Q+A - What's happening in Kashmir?

SRINAGAR, India Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:18pm IST

Policemen patrol the streets during a curfew in Srinagar June 30, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

Policemen patrol the streets during a curfew in Srinagar June 30, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Fayaz Kabli

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SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - India extended a curfew on Wednesday across most of the part of Kashmir it controls and deployed thousands of troops to quell fresh anti-India protests that are spreading to other parts of the disputed region.

The latest round of demonstrations was sparked by the deaths of at least 11 people blamed on government forces in less than three weeks and were among the biggest anti-India protests in two years. Here are some questions and answers on the crisis:

WHY THERE HAS BEEN FRESH UPSURGE?

Although Kashmir seldom sees more than a few days without incident, the fresh protests come after a period of relative calm in the region.

The latest wave of unrest started on June 11 when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a teargas shell fired by police during an anti-India demonstration in Srinagar.

Since then, 10 other people have been killed during protests fuelling anti-India anger in Kashmir, a region where sentiments against New Delhi's rule run deep.

Human rights groups says India's Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives its security forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, is further alienating the people of Kashmir.

India has around half a million troops in Kashmir battling a separatist insurgency.

WHAT DO KASHMIRIS THINK ABOUT THE CRISIS?

In the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley between 75 percent and 95 percent support independence from both India and Pakistan, said a poll recently published by think-tank Chatham House.

After several failed rounds of peace talks between moderate separatists and New Delhi and a rise in killings blamed on security forces, locals believe anti-India protests are mostly spontaneous.

In 2008, when violence was its lowest ebb in Kashmir, a row over land for Hindu pilgrims suddenly snowballed into protests by hundreds of thousands of people similar to those of the start of a revolt against Indian rule in 1989.

Most of those killed in fresh protests by troops are teenagers and many who take part in daily protests are young. Kashmir's new generation of radicalised separatists who may prove a big challenge to New Delhi, locals say.

These young Kashmiris organise protests with Facebook, YouTube as well as via messages from local mosques.

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT'S VIEW?

Violence, involving separatist militants and Indian troops, has declined significantly and the government has arrested, or placed under house arrest, all senior separatist leaders who have called for protests against the deaths and Indian rule.

But Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram in a statement said: "Some militants may also have sneaked into the Valley (from the Pakistani side) to trigger violence."

Omar Abdullah, Kashmir's chief minister, says "anti-India forces" are creating trouble.

On Tuesday, some media quoted unnamed government sources as saying Pakistan-based "elements" may have been fomenting the protests.

WHERE ARE THE PROTESTS HEADED?

If the government fails to check the protests, deaths and rights violations, they could hurt peace efforts and the region could slide into a renewed phase of armed uprising.

Peace in Kashmir is seen as crucial for improving relations between India and Pakistan, who claim the scenic region in full but rule in parts and have fought two wars over it.

If New Delhi seriously links the Kashmir protests to Islamabad then they could hurt fresh efforts by the neighbours to repair relations severely hurt by the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which India blames on Pakistan-based militants.

HOW WILL THE CRISIS AFFECT THE KASHMIR ECONOMY?

Nearly half a million tourists, mostly Indian, visited Kashmir in the first nearly six months of this year before authorities imposed a curfew, compared with 380,000 in the same

period last year.

But the crisis has scared off visitors, denting Kashmir's ailing tourism industry. Officials say some 60 percent of Kashmiris are now dependent on tourism in Kashmir.

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alex Richardson)

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