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Anger in an under-curfew Kashmir as talks deadlock

Reuters - September 16, 2010

Sheikh Mushtaq, Srinagar A wave of disappointment swept across curfew-wracked Indian Kashmir on Thursday after no concrete results emerged out of a government meeting aimed at ending spiralling protests.

Faced with criticism of not dealing with the protests seriously, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday held a meeting with the government and opposition parties, but all it decided was to send a delegation of politicians to Kashmir.

The meeting dashed hopes for a partial lifting of widely hated powers for the military in Kashmir to shoot protesters as well as raid homes and arrest people without warrants.

"Ironically, India is talking through the barrel of gun," said separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference. "Curfew, talks, peace efforts, meetings and killings can't go together."

Even pro-Indian Kashmiri parties have criticized the government. Kashmir's opposition Peoples' Democratic Party said the outcome was cosmetic and demanded the freeing of jailed protesters.

The only Muslim-majority state in mostly-Hindu India, much of Kashmir has been under curfew for the last three months, criss-crossed with barbed wire and police checkpoints.

The Himalayan region broke out in armed rebellion against New Delhi's rule two decades ago. But while militancy has weakened over the years, the tactic of mass street protests, often organized through Facebook and mobile phones, has grown.

Stone-pelting protesters battle security forces daily and have set fire to government offices and police stations.

The continuing cycle of strikes and curfews has shut down schools, colleges and offices, stopped newspapers from being printed, and made food and medicine scarce. Nearly 90 people have been killed, mostly by police bullets, this summer.

Kashmiris face a government that has placed little priority on finding a solution to Kashmir, an issue that has little electoral impact across the rest of India.

"Well, the outcome of yesterday's meeting in New Delhi is a statement from Indians that they don't care about Kashmiri Muslims," said Rehana Gouse, a 32-year-old school teacher. "Our children are brutally killed by forces, we are living in jail for the past three months."

Part of the anger is directed against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives security forces sweeping powers to shoot, arrest, search and detain people in battling the long-running insurgency.

"I expect nothing from New Delhi, who are helpless on revoking draconian laws like AFSPA which means a soldier has the right to shoot you on mere suspicion," said 24-year-old-student Zubiar Khan.

The lack of a decision signals a policy limbo in New Delhi and differing perceptions amidst political parties and stakeholders on how to resolve the issue.

The main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has taken a hard line against the separatists and the military has also proven to be reluctant to give up its special powers.

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