Tourists back on Kashmir’s Trails

By: Murali Krishnan
More than 750,000 visitors were attracted to the troubled Kashmir valley in the tourist season this year – 16,000 of them foreign citizens.
A year after violence gripped major parts of the Indian-administered territory, relative calm has prevailed for the past few months.
The South Asian flashpoint is also claimed by Pakistan.
Some observers told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific the calm may be deceptive, warning that a slight provocation could trigger off more protests and violence.
On the face of it these days, the capital, Srinagar, looks like any other bustling Indian city. Traffic is heavy at the busy Lal Chowk, the main commercial centre, and people are milling around shops and markets.
A few kilometres ahead is a picturesque boulevard where houseboats are doing brisk business and catering to the last batches of tourists. A reminder of troubled times is that gun-toting personnel are perched on rooftops.
A year back, a curfew was in place and Kashmir’s towns saw brutal clashes between police and protesters, fuelled by a new radical Islamism that appealed to the young.
Peace has not prevailed completely. There have been incidents of violence, abduction, firing along the border and alleged rights violations. But reaction has been limited.
Bashir Manzar, editor of Kashmir Images, a popular daily, said: “The saving grace was that people were a little fatigued last year and they were not happy with the separatists’ leadership.
“Last summer you had more than 100 killings . . . If some people are punished, some rehabilitation schemes introduced, only then can the people understand that the government is doing something.
“Otherwise, it is simmering. It is there and can blast any time.”
At a wedding in Srinagar, Yasin Malik, a separatist leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, is being mobbed by guests. He was part of the armed struggle in the early 1990s.
He said the transition from a violent to a non-violent struggle now was a big step.
“I agree that this movement needs more reforms,” he says.
“And if the space will be provided I hope it will be 100 per cent disciplined and peaceful movement. But the state needs to give a genuine space for this.”
A recent resumption of talks between India and Pakistan after two years and a renewed willingness to address all their problems – including Kashmir – does raise the prospects of peace.
But past bilateral engagements have failed to achieve that elusive breakthrough.


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