November 2004 News

Thousands Pray For Peace In Indian Kashmir On Eid

14 November 2004

Srinagar: Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims, scarred by 15 years of violence, celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, days after India announced it would reduce the number of troops in the disputed Himalayan territory. Dressed in new clothes, they swarmed mosques across Kashmir to offer prayers to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. 'I am sure God will answer our Ramadan prayers and peace will return to Kashmir with dignity ... Amen,' said the chief priest of a mosque in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's summer capital. Outside the mosque, ringed by huge crimson chinar trees, police frisked worshippers and soldiers patrolled the streets. 'The troops' withdrawal will prompt Pakistan also to respond positively. During Eid prayers, I will urge Allah that peace returns to our beautiful valley,' 55-year-old Mohammad Shafi, a tour operator, said outside the mosque. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for two days in Kashmir over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars. With its towering snow-capped mountains, pine forests, verdant meadows and blue lakes dotted with houseboats, Kashmir was once one of Asia's best known tourist destinations as well as a haven for honeymooners, trekkers and film shoots. But ever since separatist rebels launched an insurgency against New Delhi's rule, India's only Muslim-majority state has been racked by daily bombings and shootings. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said last week that New Delhi would cut back its troops in Kashmir in a fresh initiative that analysts say will not only aid a cautious peace process with Pakistan but also send a message of reconciliation to Kashmiris. Singh, citing a decline in separatist violence for the cuts, heads to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, his first visit to the strife-torn state since he took office in May. India has tens of thousands troops in Kashmir trying to quell the Muslim insurgency, which has claimed nearly 45,000 lives so far. Separatists say India has close 800,000 troops in the state. 'The reduction of troops in Jammu and Kashmir announced by Manmohan Singh is bound to have a positive impact on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and I hope it is matched in equal measure,' Mufti Mohammad Syed, the state's chief minister, said in his Eid message. The Indian army too greeted people of Kashmir on Eid. 'I hope that Eid will usher in even more peace and prosperity to Kashmir,' Lieutenant General Nirbhay Sharma, chief of the army's operations in Kashmir, said in a statement. India accuses Pakistan of stoking the revolt in Kashmir, over which the South Asian rivals have fought two of their three wars. Pakistan denies the charge and says the conflict is an indigenous freedom struggle.


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