Concert and football lift spirits in Kashmir
Bryan Lee
Tue, May 27, 2008
The Straits Times
SRINAGAR (KASHMIR) - A PAKISTANI band played in the Indian portion of Kashmir and a major football tournament started on Sunday, two rare events that raised hopes for war-weary Kashmiris.

Fans of the band Junoon screamed and joined in singing popular numbers in the Urdu language.

Singer Salman Ahmad said he had been trying to get permission to play live in the disputed Himalayan territory for 10 years.

'I've performed all over the world, I've never seen anything like this,' he said.

Separately, the Santosh Trophy tournament, a national event, was declared open in capital Srinagar after a gap of three decades.

A drop in militant violence was behind the decision to re-start the popular tournament in Kashmir.

'It is a big day for the people of Kashmir,' said Mr Zamir Ahmad, head of Kashmir's state football association.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. Each claims the region in its entirety. They have fought two wars over control of it since their independence from Britain in 1947.

'The contrast of Kashmir's beauty and the history of its conflict is mind-boggling,' said Chris Tarry, Junoon's Canadian member.

Nearly 4,000 students, including girls wearing headscarves and some in jeans and sporting designer glasses, swayed and clapped along to the band's popular songs.

'For a while I forgot I was in Kashmir,' said college student Saima Muneer.

Nearly a dozen insurgent groups fighting government forces in Kashmir since 1989 have forced the closure of liquor stores and cinemas, describing them as anti-Islamic and vehicles of India's cultural invasion.

As for the football match, Kashmir and the former French colony of Pondicherry, recently renamed Puducherry, played the inaugural match. In all, 31 teams from across India are competing in the 20- day event.

The scenic Himalayan region last hosted the premier soccer tournament in 1978.


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