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News from Kashmir: An eight-year-old Kashmiri went out to play. He came back home dead

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  • Zafar Khan
    An eight-year-old Kashmiri went out to play. He came back home dead Sameer Rah was beaten by Indian paramilitaries and flung into a poison ivy bush. The hopes
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 26, 2010
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      An eight-year-old Kashmiri went out to play. He came back home dead
      Sameer Rah was beaten by Indian paramilitaries and flung into a poison ivy bush. The hopes of 2007 seem a world away
      Basharat Peer
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 September 2010 20.05 BST


      A few days back I travelled to Batamaloo neighbourhood in Srinagar, the capital city of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Coils of barbed wire blocked the desolate roads; thousands of Indian soldiers patrolled the streets to enforce a strict military curfew. I couldn't reach the man I wanted to meet and finally managed to speak to him on the phone.

      On 2 August Fayaz Rah, a 39-year-old fruit vendor from Batamaloo, had lunch with his wife and three children. Outside, Indian troops enforced the curfew. Yet the children would find a clearing or a courtyard to play cricket or imitate the adults and raise a slogan for Kashmir's independence from India. His youngest son, eight-year-old Sameer, took two rupees for pocket money from his father and stepped out to join his friends near his uncle's house.

      Young Sameer walked into a lane and impulsively shouted a few slogans for Kashmir's independence. He didn't realise a group of Indian paramilitaries was around. They caught the eight-year-old and beat him with bamboo sticks, some blows striking his head. They then threw the boy into a clump of poison ivy bushes, but a crowd gathered. The paramilitaries called a police truck, which drove Sameer to the nearby hospital. Meanwhile, police and paramilitaries teargassed the crowd.

      "Someone told me that a child has been killed," said Fayaz. He called a friend in the local police and mentioned that his son, who had left home wearing a yellow T-shirt, had not returned. His friend arrived at his door with an ambulance. "I saw my boy on the ventilator," Fayaz sighed. Doctors tried for hours to revive him, but couldn't save Sameer. "There is no justice in Kashmir," Fayaz told me. "Now the police claim my son died in a stampede."

      It is getting harder to keep track of the deaths. In recent years, the hot guerrilla war over the region that began in 1990 first gave way to a cold peace, then, in the past two years, waves of mass protests. The summer of 2008 saw the biggest demonstrations for Kashmir's independence from India in two decades; they were put down by force, with 60 deaths and more than 500 injuries. In the past three months, Indian forces have killed 106 Kashmiri protesters and bystanders, mostly teenagers.

      The current fighting broke out as a protest against the killing of a 17-year-old student, Tufail Mattoo, in Srinagar. He was returning home from tuition and was hit by a teargas shell the police fired to disperse a crowd that had gathered to protest at another death. The situation has produced a Palestinian-style intifada in which young boys battle Indian troops with stones, and the soldiers shoot to kill.

      India, meanwhile, continues to garrison half a million soldiers in Kashmir, nearly three times the number of American troops in Iraq at the peak of the occupation. India's half-century-old Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which was extended to Kashmir in 1990, gives troops the legal authority to shoot any person they suspect of being a threat, and guarantees immunity from prosecution. To bring a soldier before a civilian court requires the permission of India's home ministry; more than 400 such cases are still waiting for it.

      In the absence of justice, or any progress in the negotiations between India and Pakistan over the region's future, despair in Kashmir has grown. Walls all over the region are painted with slogans: We Want Freedom! India, Go Back! Protesters are killed, and with every death more protests follow. The number of injured is believed to have risen to more than 1,000.

      Hospitals have been facing a serious shortage of medicines and the impossibility of conducting various medical tests that depend on private pharmacies and medical facilities. Many doctors aren't able to reach hospitals. Over the weekend Dr Bashir Chapoo, a senior eye surgeon, told me that the troops hadn't let him travel to his hospital in central Srinagar for more than a week. Seventeen of his patients had pellets stuck in their eyes. I called him yesterday. "I am still stuck at home. Most of my patients have left the hospital now. I have no idea where they are," Dr Chapoo said. Two had already lost their eyesight.

