Life may be beginning to return to normal in Kashmir

20 March 2008
The Daily Times
Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Life is said to be returning to normal in Kashmir and the Kashmiris seem eager to seize the present lull to rebuild what they have lost, according to a report published here. A correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor reports from the ski resort of Gulmarg in the valley that things in Kashmir are looking up. In 2007, conflict-related deaths across the state totalled 777, down from 1,116 the year before and a peak of 4,507 in 2001, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database. This translates to a decrease of more than 30 percent, while civilian casualties dropped by nearly twice that amount. In 18 years, 43,000 people have been killed in the conflict. However, terrorist incidents continue to occur, such as the bomb that exploded in the heart of Srinagar city this week, injuring 24 people. According to Indian government sources, it is a sign of desperation after several militant leaders were killed last week. “But the fierce revolt that broke out in 1989 has largely subsided . . . Conflict fatigue among the Kashmiri people, along with political restraint and the absence of fiery rhetoric by India and Pakistan, are cited as compounding factors, but analysts say the relative peace in Kashmir is a function of Pakistan’s pressing need to combat militants. These troubles have led to the redeployment of troops and resources once massed on the Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir,” the report adds. U-turn: The newspaper quotes Gul Wani, a political analyst at the University of Kashmir, as saying that Pakistan has made “a complete U-turn on Kashmir”. Since cross-border artillery exchanges have ceased, he points out, India has managed to build a fence and install a monitoring system that has made militant infiltrations almost impossible without detection. Some observers, however, say Pakistan should be given more credit for cracking down on militancy. Tahir Mohiudin, editor of Chattan, insists there has been a “clear shift in Pakistan’s policy” since the peace process began. He cites a four-point plan suggested by President Pervez Musharraf in late 2006 that compromises on Kashmir to improve relations with India. The report notes that despite the decline in violence, the region remains heavily militarised. More than 700,000 Indian troops are spread across the state. However, Wani believes that the current climate in the region presents a rare opportunity for the Indian government to reach out to those fighting against Indian occupation from a position of strength and send a message that it favours a political settlement. Tourism has revived. In February, the mountain resort of Gulmarg hosted India’s fifth national winter games, drawing thousands of athletes from India and abroad. Houseboat owners on the Dal Lake say the number of foreign visitors is up. And several discount airlines are docking at Srinagar’s new terminal. The desire for peace does not mean a diminished sense of nationalism, the report notes. “Fear is used as a tool here,” says a Kashmiri human rights activist who lost half his right leg to a land mine three years ago. “Some people might take a pro-India posture, but in their hearts, off the record, they want an independent Kashmir,” the activist added.