Shadow over the Valley

They face an uncertain future.  

WAR. THAT is what the Kashmiris fear could follow December 13. There are some who hope it will throw up a solution to their problems. But they are in a minority. It does not help either that there are reports of terrorists in increasing numbers sneaking in.

The attack on Parliament, just a couple of months after terrorists struck at the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, is seen as a major setback to the political process involving the separatists to hammer out an end to the impasse in the troubled State.

``It is unfortunate that whenever there is an effort to break the stalemate on Kashmir something happens to derail the process,'' says the Hurriyat Conference chairman, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat. There are many who share this view. The bus ride to Lahore was negated by the Kargil intrusion. The Agra summit was followed by these deadly strikes. Whenever the divide between New Delhi and the separatists, particularly the APHC, looks like narrowing, something untoward happens.

For, notwithstanding their scepticism about New Delhi, the separatists had appeared inclined to reopen channels of communication. If December 13 was an attempt to sabotage any process of ``reconciliation'', it may have succeeded for the moment.

Many analysts do not rule out the hand of those in the Pakistani establishment who are against Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in the suicide attack on Parliament. ``The organisations such as the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen are not now toeing the Pakistani or ISI line; that is why they have to bank on the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM),'' says a senior security official.

A teacher at the University of Kashmir says ``This is not going to be the war of 1965 or 1971; it is 2001. Both the countries are nuclear and the most important thing is that hostilities between the Army and Kashmiris have not died down.'' He says India and Pakistan have the potential to iron out differences diplomatically.

Another section of the people believes that war could throw up a solution. ``We die everyday. It is better if a war throws up a solution. It does not matter how many more are killed,'' says Mr. Abdul Aziz, a pan vendor on Residency Road in Srinagar. Mr. Aziz had seen his Batamaloo locality go up in flames in 1965.

With reports of a military buildup on both sides pouring in, concern among the Kashmiris about ``worse days'' ahead is palpable. Those residing along the LoC and the international border are the most worried. ``We have been at the receiving end of the situation for the last 12 years, so if there is a war we will be finished forever,'' says Mr. Mohammad Hussain, a resident of Uri. ``It is time for India and Pakistan to join hands in fighting terrorism but not without resolving the Kashmir issue once and for all,'' he adds.

It is not only political uncertainty which has worsened in Kashmir since October 1 and December 13. The complexion of militancy has also changed, heralding more trouble. Despite major successes by the security forces in wiping out militants in large numbers, the militancy, dominated by foreigners, has hardly been contained.

The Taliban's debacle in Afghanistan was seen as a demoralising factor for Kashmir militancy, but December 13 has given an impetus to it. Though termed `desperation' by security pundits, the fact is that militants are now striking outside Jammu and Kashmir. The threat that they could strike in other major cities is very real.

The violence in Jammu and Kashmir has its roots in the alienation of the people. This feeling has only increased over time and is not showing any signs of improvement. ``In the 1965 war, Kashmiris were with India. In 1947-48, they forced raiders to leave.

But now foreigners are welcome guests, though fear could also be a factor in this,'' says an analyst.

Thousands taking to the streets in Budgam demanding the bodies of six LeT militants who attacked the airport for ``honourable burial'' was not an event to be underestimated, as was done by the policy-makers in Delhi, he points out.

The problem needs to be addressed politically, rather than by agencies which have a dubious record of spoiling India's Kashmir case.