- Both countries claim the whole territory but control only parts of it
- Two out of three wars fought between India and Pakistan centred on Kashmir
- Since 1989 there has been an armed revolt in the Muslim-majority region against rule by India
- High unemployment and complaints of heavy-handed tactics by security forces battling street protesters and fighting insurgents have aggravated the problem
Ajaz, a 19-year-old student in Budgam, told me that hope had evaporated for his generation "in face of Indian oppression" and he and his friends did not "fear death". When I took him aside after a while to ask about his ambitions in life, he said he wanted to become a bureaucrat and serve Kashmir.
"It is wrong to say that the Kashmiri youth has become fearless. He just feels alienated, sidelined and humiliated. When he feels like that, fear takes a backseat, and he becomes reckless. This is irrational behaviour," National Conference leader Junaid Azim Mattoo told me.
Secondly, the new younger militants are educated and come from relatively well-off families.
Wani, the slain militant who headed a prominent rebel group, hailed from a highly-educated upper-class Kashmiri family: his father is a government school teacher. Wani's younger brother, Khalid, who was killed by security forces in 2013, was a student of political science. The new commander of the rebel group, Zakir Rashid Bhat, studied engineering in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh.
Thirdly, the two-year-old ruling alliance, many say, has been unable to deliver on its promises. An alliance between a regional party which advocates soft separatism (PDP) and a federal Hindu nationalist party (BJP), they believe, makes for the strangest bedfellows, hobbled by two conflicting ideologies trying to work their way together in a contested, conflicted land.
Fourthly, the government's message on Kashmir appears to be backfiring.
When Mr Modi recently said the youth in Kashmir had to choose between terrorism and tourism, many Kashmiris accused him of trivialising their "protracted struggle". When BJP general secretary Ram Madhav told a newspaper that his government "would have choked" the valley people if it was against them, many locals said it was proof of the government's arrogance.
Fifth, the shrill anti-Muslim rhetoric by radical Hindu groups and incidents of cow protection vigilantes attacking Muslim cattle traders in other parts of India could end up further polarising people in the valley. "The danger," a prominent leader told me, "is that the moderate Kashmiri Muslim is becoming sidelined, and he is being politically radicalised."
The security forces differ and say they are actually worried about rising "religious radicalisation" among the youth in the valley. A top army official in Kashmir, Lt-Gen JS Sadhu, told a newspaper that the "public support to terrorists, their glorification and increased radicalisation are issues of concern".
One army official told me that religious radicalisation was a "bigger challenge than stone pelting protesters". He said some 3,000 Saudi-inspired Wahhabi sect mosques had sprung up in Kashmir in the past decade.
Most Kashmiris say the government should be more worried about "political radicalisation" of the young, and that fears of religious radicalisation were exaggerated and overblown.
Also, the low turnout in this month's elections has rattled the region's mainstream parties. "If mainstream politics is delegitimised and people refuse to vote for them, the vacuum will be obviously filled up with a disorganised mob-led constituency," Mr Mattoo of the National Conference said.
In his memoirs, Amarjit Singh Daulat, the former chief of RAW, India's spy agency wrote that "nothing is constant; least of all Kashmir". But right now, the anomie and anger of the youth, and a worrying people's revolt against Indian rule appear to be the only constant.Published: 2017-04-26 10:02:44