Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Why Kashmir is so quiet - for now, Mukhtar Khan/AP

Why Kashmir is so quiet - for now, Mukhtar Khan/AP
Smarter tactics by Indian police and a desire among Kashmiri businesses to make money are keeping a fragile peace in Kashmir a year after violent police crackdowns killed more than 100 people.

Kashmiri Muslims offers prayer on a street on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Srinagar, India, Tuesday, Aug. 2.

Mukhtar Khan/AP


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By Ben Arnoldy, Staff writer / August 2, 2011

Srinagar, Indian-controlled KashmirAfter security forces killed 117 civilians in Kashmir last summer, B.N. Ramesh took over as a top police officer here and saw a mess that his MBA degree could help him fix.
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Last summer, young people led street protests againstIndia’s presence here that prompted deadly police crackdowns, which in turn fueled more protests. This summer, in contrast, the valley has been mostly calm.

Why the calm? Young Kashmiris were not happy with the police. So Mr. Ramesh tried a new tactic: The Central Reserve Police Force in Kashmir (CRPF) began organizing sports teams for young men, hired discontented youth from 70 villages, gave away computers, and set up medical camps to offer free health care.

“People’s problems can be put into mathematical equations,” says Ramesh, who cites business management gurus like IBM’s Louis Gerstner, Jr. and Harvard University’s Michael Porter for informing his counterinsurgency theories. “The more we manage [people’s] frustration, the more … the war cries for so-called independence will calm down.”

Related Kashmir 101: Decoding Kashmir’s conflict

Ramesh embodies a hope held by some Indian officials that Kashmiris can eventually be sold on Indian rule. The latest stretch of calm, the return of Indian tourists, and the wide participation in recent elections have bolstered this hope.

But nearly everyone in the Kashmir Valley is warning that underlying desires for separation from India have not changed and that unrest could return in an instant. Local business leaders in particular are urging India to take this window of opportunity to negotiate a lasting settlement of the decades-old dispute.

“This part of Kashmir has been with India for the last 63 years. You can imagine how much money they have spent here and still [separatism] has not ended,” says Siraj Ahmed, president of theKashmir Hotel & Restaurant Association. “Ultimately, there has to be some sort of structure to address the main issue.”

Disaster for the business community

Mr. Ahmed’s group joined forces last year with the local shopkeeper’s association and a top businessman Iqbal Trumboo to form the Kashmir Economic Alliance. The group’s goal is to pressure all sides to talk and hash out a settlement – with good reason.

Last summer was a disaster for the business community. Between government curfews and separatist strikes, businesses lost 135 working days. Each day cost millions of dollars to the private sector, according to Shakeel Qalander, president of the Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir.

After last summer, business leaders went to the separatists to explain their dire situation. “I approached them and requested them not to go for frequent strike calls because it’s self-inflicted injuries you are creating,” says Mr. Qalander.

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