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Is Kashmir the next E. Timor?

Pro-Pakistan militants are becoming bolder, hoping to provoke a

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 30, 1999


The plaintive appeal in a Sept. 26 Kashmir daily paper reads like so many in recent weeks: "Missing: Syed Kamal Hussain, age 17 ... Please inform" of whereabouts.

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Most Kashmiris understand - another young man gone for "the training." Hundreds of Kashmiri youths in recent weeks have left without a word, crossing the nearby border into Pakistan, where they are taught how to carry out an insurrection back home.

Kashmir may have fallen out of the headlines after a battle between India and Pakistan ended in July. But here in the hamlets of this beautiful valley, a struggle between militants and 350,000 Indian security forces is escalating.

Almost every day police report three to 10 killed on either side; hopes last spring for a normal life now seem distant as militants are bent on "internationalizing" the cause of Kashmir.

The militants, often foreign-born, are getting bolder - ambushing and killing two politicians campaigning for India's national elections this month, and even attacking Army posts for the first time. Indian forces are responding in kind. Almost everyone, from police and politicians to sources close to the militants, reports that a larger campaign of violence is in the offing. Indian officials state that in the past two months some 2,000 to 3,000 militants have filtered into Kashmir across mountains that make up the disputed "line of control" separating India and Pakistan.

"We can't keep them out forever," says a weary Junior Home Minister Mustaq Hamid Lone, the No. 2 official in Kashmir responsible for law and order.

Partly, the rising violence stems from the fallout of the "Kargil war," as it is called. The bitter 12-week Indo-Pakistan war has frozen bilateral diplomacy. The overwhelming number of Kashmiris now seem in a state of permanent contempt against New Delhi. This month they boycotted Indian elections. Only 11 percent voted in the capital, Srinagar. For good or ill, and although most foreign policy experts say this is folly, what has captured the imagination of many Kashmiris is the international interventions in East Timor and Kosovo. Kashmiris see their own plight as similar to these other disputed territories. And they place hope for a process leading to independence or autonomy in the upcoming visit of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

India and Pakistan, which tested nuclear weapons last year, have deep emotional as well as long-standing legal claims on Kashmir, dating to the epic partition of 1947. The two have fought four wars since that time largely over this region, and both have an implacably rigid policy on Kashmir: Both intend to have it.

India says it will "never" negotiate on Kashmir, while Pakistan wants outside brokerage over the territory.

"India and Pakistan are paying an extremely high price for their position," argues Muzzaffar-H-Baig, a Harvard-educated Kashmiri who is running for Parliament. "Kashmir is sucking money and power from India. It is creating fundamentalism on both sides. And it is a wound eating the vitals out of Pakistan."