“Kashmir is jinxed; so are we and our livelihoods,” 77-year-old Gujjar Jaffar Khan of Allahkhori said. Khan’s wayside restaurant near Chandimarh, on the 86-km uphill downhill Shopian-Bafliaz leg of Mughal Road, has hardly served a customer since September 7, when the South Kashmir district headquarters of Shopian erupted over the death of four persons in the CRPF's shootout at Gagran.
With the exception of September 11, when a relaxation in restrictions resulted in violent demonstrations and the death of a fifth individual, Shopian has been continuously reeling under curfew. The strife has had a cascading effect on the situation in the adjoining district of Pulwama, which, like Shopian, falls on Mughal Road, besides Kulgam and parts of Anantnag district. As if the curfew was not enough to bring the harvesting of the apple crop to a halt, separatist leaders too have enforced days of shutdown to register what they call the Kashmiris’ protest against the “five innocent killings”.
Fifteen days of curfew, coupled with five days of shutdown, have resulted in the deserting of all roads and orchards in Shopian — J&K’s second largest fruit producing district. Two-odd controlled atmosphere stores (CASs) in Pulwama cannot accommodate even one per cent of the apple produce. “Our dreams of hefty dividends out of this year’s unusually rich harvest have already shattered,” Mohammd Akbar Lone of Nikus said. According to him, Nikus, Shirmal, Hawl and Pulwama, besides the curfew-bound Shopian, have emerged as infamous battlegrounds between the stone throwing youths and the police. “Trade and travel on Mughal Road — Shopian to Srinagar as well as Shopian to Poonch and the Rajouri border belt of Jammu — has been completely paralyzed,” Mr. Lone said.
Pulwama Deputy Commissioner Manzoor Ahmad Lone and Shopian Superintendent of Police Mumtaz Ahmad maintained that the situation would “improve remarkably” in the next two days if no more fatal casualty occurred during a clash. However, a Member of Legislative Assembly of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party said that the turmoil could continue due to the fact that the Assembly was scheduled to start its autumn session from September 30.
Manager of Rajouri-based Airways Tour and Travel, Tanvir Ahmad Malik, claimed that 95 per cent trade and travel activity on Mughal Road had been suspended immediately after the Shopian shootout last fortnight. This economically vital surface communication link, connecting Kashmir valley to Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu province has been through for vehicular traffic since 2009 when Chief Minister Omar Abdullah enjoyed a historic drive from Shopian to Bafliaz. It is yet to be inaugurated formally as about a dozen of bridges are nearing completion.
“Over 300 taxis used to carry passengers daily to Srinagar from Rajouri and Poonch until September 7. An equal number of taxis would come with passengers every day from Srinagar to Rajouri, Poonch and other Jammu towns. Besides, hundreds of load-carriers would shuttle with fresh vegetables and apple. Some of it would go even to Muzaffarabad [PoK] through the cross-LOC trade. This entire activity has been frozen. No more than five per cent traffic is operating today as no driver can reach Srinagar without passing through Shopian,” Mr. Malik told The Hindu.