WHAT’S THE STORY?

IT’S one of the most militarised regions in the world yet schoolgirls are joining the gangs of disaffected young men who rebel against the security forces of Kashmir.

The images of teenage girls throwing stones at police vehicles have sent shock waves as far as Delhi and raised the question whether India is finally losing Kashmir.

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Murders and rioting scarred a recent parliamentary election in Srinagar, raising fears that Kashmir is facing another hot season of violence.

Last year was one of the bloodiest for some time with the deaths of more than 100 civilians in clashes with security forces.

The protests came during a four-month security lockdown that followed the killing of militant rebel leader Burhan Wani by Indian forces.

What is worrying Indian politicians is that the anti-India protests are led by a new generation of young people who appear to be both alienated and reckless.

With 60 per cent of men in Kashmir under the age of 30 and more than 40 per cent of them unemployed, grievances are escalating.

There is a 500,000 strong Indian security force in Kashmir but analysts are warning Delhi that while Kashmir is still territorially secure, it is being lost “emotionally and psychologically”.

IS ANYONE LISTENING?

KASHMIR’S current chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is so concerned she made an emergency visit to Delhi last week to plead with the federal government to “announce a dialogue and show reconciliatory gestures”. However, she was told by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there could be no dialogue with “separatists and other restive groups in the valley” while the violence continues.

Modi also said Kashmiri youth had to make a choice between tourism and terrorism, angering many who believe he is trivialising their struggle. Rebel groups have called for independence for Kashmir or union with neighbouring Pakistan. Their followers see no reason for voting — a mere seven per cent voted in the Srinagar by-election.

“All politicians are the same and none of them will bring freedom, so why vote?” asked one who admitted being part of a stone-throwing mob at a polling station.

Another added: “When you suffer atrocity you lose all fear. We aren’t scared of anything now.”

HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?

A FORMER princely state, Kashmir was coveted by both Pakistan and India during the 1947 partition that marked the end of British rule.

Kashmir’s Maharaja, Hari Singh, a Hindu and prince of a predominantly Muslim territory, tried to buy time by signing an interim “standstill” agreement to preserve transport links and other services with Pakistan.

Frustrated by the delaying tactic and incensed by reports of attacks on Muslims, tribesmen from Pakistan invaded, prompting the Maharaja to call for military help from India. In return for protection he agreed to sign an agreement which ceded control to India. The Instrument of Accession agreement, engineered by the UK’s Lord Mountbatten, gave two thirds of Kashmir to India and the north to Pakistan.

However, the arrival of Indian troops in Kashmir angered Pakistan leaders who claimed they appeared before the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession, meaning that the standstill agreement with Pakistan had been violated.

ANY EXCUSE?

INDIA insisted the Maharaja had signed before the troops arrived, making their presence legitimate. The UN was asked to mediate and ruled that there should be a referendum to let the people decide but India refused to allow this while “irregulars” were still in Kashmir.

India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir in 1947 to 1948, then again in 1965 and came perilously close to war again in 2002. China also has influence in the region, controlling a disputed border area.

The problem was complicated further in 1989 when an Islamist-led insurgency erupted. India cracked down by giving the army more power through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which remains in force.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the 1980s and 1990s but as relations between India and Pakistan began to improve a little, the situation became calmer and tourists started to return.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of young men joining the armed groups, however, with high unemployment and accusations of brutality from the security forces increasing tension.

WHO ARE THESE REBELS?

MANY of them are well educated and have relatively wealthy backgrounds. The security forces deny brutality and claim the young are being radicalised by around 3000 Saudi inspired Wahhabi sect mosques that have been established in Kashmir in recent years.

Others say it is political rather than religious radicalisation that is causing the unrest.

Kashmiri citizens regard the local political parties as irrelevant, with the current coalition between the Hindu BJP and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which advocates self-rule, seen as awkward and ineffective.

National Conference leader Junaid Azim Mattoo said that if people refused to vote for the mainstream parties, the vacuum would be filled by a “disorganised mob-led constituency”.

Those who did vote don’t expect to gain much from it.

“This is the worst situation that I have seen. Earlier, it was a movement led by the militants. Now it is being led by the people,” said 35-year-old schoolteacher Feroze Ali. “India needs to be worried, very worried about this.”