Dismembered roads, desolate streets, eerie silence and the ubiquitous Central Reserve Police Force and police personnel on Monday greeted the 39-member all party delegation.
Even as the highly guarded S K International Conference Centre (SKICC), venue of the meetings, was full of activity, Srinagar and other major towns of the Kashmir Valley were covered with a thick blanket of security. People were not allowed to move out and security personnel made every effort to enforce the curfew. A day before, the authorities made last efforts to repair the Srinagar-airport road, which was completely damaged by violent mobs last week after three civilians were killed on the road. Police personnel were also seen washing off slogans such as “Go India Go Back, We Want Freedom” on the walls on both sides of the road.
However, some of the delegates, speaking to The Hindu, admitted that it was a bad situation. “We saw a ghost city with no people around,” said one of them. “It was a paradox for me to see Srinagar today as I saw a town with festive look in 2005 and today I feel something has gone way” said MP from Hyderabad Assaduddin Owaisi.
For the “smooth passage” of the delegation from the airport to SKICC, the CRPF did not allow any vehicle to ply on that road. This reporter was halted for 45 minutes at the Rambagh crossing and the curfew pass issued by the District Magistrate did not work. “We have orders not to allow any one,” said a CRPF officer.
In fact, the members who took the initiative to meet separatists received a barrage of questions as to how they can “see the ground situation” when curfew was in force for the last seven days and people were not allowed to even venture out of their windows. “You should have gone to hospitals to see the injured and visit the victims' houses to get the feel of the situation,” they were told at the residence of JKLF chief Yasin Malik.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury could only say that “we arrived in the town today only. Let us see where we can go.”
“A big jail”
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani were united in saying that “Kashmir has been turned into a big jail and people are suffering.” “What can you see by confining to security environs,” they told the delegates.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti alleged that most of the meetings were “stage-managed” by the government so that “the incompetence with which they [Omar Abdullah government] had handled the situation is not exposed.”
Commoners in Srinagar also were wary of any positive results of the meetings, saying: “what can be expected when they only meet those who are their own people.” “They are meeting the NC, PDP and Congress leaders. What can they tell them? Do they face the misery on the ground? They are living in fortified areas,” said a resident of downtown Srinagar.
Kashmir Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Nazir Ahmad Dar told the delegation that by visiting a “curfewed” city, “you cannot get the real assessment.” “People should have been free to tell you how much they have suffered. Your visit comes at a time when Kashmir is burning and reeling under continuous curfew and repression and more than 100 people have been killed in a short span of three months. Yet the Chamber feels that the situation can be salvaged with the collective effort of every stake-holder,” he said.
However, the only silver lining were the meetings some delegates had with separatist leaders. Though all the three – Mr. Geelani, the Mirwaiz, and Mr. Malik turned down the invitation extended by the State government to come for talks, three teams of the all party delegation scored a point by knocking at their doors, saying that “we are here to express our solidarity with people of Kashmir.”