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Tensions Flare in India, Pakistan Over Kashmir Valley

November 5, 2010 at 5:27 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And among other things, President Obama will be doing a balancing act between India and Pakistan. A major source of the antagonism is the divided territory of Kashmir. A new round of violence has erupted there.

John Sparks of Independent Television News has our report.

JOHN SPARKS: Once famed for its beauty, the Kashmir Valley is a joyless place of angry streets and automatic rifles, and parents who grieve for their children.

Over the last four months, allegations of brutality by Indian security forces have fueled a popular rebellion and calls for independence by local leaders.

MAN: The answer, unfortunately, to every crisis in Kashmir is bullets to the people of Kashmir.

JOHN SPARKS: More than 110 civilians have been killed since June. And the loss of life has inflamed tensions. The authorities stand accused of using indiscriminate force.

PRABHAKAR TRIPARTHI, commander, Central Reserve Police Force: We are using these rubber pellets and plastic pellets. Compaction gun has also been introduced to just quell the mob, because we tried to use the minimum amount of force.

JOHN SPARKS: We’re on the outskirts of Srinagar, the capital of the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir. Another confrontation is brewing between the Indian police and the local population.

What has happened in this village?

Stone pelting, he says. And we watch policeman race down to a nearby bridge. They’re equipped with guns and the authority to use them. A group of Kashmiris are waiting for them.

And what are you doing this for? What do you want? What do you want?

MAN: Of course. Why are you asking me? We are — we want freedom.

JOHN SPARKS: They’re young and contemptuous, and radicalized by months of violence. They say they’re fighting the Indian occupation.

We’re here with the so-called stone-pelters. People say they are fighting for Kashmiri freedom. They have started to throw rocks. You can see the police forming a line just up the road. We’re going to move out.

The authority of the state is briefly challenged, but the young men scatter as the police move in. India’s message is simple: These lands belong to India. It’s fought three wars against Pakistan here, and battled militants in a bloody insurgency sponsored by Pakistan in the 1980s and ’90s.

But Indian military chiefs say the threat posed by their neighbor has significantly declined in recent years. Yet, the security forces are still here. You see them on every street corner in Srinagar. Locals residents accuse them of intimidation, of beatings and window-smashing. And special legislation gives police wide powers.

Frustrated and angry, young men have taken to the streets. They want the security forces to withdraw, and they want a vote on independence. The police have responded with force. We were told of a distressing story, that an 8-year-old boy called Sameer Ahmad had been beaten to death by the police.

So, we went to see his family in a part of the city under curfew. The Ahmad family were distraught, but they wanted to share their story. Despite a curfew on the 3rd of August, Mr. Ahmad allowed Sameer to go to his uncle’s house nearby.

FAYAZ AHMAD, father (through translator): He thought it was safe, but when he crossed the road, the paramilitary police grabbed him. Can you imagine what it would be like for an 8-year-old boy? It would terrify an adult. What did this poor boy go through?

JOHN SPARKS: Eyewitnesses say Sameer was beaten to death by three paramilitary policemen.

FAYAZ AHMAD (through translator): A stick was pushed into his mouth and his teeth were broken. They lifted up his body with the stick and carried him like that. He was thrown into the bushes.

JOHN SPARKS: With paramilitary forces looking on, Mr. Ahmad walked us through the deserted streets to the site were his son was found. Local residents told us they saw what happened. There was no trouble in the area, they say. The police just went for him.

The paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, or the CRPF, give a different version of events: The boy was killed by a stampeding group of protesters.

We have been told that he was beaten by three or four CRP officers. Is that true?

PRABHAKAR TRIPARTHI: That is — that is a totally baseless allegation. He wasn’t beaten, because he was a part of the crowd, and when the crowd was chased, when they were running away, the boy fell down, and the whole of the crowd just passed over the body of that boy.

JOHN SPARKS: You are absolutely sure?

PRABHAKAR TRIPARTHI: Yes, yes.

JOHN SPARKS: Many here refuse to accept such explanations. The death of Sameer Ahmad and many others over the last few months have fueled the pro-independence movement.

The Indian government told us that the eyewitness we spoke to are unreliable, due to the passage of time, adding that it has now appointed three peace envoys in an attempt to calm the situation. They have much work to do. India has long defended Kashmir from external foes, but the threat is changing. India is now in conflict with the people they call their own.