The Himalayan hot-zone, often referred to as a “beautiful prison” by locals, has been wracked by violence for decades as dozens of rebel groups fight for the state’s independence from India.
Violence reached a high point this summer as clashes between Indian police and protestors left more than 100 people dead, most young boys.
“It is very unfortunate for we people and very painful if Obama will not take into consideration the Kashmir situation,” said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Leading Separatist in Kashmir. “It will be unfortunate and we will feel pain,” he said.
India officially sees the Muslim-dominated Kashmir as an integral part of India and recently appointed a panel of interlocutors in an effort to find solutions to problems in the state. Pakistan refers to the territory as disputed and up to the people of Kashmir.
India further accuses Pakistan of arming Muslim militants who enter Indian Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge, saying it only gives moral support to anti-India rebels.
If Mr. Obama tries to intervene in Kashmir, he runs the risk of alienating India or Pakistan or both. He could also jeopardize the past weekend’s efforts to improve economic ties with India, which has an added urgency following the Democrats’ recent elections losses due largely to Americans’ frustration with the economy.
But, many young separatists say they are still hopeful that Mr. Obama will eventually visit Kashmir and see the situation for himself before his term is up.
In a curtain-drawn room three 20-something males sit, their faces covered with bandanas for sake of anonymity. Each one has spent time in an Indian prison for alleged links to anti-India militant groups. And once they were released, their background made it difficult for them to get a job, they said.
So, the young boys have taken to pelting stones at Indian police in protest of what they call “Indian occupation.”
One boy removes his shirt to show two large bullet wounds he says are from police fire last summer while pelting stones at a protest.
Police officials respond they only do so when necessary to protect citizens from unruly mobs.
“Our future is nil,” said one stone-pelter, his eyes partially-concealed by a maroon bandana. It is up to us to solve this problem and unless we get freedom from India we have to live like this as stone pelters. We are hopeful that Obama and the US will do something to get us out of this hole,” he said
“Unfortunately what happens here in Kashmir is invariably the protests are always accompanied with massive stone-pelting and also then the mobs engage in arson,” said Inspector General Sahai. “When these situations go out of control then a little more than minimum force has to be used,” he said.