Kashmir Has Never Been Better In Almost 25 Years
Kashmir Has Never Been Better In Almost 25 Years
8 May 2012
: Phir kahan pohauche hum (Where have we reached?). The salutation with which Kashmiris often greet one, embodies both hope and hopelessness. As the summer approaches and the Darbar moves back to Srinagar, there is every reason to be hopeful. It has been the best of times. Kashmir has never been better in almost 25 years. To begin with, for the first time a Kashmiri, who has since become a celebrity, topped the all India Civil Services exam in 2009. After the turmoil of 2010, 2011 was an outstanding year and there is every reason to believe that 2012 should be even better. According to JK Tourism more than a million tourists visited Kashmir last summer. This year despite the hike in tariffs they expect double the number. There have already been tens of thousands of tourists in Srinagar in March, not the best time in the valley, vying to visit the tulip garden. Militancy is at an all time low with separatists, even hardliners among them, demonstrating moderation. Pakistani rhetoric on Kashmir is down and Indo-Pak relations are looking up. What more could the Kashmiris want except peace, a little more space and a level playing field politically to move on unhindered with their lives? But we also know how fragile peace can be in Kashmir; how everything could change almost overnight. As Omar Abdullah admitted while reiterating his demand for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act at the Chief Ministers conference in Delhi on April 16, the threat to peace was not over. On April 20, even as the removal of CRPF bunkers from Lal Chowk was being celebrated with fanfare, a police officer was shot dead in downtown Srinagar. There are still pockets of militant influence, most notably Sopore where local youth have not given up the gun. Recently, three Kashmiris from Sopore were arrested in Delhi for planning a terrorist strike in the capital - for those who believe that Kashmir is a socio-economic issue, Sopore is a reminder that it is not so because it is not only the most fertile part of the Valley but also the wealthiest. Poverty or affluence has nothing to do with militancy. Militancy has flourished mainly in Jamaat-e-Islami pockets where the National Conference is vulnerable. That is why it is crucial that the grand party of Kashmir not only survives but is strengthened. With Farooq Abdullah at the Centre there is a disconnect in the party which at times appears listless. The appointment of Omar Abdullah as working President and the suave young, US-educated Shia from Zadibal as party spokesman should help streamline the organisational structure. Pangs of incumbency may, however, in course of time be inescapable. There is a school of thought that suggests that to graduate to Kashmir politics, Omar needs to do a stint in the opposition. No harm; but not necessary either. That Omar is the long term player in Kashmir politics there can be no doubt. The separatists, apart from the occasional visit to Delhi have not done their credibility or cause much good. The Kashmiri attendance at the Pakistan Day function in the High Commission on March 23 was more than normal but the message from the Pakistanis that trade rather than Kashmir was their main priority with India would not have given the separatists much comfort. Neither has the naming and shaming of Ghulam Nabi Fai in the court case in the US, done the separatist cause much good. Fai himself acknowledged during his trial that his action had inflicted huge damage to the Kashmiri cause. Fai's Kashmir America Council had been in the forefront in espousing the Kashmiri cause and at one time wielded so much clout in the Clinton Administration in the early 1990s that the US refused to accept Kashmiris involved in militancy as terrorists, rather referring to them as freedom fighters. Fai was also largely instrumental during a meeting in Kathmandu in January 1990 in persuading the Jamaat-e-Islami to join militancy, consequently giving birth to the Hizbul Mujahideen. The recent antics of some prominent separatists have also brought them little credit. Kashmiris don't need to visit Pakistan to prove their Kashmiriness. It only gets them stuck in the 'be or not to be' syndrome. Centre Whereas Pakistan is a factor in Kashmir and will remain so, separatists should realise that ingratiating themselves with Pakistan (ISI) alone will not get them anywhere. For any forward movement in Kashmir separatists need to engage whole time with Delhi rather than be governed by Pakistanis' dictates. Nobody has acknowledged this more candidly than the former chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Prof Abdul Ghani Butt when he said some time ago that 'Islamabad disrupts the evolution of Kashmir separatist thought which over the years has come around to the idea of a pragmatic solution for Kashmir'. As he added, 'Pakistan is a party to the dispute but they cannot be arbiters.' The only way out was for all stakeholders to end up with a sense of victory. The political and democratic process in Kashmir remains incomplete without the participation of the separatists. They must have their innings. But separatists alone cannot be blamed for marking time. Delhi too seems content to leave well enough alone, often mistaking Kashmiri adaptability for acquiescence. By not doing anything when all is well it is as if we are waiting for something to go wrong all over again. As Mirwaiz Umar Farooq once said, Delhi remembers Kashmir only when there is a problem. There is no better time than now to move forward in Kashmir. As a Kashmiri friend said, if not now then it may be never.