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Monday 29th September


India and Pakistan’s relations are once again mired in acrimony following recent harsh words for each nation’s leaders.

The two nations narrowly averted a nuclear was over the state of Kashmir last year. Following the terrorist attack on Mumbai and an increase in violence in Kashmir itself, the stakes have been raised again.

India controls the bulk of Kashmir, but Pakistan too claims the state in its entirety. Pakistan is accused of aiding terrorists, India is blamed for human rights abuses in Kashmir. Once again it is the Kashmiri people who are suffering.

The village of Lam is two hours drive south of Srinagar, literally at the end of the road. But when we arrived it was a hive of activity.  The train of events began when militants planted an improvised explosive device under the path of an Indian army convoy, killing two soldiers.

The next day the soldiers came back. The militants had fled, but the villagers say the troops took out their anger on innocent locals.  “They beat whoever was coming out of their house,” one man tells me. He says the soldiers even turned on the women, exposing themselves to them before beating them too.

What is remarkable is the villagers refused to accept their fate. They staged a protest - stopping traffic on the national highway - and forced the politicians to listen. Meehbooba Mufti is the president of ruling People’s Democratic Party says the state government is pursuing a “healing touch policy”.  She says: “The difference now is when there is a human rights violation, the chief minister (also her father) will go there and action will be taken.”

The healing touch policy is a start but more will be needed in a society where violence has scarred everyone and everyone has a story to tell.

At least ten people are killed every day. The official death toll is 40,000 - the true figure may be higher. Yet when the insurgency began 15 years ago Kashmiri Muslims who wanted to break away from India rushed to take arms.

“The armed struggle was very popular initially,” says Firdous Syed, a militant commander for six years. But he says Kashmiris are sick of the killing and few now become militants.

“If you have six militants killed, six or seven of them are not from Kashmir,” he explains. “So obviously 60% to 70% of the militants are not Kashmiris. They might be from twenty other countries, but they are not from here.”

But politicians like the leader of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, describe the armed struggle as a compulsion forced upon them by the India government, which has refused to hold a referendum on the future of the disputed state.

Everyone here says they want the killing to stop. But with no clear alternative, violence will remain the means of protest for some time to come.

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