      The military curfew continues with a few hours break once a week. The usual bustle of Kashmiri mornings has been replaced by an eerie silence; my street belongs to stray dogs and chirping birds. The morning papers stopped publishing after the troops attacked the newsagents. It is a world away from the hopeful spring of 2007, when back-channel talks between Indian and Pakistan diplomats – encouraged by Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, and Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president – seemed to be close to bearing fruit. The solution they had agreed on would have resulted in a largely autonomous Kashmir with soft borders between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled regions, and the gradual demilitarisation of Kashmir. But the talks lost steam when Musharraf lost power, and broke down after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, orchestrated by Pakistani militants.

      Mirwaiz Umar Farooq – head of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, a coalition of separatist groups – championed the peace talks without any results. But now such moderates find themselves marginalised. The influence of the separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani has risen; he is now viewed as the most substantial powerbroker in the region. The only lull in the recent protests occurred when he appealed to the protesters to stay home.

      After several high-profile meetings last week, Singh's government rejected even moderate demands such as repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – even though a committee set up by Singh four years ago recommended doing so. Scaling back troops from residential areas wasn't even discussed.

      The Indian government did, however, despatch a delegation of parliamentarians to Kashmir for a fact-finding mission. The group arrived at Geelani's Srinagar home on Monday afternoon, accompanied by scores of television crews. The Kashmiri leader enumerated his preconditions for peace talks: New Delhi should accept Kashmir as a dispute, free Kashmiri political prisoners, and withdraw its troops. Soldiers guilty of civilian killings must be punished, and their blanket protection withdrawn. India is not willing to concede any of these demands, but the meeting provides at least a sliver of hope that the conversations so close to producing results three years ago might begin again.

      What the Singh government does next will be its big test. Various analysts and political figures have suggested unconditional, result-oriented talks with the Kashmiris and a revival of the dialogue with Pakistan. It may well be the only way to save Kashmir – and India itself – from future calamities.

      Kashmir braces for more violence
      Indian offer to release arrested protesters and review security forces deployment dismissed as 'time-gaining exercise'
      Jason Burke in New Delhi
      guardian.co.uk, Sunday 26 September 2010 17.21 BST


      The troubled Indian state of Kashmir was braced for renewed violence as separatist leaders rejected a government bid to defuse mounting civil unrest.

      Indian ministers had pledged to work to release hundreds of young protesters arrested in recent unrest and to review the massive deployment of security forces in the disputed Himalayan territory.

      Syed Ali Shah Gilani, a hardline leader who has considerable authority over youths who have been rioting for several months in Kashmir, described the package of measures offered by New Delhi as "a time-gaining exercise, unrealistic and mere eyewash".

      As local security authorities moved to lift curfews in sensitive parts of the Muslim-majority state that have paralysed everyday life for more than two weeks, Gilani called for local people to show their anger through a general strike over the next two days. Observers said that further clashes seemed inevitable.

      "It's a trial of strength. Now that the government wants to normalise things, the separatists are looking to make sure the mobilisation continues," said one senior Kashmiri journalist. Separatist politicians and demonstrators reject Indian rule and want independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

      Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, another separatist leader, said India's initiative was inadequate because not all parties were being consulted.

      The package of Indian measures was announced after a high-level delegation of parliamentarians headed by the powerful home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram visited Kashmir last week. There has been widespread concern within the Indian political and security establishment that the local state government is incapable of curbing growing violence. In addition to the release of hundreds of detainees held for rioting, the new proposed measures include a review of the deployment of security forces with the aim of reducing military presence in civilian areas and a dialogue with all local political leaders.

      Military authorities would also be urged to consider if deeply unpopular laws granting security forces extensive powers of search and detention as well as legal immunity might be lifted in some areas, officials said.

      The steps "should address the concerns of different sections of people, including protesters," Chidambaram told reporters.

      The Indian government announced today it would be also asking Indian companies to fund two-year internships for 50,000 young people from Kashmir. At least 107 people, mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s, have died in a crackdown by security forces on often-violent demonstrations since June. Most have been killed when poorly-trained and badly-equipped security forces have opened fire on unarmed protesters. Security forces say they are acting in self-defence. The violence has brought a nascent economic recovery in Kashmir – one if India's richest states – to a halt and caused huge problems to local communities.

