Security tight as conductor Zubin Mehta faces the music in Indian Kashmir

Thu Sep 5, 2013 8:14am EDT
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By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A planned concert by the Bavarian State Orchestra and renowned conductor Zubin Mehta in Indian-controlled Kashmir has angered separatist groups in the disputed Himalayan region, and security forces are mounting a major operation to keep the visitors safe.

The concert, the first of its kind in Kashmir, is expected to attract an audience of 1,500 guests on Saturday, including government ministers and diplomats. It will be held in a Mughal-era terraced garden on the banks of the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

The event has been organized by Germany's ambassador to India, Michael Steiner, who told a news conference that the aim of the concert was to "reach the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement".

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. Separatists say that holding the concert on the Indian side effectively legitimizes New Delhi's rule.

It takes place against a backdrop of an upsurge in violence in the Kashmir valley. Militants have staged a number of attacks against Indian security forces in and around Srinagar in recent months. Militants struck an army convoy in June, a day before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was due to visit the area, killing eight soldiers.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, one of the most highly militarized regions in the world. Soldiers on the disputed border regularly trade mortar and machinegun fire. About 700,000 Indian troops, paramilitary forces and police are stationed in Jammu and Kashmir state.

Kashmir separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called for a general strike in the region on Saturday to protest what he says is Indian occupation of the disputed territory.

"The majority of people here are suffering from state repression. Under these circumstances there is no relevance for a music program," he said.   Continued...

Indian police frisk a Kashmiri man during a cordon and search operation ahead of a concert by the Bavarian State Orchestra and renowned conductor Zubin Mehta in Srinagar September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Danish Ismail