RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When President Obama goes to India this weekend, he'll stay at a hotel that was the target of a deadly terrorist attack, and he'll go to a university to make a speech on democracy.
His itinerary suggests the promise and problems facing this fast-changing nation. And let's turn now to a new approach to one of India's oldest challenges. Since the end of British rule, India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir, a mostly Muslim region that reaches into the Himalayas. Both countries control a portion of it, and on the Indian side, deadly street protests are common. Now, along with cracking down, the government is trying to engage the other side.
NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.
COREY FLINTOFF: This is Bandi Pora, a farming town in the Kashmir Valley. It's a pretty place, surrounded by fruit orchards, and there's a chill of fall weather. There's also the acrid smell of tear gas hanging in the air from a day of sporadic protests by small crowds of young men and boys.
(Soundbite of men chanting)
FLINTOFF: Armed Indian security men block one end of the street. A rock hits a wall.
(Soundbite of shouting)
FLINTOFF: Police fire another tear gas canister.
(Soundbite of shouting)
FLINTOFF: Many of these confrontations devolve into stone throwing by protesters, and beatings or shooting by police. Each side accuses the other of starting the fights.
The Pakistani-backed Insurgency Against Indian Rule here has largely been suppressed, and this is the latest form the struggle over Kashmir has taken, an indigenous protest movement not unlike the intifadas against Israel in the West Bank, in Gaza.
Since June, scores of people have been killed in encounters with the CRFP, the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force. Police won't comment on individual cases, but spokesmen have accused the protesters of provoking fights by throwing stones at police - a tactic that's known to all sides as stone- pelting.
Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani says the violence all originates on the Indian side. He says no police officer has been killed by stone-pelters.
Mr. SYED ALI SHAH GEELANI (Hurriyat Council): But 111 people have been killed by their guns, and by their tear-gas shelling and bullets.
FLINTOFF: Geelani is the head of the Hurriyat Council, an umbrella organization of Kashmiri separatist groups. At 81, he's spent some 15 years of his life in various Indian prisons. He's under house arrest now at his home in Srinagar, and he's in no mood to compromise.
Geelani says he won't talk with the Indian government's team that's trying to revive a dialogue in Kashmir.
The team, called Interlocutors, is led by Dilip Padgaonkar, a retired journalist who covered the Kashmir conflict for years before he rose to be the editor of the prestigious Times of India. He says he wants the conflicting sides to focus on two things.
Mr. DILIP PADGAONKAR (Interlocutors): One is, you must spell out what you want -in absolutely clear, precise, concrete terms. We cannot proceed on the basis of sloganeering. Secondly, I've been saying, every proposal you make must take into account the big picture.
FLINTOFF: And that, says Padgaonkar, includes how the proposal will be received in India and Pakistan as well as the various regions of Kashmir, including Jammu, a predominately Hindu city south of Srinagar. The atmosphere there is far different.
Mr. AKASH GUPTA: We're Indians. And Kashmir is a part of India. And it's a great thing.
FLINTOFF: Akash Gupta is going for his MBA at Jammu University. He says most of his fellow students believe that Kashmir should remain part of India.
For his part, separatist leader Geelani says there's no point in going through any exercise with the Interlocutors, which he regards as a stalling tactic by the Indian government. He says he'll talk when the government agrees to his group's five-point proposal, which includes acknowledging that Kashmir is a disputed territory and withdrawing Indian forces.
He also wants investigations and trials for the soldiers responsible for the shootings of protesters.
(Soundbite of people crying)
FLINTOFF: The pain of the shootings is fresh here in the town of Sopore, about an hour's drive from Srinagar. This family is marking the 40th day after the death of their 20-year-old son, Mudasir Ahmed Kachroo.
(Soundbite of women crying)
Mr. WASEEM KACHROO: He was 20 years old. He was software designer.
FLINTOFF: In a rush of emotion, Waseem, a cousin of the dead man, insists that he was not involved in protests. He says Mudasir was a talented software designer, and a soccer player who competed in matches around India. He hints that his cousin was a random target of police violence, and says the police refuse to investigate their own. The CRFP is not commenting on individual killings.
Syed Geelani says the Kashmir conflict ought to be on President Obama's agenda during his visit to India that begins on Saturday. He says it's a moral responsibility for the United States, with all the influence it wields.
Mr. GEELANI: (Unintelligible) tell him that we are a superpower, and we are for justice. We are for democracy, and we are in favor of suppressive(ph) nations.
FLINTOFF: Dilip Padgaonkar and his team of Interlocutors say they'll return to Kashmir at least every month, and that when separatists like Geelani are willing to talk, they'll be ready.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News.
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