      Thousands of people crowded markets to stock up on food and other essentials when authorities relaxed the curfew for several hours in Srinagar, the main city in the region, and seven other towns.

      Professor Sheikh Shauqat, who teaches law at Srinagar University, said local people were tired of the violence and economic disruption but still supported agitation. "They do not want to stop the demonstrations until they feel their sacrifice has not been in vain. So any lull in the violence will just be temporary," Shauqat told the Guardian.

      "The separatist leaders see nothing in the package of measures that tackles any of the political issues." Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan – and claimed by both – since the two states gained independence from Britain in 1947. Three wars have been fought by the hostile neighbours over the former princely mountain state.

      Since 1989, Kashmiri extremists and other Islamic militants have waged a violent insurgency against Indian security forces in which an estimated 70,000 people have died. In recent years, the situation has improved in part due to a decline in support for such militants from Pakistan. Until June, this year had seen one of the lowest totals of civilian casualties for decades. Analysts fear the casualties sustained by protesters will lead to the radicalisation of a new generation of militants. In addition to the dead, many thousands have been seriously injured or beaten. The Indian foreign minister, SM Krishna, and his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, are expected to meet tomorrow at the United Nations general assembly. Kashmir and terrorism will be among the topics discussed, Indian government sources said.

      India offers Kashmir talks
      Eight-point plan suggests reducing military presence in region and freeing detained protesters to deal with unrest.


      India has offered to hold talks with Kashmiris and review its heavy security presence in the Himalayan region in an attempt to bring under control a wave of separatist unrest.

      The proposals were part of an eight-point plan put forward on Saturday by Palaniappan Chidamabaram, the Indian interior minister, after he led an all-party mission to the disputed Muslim-majority region.

      "The government of India will appoint a group of interlocutors under an eminent person to begin the process of a sustained dialogue" with a wide swathe of Kashmiris, including political and youth groups, he said.

      More than 100 people have been killed since early June as stone-throwing protesters have clashed with security forces. The civilian demonstrations have been the largest since an armed uprising against Indian rule in 1989.

      Most of the victims, many in them in their teens, have been killed in live firing by police and paramilitary troops, while others have been hit by tear-gas shells or rubber bullets.

      The recent protests were ignited on June 11 by the death of a 17-year-old student hit by a tear-gas shell during a clash with police. Since then Indian-administered Kashmir has been paralysed by demonstrations, strikes and strict curfews imposed to stem the unrest.

      Heavily militarised

      The Congress-led government has been accused in the Indian media of letting the situation spiral out of control and the eight-point plan is the first major initiative to deal with the clashes.

      Chidambaram said the state government would be told to immediately free some 255 protesters jailed for throwing stones at security forces and compensate the families of the dead protesters.

      Authorities will also consider reducing the security presence in the heavily militarised Kashmir valley, the hub of separatist sentiment.

      In particular, Chidambaram said, officials would look at reducing the large number of security checkpoints that are deeply resented by locals.

      "We will request the state government to immediately convene a meeting of the [security] Unified Command and to review the deployment of security forces in Kashmir valley, especially Srinagar," he said.

      Chidambaram also said authorities would review the many areas of Kashmir listed as "disturbed", a category that allows application of the detested Armed Forces Special Powers Act giving security forces wide powers to open fire, detain suspects and confiscate property.

      Rights groups have long pushed for repeal of the act to reduce public anger.

      "We think these steps should address the concerns of different sections of Jammu and Kashmir, including [those of] the protesters," Chidambaram said.

      Separatist reaction

      Some separatists said they would meet to discuss their response, but other analysts say a lasting peace deal would be difficult given conditions on the ground.

      "It will be discussed in a threadbare manner so we can give our reaction," said Yasin Malik, a veteran separatist leader.

      But Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a separatist who has orchestrated the protests, said "none of our demands have been considered by government of India and the foremost among those was accepting Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory," the news agency Press Trust of India reported.

      He called the initiative "mere eyewash" and announced a 10-day protest.

      Geelani has previously laid down five conditions for a dialogue with New Delhi, including India accepting Kashmir as an international dispute, revoking the Special Powers Act and demilitarising the region.

