfire from the rear. The terrified driver, Ghulam Rasool, raced away from the scene, not pausing to check on his passengers until they were a kilometer away. When he finally looked back, the young couple were dead, their bodies riddled with bullets and splattered with blood.

    Kashmir: Decade of Grief
    After 10 years of bloodshed in the contested territory, outsiders have begun to take up the violent struggle that native Kashmiris wish would finally cease

    The Pandits
    Kashmiri Hindus are trapped in the middle

    Unfinished Battle
    The villagers of Kargil still suffer

    Who did it? Fingers pointed at once to a nearby bunker of the paramilitary Border Security Force. The BSF said the Bazazes were caught in the crossfire in a gun battle with separatist militants. But press reports suggested a drunken trooper had gone trigger-happy. Even as the state government of Jammu and Kashmir ordered an investigation, the funeral of the young couple became a political event. Hundreds gathered to protest the military presence in Kashmir and to demand independence from India. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, head priest of Kashmir's largest mosque and a leading figure in the separatist movement, delivered a fiery impromptu speech. "Such inhuman acts by the usurpers of our birthright will only bring the dawn of freedom closer," he thundered.

    Not likely. Ten years into the uprising that turned Kashmir from a tourist paradise into a killing field, there's little sign of a dawn; if anything, the outlook is darker than ever. The three sides in the conflict--the Kashmiri rebels and the governments of India and Pakistan--are locked into intractable, antagonistic postures that have yielded nothing but grief for all concerned. Delhi says Kashmir is a part of India and accuses Pakistan of fostering the insurgency. Islamabad says the people in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir are being brutalized by the military and should be allowed a referendum to decide their fate--all the while backing groups that desire a merger with Pakistan. The Kashmiri rebels, grouped under an umbrella organization known as the Hurriyat Conference--hurriyat meaning freedom--detest India's actions and distrust Pakistani platitudes in equal measure.

    These positions were hardened further by this summer's border clash in Kargil, where Indian troops repelled a group of Pakistani army regulars and insurgents who had sneaked over to the Indian side of the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. Having declared itself the victor of that conflict, Delhi is in no mood to talk of compromise. Humiliated by their defeat, the Pakistani military--whose leader, General Pervez Musharraf, seized the government in a bloodless Oct. 12 coup--is in no mood for parleys, either. The Hurriyat Conference continues to issue pox-on-both-your-houses broadsides. As the three parties to the dispute paint themselves into the farthest corners, ordinary Kashmiris are left stranded, their lives stuck in a decade-long limbo.

    In that time, the rebellion has taken at least 34,000 lives, mostly Kashmiri. Before Kargil, there had been a long lull in the fighting; Delhi even claimed that the part of Kashmir under its control was once again safe for tourism. Lately, the rate of killing has accelerated: for the first three weeks of November alone the body count was 48.

    And it's about to get a whole lot worse. Over the past year, the militancy has taken a decidedly dangerous turn, with foreigners--religious warriors from Afghanistan, Sudan and other Muslim nations--joining the fray. The newcomers have sophisticated arms, high-tech communications equipment and the motivation of suicide squads. Delhi believes some of them are financed by Osama bin Laden, the Afghanistan-based Saudi millionaire. Bin Laden's hosts, the ruling Taliban militia, are angered by Delhi's support for their enemies, the Afghan warlord Ahmed Shah Masood and former President Burhanuddin Rabanni. Indian media reports claim the Taliban are encouraging the faithful to rescue Muslim-majority Kashmir from the clutches of Hindu-majority India.

    Nobody is quite sure how many foreigners have entered the Kashmir valley, the tiny strip of land that is the hotbed of the rebellion. Indian estimates range from 1,200 to 2,000, but some Hurriyat leaders say there are many thousands--and more arriving every day. Whatever their numbers, the foreigners seem to be doing most of the fighting in the valley. "The insurgency is now coming entirely from across the border," says Ashok Jaitly, chief secretary of India's Jammu and Kashmir state. "There are hardly any local men among the fighters." The outsiders have been greeted with warmth by some Kashmiris, though many are deeply suspicious of their motives. "We did not invite them," says Yasin Malik, a leading figure in the Hurriyat Conference and the valley's most famous homegrown rebel. "We don't agree with their agenda."

    But the Hurriyat Conference says it can't control the newcomers. And this, ironically, unites him with the Indian military that once jailed and tortured him: both worry that the mujahedin could take the rebellion in a new, extreme direction from which there might be no return. However, it is much easier for a trigger-happy army to tackle the foreigners. Says Lieut. General Krishan Pal, head of army operations in Kashmir: "We can show some clemency for our Kashmiri boys, but the foreign chaps will be hunted down." The locals are fighting for a chance to decide Kashmir's future: whether it is to remain an Indian state, become a part of Pakistan, or attain azadi, independence. The foreigners are fighting for a jihad, or holy war: they want to die for Islam. It's not hard to guess which group is more likely to be amenable to peace talks.

    While the mujahedin represent a new, dangerously physical threat to hopes for peace in the valley, a more formidable psychological barrier has been 10 years in the making. Almost unnoticed, an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up with no experience or understanding of peace. Today's teenagers have only the faintest memory of what it was like not to have soldiers in the streets and sandbag bunkers at the major intersections. With every passing year, their parents' stories about peacetime pleasures--staying out late, earning good money from the tourist trade-seem more and more like fairy tales. "The children are used to hearing gunfire, to seeing dead bodies in the streets, to having their parents being pushed around by soldiers," says Mushir, a Srinagar tailor who described himself as pro-Indian and refused to give his full name. "For them, insurgency is a way of life."

