How restive is my valley

The coming days will be crucial for confidence building measures in troubled Kashmir

How restive is my valley

 Ugly scenes of stone pelting by mobs, provoked allegedly by police excesses, marred Srinagar’s evergreen image as a honeymooner’s paradise (below).

Summer of discontent is back in Kashmir, reviving memories of  the 2008 Amarnath land transfer row when the valley was rocked by civil protests. The state is on the boil again. Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, resembles a ghost town with a complete shutdown forced on the city either by official declaration of curfew or by supporters of Syed Geelani, the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat leader and head of   the breakaway Tehreek-e-Hurriyat.

The average citizen, who may have been a willing partner to the bandhs after 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo was killed by a police teargas shell in Srinagar on June 11, is now frustrated with the repeat cycles of forced shutdowns. Immature handling of the unrest by the Omar Abdullah government has given Geelani and his likes an easy handle on the situation in the valley that was otherwise peaceful after the 2008 protests and the economic blockade in Jammu that led to the fall of the PDP-led Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government.  

Barring a few civilians armed with curfew passes and paramilitary forces, the streets are empty.  The uncoiled  razor wire is one of  the many lines of  “defence” or “obstruction”, depending on which side of the “political fence” one is sitting.

Mr CM blamed
Leaving the international dimensions of the Kashmir issue, independent observers, rival politicians and the man on the street are squarely blaming “an inexperienced Chief Minister” and his prolonged failure to grasp the ground situation for the current mess that has “undone” what was achieved by the successful conduct of  the Assembly poll with a 60 per cent turnout.

The “disconnect” of the 38-year-old Omar Abdullah with the people, administration and lack of clear instructions to security forces dealing with the situation immediately after June 11 are seen as the major contributory factors leading to the spiral of violence. “Even now he has not visited the trouble spots and tried to soothe tempers. The continuation of curfew has exasperated people,” says Bashir Ahmed, a lecturer in Kashmir University.
Shaken by the disturbance, a visibly chastened Chief Minister has, indeed, chaired a series of meetings and sought to deliver on law and order and development planks. In a bid to keep his ear to the ground, he has asked district secretaries to meet “aam janata” every day from 2 to 3 PM.  He is staying put in Srinagar, while the senior Abdullah made an air dash to Delhi and briefed his son on “major changes” needed.

Omar, who has rather candidly accepted his “mistakes”,  is now asking the Centre to initiate a dialogue with all, including the separatists, and also advocating track II diplomacy like in 2000 when the Centre initiated ceasefire with militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. But close on the heels of his appeal, his own party leader Mustafa Kamaal has castigated “governments in New Delhi” for “weakening National Conference by patronising the valley’s militants and separatist leaders” and “organising their foreign tours with state facilitation.” The mosaic of politics in Kashmir with international dimensions seems to be more complex than understood by the youthful chief minister. Is Kamaal accusing Congress party of having larger, solo political ambitions in the valley?

Delhi protege
Well, there is a view doing the rounds here with an obvious dig at the chief minister - that Omar Abdullah “is a pilot project” of  Congress General Secretary  Rahul Gandhi. His much too much identification with New Delhi is also resented with the accusation that he is less of Kashmir and more of New Delhi.

Is the Chief Minister on the right track now? Not many are willing to give him a belated respite. “The foremost thing he has to do is to give good governance,” says Yasin Ahmed, a Tunmarg resident, and cites unemployment among youth and corruption.
A similar view is expressed by well-meaning Kashmiri people, who maintain that militancy has declined and there is need to consolidate gains that followed Mufti Sayeed’s government. “There are very few people with guns in the valley and a far-sighted state government could establish lasting peace irrespective of the sporadic chants of ‘Azadi’ and occasional terror flare-up”, says Abdul Hamid, a “kirana store” owner. He scoffs at the Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir  with a laconic “ Timseth kya gasiy” (what will it do).
One would like to err on the side of optimism as pilgrims on “Amarnath Yatra” are pouring in despite the curfew situation and providing sustenance to the tourism industry, which is steeped in losses due to the month-long unrest.

But as of now the constituency for peace in the valley has drastically shrunk with separatists seizing the opportunity and “calling the shots”. An empty houseboat across my hotel on the  banks of the Jhelum river, with an  inscription “Happy Day House Boat”, gives a forlorn look.

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