NEW DELHI: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Tuesday for an end to the violence in held Kashmir, promising jobs for young people, in his first comments since deadly clashes began over a month ago.
Much of Indian-held Kashmir has been under a curfew since protests broke out over the death on July 8 of a popular young rebel leader in a gunfight with security forces.
More than 50 civilians have been killed in clashes between protesters and police and troops and thousands more injured in the worst violence to hit the restive Himalayan region since 2010.
“We want to create jobs and employment for the youth of Kashmir. The entire country is with you,” said Modi.
The prime minister has faced criticism for failing to speak out about the unrest, which has abated but shows no signs of ending. Two police officers have also been killed.
“Peace, unity and harmony in Kashmir is everyone’s priority,” Modi said in a speech broadcast on national television, blaming “a few misguided people” for the violence.
“It pains me sometimes that some young men, who should have a laptop, a volleyball, cricket bat… have been given stones in their hands.”
“This may benefit some people’s political agendas but what about the innocent youth?” Modi added.
Many of the young men who came out onto the streets in the wake of the rebel’s death threw stones at security forces, an increasingly common form of protest in the area.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is part of an uneasy coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
The Kashmir region is divided between Pakistan and India but both claim the Himalayan territory in full.
The Kashmir Valley, where the recent violence has occurred, is the epicentre of a separatist insurgency, with several rebel groups fighting Indian troops and police. They seek either independence or merger of the territory with Pakistan.
Separatist leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq said Modi’s comments downplayed the strength of feeling in the region.
“It is not a movement of a few people who are throwing stones, educated youth are picking up guns for their basic political rights. In Kashmir, it is a mass movement for our right of self-determination,” he told AFP.