      Sajjad Ghani Lone, a former Kashmiri politician, told Al Jazeera that: "It is not a matter of accepting or rejecting [the initiative]. The more important thing is that there have been many such offers in the past and there differences between the words and the deeds."

      "[A]t the moment, there is a lot of repression on the ground that's why it [the initiative] is being taken with some cynicism. If they implement them, in spirit and in deed on the ground, then it is going to make a difference," Lone said.

      Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, which each claim the region in full. The dispute over the region has triggered two of the rival nations' three wars since partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

      While violence has fallen to a 20-year low, alienation of ordinary Kashmiris, especially young people, has been stoked by India's massive security presence. They have expressed their anger on social networking sites such as Facebook and by pouring into the streets.

      Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Kashmir, welcomed Chidambaram's proposals and promised to hold a meeting in the coming days to "discuss the modalities of reducing the footprints of security forces in cities".

      "[I] hope this [the conciliation plan] will be the first step to the final destination of reaching a political solution to the Kashmir issue," he said.

      Kashmir violence continues as protesters confront police
      Missiles hurled at officers one day after 18 died in anti-India clashes across disputed region


      Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters battled police in Indian Kashmir today, a day after one of the worst single episodes of violence in two decades of separatist protests.

      Eighteen people were killed – nearly all of them after police started firing – yesterday during anti-India and pro-Islam demonstrations in the disputed region, further pressing the government to tackle the protests that have simmered throughout the summer.

      In the northern town of Baramulla and in Zainakote, near the region's summer capital, Srinagar, five protesters and one policemen were injured in clashes.

      Heavily armed police patrolled Srinagar, with loudspeakers mounted on police vehicles asking residents to stay indoors.

      All flights to the city were cancelled due to security fears, the first time in 11 years.

      The latest deaths are a huge challenge for the government, which has been criticised for failing to treat the protests seriously, underscoring a policy limbo in Delhi that may spill over into tension with Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir.

      The Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, condemned "blatant violence by Indian security forces against Kashmiri people that have resulted in the loss of scores of innocent lives since June this year," said a government statement.

      But Pakistan, long accused of stoking the separatist fire, may not be interested in stirring up too much trouble with India as it faces its own problems of floods and militant attacks.

      "Pakistan has shown maximum restraint on this issue and I think this is a very mature strategy that they have not intervened at the highest level," said Ershad Mahmud, a Pakistani expert on Kashmir affairs.

      Yesterday, police killed at least 17 protesters and one policemen died as demonstrators set fire to a Christian missionary school and government and police buildings to denounce reports that copies of the Qur'an had been damaged in New York.

      Kashmir has witnessed fierce demonstrations against Indian rule in the last three months and police have killed at least 87 protesters. Demonstrations on other issues – such as the Qur'an – can often balloon into wider anti-government sentiment.

      Curfew extended in tense Kashmir
      No decision taken on emergency security law as anti-Indian protests continue to rock region.


      Kashmir riots over Qur'an 'burning' leave 13 dead
      American ambassador appeals for calm after police fire into angry crowds protesting amid Qur'an-burning controversy in US


      More than a dozen people were killed and scores injured in confrontations in Kashmir today following a report on an Iranian TV channel of the desecration of the Qur'an in New York on the anniversary of 9/11.

      In the worst day of violence in the Himalayan valley since young Kashmiri Muslims began agitating for independence more than three months ago, dozens of government buildings were torched as protesters battled with armed police and paramilitary soldiers.

      The arson and violence was particularly bad in two towns close to the state capital Srinagar – Tangmarg and Budgam, where a school run by a Christian missionary was attacked and torched.

      Provincial police chief Kuldeep Khoda said 13 civilians and one officer were killed in the violence.

      The number of civilians killed in the valley since 17 June, when students first took to the street in protest against the shooting of a teenager by paramilitary police, is estimated to be 87.

      Although government buildings have been torched before in Kashmir, today's arson was on an unprecedented scale. "The loss of property is huge," said Khoda. "Government offices, courts, police stations, even an official's residence were destroyed and burnt."

