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Happy Anniversary Mr Sayeed!
December 18, 2003
The charismatic 'healing touch' policy of the Kashmiri chief minister has completed a whole year. Yes, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been at the helm of affairs for the last one year. A 'Happy Anniversary' wish is due to his governance. A lot has changed during this period, some good, some bad but mostly sad.
Kashmir has certainly seen some uplifting moments this year since terrorism started in 1989. It has seen a cheerful summer of tourism, which brought in prosperity. The visits by the prime minister, President after a lull of 13 years boosted the morale of the public. People definitely heaved a sigh of relief for a while anticipating that things might take a turn for the good.
Indeed a welcome sign for the tourism industry, especially after a long spell of monotonous uncelebrated springs and unvisited seasons. Obviously, the credit for this goes to 'good governance.' The government worked overnight to bring the valley back onto the map of tourism. Even Bollywood heroes and heroes felt safe dancing around trees in the verdant and snow peaked valley.
As per the latest figure unemployment rate has decreased. Some 2,000 terrorist victims were provided with jobs, while their widows and disabled kin were provided assistance. New school buildings were constructed and places of worship that were destroyed by terrorists were rebuilt. The movement of people became less restricted. More and more terrorists were freed, pardoned, and pushed to join the mainstream. Large-scale acts of terrorism decreased considerably. Everything appeared perfect and Mr Sayeed looked like the chief minister with the Midas touch.
Even Kashmiri Pandits who were left untouched by the 'Healing Touch' started thinking of their return for a better tomorrow in their motherland. After all, it is their home and how long can one survive happily outside their place of birth, especially when all the odds are against them.
However, all good things end. After a relatively peaceful summer, the autumn of 2003 in Kashmir took an unexpectedly ugly turn. Encounters, killings and counter-killings became daily news. Different reasons were given for this sudden spurt of violence. Some described it as a fallout of Baba Ghazi's killing at the hands of the Border Security Force, while others point it to a fresh influx of militants following the melting of snow on the mountains.
Whatever it is, an alarming note is struck by the recent press revelations quoting army sources that over 3,000 foreign mercenaries with arms and ammunition are still at large in the region. There are also reports that militants are equipped with missiles, which can even target aircrafts and airplanes.
The hopes of the people in general have again dwindled as the situation that appeared picture perfect for a short span is back to where it started. A common Kashmiri is still sandwiched between the gun and whims of politicians. There is no end to this mayhem. A completely new generation is growing up with the terrorist culture. Surprisingly they have not even seen a day of a normalcy and the color of a multicultural Kashmir.
On August 30, as the chief minister was singing his tune of the 'healing touch' claiming that his philosophy is bearing fruit, terrorist strikes in the valley escalated. The worst attack came on the highly secure chief minister's residence on October 17. Militants threw grenades near Sayeed's house, killing two soldiers and injuring many civilians. They later announced that they had the missed the actual target.
Luckily, Sayeed survived as he was out of town and so did his daughter Mehbooba, who did not waste any time saying that the 'healing touch' was in fact meant for the victims of terrorism. Thus, the 'philosophy of the healing touch,' which began with the victims of POTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act], came a full circle and ended with the victims of terrorism itself.
As soon as Sayeed was sworn in, the first 'healing touch,' promise was fulfilled by releasing the terrorists and by granting them a pardon to join the mainstream. And this started the new era of most horrible acts of terrorists. The worst being the fidayeen attack on the Raghunath temple, followed by the Nadimarg massacre of 27 Pandits in March, the suicide attack on the Tanda army camp; attack on the Vaishnodevi pilgrims. Finally, the killing of Javed Shah and Kuka Parray, former militants, who were now working for the government, demoralized all those elements that dared to say something again the terrorists.
Terrorism, in spite of the government claims continued throughout this eventful year. At one point, it was off course on a reduced scale but never stopped, thanks primarily to Pakistan sponsorship. The initial sudden lull in the Kashmir situation may well be attributed to the India-Pakistan thaw. However, Musharraf and his men surely have morphed back into their previous incarnations.
It is high time for Sayeed to realize that as long as terrorists have support from across the border, no matter what the state or central government does, nothing will change. It might slow down in winter. The passage of terrorists will become hard at the borders, but it will not be over. Mr Sayeed's sincerity cannot be doubted but his approach of appeasement is too soft.
Terrorism in Kashmir is not something very fresh. It has been there for over a decade now and during this time the whole meaning of jihad has changed. There has been a mushroom growth of terrorist organizations. The terrorists have planted their roots too deep. It is okay to sympathize with killers but they do not require the healing touch. This has only encouraged them further.
Victims of terrorism are not the terrorist's immediate family but people whom they kill at the gunpoint. The terrorists' initial target, in 1989-90, were Kashmiri Pandits, killed mercilessly and driven away from the valley. The families of security forces and politicians followed their killings.
What has Mr Sayeed done for these real victims of terrorism for the last year except promising them security zones verbally, where all security will be provided and the Pandits would be herded in worse than a concentration camp-like situation?
Instead of spending money on Hindu temples burnt by terrorists and showing to the world a secular image, wouldn't it be wiser to spend that very money on their welfare and also on those Kashmiri Hindus who are still braving all odds and staying back in the valley?
How can a Kashmiri Hindu feel safe in the valley when even the chief minister with high security is not far away from the terrorist's wrath? How long, if at all Kashmiri Hindus start living in the security zones will they be safe?
Besides, Sayeed needs to know as long as there is a trigger-happy terrorist loose in the valley; no peace move can bear fruit. A common Kashmiri feels suffocated, insecure, and chained. He just desires to live a normal life, wishes to trust his neighbor, and prefers to move around freely with his family and live a pre-1989 life, wherein he can spend time whichever way he wants. However, he cannot take pleasure in these small pleasures today as he is always on the run, running for his life, running for small chores and running from home to work.
The healing touch by itself is a brilliant philosophy. However, Sayeed needs to understand that time and tide wait for none. In the case of Kashmir, time is running out as many signals have come indicating the willingness to sit across the table in a bid to find a solution. Such signals should not be ignored, but a beginning can certainly be made.
Mr Vajpayee has often taken initiatives even when the atmosphere has not been congenial; the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is certainly ripe for new initiatives. Any peace move at this stage will further marginalize Pakistan's efforts to either revive terrorism or the Kashmir issue.
Seema Kachru is a freelance writer and PR consultant in Houston, USA