Serene Kashmir a Hotbed of Rebellion, Violence : Asia: Normality is an illusion; insurgency, brutality and fear are the realities. India and Pakistan dispute the territory.


On a sunny Sunday, flat-bottomed punts glide through the lily ponds of Dal Lake, rippling the reflection of snowy mountains in the silent water. Young men play a raucous soccer game in a lakeside park.

For a moment, Kashmir looks like what it once was: a peaceful land of natural splendor, a serene retreat for the wealthy from the heat of the Indian plain.

But normality in Kashmir is an illusion. Insurgency, brutality and fear are the realities.

In 1990, bloodshed erupted with the ferocity of holy war in this Himalayan valley of apple orchards and rice paddies.


Muslim militants rebelled against four decades of what they described as corrupt and arrogant rule by India, a predominantly Hindu country. Islamic Pakistan, which bases its own claim to Kashmir on the valley’s Muslim majority, supported the revolt.

India, a patchwork of ethnic groups with their own aspirations, poured soldiers into the region, fearing the loss of its state of Jammu-Kashmir would be the first step toward disintegration.

Today, half a million Indian soldiers are in the state to defend an increasingly hostile frontier with Pakistan and contain a population that grows ever more embittered. Two of the wars India and Pakistan have fought since independence in 1947 were over Kashmir.

Since the rebellion began, Jammu-Kashmir has become a drain on India’s economy and a stain on its reputation as a democratic nation with respect for human rights.

Javed Ahmed Lone, 16, lies in a hospital in Sopore, 30 miles north of Srinagar, his thighs swollen and discolored by yellow and black bruises.

“They put a heavy roller across his legs and rolled it back and forth with the weight of two men on it,” Dr. Sofi Farooq said. “When the local police brought him here, he was in deep shock. It was difficult to revive him. . . . He was almost dead.”


Lone had been dragged out of his school three hours earlier by Indian paramilitary troops and accused of links with separatist guerrillas.

Muslim militants show equal disrespect for human values. Grenade attacks on Indian patrols often kill or wound as many Kashmiris as Indians. Kashmiris suspected of collaboration with the Indians are murdered gangland-style.

In 1990, about 200,000 Hindus fled the Kashmir valley because of Muslim terrorists. That process is being repeated now in the southern part of Jammu-Kashmir as Muslim militants move into new areas.

Roughly two-thirds of the state’s 6 million people are Muslims, and most want either independence or union with Pakistan. But some, weary of the bloodletting, privately acknowledge that they feel caught between trigger-happy Indian soldiers and militants who demand loyalty and often money.

Resentment of the militants was expressed openly after a popular Muslim preacher, Qazi Nissar Ahmed, was killed June 20, apparently for criticizing them. Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in the town of Anantnag, many shouting slogans against Pakistan and the insurgents.

Under threat of sanctions from the United States, Pakistan has stopped openly supporting the rebellion with men and weapons. When winter thaws to spring and mountain passes reopen to illicit traffic with Pakistan, however, the daily death toll climbs to a dozen or more.


India says 9,300 people have been killed in the rebellion, but the true number may be much higher.

Since August, 1992, more than 600 people have been executed without trial by security forces after being taken into custody, said Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of the Kashmir Bar Assn. At least 500 more are missing.

Srinagar, an old town of wood and brick buildings beside the muddy Jhelum River, looks like a military garrison. Paramilitary police in flak jackets and helmets stand like the slats of a picket fence along the streets. Sandbagged bunkers obstruct busy intersections. Burned-out buildings scar Lal Chowk, the main square.

At dusk, the city dies, except for the crackle of gunfire when Muslim militants taunt the security forces.

“India can never win back the Kashmiris, not even after 1,000 years,” said Khawaja Sunaulah Butt, editor of Aftab, the state’s largest-circulation daily newspaper.

“The Kashmiris may compromise with India, but not from the heart,” said the 72-year-old editor, who opposed the uprising when it began. “In their hearts, the Kashmiris hate India.”


The roots of the conflict are in the division of Britain’s colony on the subcontinent into India and Pakistan after World War II.

India says Kashmir is inseparable from it, citing the 1947 accession by Kashmir’s Hindu king after India rescued him from an invasion of Muslim tribesmen. Pakistan supports a U.N. resolution passed in 1949, after the first India-Pakistan war, proposing a referendum in which Kashmiris could choose between India and Pakistan.

Many Kashmiris feel equally uncomfortable with India, where Hindu nationalism is becoming more strident, and Pakistan, which practices a sterner form of Islam than the tolerant Sufism that came to the valley in the 14th Century.

Indian and Western military officers say the ground war has changed in recent months.

India’s army has flushed militants from urban strongholds and regained control of the cities. Guerrillas who once manned barricades in Sopore and other towns have retreated to safe houses and are restricted to sniping and grenade attacks on Indian bunkers. The Muslims have regrouped in the forests south of the Kashmir Valley, threatening the only road through the mountains to Srinagar.

The dozens of militant groups have been weakened further by fighting among themselves. The pro-independence Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, which started the rebellion and remains the strongest political movement, has been virtually eliminated as a military factor. The pro-Pakistan Hizbul Moujahedeen accounts for about half of the effective fighting force.

This spring, the Kashmiri fighters were reinforced by veterans of the 10-year Afghan revolution against Soviet occupation, which ended in 1992.


Western military analysts estimate that up to 10% of the 4,000 to 5,000 fighters in Kashmir are from outside--mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a few from Arab countries.

More skirmishes are being reported on the India-Pakistan frontier. The analysts say Indian troops direct machine-gun and mortar fire at Pakistani villages they feel may be sheltering Muslim guerrillas.

U.N. observers on the cease-fire line between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir reported 947 incidents in 1993, about 600 in the last four months.

Reports to U.N. headquarters this year said 25 people were killed and 103 wounded on the Pakistani side of the frontier from February to May. India does not allow the observers to investigate border incidents on its side.

The United States tried unsuccessfully to start negotiations between India and Pakistan on restricting the development or use of nuclear weapons, which both are believed to possess.

Under American sponsorship, a group of intellectuals, ex-generals and former diplomats from both countries launched the Nimrana Initiative, named for the rebuilt fortress where they first met in secret two years ago.


“Our objective is to think the unthinkable and speak the unspeakable,” an Indian participant said. “We have no inhibitions.”

Four Kashmiris were invited to speak at the seventh meeting, in May.