      The attack on the Christian-run school in Budgam was unprecedented too. Religious minorities, especially Hindus, have suffered at the hands of gunmen ever since a Pakistan-backed separatist insurgency began in the Srinagar valley in 1989. Yet ordinary Muslims have by-and-large remained loyal to the region's tolerant Sufi Islamic tradition.

      Kashmir's separatist movement has been confined to the province's Sunni Muslims. But the Iranian TV report provoked its minority Shia Muslims to also take to the streets with placards bearing photographs of Ayatollah Khomeini.

      As violence engulfed the valley, the local government banned the telecast of the Iranian TV channel. Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador, also tried to exert some damage control.

      Roemer condemned the Qur'an desecration as "disrespectful, intolerant, divisive, and unrepresentative of American values. The deliberate destruction of any holy book is an abhorrent act."

      He added: "We are also dismayed to see reports that a school and a church in Kashmir and Punjab have been attacked and destroyed by rioters. We strongly support local authorities' appeal for calm and an end to the violence."

      While Kashmir was in flames, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh was presiding over a top security meeting in Delhi to consider the demand by Kashmiri Muslims for the removal of a special law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives soldiers and police powers to shoot or arrest civilians.

      It was widely expected that in an attempt to dampen the three-month-long popular agitation in Kashmir, Delhi would announce the withdrawal of the law from Srinagar and nearby towns.

      But after deliberating for three hours, the security committee deferred its decision. Instead, the government has convened an "all-party" meeting to deliberate on the Kashmir situation. A major worry for Singh is the strong opposition from the Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party to any softening of Delhi's stand.

      "Kashmir is burning, but the government is dithering," said Seema Mustafa, national affairs editor of the NewsX television channel.

      Top Kashmiri rebel leader behind bars


      Published: Sep 9, 2010 00:54 Updated: Sep 9, 2010 00:54

      SRINAGAR: Police arrested a top separatist leader Wednesday for rallying massive anti-India protests that have rocked the Indian-controlled Kashmir for months, and supporters reacted by staging fresh protests and hurling stones at troops.

      The arrest of hard-liner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, 82, at his residence in Srinagar, the region’s main city, came days after he laid out stiff conditions for peace talks with the Indian government.

      Police Inspector-General Shiv Murari Sahai said officers arrested Geelani for causing “breach of peace” in the region.

      The news of his arrest triggered fresh protests as scores of young men defied a curfew in a neighborhood in Srinagar and threw stones at government forces.

      Police and paramilitary soldiers fired tear gas to quell the protesters, said a police officer on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with media. No injuries were reported.

      Last week, Geelani demanded that India accept Kashmir as a disputed territory, withdraw hundreds of thousands of troops from the region and release all political prisoners as a precondition for peace talks. “Otherwise, the protests would be intensified,” warned Geelani, a key leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of separatist groups espousing nonviolent means rather than insurgency.

      There was no response from the Indian government to Geelani’s demand.

      On Wednesday, the streets of Srinagar and other towns were deserted as armed troops in riot gear enforced a rigid curfew for a second straight day.

      Armored vehicles patrolled the streets and government forces used steel and barbed wire barricades to seal off public squares and neighborhoods in Srinagar.

      Security was further tightened after clashes between government forces and protesters in Srinagar and half a dozen towns and villages injured at least 13 people late Tuesday, a police officer said.

      Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan, and claimed by both in its entirety. Protesters reject Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and want independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

      The mostly Muslim Himalayan region has been roiled by anti-government demonstrations and clashes between protesters and government forces for the past three months.

      At least 69 people, mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s, have been killed in the civil unrest against rule by predominantly Hindu India.

      The recent unrest in Indian Kashmir is reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi’s rule sparked an armed conflict that has so far killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.

      Security tightened in Kashmir to stop protests
      By Aijaz Hussain, AP
      Saturday, 14 August 2010


      Kashmir burns again as India responds to dissent with violence
      The hospitals are filling up with gunshot victims but angry protesters say the world is blind to their plight. Andrew Buncombe reports from Srinagar

      Saturday, 7 August 2010


      From the end of the hospital corridor came frantic shouts, urgent voices that grew ever more desperate.

