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8715News from Kashmir, India: Panicked Kashmiris

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  • Zafar Khan
    Aug 2, 2008
      Panicked Kashmiris
      IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
      Fri. Aug. 1, 2008


      SPINAGAR, India — Panic and fear have gripped border areas of Kashmir after a series of ceasefire violations on the de facto frontier dividing the disputed region between India and Pakistan shattered five years of calm.
      "Everyone is worried about these skirmishes," Ghulam Qadir Chalku, a farmer in Silikote village in the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC), told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Friday, August 1.

      Troops stationed along the LoC traded fire four times during July with each side blaming the other for starting the clashes.

      India on Monday said Pakistani troops crossed the LoC and killed an Indian soldier.

      Pakistan countered with charges the Indians intruded into the Pakistani-held zone of Kashmir.

      The incident marked the first incursion claimed by New Delhi since 1999, when the rivals fought a mini-war in the Kargil peaks along the LoC that forced thousands of border residents to flee fierce shelling.

      "It's really sad the two sides have started fighting again. It's triggered all kinds of fears," said teacher Kounsar Ahmed.

      Ahmed teaches in a makeshift school housed in a shed in Garkote village near the LoC.

      The school building was damaged in a devastating earthquake in 2005 that killed thousands in Pakistan and Kashmir.

      "Earlier we'd duck into underground bunkers but the quake damaged the bunkers and we didn't build new ones because we had the ceasefire," he said.

      Pray for Peace

      Now, many Kashmiri villagers are praying for peace to prevail in their war-torn region.

      "I pray everything returns to normal soon so we can continue to live a peaceful life," said Chalku, whose wife died in 2003 in Pakistani artillery shelling.

      Hope emerged late Thursday that Chalku's prayers might be answered when Pakistan's foreign minister said the premiers of the two countries would this weekend thrash out a plan to improve relations.

      Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee "agreed mutually" their prime ministers "will come out with a comprehensive statement on (future) bilateral engagement" when they meet on the sidelines of a South Asian summit in Sri Lanka Saturday.

      Kashmir is divided into two parts and ruled by India and Pakistan, which have fought two of their three wars since the 1947 independence over the region.

      Pakistan and the UN back the right of the Kashmir people for self-determination, an option opposed by New Delhi.

      More than 60,000 people have been killed since Kashmiris took up arms against the Indian rule in 1989.

      "We're all praying for calm on the borders -- clashes only bring death and destruction," said 23-year-old science graduate Nazia Ali.

      Foreign Office urges caution as Kashmir tries to lure back tourists
      · Area out of bounds after kidnappings by insurgents
      · Rafters and climbers among first to return
      Maseeh Rahman in Delhi The Guardian, Tuesday July 15 2008


      Almost two decades after gunfire first echoed across the mountains of Kashmir, concerted efforts are being made to reintroduce adventure sport and tourism in the Himalayan territory.

      Tomorrow the inaugural Kashmir Cup international rafting championship will begin on the Sindhu river in Sonamarg, 52 miles north-east of the capital, Srinagar.

      Men and women from 11 international teams, including Ukraine and the Czech Republic, will participate.

      "This is just the beginning," said Farooq Shah, director of Jammu & Kashmir Tourism, which is sponsoring the rafting event.

      "Kashmir is the unexplored frontier of international adventure sport and tourism. There is tremendous scope for a variety of activities besides rafting - mountaineering, trekking, skiing, heli-skiing, trout fishing, high altitude golf."

      The 5,425-metre (17,799ft) Mount Kolahoi, known as the Matterhorn of Kashmir, may also once again be within reach of foreign climbers and trekkers.

      Kolahoi and the other magnificent Himalayan peaks and valleys in Muslim-majority Kashmir have for long been out of bounds, especially after insurgents kidnapped six western trekkers, including two Britons, in 1995.

      An American trekker escaped, a Norwegian was beheaded, and the rest are still missing, presumed dead.

      But the access and conservation commission of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, led by Robert Pettigrew of Britain, recently visited Kashmir and appealed to tourism authorities to reinstate the infrastructure for the resumption of mountaineering.

      As a result the Indian Mountaineering Foundation will soon open its first field office in Srinagar.

      However the Foreign Office is still advising Britons against "all travel to or through rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir ... and all but essential travel to Srinagar. If you intend to travel to Srinagar then you should only travel there by air."

      It also lists nine violent incidents since last July, including the recent street protests over the lease of forest land to a Hindu shrine board.

      But the warnings have not deterred all Britons: of the 25,000 foreign visitors to Kashmir in 2007 an estimated 3,000 were British.

      Some prominent British visitors have taken exception to the Foreign Office travel advisory.

      Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, the controller of the Army Benevolent Fund, has complained that it was "unhelpful" and "overcautious", and that he and his wife "never once felt in any sort of danger".

      After a week-long stay in a houseboat on Dal Lake, Srinagar, late last year, Webb-Carter wrote to his Harrow-based travel agent Indus Tours: "Our experience was altogether outstanding ... it was tranquil and relaxing and we were looked after by very kind people."

      He added: "I would recommend a visit to Kashmir to anyone. It is a beautiful place kept far so long behind a curtain of insecurity. It is time to visit and catch up on these hidden jewels."

