SRINAGAR, India A wave of disappointment swept across curfewed Indian Kashmir Thursday after no concrete results emerged out of a government meeting aimed at ending spiralling protests.
Faced with criticism of not dealing with the protests seriously, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday held a meeting with the government and opposition parties, but all it decided was to send a delegation of politicians to Kashmir.
The meeting dashed hopes for a partial lifting of widely hated powers for the military in Kashmir to shoot protesters as well as raid homes and arrest people without warrant.
"Ironically, India is talking through the barrel of gun," said separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference. "Curfew, talks, peace efforts, meetings and killings can't go together."
Even pro-Indian Kashmiri parties have criticised the government. Kashmir's opposition Peoples' Democratic Party said the outcome was cosmetic and demanded freeing jailed protesters.
The only Muslim-majority state in mostly-Hindu India, much of Kashmir has been under curfew for the last three months, criss-crossed with barbed wire and police checkpoints.
The Himalayan region broke out in armed rebellion against New Delhi's rule two decades ago. But while militancy has weakened over the years, the tactic of mass street protests, often organised through Facebook and mobile phones, has grown.
Stone-pelting protesters battle security forces daily and have set on fire government offices and police stations. Children stay cooped up in homes.
STRIKES AND CURFEWS
The continuing cycle of strikes and curfews has shut down schools, colleges and offices, stopped newspapers from being printed, and made food and medicine scarce.
"My son is on a life-saving drug, he has medicines left for the next two only," said Imtiyaz Shah, a 44-year-old hotelier. "I feel so helpless."
Nearly 90 people have been killed, mostly by police bullets, this summer.
Kashmiris face a government that has placed little priority on finding a solution to Kashmir, an issue that has little electoral impact across the rest of the country.
"Well, the outcome of yesterday's meeting in New Delhi is a
statement from Indians that they don't care about Kashmiri Muslims," said Rehana Gouse, a 32-year-old school teacher.
"Our children are brutally killed by forces, we are living in jail for the past three months."
Part of the anger is directed against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA), which gives security forces sweeping powers to shoot, arrest, search and detain people in battling the insurgency in Kashmir.
"I expect nothing from New Delhi, who are helpless on revoking draconian laws like AFSPA which means a soldier has the right to shoot you on mere suspicion," said 24-year-old-student Zubiar Khan.
The lack of a decision Wednesday signals a policy limbo in New Delhi and differing perceptions amidst political parties and stakeholders on how to resolve the long-standing issue.
The main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has taken a hard line against the separatists and the military is also reluctant to give up its special powers.
Kashmir's chief minister, Omar Abdullah, has been accused of doing little to douse anger in the region, but Thursday was backed by Rahul Gandhi, the influential leader of the Congress party that leads the federal coalition government.
"Kashmir is a difficult place. Omar is doing a tough job and he should be given time and support," Gandhi, who is seen as a future prime minister, told reporters.