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Kashmir conflict 'unfinished business'

Muslim protesters in Srinagar. Photo: October 2009
Most of the militant groups have turned away from violence but clashes continue

The Kashmir insurgency - one of the world's longest-running conflicts - began 20 years ago this week. And it was the shockwave from the fall of the Berlin Wall that gave young Kashmiris the confidence to take on the Indian state, the BBC's David Loyn says.

Simmering discontent over this unfinished business left over from the partition of India in 1947 turned into a full-scale insurgency after the kidnap of Rubiya Sayeed, the daughter of the Indian home minister, on 8 December 1989.

She was released a few days later in exchange for five militants held in an Indian jail.

A police crackdown on victory celebrations was the spark that lit the fuse of the conflict.

One of the militants who took up the gun that week, Mukhtar Baba, said that he and his friends had the confidence to take on India because of events in Europe.

"The German people stood up against that man-made Berlin wall, so we thought why don't we, and we started that armed struggle here," he says.

The then chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, says he saw the trouble coming.

It is not a battle between Kashmiri independence and India, but between the secular forces of India and the fundamentalist forces which are wanting to get hold of the Kashmir valley
Afsar Karim
Retired Indian general

"It was not only the Berlin Wall, I think the main thing was the Russian defeat in Afghanistan. They felt if a power like Russia can be thrown out, why not India," he says.

He addressed a packed public meeting to try to warn Kashmiris of what was to come.

"I told them, 'what you are doing is wrong. It will not lead you to any place other than the destruction of our state; our houses will go; our villages will be blown up; innocent people will die; many of our womenfolk will be raped and murdered'," Mr Abdullah says.

Differing goals

Twenty years on, there are no reliable estimates of the number of people killed, but it is generally believed to be upwards of 50,000.

map

The Kashmiri-based International People's Tribunal on Human Rights has recently called for a thorough investigation of mass graves of bodies buried by Indian security forces.

The Indian government has rejected the findings, but the head of the research group, Khurram Parvez, says that much still has to be revealed. He has estimated that one in 10 people living in the Kashmir valley has been tortured.

From the beginning there were differing goals for those who took up the gun.

Some wanted Pakistan to take over all of the original state of Kashmir, but most wanted unification of the two wings of the original state in a separate new independent country.

Global jihad

As the insurgency ground on, from the mid-1990s the Indian state faced a new threat. Among the Kashmiri youths coming across the Line of Control after training on the Pakistani side were battle-hardened Islamist warriors who had come to fight a jihad. They were Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis.

I met some in Indian custody in 1994, including the alleged military commander of a new guerrilla group - the Harkat ul-Ansar. His name was Sajjad Afghani - (Sajjad "the Afghan"), and he proved to have a very limited political agenda.

He was fighting not for Pakistani control of Kashmir but for a global jihad.

We did not know it then, but this kind of thinking was about to take centre stage in world politics.

So while the fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir may have been inspired by the end of the Cold War, it provides a direct link with the new conflicts of the 21st Century.

Big change

Pakistan's repeated and strong denials that they backed militant training camps were rejected by the incoming administration of US President Bill Clinton in 1993, who demanded that the camps should close, threatening to put Pakistan on the list of "state sponsors of international terrorism".

Dukhtaran-e-Millat members
The Dukhtaran-e-Millat advocates a more rigorous lifestyle for women

Conveniently enough, the chaos of the civil war in Afghanistan meant that the camps should be shifted there, and when Osama Bin Laden reappeared in the region in 1996 he was given control of some of this training.

Retired Gen Afsar Karim, one of India's leading defence analysts, says that this development was the most threatening aspect of the Kashmir conflict.

"It is not a battle between Kashmiri independence and India, but between the secular forces of India and the fundamentalist forces which are wanting to get hold of the Kashmir valley."

The war has seen a big change in Kashmiri society. There is a new seriousness of intent in Islamic practice here in a place once famous for more tolerant liberal ways.

A women's movement, the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith), holds classes to try to change the ways of Kashmiri women to a more rigorous lifestyle including covering every part of their body.

Their fundamentalist world view includes a demand for Pakistan to control all of Kashmir. They also believe that 9/11 was an attack carried out by America on itself.

One of their leading members Naheeda Nasreem, dressed all in black, including black gloves, says: "Is there any proof it was done by any Muslim? We think it might have been done by them. The Taliban and other forces are working at the behest of America and Israel. Why are the Taliban terrorising Pakistan? This is only on at the behest of America. They sent some people dressed as Muslims."

'Sky's limit'

Most of the original militant groups have turned away from violence. They are waiting for the result of a peace process that has been called "quiet diplomacy" backed by US President Barack Obama.

Yasin Malik
Yasin Malik warns there could be "another revolution"

Both Pakistan and India now appear ready to compromise. On a recent trip to Srinagar, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a secessionist politician that - apart from the border itself - anything could be negotiated.

"The sky's the limit," he said.

There is some impatience for progress, and the Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, warns that if there is no progress, then it will be hard to stop young Kashmiris from returning to violence.

He has tried to lead a path of non-violent resistance, but knows of the impatience of Kashmiris for a settlement.

"For God's sake, don't give our next generation a sense of defeat. If you are giving them a sense of defeat you are pushing them for another revolution," Yasin Malik says.



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