      His letter appears as a testimonial for travel to Kashmir on the website of Jammu & Kashmir Tourism.

      Muslim-Hindu tension: Land riots bring down Kashmir coalition
      Maseeh Rahman in New Delhi The Guardian, Tuesday July 8 2008


      Violent street protests by rival groups of Muslims and Hindus in a dispute over 40 hectares of forest land led to the fall of the democratically elected government in India's Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir yesterday.

      The chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who headed a coalition government, submitted his resignation to the provincial governor after the People's Democratic party pulled out of the coalition and it became clear that he could no longer muster a majority in the state assembly.

      The governor, NN Vohra, who accepted the resignation, had earlier asked Azad to prove his majority in the state assembly.

      The collapse of the Congress-led coalition government is seen as a huge setback for the peace process and has raised fears of a revival of Muslim separatist groups.

      After years of bloodshed the political situation in Indian-administered Kashmir had become stable and relatively peaceful. "The violence had decreased, the tourists were coming back, the separatist groups had been sidelined and all the mainstream political parties were looking forward to the next assembly election in October," said a Srinagar-based analyst, Taher Mohiuddin. "But suddenly Kashmir has been plunged into a crisis again."

      The crisis was sparked last month when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley to protest against the lease by the government of nearly 40 hectares of forest land to a religious authority which supervises a pilgrimage to a popular shrine of the Hindu god Shiva.

      An ice stalagmite that forms annually in a cave in the Kashmir Himalayas is revered as a symbol of Shiva, attracting devout Hindus from across India. The forest land was intended to house temporary facilities for the pilgrims.

      The land transfer had been pushed through by the newly appointed provincial governor's predecessor, Lieutenant General SK Sinha, who is considered close to the Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata party. Kashmiri Muslims perceived him as anti-Islam.

      Traditionally Kashmiri Muslims have played an active ceremonial role in the Hindu pilgrimage to Lord Shiva's cave, besides providing other assistance to the pilgrims. But Muslim distrust of Sinha turned the forest land lease into "a conspiracy to change Kashmir's demography".

      "Land is a very sensitive issue in Kashmir," said Mohiuddin. "The people feel they've already lost a lot, and if now their land also goes, then everything is gone."

      Kashmir is one of three Indian hill states where outside Indians are banned from owning real estate.

      The Kashmiri Muslim protests left at least five stone-throwing youths dead and scores injured. It forced the government to rescind the land transfer, in turn provoking violent agitation in the state's Hindu-dominated Jammu region. More people were killed as Hindus took to the streets in BJP-led protests against the government. A curfew was in force in several areas yesterday.

      In the wake of Azad's resignation, other parties will be given a chance to form a majority coalition. If they fail, the elections scheduled for October could be brought forward.

      Indian Kashmir government collapses
      Monday, July 07, 2008
      15:51 Mecca time, 12:51 GMT


      The government of the Indian-administered province of Jammu and Kashmir has collapsed.

      Ghulam Nabi Azad, the chief minister, resigned on Monday after weeks of protests over the transfer of land to a Hindu shrine trust.

      Thousands of Muslims in the province protested against the move, which they called an effort to alter the region's demographics.

      On July 1, the government revoked the land-transfer order, which defused tensions in predominantly Muslim Kashmir's capital Srinagar but led to more violent protests in Jammu, a Hindu-majority area.

      At least six people were killed and hundreds wounded in the protests.

      The withdrawal of support from an alliance partner also played a role.

      No confidence

      On June 28, the land transfer controversy prompted the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to withdraw support for the government, reducing Azad's Congress-led government to a minority.

      "I do not wish to put my friends in trouble whose heart is somewhere else and their party whip is somewhere else," Azad said in state assembly before tendering his resignation to the state governor.

      The state, in India's northeast corner, will be administered by the governor until elections are held in four months.

      Omar Abdullah, president of the opposition National Conference, said his party "will not stake a claim to form the government".

      "We need to get into campaigning mode and predicting any post-poll alliance at this point of time will be premature," he said.

      Record protests

      The Kashmir region, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both, has experienced some of the largest anti-India demonstrations in nearly two decades.

      On Saturday, thousands of protesters clashed with police over allegations that government forces set fire to a local Muslim shrine.

      Police denied any involvement with the fire at the shine, which was partially damaged.

      Army called out in Kashmir religious protests
      3 hours ago


      JAMMU, India (AFP) — Indian soldiers were patrolling the streets in two districts of Kashmir Saturday after protesters clashed with police in a row over transfer of land in the Muslim region to Hindus.

      The army was deployed after more than two dozen people were injured as angry demonstrators attacked government buildings and torched a police post late Friday in Jammu, the Hindu-majority winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state.

      Protesters and the local media said two people were killed in police firing, but police attributed the deaths to "gang rivalry".

      "The army conducted a flag march in sensitive areas of Jammu city and Samba town and made announcements from public address system asking people to stay indoors," defence spokesman S.D Goswami said.

      The Kashmir government's decision to provide land to a Hindu trust had sparked more than a week of rioting by furious Muslims, leaving six dead and hundreds injured.

      The government went back on the decision to allocate land to Hindu pilgrims, sparking the current protests in Hindu areas of the state.

      The state government collapsed last month after its main ally withdrew support over the issue.