World Bulletin / News Desk
India’s prime minister met Monday with the top official in Jammu and Kashmir, the disputed Indian-held region which is facing growing pro-independence protests and unarmed civilians clashing with Indian soldiers.
“The situation in Kashmir will be completely different in the next two or three months,” Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mehbooba told reporters in New Delhi after meeting with India’s Narendra Modi.
“The prime minister intends to hold talks [on Kashmir] after the situation becomes normal," she added. “However, an atmosphere needs to be created for a dialogue. Talks can’t happen amid stone-pelting and firing of bullets. Talks are the only option."
But Mehbooba’s talk of dialogue is being seen in Kashmir as a desperate attempt to gloss over the civilian killings and mounting repression in Kashmir.
Mehbooba’s People’s Democratic Party rules the disputed region in alliance with the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janta Party, which also currently rules India.
“The regime in India right now is a fascist regime. Can there be dialogue with fascism?” Yasin Malik, senior pro-independence leader and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief, told Anadolu Agency.
Yasin accused Mehbooba of trying to use more gimmicks, as the situation in Kashmir is slipping between the fingers of the Indian state.
“She’s only seeking some oxygen for herself after the murders of Kashmiri children. This is mere photo-ops and soundbites,” Malik said.
Ruling party targeted
Around the same time as Mehbooba in New Delhi spoke of changing the situation in Kashmir, suspected militants shot dead a district leader of her party.
Abdul Gani Dar, the head of the PDP in the Pulwama district, was killed by suspected militants while travelling in his car in south Kashmir.
This is the second recent attack on a big PDP politician. In March, suspected militants attacked the ancestral home in south Kashmir of Farooq Andrabi, a PDP minister. While Andrabi was not there at the time of attack, two of the policemen guarding his home were injured.
Last week militants killed Rashid Ahmad Billa, a notorious counter-insurgent who formerly worked with the Indian army, at his home in north Kashmir’s Bandipora.
Billa was accused in several civilian murders, including the 1996 Saderkoot massacre in which seven people -- including women and children -- were killed.
- On the edge
Since last July, after the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani by the Indian Armed forces, Kashmir has been on the edge, with voices for independence from Indian rule growing louder and more widespread.
The summer of 2016 saw massive pro-independence protests that the Indian government cracked down on, killing over 100 civilians and wounding (according to hospital records) over 12,000, and permanently blinding and maiming hundreds. Over 10,000 Kashmiris were put into Indian prisons.
While the protests ebbed as the winter approached, this spring again saw the beginnings of another pro-independence uprising, with a meager 7 percent turnout in last month’s Indian elections. Eight civilian protestors were shot dead by Indian forces on Election Day, and over 100 were wounded. In a re-poll held in several places a few days later, voter turnout was only 2 percent.
Spread to the schools
Protests have also spread to the schools, colleges, and universities in the disputed region, forcing the Indian government after massive clashes on April 15 to shut down schools for a week.
But today, the first day college resumed, massive protests and clashes between students and Indian forces were witnessed in Srinagar throughout the day, with dozens wounded.
"We want independence from India and that is why we’re on the streets. They may be a big country but we will fight for our independence and get it," said Mozam Wani, a college student protesting on Monday.
Wani dismissed Mehbooba's remarks suggesting “dialogue” and “talks” as empty; he says those distractions have “already been exhausted”.
"I was a schoolboy when I heard this dialogue thing and I thought there might be some real dialogue, but now we understand fully well that the so-called talks and dialogue the Indian politicians talk about are a ruse to distract attention from the truth that we Kashmiris want independence from India," Wani told Anadolu Agency.
''We won’t fall for Mehbooba’s hollow words but instead look at her and India's actions of killing and blinding Kashmiris."
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.
Kashmiri resistance groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989. India maintains more than half a million troops in the disputed region.