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Q+A-What's happening in Kashmir?

The government has deployed the army in Srinagar for the first time in nearly two decades to quell huge anti-India protests that have killed 15 people and threaten to destabilise the region.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2010 16:55 IST

The government has deployed the army in Srinagar for the first time in nearly two decades to quell huge anti-India protests that have killed 15 people and threaten to destabilise the region.

Most of the deaths since late June were in police firing during the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two years in a region whose peace is vital for relations between India and Pakistan. Both claim Kashmir in full but rule in part.

Why the fresh upsurge?
The protests come after a period of relative calm in the strife-torn region. They started on June 11 when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a teargas shell fired by police during a protest in Srinagar.

Since then, 14 other people have been killed during protests fuelling anger in Kashmir, where sentiment against New Delhi's rule runs deep. Human rights groups say India's Armed Forces Special Powers Act -- which gives security forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search in battling a separatist insurgency -- further alienates Kashmiris.

Why was army deployed?
After police failed to take control of weeks of street protests, New Delhi deployed the army to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control. The central government does not want a repeat of the demonstrations of 2008 whose vehemence deeply embarrassed New Delhi.

In 2008, the army had not been called out. Those protests eventually died down and India successfully held local elections in Kashmir a few months later. New Delhi showcased the election as an endorsement of its rule over the region. It does not want the gains made since 2008 to be lost now.

Srinigar is under an indefinite curfew with roads and businesses shut, and government forces patrolling the streets.

What do Kashmiris think about the crisis?
In the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley between 75 per cent and 95 per cent support independence from both India and Pakistan, said a recent poll by the think-tank Chatham House.

After several failed rounds of peace talks between moderate separatists and New Delhi and a rise in killings blamed on forces, locals say the protests are mostly spontaneous.

Most of those killed in the protests are teenagers and many who take part in daily protests are young. Kashmir's new generation of radicalised separatists may prove a big challenge to New Delhi, locals say. These young Kashmiris organise protests with Facebook, YouTube and via messages from mosques.

What is the government's view?
Violence, involving separatist militants and Indian troops, has declined significantly and the government has arrested, or placed under house arrest, all senior separatist leaders who called for protests.

But the Indian government has blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group accused of carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, for stoking the latest protests.
Omar Abdullah, Kashmir's chief minister, who earlier blamed "anti-India forces" for creating trouble said talks with separatists were needed to solve the Kashmir problem.

Where are the protests headed?
If the government fails to check the protests, deaths and rights violations, they could hurt peace efforts and the region could slide into a renewed phase of armed uprising.
Peace in Kashmir is seen as crucial for improving relations between India and Pakistan.

If New Delhi links the Kashmir protests to Islamabad then it might hit the neighbours' attempts to repair relations severely hurt by the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India blames on Pakistan-based militants.

Street protests have quietened since the army was deployed to enforce the curfew, but further deaths could spark more trouble.

How will crisis affect the Kashmir economy?
Nearly half a million tourists visited Kashmir in the first half of the year before authorities imposed a curfew, compared with 380,000 in the same period last year.

Investment is also on the rise as the India-controlled region benefits from the overall economic growth in India, expected to expand by around 8.5 per cent in 2010/11. But the crisis may scare off visitors, denting Kashmir's tourism industry as it starts to grow again. Officials say some 60 per cent of Kashmiris are now dependent on tourism in Kashmir.

First Published: Jul 08, 2010 16:53 IST