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Kashmir: Tourism, Terrorism & Talks

July 17, 2003

Kashmir is once again bustling with tourists admiring its breathtaking beauty. Anyone would love to stand and stare at its snow-capped mountains, flashing silver lakes and foam-flecked waterways. Its exhilarating beauty and heart-warming bounties draw a gasp and sigh from the most seasoned traveler. The famous Dal Lake is no more dull but illuminated with lights, giving it a festive look after years of darkness.

Over 25,000 tourists, including 1,500 foreigners, have visited Kashmir so far. Expectations are high about 200,000 tourists visiting Kashmir by the year-end. The locals feel Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit in April, followed by the conclave of 15 chief ministers of Congress-ruled states presided over by Sonia Gandhi and later President Kalam's visit, have sent positive signals to the world outside.

Indeed a welcome sign for the tourism industry after a long spell of monotonous uncelebrated springs and unvisited seasons. The state government is taking all the credit and saying this is the result of 'good governance' and is praying it to stay this way.

If Pakistan-sponsored infiltrators do not cause a disruption this certainly promises to be the most rewarding season in years. During the strife-torn years, the annual pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave has been the only source of tourism for the state, that, in spite of deadly attacks on pilgrims.

Everyone is busy making a quick buck and sending out an image of a peaceful Kashmir. Newspapers and television channels are full of inviting and invigorating pictures. Everything looks serene, verdant and heavenly.

However, is this picture of tranquility going to last? Or is this yet another lull before a storm? Such a mood in Kashmir is not new. There have been umpteen occasions when nothing has happened and things looked normal forcing all and sundry to dream of a peaceful Kashmir. Then suddenly attacks like the Nadimarg massacre of March 24, 2003, the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, the Amarnath pilgrim attack on August 1, 2000, the massacre in Chhatisinghpura on March 20, 2000; the Doda, Chapnari and Prankote killings in 1998, the Wandhama and Sangrampura massacres in 1997, shatter hopes and dreams once again.

Terrorism, though on a reduced scale, continues in Kashmir. In fact, the conflict is at its worst today. The series of attacks on army camps, increased number of encounters and heightened security operations all support this -- a view that both the state and central governments are at pains to contradict.

The terrorists have changed tactics following the global outrage over the Nadimarg massacre and prefer quieter murders. The guns have been swapped for hypodermic syringes to pump deadly poison into their victims resulting in instant death. This is in addition to pumping bullets, cutting noses, throwing acid on faces to slitting throats. Two people in Surankote district recently died after being administered poisonous injections. This helps the terrorists keep their movement alive without inviting world attention.

The sudden lull in the Kashmir situation may well be attributed to the Indo-Pak thaw. How long it can stay this way is the million dollar question. And how long can Musharraf project his goody-goody image to the world, especially after the West accepts him for his post-September 11 turnabout on the Taliban, is to be seen. One cannot pretend what one is not for a long time; the real face shows up sooner or later. It is only a matter of time before circumstances change, new opportunistic alliances are created, and Musharraf and his men surely will morph back into their previous incarnations.

After being unable to get F-16 aircraft -- which Pakistan desperately wants and which, had Musharraf got it sanctioned by the US, boosted his image back home -- he is already facing public wrath over it. Opposition parties have criticized him for his policies. His US visit does not seem to have been a 'roaring success' or a 'moment of celebration.' Terming Musharraf's visit a 'complete failure,' Pakistan Muslim League acting president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi recently said the Bush administration's refusal to sell F-16s and writing of the Rs 1.8 billion debt 'had disappointed the nation.'

According to a Pakistan People's Party spokesperson, 'We expected that Musharraf would have doubled the aid package which we got in the past, keeping in view inflation and the heavy price the nation was forced to pay for supporting the international fight against terror.' 

