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Kashmir’s War gets Smaller, Dirtier and More Intimate

By Jeffrey Gettleman

QASBAYAR, Kashmir — It was 9:30 p.m. when Sameer Tiger came to the door, a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Most of the village of Qasbayar, a tucked-away hamlet surrounded by apple orchards and framed by Kashmir’s mountain peaks, was getting ready for sleep. A few yellowish lights burned in windows, but otherwise the village was dark.

“Is Bashir home?” Sameer Tiger asked. “Can we talk to him?”

Bashir Ahmad’s family didn’t know what to do. Mr. Ahmad wasn’t a fighter; he was a 55-year-old pharmacist. And Sameer Tiger was a bit of mystery. He had grown up a skinny kid just down the road and used to lift weights with Mr. Ahmad’s sons at the neighborhood gym; they’d spot each other with the barbells, all friends.

But Sameer Tiger had disappeared for a while and then resurfaced as a bushy-haired militant, a member of an outlawed Kashmiri separatist group that had killed many people, the vast majority of them fellow Kashmiris.

Kashmir’s war, a territorial dispute between India and neighboring Pakistan, has smoldered for decades. Now it is collapsing into itself. The violence is becoming smaller, more intimate and harder to escape.

Years ago, Pakistan pushed thousands of militants across the border as a proxy army to wreak havoc in the Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir. Now, the resistance inside the Indian areas is overwhelmingly homegrown.

The conflict today is probably driven less by geopolitics than by internal Indian politics, which have increasingly taken an anti-Muslim direction. Most of the fighters are young men like Sameer Tiger from quiet brick-walled villages like Qasbayar, who draw support from a population deeply resentful of India’s governing party and years of occupation.

Anyone even remotely associated with politics is in danger. That included Mr. Ahmad, who, when he wasn’t sitting behind the counter of the village pharmacy, was known to host events for a local Kashmiri political party.

“Don’t worry,” Sameer Tiger said, standing at Mr. Ahmad’s door, seeming to sense the family’s anxiety.

He looked Mr. Ahmad’s son right in the eye.

“We don’t mean any harm,” he said. “Your father is like our father.”

Mr. Ahmad rushed home from work and invited Sameer Tiger in for tea. They sat on the living room carpet talking quietly, then Mr. Ahmad nodded goodbye to his wife and son and left with the visitor.

He didn’t have much choice. Sameer Tiger was armed, and insistent, and had arrived with three others who were waiting in the road. The group moved slowly down the unlit lane.

At a bend in the road, in front of a shuttered shop, Sameer Tiger and Mr. Ahmad started arguing, a witness said. Four gun blasts rang out. Mr. Ahmad screamed. The few remaining lights in the neighborhood were suddenly extinguished.

JUST THE NAME KASHMIR conjures a set of very opposing images: snowy mountain peaks and chaotic protests, fields of wildflowers and endless deaths. It is a staggeringly beautiful place that lives up to all its fabled charm, yet even the quietest moments here feel ominous.

Kashmir sits on the frontier of India and Pakistan, and both countries have spilled rivers of blood over it. Three times, they have gone to war, and tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict. It is one of Asia’s most dangerous flash points, where a million troops have squared off along the disputed border. Both sides now wield nuclear arms. And the two sides are divided by religion, with Kashmir stuck in the middle.

To read the full article, visit The New York Times

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