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Kashmir's Young Generation Expresses Frustration With Stalemate

  • Kurt Achin

President Obama's decision to leave Kashmir as a bilateral India-Pakistan matter will come as a disappointment to those who hoped for a more robust U.S. role in mediating the conflict. That includes many young Kashmiris, mostly Muslims, in Indian-controlled Kashmir who see themselves trapped in a status quo stacked against them. Our correspondent has more from Srinagar, in the valley of Kashmir.

These are the faces of insurgency in India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

These men - all in their 20s - want their identity protected for fear of prosecution by India. They call for "azadi," or freedom from India. They join other young Kashmiris, mostly Muslim, who hurl stones at Indian security forces.

So-called "stonepelting" protests like this have spiked since June, when a Kashmiri young person was killed by a tear gas canister fired by police. More than a hundred Kashmiris have been killed since then.

It's the most recent chapter in a 63-year old dispute over this region, claimed by both India and Pakistan. Militants in Indian Kashmir say they abandoned violence more than ten years ago, and the basic character of the separatist struggle is peaceful.

The stonepelters say they want to demonstrate peacefully but India uses excessive force to suppress them.

One of them shows wounds. He says he was shot twice.

"The police slowly took aim and shot me - like I was a target," he said.

Indian army and police enjoy legal immunity under emergency laws that apply to Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Police chief Shiv Murari Sahai says his officers try to use minimal force but are forced to shoot protesters who instigate violence.

"I don't think any law in any part of the world accepts the kind of violence that is happening here as a peaceful demonstration," said Sahai.

Sahai echoes India's long-held assertion that the unrest is incited by a small minority in the predominantly Muslim valley.

"This is basically a fringe element - a lumpen element, which is of no productive use," he said. "And they have been very happily recruited by the militant organizations and the separatist organizations to create an environment in Kashmir to show as though things were completely out of control, which is not anywhere near reality."

But many people tell a different story - of widespread frustration with India behaving like an occupying force.

This Australian woman and her Kashmiri husband moved to Srinagar so their children could learn Kashmir's traditions. But they say excessive curfews make normal life impossible.

"Sometimes it's been extremely tight curfew, there's been barbed wire along the road," she said. "You're not even allowed to move to the street to get, you know, bread, milk, all the necessary things. We actually aren't sending our kids to school, because we still feel it's extremely violent."

Usmaan Ahmad works for the U.S.-based organization, Mercy Corps. He says Kashmir is experiencing a "youth bulge" of unemployment and insecurity.

"This is a generation that's grown up entirely in conflict," said Ahmad. "They don't have any yardstick or measure to compare what average young people anywhere else in the world would call normal or healthy - and I think that has led to some very unhealthy outcomes."

Some young Kashmiris are channeling their anger.

MC Kash is a rapper who distributes music over the Internet. He says he wants to tell the world about abuses in this region.

"The struggle my people have lived - it has of course broken my heart," he said. "It has made me think that if I don't speak for them, I'm not a Kashmiri."

Still, many young stonepelters feel it is too late to do anything productive with their lives.

"We can't do any jobs or work, there are so many files on us in police stations," said one.

As frustration grows, many fear young protesters may decide to put down their stones and pick up guns.

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