The Art of Walking Sideways
The violence may be down, but it is yet not out
By Ghazala Wahab
Sentiment. An ambiguous word, yet the answer to all the questions on Kashmir today. In this one innocuous word lies the promise of lasting peace in Jammu and Kashmir and the danger of missing yet another opportunity. Riding on this single word, the chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) Mirwaiz Omar Farooq dismisses the reduced levels of violence as inconsequential and not a sign of approaching normalcy.

“Militancy,” he says, sitting in his sprawling garden with roses in full bloom, “is only one aspect of the Kashmir issue. Militancy started when the people felt that their sentiments were abused for far too long and that peaceful means were not leading to the realisation of their dreams. Today, they feel that perhaps, in the shifting geo-politics of the world, violence does not have the power of change. So they want to give dialogue a chance. The Kashmir issue was never about guns. It was always about the sentiment of the people and will remain so.”

The sentiment is not in your face. It hovers close to the surface. Scratch a little, and there it is, raw and pulsating. It makes all talks of normalcy look like the Kashmiri spring — beautiful but without fragrance. Mirwaiz is in the midst of week-long commemoration of his father’s martyrdom. While daily religious ceremonies have been organised in the Jamia Masjid, Mirwaiz also ran a blood donation camp, where he was the first donor. While the pretext was his father’s death anniversary, it was also a chance for Mirwaiz to demonstrate that he can still command a huge crowd. The entire Srinagar downtown is plastered with the posters of Mirwaiz and his late father. “You only need to spend a few days in Kashmir to know that violence may be down, but the sentiment of the people is still very strong,” he says.

His former colleague and now a rival of sorts, Sajad Lone of the People’s Conference echoes the same sentiment. Sitting in his book-lined study which includes Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy, he says, “It is short-sightedness to presume that just because there are lesser incidents of violence, the sentiment of the people has been defeated. In the last 20 years, people have suffered a lot — an entire generation has been lost — so now they are weary of violence. This is that moment of lull when people want to put their dreams on hold and move on with their lives. This is the time when both India and Pakistan can actually take the plunge with the resolution of the Kashmir issue, because the people are more than eager for a resolution.” Though he does not say it clearly, he suggests that perhaps, people will settle for less than what they had bargained for earlier. “But if this opportunity is missed,” he warns ominously, “then who knows when people will get impatient and the spiral of violence will start again.” Incidentally, the sentiment is not the only thing common between Mirwaiz and Lone. Sajad Lone’s father, Abdul Ghani Lone was killed by the militants on the death anniversary function of Mirwaiz senior.

The separatist leaders are not the only ones insisting on the urgency of the matter. President of People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti says (see interview), “The V.P. Singh government tried to open dialogue with the militant leaders who were in jail (in mid-Nineties). But that was the time when the violence was at its peak. The militant leaders felt that they were in a position of strength, hence they did not respond to dialogue. That was also the time when the government was willing to concede maximum within. Today, the situation is completely reversed. People are in a reconciliatory mood and the government can bargain for peace without conceding much.”

Yet, ironically, resolution does not seem to be the priority for the political class at the moment. As president, National Conference, Omar Abdullah concedes (see interview), “I think for the time being, we are marking time.” Since this is the election year in Kashmir, both the political parties in the state as well as the government of India has adopted a wait and watch approach. Though the election dates have not been announced yet, the season has begun, at least in the rural areas of Kashmir. With political parties holding rallies and liberally doling out promises, speculation has started in Srinagar about how many from the separatist groups would succumb to the temptation of electoral politics.
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