Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has appealed for calm as fresh clashes between protestors and police in Indian-occupied Kashmir left at least five people dead on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s clashes took place in the previously quiet town of Mendhar, a Muslim settlement in southwest Kashmir. Violence has escalated this past week on the back of reports of the desecration of the Quran by a small group of Christians in the United States. Al Jazeera reports that today's death roll brings to '23 the number of people killed since Monday in what has been dubbed the bloodiest days in three months of protests' in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Clashes between protestors and authorities have since June claimed the lives of 93 people. The violence has been steadily escalating and is largely due to frustration over the failure to resolve the Kashmir question. The authorities accuse the separatist chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, of stoking tensions though Farooq says much of the violence is being perpetrated by provocateurs.
A curfew has been in place for the last four days in all major towns in Kashmir Valley and looks likely to continue indefinately. Police have been deployed across Kashmir. Residents, especially in Srinagar, are reportedly facing acute shortages of essentials.
The escalating unrest has been exacerbated further by the Indian authorities' heavy handed response, according to critics. The imposition of curfews with a shoot-on-sight policy have stoked tensions and compounded grievances.
The openSecurity verdict: Kashmir has experienced emergency rule since 1990 that has led to an over-securitisation of the state in the restive region. An entire generation has grown up in the midst of violence and conflict. Significantly, the Indian army and paramilitary troops have retained sweeping powers to 'open fire, search houses, detain suspects and confiscate property' for the last two decades. Rights groups say these powers have contributed to serious human rights abuses including rape, torture, extra-judicial killings, extortion and disappearances.
Crucially, the expansive mandate of the security services is no longer commensurate with necessity. Militancy and insurgency no longer pose the main security threat. Instead much of the violence and unrest is carried out by the civilian population who view 500,000 or more Indian troops in Kashmir as a 'force to be feared rather than trusted.'
The immediate trigger for the current phase of protests in Kashmir was the death of seventeen-year old Tufail Mattoo during a protest in Srinagar in June. Many have since blamed the death of other young men on the security services and pointed to the near-impunity with which they go about maintaining order.
Though the authorities blame separatists and the influence of neighbouring Pakistan for protests, Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has stated that the violence in Kashmir is 'leaderless' and 'not the product of manipulation by some hidden individual or group.' Commentators say this admission has 'unpleasant, even frightening' implications for India, namely that the absence of a nucleus poses security challenges as well as political stalemate.
So far, India has been at a loss as to how to respond. It is however patently obvious that Kashmir will require a comprehensive commitment by India and a new strategy will need to be formulated to contain unrest. Cosmetic tinkering, namely economic packages, in a bid to ameliorate the situation will not contain the anger and disaffection of Kashmiris. Analysts have called on Manmohan Singh to unreservedly express regret for the deaths that have occurred these past few weeks, admit the Indian state's failures and open a consultative process that attempts to foster trust and build confidence between the authorities and the people of Kashmir.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks overshadowed by violence
Israli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resumed direct talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday after failing to reach a consensus on contentious issues in Sharm El Shaikh, Egypt, yesterday. The crucial issue of settlement construction is likely to dominate discussions since an Israeli moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank will come to an end on 30 September 2010.
With American mediation, the Palestinians are reportedly seeking to 'define the borders of a future Palestinian state, address the status of Jerusalem and discuss the right of return of refugees driven out of Palestine in 1948.'
But as the leaders talked peace, Israeli aircraft bombed tunnels in the Gaza Strip killing one Palestinian on Wednesday. The raids came shortly after suspected militants in Gaza fired a rocket and eight mortar rounds into southern Israel. The exchange prompted Gilad Eran, Israel's environment minister, to demand a reprise of Operation Cast Lead.
US drone strike kills fifteen in northwest Pakistan
Fifteen suspected militants have been killed in two separate drone strikes in Pakistan's northwest tribal region on Wednesday. According to security officials, the strikes targeted suspected militant compounds in the Datta Khel area and Miranshah. The drone attacks appeared to target the Haqqani network, a group that supports cross-border operations that attack Nato troops in Afghanistan.
Elsewhere, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad on Wednesday for talks on how to step up the fight against militant bases waging an insurgency in both countries. At a joint press conference, Karzai called for an open dialogue between the two neighbours, especially in light of leaked Pentagon documents in July which alleged that Pakistan is colluding with insurgents.