Kashmiri separatists vow to protest alcohol sales

21 May 2008

Srinagar: Hardline Kashmiri Muslim separatists vowed on Wednesday to launch protests to force the closure of liquor shops across the Himalayan region, a disputed territory torn by years of insurgency. Indian officials say the consumption of alcoholic drinks has started picking up fast in Kashmir following a significant fall in rebel violence after India and Pakistan launched a peace process in 2004. 'India authorities are encouraging the spread of alcohol in Kashmir by design. They want to spoil our youth,' the region's hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani told a news conference. The two nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, claim the region in full but rule in parts. Geelani, who heads a breakaway faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of political separatists, is backed by most militant groups fighting New Delhi's rule in Kashmir. More than 1.2 million bottles of hard liquor and beer were sold in Kashmir's valley, the main region around Srinagar, during the past year, as the influence of militants wanes. It was the highest since the insurgency broke out in 1989, officials say. 'I appeal to concerned authorities to close all liquor shops, otherwise we will launch protests across Kashmir next month,' Geelani added. Liquor shops, beauty parlours and cinemas were closed in the valley after the separatist revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989 and conservative Islamic ideas were propagated by armed militant groups. But half a dozen liquor shops and scores of beauty parlours have reopened in Kashmir, where officials say more than 43,000 people have been killed in nearly 20 years of violence, involving separatist guerrillas and Indian troops. Human rights groups put the toll at around 60,000 dead or missing. In Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, shops and businesses were closed on Wednesday due to a strike called by the separatists to mark the killings of prominent cleric and a senior separatist leader. Most of the streets were deserted except for thin traffic on the roads. The Hurriyat alliance called the strike to mark the anniversaries of the deaths of Moulana Mohammad Farooq, the chief cleric of Kashmir, and Abdul Gani Lone, a Kashmiri separatist leader. Farooq was killed by unidentified gunmen at his home in 1990 and Lone was shot dead during a public meeting in 2002. Indian authorities and separatist guerrillas blame each other for the assassinations.