Thursday, August 26, 2010

Manmohan orders to change Kashmir strategy

Security forces in Kashmir need to find non-lethal means of controlling violent mobs to prevent more deaths in the unrest roiling the Indian-ruled region, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday in rare remarks directly questioning government tactics.
Violence related to near-daily protests against Indian control of Kashmir has led to the deaths of at least 64 people over the last two months, mostly civilians. The protesters have set official buildings and vehicles ablaze, and government forces have fired guns and tear gas to contain the unrest.
Speaking to police chiefs from around India, Singh noted that militant activities have declined in Kashmir, but maintaining public order there has become a serious concern and a challenge for the government.

"We cannot have an approach of one size fits all," Singh said. Public agitation has to be dealt with "with non-lethal, yet effective and more focused, measures," he said.
Civil rights activists have accused Indian paramilitary soldiers and police of using a heavy-handed approach, and each death caused by security forces sparks further clashes with rock-throwing demonstrators.
Singh has made at least two recent appeals for calm, telling the people of Kashmir his government is ready to hold talks to resolve their problems.
Rule by Hindu-majority India is widely opposed in the majority Muslim region, which separatists want to become independent or merge with Pakistan.
In his speech to police chiefs, Singh dwelt on a slew of problems faced by police and security forces in the country, including threats by separatists and Maoist rebels, commonly known as Naxalites.
Singh, who has often called the rebels India's biggest internal security threat, again Thursday voiced the government's willingness to talk to the guerrillas if they give up violence.
"We recognize that the Naxalites are our people and are ready to talk to them provided they abjure the path of violence," he said.
The rebels, who have tapped into the rural poors' anger at being left out of the country's economic gains, are present in 20 of the country's 28 states and have an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to India's home ministry. About 2,000 people have been killed in rebel-related violence over the past few years.

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