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Kashmir Tensions Increased After Sept. 11 - 2002-09-09

The attacks on September 11 in the United States brought a new dimension to the long-running Muslim separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir. In the weeks after the American-led global war against terrorism was launched, India adopted a more hardline approach to Islamic guerrilla groups in Kashmir, resulting in a military standoff between New Delhi and Pakistan. That tension is now in its tenth month and a cause of worry for the international community.

The Islamic separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir erupted in 1989. In a little more than a decade, the rebellion claimed tens of thousands of lives. Kashmir, New Delhi's only Muslim-majority state, has turned into a virtual war zone.

India says it is the victim of terrorism by Muslim militant groups trained and supported by Pakistan.

Islamabad refutes that and calls the Muslim insurgency an indigenous freedom struggle by people who feel alienated from Delhi and who want to decide their own future.

Brahma Chellaney, from New Delhi's independent Center for Policy Research, says the rest of the world views the Kashmiri separatist struggle as part of a long-running regional dispute between the two countries over the Himalayan region. "The T-word - terrorism - was never used in relation to what India has been facing for many years: cross-border incursions, infiltration and terrorism," he said.

Following September 11, India argued that Kashmiri militant groups must be regarded as terror groups, same as the al-Qaida forces Washington is battling.

And as Indians watched the American-led military campaign unfold in Afghanistan, Mr. Chellaney says support grew quickly for a crackdown on the Kashmiri separatist insurgency. "Suddenly in India, there was a new awakening," he said. "Why is it that the others can declare a war on terrorism and India has never declared war on terrorism? That is the first question that struck Indians. The second was that, if the United States can wage an intense military-backed strategy against terrorism, why cannot India do likewise?"

India appeared to follow that line of reasoning after deadly attacks last year on the state assembly in Kashmir and the parliament in New Delhi were blamed on Pakistan-backed militants. India moved hundreds of thousands of troops to the border with Pakistan, prompting Islamabad to do the same.

The military standoff led to a wave of diplomatic shuttling to avert war between two nuclear-capable nations.

The United States labeled some prominent Islamic groups active in Kashmir as terrorist organizations. In the weeks and months that followed, Pakistan announced a crackdown on Islamic militant groups. Western diplomats won promises from Islamabad to end infiltration of Muslim militants into Indian territory.

But ten months later, both countries remain as deeply divided as ever. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has accused Pakistan of double standards on terrorism: fighting it on the Afghan border to aid American forces, but promoting it in Kashmir.

New Delhi says militants continue to cross into its territory from Pakistan, although their numbers have reduced.

Islamabad says it has done enough to meet Indian concerns, a feeling expressed recently by Imran Khan of Pakistan's Tehrik-I-Insaf Party to an Indian television network. "Already there is a bit of backlash in this country, especially from the religious parties," said Mr. Khan. "I don't think he [Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf] can really give any more."

Although tensions on the India-Pakistan border have been reduced, the troop deployment continues. And in Indian Kashmir, violence blamed on Islamic militants claims more lives each week.

Kanti Bajpai, a professor of international studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, says controlling the Kashmir insurgency remains a difficult challenge.

"We see that the militancy remains more or less unabated and Pakistan, whether by volition or otherwise, has been able to stop the level of terrorism," said Prof. Bajpai. "And this is really the problem for the future."

It's a problem that Western leaders, such as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, say must be sorted out.

"It's time to get started on making regional stability permanent," said Mr. Powell on a recent visit to India. "Kashmir is on the international agenda. United States will extend a helping hands on all sides so that they can achieve a more peaceful, less divisive future."

Analysts say it may not be easy to achieve peace between two countries, who are both on the same side as the American-led war on terror, but whose perspective on the Kashmir dispute has not changed after September 11.

India says it is engaged in a war of terror at its doorstep and that the world is not doing to restrain Pakistan. Islamabad says the international community must look to the roots of the problem in Kashmir and ask India to pay heed to the voice of the Kashmiri people.