Bitterness between India and Pakistan plays out in violence in Kashmir


SRINAGAR, Kashmir -- From sandbagged bunkers that line the winding streets in this old city, Indian troops watch nervously for the enemy: Muslim separatist guerrillas who dart forward, tossing grenades or loosing bursts of automatic-weapons fire before vanishing into the bazaars.

For India, ruling Kashmir is much like an occupation: an army and police force of at least 300,000, bunkers everywhere, search operations that paralyze daily life and shoot-to-kill orders.

Kashmiri human rights groups say that two-thirds of the 30,000 people killed in the five-year conflict have been civilians.

The dispute has roots that go back half a century, to the founding of India and Pakistan. But unlike other regional conflicts based on territorial and religious rivalry, in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, this conflict shows no sign of ending.

Despite a flurry of Indian moves, including appeals to the guerrillas to quit fighting and compete in local elections, the enmities seem only to get worse.

Part of the problem lies in the bitterness between India and Pakistan, which remain ready, even while denying it, to help foment trouble in each other's back yard.

On both sides officials deny what many suspect, that there is a clandestine policy of "K for K" -- Pakistani backing for the guerrillas in Kashmir and Indian backing for armed groups that have turned Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, into a virtual free-fire zone.

In Kashmir, India, a predominantly Hindu nation, remains wedded to its position of the last 40 years: that the two-thirds of Kashmir it controls, where Muslims account for 70 percent of the 7.8 million people, can never secede.

Pakistan controls the other third of Kashmir and virtually all of the Jammu region farther north, an area that has about 2 million people.

The guerrillas say they will fight until Kashmiri Muslims can vote to be part of India or Pakistan or, as many Kashmiri Muslims would prefer, to become an independent state.

The impasse was deeply embedded this spring when an army siege of Charar-i-Sharif, a town south of Srinagar, ended with an inferno that destroyed most of the town, leaving at least 10,000 people homeless and razing a 500-year-old Muslim shrine.

Although India denied what townspeople maintained, that the army set the fires, the incident shattered any hope of restoring peace.

Despite Indian efforts to convince Kashmiris that the guerrillas burned the town, the mood has swung still further away from India, even among Kashmiris who once favored Indian rule or who saw it as something that had to be endured.

In rural villages in the Himalayan hinterland, among merchants in the bazaars, in the private homes of bankers and intellectuals, even among Muslims working in the bureaucracy and the police, it is a rare voice these days that is raised in India's defense.

In the year before the shrine's destruction, India had tried to take the momentum from the guerrillas.

It had freed Kashmiri rebels who had spent years in Indian jails. It had approved new funds to rebuild clinics, schools and bridges, many of them destroyed in guerrilla strikes. And it had promised an election to choose the first locally led administration since New Delhi swept the state government aside in 1990.

In another move it had resisted, New Delhi announced in June that it would allow the Red Cross to make the first independent visits to 3,000 Kashmiri political prisoners and detainees.

The gesture was widely welcomed by foreign governments, including the Clinton administration, which had pressed India for years to curb torture and other reported abuses against Kashmiris in Indian jails.

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