To avoid the wrath of the people in Pakistan, Musharraf has started talking about procuring F-16s from countries like France. He is also trying to exploit the United States by putting forward his case for acquiring Predators, which he says are needed to help Pakistan in its intelligence-oriented war against Al Qaeda terrorists. What a way! As if he is really bent on helping the US eliminate Al Qaeda. Under pressure he did hand over some 500 Al Qaeda terrorists to the United States. But he has failed to check the fundamentalists from interfering in Jammu and Kashmir, which if not stopped can be very detrimental for the subcontinent. Musharraf, who dances to foreign strings, is unable to see that violence can never work for him. He says something and walks another line.

For the moment, the US might find Musharraf useful, as long as he does not harm their interests. But his policies can have unintended, unforeseen and deadly consequences, not just in Pakistan, but also for overall regional and world peace.

Earlier, Musharraf publicly pledged to India and the US that he would stop supporting terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- by banning them, closing down their offices and preventing their infiltration across the Line of Control into India. So far Pakistan has not lived up to its promises. Most groups disappear, only to reappear under a new name and guise a few days later.

Vajpayee has tried to ease tensions by extending a hand of friendship and is ready for talks if cross-border terrorism is ended. Islamabad denies any control over the terrorists. No one buys this. If that is the case, then Islamabad must allow India to bomb terrorist camps. Either Musharraf dismantles the terrorist camps or he lets India do the job. He does not seem to be agreeable to either. Musharraf argues that he will not give any guarantee that cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir will cease. He also refuses to give any guarantee that no one is crossing over into Kashmir from the Pakistani side. 'Pakistan cannot be held responsible to ensure, to guarantee, that not a bird will fly across the LoC. It is not humanly possible,' he said, adding that sealing the border was 'not possible.'

People in both countries are tired of the continued tension between two neighbours. Much blood has flown across the Jhelum river, and it is time to end the freeze for the subcontinent's benefit. That depends on the maturity of leaders from both sides. If Pakistan as usual reiterates the same old line, 'There is no issue but Kashmir to be resolved between India and Pakistan,' then we may be chasing a mirage once again. Peace won't come unless Pakistan's Musharraf stops repeating 'We have fought three wars on the LoC and you are proposing a solution which is the dispute itself. How can a dispute be a solution? Just forget it.'

Coming from an army general, this sounds strange. He should be aware it was not India that started the three wars, which Pakistan lost and still be hurt. The wars were imposed on India and they had to face the consequences. Today war has ceased to be an option for Pakistan to get even with India. A new era of peace beckons. And with that endless prosperity provided Pakistan stops living in the past and embraces the future.

Indo-Pak relations have to be rebuilt on a different foundation of mutual cooperation. That is possible only if Pakistan starts thinking that violence is not the only way to get what it wants. Unless Musharraf reins in the jihadis who are obsessed with Kashmir; unless he believes there is more to discuss between the two countries for the prosperity of the subcontinent than just Kashmir and stops proposing roadmaps on the basis of the West Asia plan that would include outside mediation, peace seems to be a far cry.

On one hand he wants talks for a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue by saying it can only be achieved if India, the bigger country shows 'magnanimity' by making more concessions than Pakistan. On the other he warns India that Pakistan would not be intimidated or bow to Indian pressure.

Immediately after Vajpayee's call for dialogue, India and Pakistan have started talking nice. Something new has been going on every day, like the telephonic chat between Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Jamali, restoration of full diplomatic ties with India, talks about the resumption of bus and air links, call for confidence-building measures and a comprehensive dialogue on Kashmir. This looks like a good beginning in spite of the fact that the process is very sluggish.

The pendulum of peace has begun to swing on a positive note.

Mere talking and condemnation will not solve the Kashmir tangle. Leaders in Delhi also blame Pakistan for everything, but cannot do much about it. Who are they scared of? Perhaps they think that 'third time is the charm,' so Indo-Pak dialogue might bear some fruit this time and will not go the 'Agra Way.'

Seema Kachru is a freelance writer and PR consultant in Houston, Texas


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