Peace In Kashmir Raises Hopes As Summer Arrives

Peace In Kashmir Raises Hopes As Summer Arrives

1 May 2012
Daily Pioneer
Khursheed Wani

Srinagar: Kashmiris who depend on tourism for their livelihood are looking forward to brisk business this summer. If the peace holds, it could return smiles on their faces Thick layers of snow and spine-chilling cold are not the only factors responsible for making the Kashmiri people lie low during the harsh winter months. It’s also the feudal legacy of the biennial shifting of the seat of governance to Jammu that affects the pace and dynamism in the Valley. On May 7, when Government offices re-open in Srinagar, the Valley’s sensitive issues, ranging from sterilisation of stray dogs to the prospect of selectively repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from ‘peaceful pockets’ of the State, will return to focus. For the last four years, Kashmir has been identified with summer, and it has nothing to do with the tourist season. The 2008 summer was consumed by the Amarnath land row that divided the State on communal lines and culminated in the fall of a coalition Government. The 2009 summer began with the mysterious death of two women in south Kashmir’s Shopian town, triggering agitations. The summer of 2010, the worst of the preceding two, was a saga of violence that nearly consumed the Omar Abdullah Government. However, in 2011, the situation turned around. Agitations, protests and stone-pelting were replaced by joyful crowds, peace and the return of tourists. The entire population of Kashmir seemed to have followed an undeclared resolve that peace was needed to restore normalcy and the State’s sagging economy. Initially, it seemedd that the Union Government had learnt a few lessons from the 2010 summer agitation. Following Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram-led parliamentary delegation’s spot assessment of the Valley during the uprising, the Cabinet Committee on Security appointed three interlocutors in October 2010 to initiate a political dialogue. The interlocutors met some 5,000 people of various hues in a year, before submitting their report to the Union Government. They, however, could not meet the separatists that had dominated the three consecutive summer agitations. The separatists squarely refused to engage with the interlocutors, questioning their mandate and locus standi. The report of the interlocutors is unlikely to set a benchmark for the initiation of political dialogue in the State. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the UPA Government is hesitant to table the findings even six months after the report’s submission. Selective leaks of the report in the media have been done to test the waters, but they have evoked a meek response from the people. The rejection comes from the fact that the first-hand voices of dissent could not be accommodated. A process that overrides the interlocutors’ restricted intervention would be genuinely accepted in Kashmir if it accommodates the internal and the external aspects of the Kashmir issue. Meanwhile, the Omar Abdullah-led coalition Government is taking all precautions to ensure a peaceful summer, since that alone can help any political process to sustain. Separatist hawk Syed Ali Geelani’s movements have been curbed. He was booked for attempt to murder and incitement to rioting following a stone-pelting incident after his public speech in north Kashmir. His aides like Masarat Alam Bhat, who commanded the 2010 agitation, remain behind bars along with scores of volatile youngsters. In March, the State police conducted mock exercises in several parts of the Valley to check its preparedness for dealing with stone-pelters and arsonists. The Chief Minister had in October last year announced that AFSPA would be removed from select pockets in the State where the presence of militants or the levels of violence are zero. This was when the Government offices were closing down in Srinagar. Mr Omar Abdullah announced that the repeal of the law that provides immunity to security forces engaged in counter-insurgency, would begin before the biennial shifting of the durbar to Jammu. Six months after the announcement, when the durbar is back in Srinagar, AFSPA remains as it was. The Chief Minister has only invited the displeasure of the Armed Forces and a section of the Congress leadership. The Opposition PDP continues to taunt him of being a ‘rubber-stamp’ Chief Minister, whilethe separatists ridicule his ‘powerlessness’. A tactful handling of the situation in Kashmir would ensure another bumper tourist season in succession. This year, the State’s Ministry of Tourism has set a target of hosting 1.7 million tourists, including the Amaranth pilgrims. While tourists would flock the Valley, the administration is set to conduct the election for urban local bodies, on a pattern similar to the panchayat election successfully held last year. Another positive factor that can spell peace in the Valley and the State as a whole is that the infiltration of militants from across the border has come down considerably. The Army appears to be in full control to frustrate the plans of armed militants wanting to sneak in across the Line of Control. Recently, 10 heavily-armed militants were shot dead in Handwara in two separate encounters within six days, indicating that the security forces have developed an effective intelligence network to tackle the residual militancy. The situation in the plains is also under control. Still, Kashmir remains a hyper-sensitive spot. Even the unchecked growing population of stray dogs attacking people in the streets has the potential to turn into a political issue.