      A dozen men appeared, gathered around a blood-smeared trolley, rushing its occupant towards the emergency surgery room. Abdul Rashid, said his friends, had been shot in the head by police who had opened fire on a peaceful gathering. "There was no stone-pelting, nothing," yelled one of the 25-year-old's friends, as medics pulled shut the doors to the surgery room. "There was no curfew ... They fired indiscriminately."

      Once again, Kashmir is burning. Buildings and barricades have been set alight and its people are enflamed. The largest towns are packed with heavily-armed police and the hospital wards are full of young men with gunshot wounds. Around 50 people have been killed since June, more than 31 in the last week alone, and dozens more have been wounded. The dead include young men, teenagers and even a nine-year-old boy, reportedly beaten to death by the security forces after he tried to walk to the local shop.

      And yet for all their pain, the people of Kashmir believe they are suffering alone. They say that unlike places such as Kosovo or East Timor, which both secured independence in recent years, the world is deaf to Kashmir's demands for autonomy. They blame the US and UN for not doing more and criticise Britain's David Cameron for refusing to raise the issue of Kashmir when he visited India last month, declining to upset his hosts, with whom he was seeking to boost trade and investment deals, even as he bluntly criticised Pakistan for exporting terror. "We were disappointed and so were the people," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a moderate separatist leader who has been placed under house arrest. "Of all the foreign countries, Britain has more moral responsibility for this mess."

      Kashmir has long been troubled with violence and the previous two summers saw clashes between stone-throwers and the police. Yet some observers detect that these recent protests are different. More people have taken to the streets – women and the middle classes among them – and protesters have seemingly been more ready to accept the police's bullets as the price for their struggle to break away from the Indian state. Moreover, the spirit of optimism and hope that existed after a young, idealist politician, Omar Abdullah, became chief minister 18 months ago, has disappeared. Some suggest Kashmir is witnessing an uprising.

      If so, then the frontlines of this uprising are the stone-littered and razor wire-strewn streets of Kashmir's largest towns such as Srinagar and Baramulla. It is here, amid rubbish and waste that has not been cleared for weeks, that crowds of demonstrators have repeatedly ignored curfew orders and the threat of being shot on sight to protest against the authorities. Some demonstrators have hurled stones at the police as if to incite a response, and cars and government buildings have been set alight. Yet many protests have been peaceful.

      The police and paramilitary forces have responded with crushing force. Untrained and ill-equipped to deal with demonstrators using non-lethal methods, they have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to dispel the crowds.

      With the crisis worsening and with the central government in Delhi increasingly concerned, Mr Abdullah, this week flew to the capital and asked for additional security personnel to be dispatched. He was granted his wish in the form of 1,500 paramilitaries and 300 special police.

      This Rapid Action Force arrived in Srinagar on Thursday and by yesterday afternoon they were carrying out patrols through several many of the city's neighbourhoods. Kitted out in blue uniforms and armed with automatic weapons, riot shields and helmets, these police sat unsmiling in their vehicles while residents simmered and stared. "They just want to make us scared, but we are not scared of these forces," declared Abdul Rehman Billoo, a 50-year-old businessman, after a convoy of police trucks clattered through the city's Ikhwan Chowk neighbourhood. "I am involved in the protests. Everybody is involved in the protests, from 50 years to 100 years. There is no age limit."

      A spokesman for the state government, Taj Mohi-Ud-Din, admitted the police in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been fighting militants since the late 1980s, were trained in counter-insurgency rather than crowd control. He said investment needed to be made in new non-lethal weapons, such as sonic guns and pepper sprays.

      Yet he defended the government's actions, saying the authorities had no alternative but to confront protesters who were damaging property and police were acting with restraint. "The directions are that they should only fire with rubber bullets, but there can always be exceptions," he said. "We have said maximum restraint should be shown: firing should be the last resort."

      Yet amid the gloomy corridors and busy wards of Srinagar's Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, such words ring hollow. If the streets are the frontline of Kashmir's uprising, then this hospital is one of the places where the human cost of such an undertaking has been most clearly calculated. Since 30 July, the establishment has received more than 110 patients, injured either by rocks, tear gas or bullets. In the space of little over 60 minutes on Thursday evening, five injured people were brought in, among them Mr Rashid, the man who had been shot in the head by security forces in the town of Pulwama, 25 miles from Srinagar. Last night a medic said he remained in a critical condition.

