February 2004 News

More Action In The Valley Than Evident

22 February 2004
The Times of India

Srinagar: Things are deceptively quiet here with the winter chill freezing everything. But beneath the ground there is movement, heralding spring. In case of Kashmir we are looking through two prisms. First, domestic politics because of the impending Lok Sabha elections. Having come to power with Congress support, chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is hoping to consolidate his hold on the Kashmiri polity. Locals say the Mufti has been doing well till now. The joint Congress-PDP campaign was kicked off on Saturday with a big rally in Sopore, a town with a history of support to the separatists. But observers say the Mufti has yet to establish his hold in North Kashmir , his base remains southern Kashmir , around Anantnag. The National Conference is still licking its wounds and it is clear that Omar Abdullah will not defend his Srinagar seat because a second defeat could put his career at stake. Preliminary estimates suggest that the NC could still win Srinagar and Baramulla, the PDP can win Anantnag, the Congress could win Ladakh, Udhampur would go to the BJP and Jammu is a toss-up. The second prism is the issue of militancy. The militants are still digesting developments of the past two months. The import of the ceasefire will sink in only after the first week of March when some lower snow-bound passes begin to open up. This will also provide some indications about Pakistani intentions. According to one official, the ceasefire is holding and the Pakistan Army controls the situation. But the same cannot be said about the ISI. Their message to the militants waiting to cross over was: withdraw to base camps and bide time. The assessment is that while the the ISI bosses have ordered a stoppage of cross-border activity, the lower ranks have not implemented them.


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