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Trekking in Kashmir: Where nuclear powers once clashed

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As we sat on a fallen trunk, Muneer told about a two-month forest department internship he did that was supposed to involve catching timber thieves. But he heard tales from officers that the focus was more on shakedowns. In one story, forest officers hung tin cups on trees and returned later to pick up their bribes.

Still, Muneer was disappointed that he wasn't offered a position. Government jobs mean stability and a ticket to marriage, powerful draws regardless of a person's political views.

India quelled armed separatism a decade ago, but never won over the people. The majority in the valley want independence. Concerned that Pakistani militants and cross-border training of Kashmiris could return if security softens, Indian forces stay on – and investors and foreign tourists stay away. To help contain periodic unrest, India has poured in money for government projects and jobs.

A Kashmiri businessman, Iqbal Trumboo, told me later in Srinagar: "This is what the government can offer common Kashmiris to keep quiet – government jobs."

The state has only 11 million people but half a million government employees. Meanwhile, the private sector is paralyzed by the lack of any settlement to Kashmiri aspirations for self-determination, says Mr. Trumboo.

A houseboat owner on Dal Lake in Srinagar says he still dreams of Western tourists returning.

"It's because we overpay, right?" I asked.

A. Rashid Dangola shook his head, recalling guiding Westerners for money, but enjoying himself: "We can understand each other better than we can a person from Delhi or Bombay."

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