      On a ward on the hospital's second floor where his friends and family clustered around, a 19-year-old man called Fidah Nabi was also in a critical condition. The teenager had been admitted on Tuesday after he too was shot in the head. Doctors operated on his mouth but had not dared remove the bullet from his brain and instead placed him in a medical coma. His face was swollen like a prize-fighter's and his head was swathed in bandages, with wires and tubes hooked to monitors and drips. He was breathing by means of a ventilator. Mr Nabi's elder brother, Ahmad, a photojournalist, said his brother had been shot after police opened fire on a group of demonstrators. He insisted that his brother was "completely innocent".

      On Thursday afternoon, Mr Abdullah, the chief minister, had landed by helicopter in the hospital grounds and visited the wards, stopping to meet Mr Nabi's family. One of his aides apparently asked if the state could offer a job to one of the family by means of compensation. Mr Nabi's mother said she responded by grabbing the chief minister by the shirt. Outside, confronted by angry crowds, the chief minister's security guards spirited him away to his waiting helicopter.

      "The police are firing at the head and the body, not the legs. This is a against human rights," said one senior doctor, examining a CT scan image of Mr Nabi's brain. A female colleague, who had worked there for seven years, said the situation was worse than she had ever seen. Children and women were among the victims. "We had another shooting victim come in tonight from Sopore. He is also critical," she added.

      Indeed, a quick tour of the wards found many recent cases of gunshot injuries. Most of the injured were young men but in one bed lay a woman, Munera Dobi, who had been shot in the back six days ago, also in Pulwama. The woman's husband, Ahmed, said he was unsure if he would be able to work, now he would have to spend time nursing his wife. "We need freedom from India," he said.

      The Indian government is in no mind to give Kashmir its freedom. Since 1947, when the formerly independent state's princely ruler, the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh, controversially chose to join India rather than Pakistan, Delhi has vigorously defended the state against both Pakistan-backed militants and peaceful campaigners. The militancy, which gathered pace in 1989 and has now largely quietened, has claimed the lives of at least 60,000 people and resulted in the creation of one of the most highly militarised places on the planet. "Everyone knows that Kashmir is paradise on earth, but [the security forces] are making it hell," said a friend of Mr Nabi.

      Even now, the central government appears either unable or unwilling to try and break the cycle of violence, opting to send in more police and paramilitaries rather than seeking to offer some sort of political gesture, however minimal, that might break the deadlock. When it was reported that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had voiced his "concern" about the current violence, officials in Delhi described his comments as "gratuitous". Even yesterday, India's home minister, was seeking to deny the home-grown nature of the protests telling parliament "Pakistan appears to have altered its strategy in influencing events in Jammu and Kashmir. It is possible that they believe that relying upon civilian unrest will pay them better dividends".

      Without a bold political gesture the loop of violence is unlikely to end. Protests will go on, young people will throw stones, the police will kill people, there will be angry funerals that lead to more protests, more stones will be thrown, the police will shoot and kill more people. Kashmir's agony is set to continue.

      Decades of conflict

      Why is there a dispute?

      Kashmir has been at the heart of hostilities between India and Pakistan for more than 60 years. Kashmir, a largely Muslim state, joined India when it gained independence from Britain in 1947 on the wish of its Hindu ruler. The decision sparked the first of three wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

      The state was partitioned in 1948 along a ceasefire line, leaving two-thirds under the control of India and one-third under Pakistan. Both sides still claim the whole of the state. In addition to the rival claims of the two countries, a separatist movement began in 1989 against Indian rule. In the Kashmir valley, between 75 per cent and 95 per cent of people support independence from both India and Pakistan, according to a poll by the think-tank Chatham House. The two decades of violence between Indian security forces and Pakistan-backed militants have left more than 60,000 people dead.

      Who is behind the latest protests?

      Omar Abdullah, Kashmir's chief minister, has not blamed any group in particular and says the protests were mainly leaderless. 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. India yesterday suggested that Pakistan was behind a "new strategy" of inciting civilian unrest.

      Kashmir unrest continues as more protesters die
      Two further killings take death toll to 29 in last five days

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