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Mujtaba Ali Ahmad

Mujtaba Ali Ahmad

Author: Mujtaba Ali Ahmad
Publication: www.miami.com
Date: January 3, 2004
URL: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/world/7624341.htm

[Note from Hindu Vivek Kendra:  Reading the English media (no friend of the Hindus, and one which has to be coaxed to present India in a proper light, one would have thought that there was a big change for the better in attitudes in Jammu & Kashmir.  One, therefore, wonders the real objective of this report.]

For centuries, religious, social and political influences from across Asia trickled into this scenic Himalayan region, making it renowned for its tolerance.

But now, caught in the middle of a prolonged conflict between India and Pakistan, Kashmir finds itself struggling with a new extremism - both Hindu and Muslim - that its people say has fundamentally changed its identity.

"Our attitude of tolerance no longer impressed the young. They suspected us of being weak," said Mohammad Hussain, 64, who sells rugs at his family store in Srinagar, summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state.

Kashmir is again in the spotlight with India and Pakistan trying since April to improve relations. They have restored diplomatic relations and are observing a cease-fire in the disputed Himalayan territory, which both claim in its entirety.

But Kashmir could be the trigger for a new war between the nuclear rivals. Since 1947, it has been divided between largely Hindu India and overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan - a division at the root of conflict between the two nations. In 1989, Muslim separatists began a bloody campaign against Indian rule.

Underscoring the delicacy of the conflict, Pakistan and India are not expected to grapple seriously with the issue at an upcoming summit in Pakistan of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, where leaders from across the region will gather.

India accuses Pakistan of encouraging extremism through radical religious groups based in Kashmir, and demands it stop supporting them before any talks about the territory take place. Pakistan, which is battling its own Islamic extremists at home, has said it will not raise the Kashmir dispute with India at the summit.

On New Year's Day, the top elected official in India's portion of Kashmir appealed to the militants to end the violence.

"I pray to God almighty that our youth hiding in the forests return home with safety and honor," Mufti Mohammed Sayeed told a rally of thousands of Kashmiris.

Sayeed, who timed the rally before the summit, said he wanted both India and Pakistan to hear the yearning for peace.

The shift to extremism in predominantly Muslim Kashmir, many analysts say, has less to with the rise of homegrown Islamic radicalism than a reaction to political mismanagement and rising Hindu militancy.

The region also has seen a seemingly endless cycle of bloody militant attacks and heavy-handed crackdowns by Indian security forces.

"The reaction is purely a response to a crisis," Kashmiri Muslim scholar Ghulam Ali Gulzar said.

Extremist Muslim groups, disillusioned by the political situation, decry democracy as a menace.

"Democracy is part of the system we are fighting," said a supporter of a radical Islamic group.

The man, requesting anonymity to avoid reprisal by authorities, said it was his duty to wage war against Sufism - Muslim mysticism that preaches moderation - and tolerance of non- Muslims.

Most separatist groups demand self-determination so they can decide their own political future, with Islam only a part of their agenda. But others proclaim the insurgency a religious war against Hindu Indian rulers.

The fearful atmosphere created by the insurgency has magnified the extremism. Some 65,000 people, mostly Muslim civilians, have been killed. Human rights groups say Indian troops routinely detain, harass and reportedly even torture and kill Muslim youth on the pretext of fighting rebels.

"Preaching toleration to the humiliated, the angry or the desperate is useless," Hussain said.

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