Kashmiris ‘snub’ Indian delegates

A group of Indian lawmakers visiting violence-wracked Kashmir was snubbed by local leaders on Monday, dealing a blow to New Delhi’s hopes of dialogue to resolve an escalating crisis there.

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More than 100 civilians have been killed in three months of clashes and curfews that have pitched stone-throwing protesters against the security forces, who have frequently opened fire with live ammunition.

Another six were injured Monday when security forces shot at a crowd in the northern troublespot of Sopore, injuring six young males including an 11-year-old boy, police said.

37-member delegation sent

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held an emergency all-party meeting last week, which decided to send a 37-member delegation to Kashmir to talk to local politicians and business groups in an effort to ease tensions.

“It is a farce that they come here, saying they are assessing the situation, when everyone knows that innocents are being killed and the curfews have turned much of Kashmir into a jail,” moderate separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told AFP.

“We cannot support these half-hearted gestures that are just to make the government look as if they are serious.”

Home Minister snubbed

He, like fellow moderate Yasin Malik, declined to meet with the delegation headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who was the first minister to visit the region since demonstrations began in June.

Syed Ali Geelani, the veteran hardline separatist who has organised the almost daily protests throughout the summer, also refused to attend the talks in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir’s summer capital.

Five of the delegates later visited him at his residence in the town.

Geelani has demanded that India declare Kashmir an international dispute, withdraw troops, revoke special powers given to armed forces and release political prisoners before talks can take place.

Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the state government opposition, sent party members to Monday’s meetings, but did not go herself.

“They know my views, and we have not changed any policy,” she said, adding that a strict curfew that has shut down normal life across much of Kashmir should be lifted immediately.

The prime minister has often said the region’s problems can only be addressed through dialogue and has stressed that the government would meet any group not involved in violence.

Solutions to the unrest in Kashmir, beset by a 20-year insurgency against Indian rule, appear as distant as ever, with public resentment hardening with each civilian death.

‘Opportunity passed’

“If there was a moment for this type of ‘all-party’ initiative, it was months ago,” said Noor Ahmed Baba, professor of political science at Kashmir University. “Now the anger about how people are suffering has gone too deep.

“The delegates knew this before coming, which explains the lack of motivation behind today’s talks.”

Among the visiting lawmakers was Arun Jaitley, a senior figure in the main Hindu nationalist BJP opposition, which opposes making any security or political concessions to separatists.

Monday’s injuries occurred when demonstrations erupted around Sopore in response to the security forces killing a 22-year-old woman bystander during protests in the town on Sunday evening.

Many of those killed in the last three months have been young men or teenagers, and news of each death has brought more people on to the streets and led to further deadly clashes with the security forces.

The death toll since June 11 has reached 106 civilians and one police officer, according to a AFP tally.

Curfews and strikes have closed Srinagar and many other towns for weeks at a time, with residents complaining of shortages of food and essential medicine.

Kashmir, a scenic region in the Himalayan foothills, has been a regular flashpoint between India and Pakistan since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

The two rival nations fought wars over Kashmir in 1947-8, leaving it divided between Indian and Pakistani sectors, and in 1965.

The delegates’ schedule has not been officially announced but they are expected to leave Srinagar on Tuesday.

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