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 Trouble in Kashmir a stone's throw away By Jason Burke New Zealand

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PostSubject: Trouble in Kashmir a stone's throw away By Jason Burke New Zealand   Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:36 pm

Trouble in Kashmir a stone's throw away
By Jason Burke

Wednesday Feb 24, 2010

At one o'clock, he is behind the dusty shelves of the small shop he runs with his father.

A few phone calls and an hour later, he is walking through the streets of Srinagar's Nowhatta district, two friends in tow.

Fashionable but scuffed shoes, turned-up dirty jeans, a ring on each finger and a chequered Arab-style scarf, Mehraan, 22, and already a veteran, knows where he is going: to the police checkpoint on the Gojwara Road.

"It's going to be big. We're under a lot of pressure, but it's going to be big," he says as he strides through narrow lanes, past food stalls, rubbish-strewn wasteland, and open drains full of human and animal waste.

Mehraan is a "stone-pelter", as they are now known in the Indian part of Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan state. For weeks now, it has been the same routine.

An incident sparks a surge in demonstrations. There are injuries and finally a teenager is killed, hit by a teargas canister or shot.

The demonstrations turn to riots, then repression brings a fragile calm. Until another cycle starts.

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Tomorrow will see the first high-level official talks between India and Pakistan since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008. The two states have fought three wars over Kashmir, which was split between them shortly after independence in 1947.

The Mumbai attackers came from Pakistan, and New Delhi is demanding that terrorism be the focus of the forthcoming talks.

Islamabad, however, wants to restart a broader dialogue, one that would include the future of Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.

By the standards of Kashmir, where at least 50,000 people have died in a 20-year civil conflict, the current violence is relatively mild. Last week, after days of protests and curfews, police arrested scores of young men.

Many more went underground. This was the "pressure" Mehraan had referred to.

So the rocks thrown by Mehraan and his friends have a wider resonance.

Enemies of India claim the violent demonstrations in the city reveal the iniquity of the "occupation" of Kashmir and the commitment of locals to independence or accession to Pakistan.

Enemies of Pakistan dismiss men like Mehraan as being in the pay of politicians and Pakistan's intelligence services.

"The stone-pelters are being paid and being used by people who want to keep things on the boil and to create the impression that things are not OK [in Kashmir]," said Kuldeep Khoda, who runs the state police force.
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