Q+A - What's happening in troubled Kashmir?

SRINAGAR, India Mon Sep 13, 2010 6:58pm IST

A policeman walks on a deserted road during a curfew in Srinagar September 13, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

A policeman walks on a deserted road during a curfew in Srinagar September 13, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail

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SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - At least 13 people were killed on Monday in anti-government and Koran demonstrations across Indian Kashmir, in the biggest single death toll from protests in the disputed region in years.

India extended a curfew in much of Kashmir, deploying troops to quell anti-India demonstrations and prevent a planned march by separatists to a U.N. office. Three months of protests, the biggest since a 1989 revolt, have killed at least 70 people.

Here are some questions and answers on the crisis in Kashmir, one of the world's most militarised regions which India and Pakistan both claim but rule in parts:

WHY THE FRESH UPSURGE?

The protests come after a period of relative calm in the region. They started on June 11 when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a tear gas shell fired by police during a protest in Srinagar.

Since then, 69 other people have been killed by government forces during protests, fuelling anger in Kashmir where sentiment against New Delhi's rule runs deep.

A new generation of young Kashmiris, who have grown up with home raids, police killings and army checkpoints, feel increasingly angry at Indian rule and champion street protests rather than the violent militancy that characterised the 1990s.

Rights groups say the Armed Forces Special Powers Act -- which gives security forces powers to shoot, arrest and search in battling a separatist insurgency -- has alienated Kashmiris.

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, according to a poll this year by the 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 say the protests are mostly spontaneous.

Most of those killed in the protests are teenagers. These Kashmiris organise protests with Facebook, YouTube and via messages from mosques.

WHAT IS THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT'S VIEW?

The Indian government says protests are sparked by Pakistan-inspired trouble-makers and it has so far avoided making any concessions to separatists.

Earlier, New Delhi directly accused Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group accused of carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, of stoking the latest protests.

The government points to the fact that Kashmiris elected a pro-India coalition in 2008 state elections as evidence that this year's protests have been hijacked by extremists.

Omar Abdullah, Kashmir's pro-India chief minister, says talks with separatists are needed to solve the problem.

WHAT IS THE RISK FOR THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT

There is little risk for the Congress-led Indian government. Most Indians show little interest for what is happening in Kashmir and there is a general consensus in the country that Kashmir should remain part of India.

Abdullah, the chief minister, is reportedly under pressure to resign due to criticism that he has failed to deal with the protests. While his resignation would be an embarrassment for the ruling Congress party, it would be unlikely to have any impact on state elections in India over the next year.

But his resignation or continued trouble in Kashmir could provide a lightning rod for criticism of the government in the next parliamentary session, hindering Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ability to pass reform bills.

WHAT ARE THE SEPARATISTS DEMANDING?

Separatists want Kashmir's independence from India while New Delhi sees the mountainous region as an integral part of the country.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, an 80-year-old separatist leader and long seen as a marginalised hardliner but now touted as a hero to many Kashmiris for his refusal to negotiate with New Delhi, is seen as the leader of the protests.

Geelani has laid down five conditions to enter into dialogue with New Delhi. The conditions include India accepting Kashmir as an international dispute, revoking laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and demilitarising the region.

Moderate separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who has previously held peace talks with India, is more open to negotiations.

WHERE ARE THE PROTESTS HEADED?

The violence has raised fears that anger at New Delhi could spin out of control. If the government fails to check the protests, deaths and rights violations, the region could slide into a renewed phase of armed uprising, as happened in 1989.

Peace in Kashmir is seen as crucial for improving relations between India and Pakistan. If New Delhi links the Kashmir protests to Islamabad, it may hit the neighbours' attempts to repair relations hurt by the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

WHAT IS GOVERNMENT DOING TO BRING STABILITY?

So far the government has appeared little interested in appeasing protesters. Analysts say New Delhi would like to win by effectively tiring out the protesters -- as in 2008 when similar large demonstrations eventually petered out.

India's government is considering a partial relaxation of the armed forces act in Kashmir as part of a peace initiative expected in the next few days. But there appear to be divisions within the government over this policy.

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sugita Katyal)

(For more news visit Reuters India)

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