In recent years the Kashmir Valley – once described by former United States President Bill Clinton as the most dangerous place on earth – has been relatively peaceful. The calm came largely due to renewed peace talks between India and Pakistan, which both rule portions of Kashmir but claim it in its entirety, as well as the adoption by many separatist groups of nonviolent means of agitation.
But most people in the state still yearn for freedom from Indian rule. Last year, a government plan to transfer land to a Hindu shrine in the state sparked the biggest pro-independence protests since the early 1990s.
Any crime that is suspected to involve security forces – an omnipresent reminder of Indian rule – tends to be seized upon by separatist groups. Despite the relative calm, some 600,000 security forces remain stationed in Kashmir. Their presence is bitterly resented.
"After the transition from violence to nonviolence in the separatist movement there is no need for the deployment of so many security forces in the villages," says Yaseen Malik, a separatist leader and former fighter. "Why should they be deployed in civilian areas when there is no need of them now?"
Officials consider softening military presence
The government has made some concession to that view. On June 11, home minister P Chidambaram announced the government would phase out large numbers of troops in the state.
In an interview at his residence, Chief Minister Abdullah said he supported the withdrawal of troops from the state, but that it would take a long time.