Kashmir: a fragile peace?

Peace is designed to be fragile in Kashmir. Any moment, at the slightest provocation, its youth will be nudged by those who stand to gain from strife to erupt against the Indian Army, or militants may choose to stir things up to bolster the lucrative business of terrorism. But it is hard not to see that this is an extraordinary period of peace. A few days ago, Syed Salahuddin, chief of terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen, confirmed something, which Kashmiris say is common knowledge—that he has withdrawn all his men from Kashmir. According to Jammu and Kashmir’s tourism minister, in 2011 more tourists visited the Valley than in recent memory. It is believed that the figure was over a million. This winter, almost all hotels in Gulmarg, a skiing destination an hour from Srinagar, were fully booked. Zahoor, who is from Srinagar and works in Gulmarg in the winters as a skiing instructor, and who taught me how to ski, says he is enjoying the peace and hordes of Indian tourists and his newfound ability to earn a decent living. Also, in Kashmir, the political stakes in ensuring that the Indian Army does not violate human rights are so high that Kashmiris today have little to complain.

On the streets of Srinagar and in the villages around, regular people, who are not writers or journalists or intellectuals, have come to hate Pakistan for what it has done to the Valley in the name of freedom. Also, what Pakistan has become, politically and economically, has ensured that accession to that country is not part of popular sentiment here anymore. In fact, there is even relief in Kashmir that historical circumstances saved the Valley from being a part of Pakistan. And what India has become, politically and economically, has made it more endearing than the Kashmiri elite wants to admit in public. But freedom from India remains a fervent wish for many, which means that an independent sovereign Kashmir stranded between India and Pakistan is the only option left. Kashmir’s elite, especially those who live in Kashmir, believe that a sovereign Kashmir is an impractical idea and to continue the status quo with the newly prosperous and somewhat secular India is the best way forward. “But we can’t say it, you know, we can’t say it publicly without a lot of our brothers from Dubai and America abusing us,” says one of the prominent journalists of Kashmir in an informal chat with me in the lobby of a hotel in Srinagar.

Is it obscene to search for happiness in Kashmir, is it obscene for a writer from the south of India to wander around Kashmir interviewing people who will tell him that they want to get on with their lives despite the presence of the Indian Army? What is the stake of an outsider in Kashmir? The fact is that Kashmir, too, has occupied India. Kashmir is the reason why India is one of the worst victims of terrorism. All Indians have a stake in Kashmir’s state of mind...


See also: In Kashmir, some hot potatoes, by Praveen Swami
New Delhi's policy establishment still imagines it is dealing with a Kashmir that disappeared two decades or more ago: an illusion sustained by the fact that so many key actors are the children of the men who made the deals that propped up the State's dysfunctional political order. Its key instruments remain cajoling and co-optation - and, when it fails, outright bribery. Meaningful political dialogue, least of all the new language of transparency, rights and empowerment Mr. Ahmad represented, simply isn't on the agenda. Prime Minister Singh's government won the war in Jammu and Kashmir, inflicting a decisive defeat on the insurgency. His government's actions suggest it is now doing its best to lose the peace.

And: Who are the real enemies of a happy Kashmir?

Reports from an independent human rights investigation in Kashmir

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