The Indian government said it would halt operations against separatist militants in Jammu and Kashmir State during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Thursday. It was the first time in 18 years that the Indian government declared a cease-fire for Ramadan in the territory.
Over the last year, Kashmir has been sliding deeper into turmoil, with dozens of militants killed, huge protests erupting and a heavy sense of despair settling over the disputed territory. Many Kashmiris expressed hope on Thursday that the letup in security operations would calm tensions and reinvigorate efforts to find peace.
“This is the right time for a cease-fire,” said Bashir Ahmed Khanday, whose son, a militant, was recently killed. “No one wants to see his son come home wrapped in a shroud.”
Kashmir, a Himalayan mountain valley known for spectacular beauty, has been submerged in bloody conflicts for more than 70 years. Both India and Pakistan claim it, and the battles over this area have killed tens of thousands of people.
Complicating the dispute is religion: Kashmir is predominantly Muslim and most of the Kashmir Valley is controlled by India, which is majority Hindu. Pakistan is predominantly Muslim and has historically supported Kashmir’s separatists against Indian forces.
The Indian government is clearly trying to win some points among Muslims by pausing operations during Ramadan, one of the holiest periods of the year. But getting the Indian Army and intelligence agencies to go along with the decision must have been difficult. Security officials have said they have killed more than 70 militants this year.
It appears that Kashmir’s leading political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, leaned heavily on India’s central government to stop operations during Ramadan, which lasts until mid-June, to give peace talks a better chance of succeeding. Many Kashmiris have lost faith in the party, seeing it as having betrayed its mission after it allied itself with the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that dominates Indian politics.
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SOURCE: New York Times, Sameer Yasir and Jeffrey Gettleman