Alistair Scrutton in New Delhi

From Reuters: “India struggles to douse Kashmir’s separatist fire

India faces a full-blown separatist uprising in Kashmir that may sink hopes for peace in the strategic region as disaffected Muslim youth rebel against a government seen as leaderless, complacent and out of touch.

New Delhi paints the street protests as incited by Pakistan-based militants or radical bands of stone throwers. But the evidence is growing this may be a wider and spontaneous movement led by young Kashmiris angry at years of misrule.

Critics say the risk is that India’s refusal to recognize the roots of the alienation may ignite a vicious cycle of violence and return Kashmir to the kind of upheaval seen during the 1990s.

It all bodes badly for a disputed region seen as key to wider long-term stability under South Asia’s security arch of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“This is the most serious challenge to central authority I have seen in 20 years,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper. “And the government doesn’t have much of a clue how to resolve it.”

Indeed, the government appears to have little policy initiative to diffuse the crisis aside from just wearing down the protesters, perhaps hoping that the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan next week will help protests subside.

That same policy led the 2008 protests to tail off, a relief that proved only temporary.

“Kashmiris cannot offer the same degree of mobilisation forever,” said Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmir university law teacher. “New Delhi interprets that as reconciliation by Kashmir. In reality, it is just a dormant volcano.”

New Delhi does have a card up its sleeve. Despite the deaths and protesters, this is not the equivalent of China’s Tibet.

While Kashmir was a diplomatic football in the 1990s, this time round the troubles have had little international resonance, with no criticism from the United Nations or the United States.

While Pakistan has made some diplomatic noise, there is little sign that the disturbances will impact on relations that are tentatively improving after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

“Compared to a decade ago, no one is willing to annoy India,” said Varadarajan. “It carries too much weight globally. In this region, the world ‘s eyes are on Afghanistan, not Kashmir.”

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