    Raised in an atmosphere of violence and hatred, Kashmir's kids are wise before their time--and deeply cynical. Take Mushir's son Anwar, a shy, sad-eyed 14-year-old with a well-developed sense of irony. Could he conceive of a life in which he might never come across an armed soldier? "Yes, but I also think of a world without hunger and poverty," he said, with a sardonic smile. "There's no ban on fantasizing, is there?" Mushir raised his face, as if addressing Heaven: "Listen to this boy! At his age, I was dreaming of being the world's best goalkeeper..." Anwar interrupts: "I will be the world's best mujahid." He receives a hard slap on the back of his head from Mushir. "See? See?" the tailor says, plaintively. "I worry so much about this boy."

    Businessman Ghulam Mohammad Bhat worries for his two nephews, aged 10 and 11 years. In 1990 their father, his brother Farooq, disappeared after being arrested. Bhat went to the BSF, the army and the police to appeal for his brother's release, but they all claimed not to know where he was. Incensed, Bhat's teenage son Nazir quit college and joined the militants. When he returned from training in Pakistan, he had grown a beard and become a landmine expert, as well as an important leader in the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, a particularly extreme Islamic group. Nazir was eventually shot dead by the Indian army. Now, Bhat looks after his brother's sons. The older of the two, Hild Ahmad, vaguely remembers that their father was "very nice and very tall." The boys listen to their uncle describe the mild-mannered Farooq, but their hero is cousin Nazir, the martyr. They have vivid memories of his coming home to dinner with some gun-toting followers. Do they want to be gunmen, too? The boys giggle. Their uncle looks worried and says, more in hope than conviction, "I will try my best to stop them."

    To young Kashmiris who dream of becoming martyrs, the enemy is India--specifically its army. Boys like Anwar and Hild Ahmad have had little or no interaction with Indian civilians: in their eyes, the military is India. And they see plenty of it. There are soldiers everywhere in Kashmir. The 15th Corps, based in Srinagar, is responsible for the security of the valley. The 14th Corps is based in the Ladakh region near the border with China. The BSF guards parts of Srinagar, but the state police is primarily responsible for keeping the peace within the city. All told, there are an estimated 200,000 Indian security forces in Kashmir--or one for every 20 Kashmiris in the valley.

    Indians have always regarded their soldiers in Kashmir as brave; after Kargil, the men in uniform were elevated to the status of all-conquering, self-sacrificing heroes. Even now, open criticism of the military at a Delhi dinner party or a Bangalore pub can get you into serious trouble. For many Kashmiris, however, the Indian soldier is an object of fear and loathing. The BSF troops and residents of Srinagar don't even talk to each other, and the only looks exchanged are filled with suspicion and anger. Locals tell unending stories of atrocities allegedly committed by the Indian troops; everybody knows somebody who has suffered at their hands.

    Independent groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly accused Indian soldiers of widespread human-rights abuses--rape, torture, extortion and murder--in the valley. Delhi acknowledges some excesses by troops but insists most of the allegations are exaggerated and unsubstantiated. Rights monitors admit that it's sometimes hard to know who's telling the truth. But, as is often the case with human rights issues, perception can count as much as proof--and many Kashmiris believe the rights organizations' reports to be, if anything, understated. It may be weeks before the magistrate investigating the killing of the Bazazes produces a report, but the word on the streets of Srinagar is that a drunken BSF trooper did the shooting.

    Soldiers say they are more sinned against than sinning. They claim many locals are in league with terrorists, giving them shelter and information on troop movements. Some soldiers allow that the Kashmiris may be helping the rebels under duress. "What can they do?" says a BSF trooper. "If they give us information, the militants get angry. If they don't give us information, we get angry."

    Anger is already too plentiful in Kashmir, and it is getting nobody anywhere. Plainly, guns and bullets aren't going to provide any solutions, just more funerals. One of the three protagonists must step up with a new plan, a workable alternative to the mindless posturing that plunged the valley into a decade of despair. Which one will it be?

    Not Delhi, which insists the ball is in Pakistan's court. In an interview with TIME last week, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said there is only one solution in Kashmir: "stop cross-border terrorism."

    Not Islamabad, now under the dictatorship of the architect of the Kargil incursion, General Musharraf. Shortly after he overthrew his country's civilian government, Musharraf spoke of easing tensions along the border with India--but insisted that Pakistan's position on Kashmir remained unchanged.

    Not the Hurriyat Conference, which seems to have no fresh ideas about how to attain azadi. The umbrella body was willing to call a ceasefire in 1993 if India agreed to hold unconditional talks with Kashmiri representatives, but it has not yet presented a cogent alternative to armed rebellion. Malik and Farooq say their best hope is that an outside agency--the United Nations, the United States--will force India and Pakistan to leave the Kashmiris alone. "The international community has failed in its responsibility to the people of Kashmir," says Malik. "But we still hope it will do justice." As little Anwar said, there's no ban on fantasizing.

    Meanwhile, Kashmiris continue to die--some, like Nazir Bhat, for the cause; others, like Summaya and Ashraf Bazaz, just because.

    With reporting by Meenakshi Ganguly and Yusuf Jameel/Kashmir