Abdul Majid Dar, the Hizbul Mujahideen rebel leader who was slain today, wasn't the most charismatic militant leader in the Kashmir valley. Nor was he its deadliest terrorist.
In the riotous Kashmir of today he represented a fading hope for a peaceful settlement to the militancy and terrorism which has consumed anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 lives, most of them innocent locals, several of them hired mercenaries, others loyal Indian soldiers not meant to fight their own citizens.
I met Majid Dar in April 2001 on a warm morning in a Srinagar suburb in an upper-middle class home. The meeting was fixed up after I relentlessly pursued several of my contacts. The meeting was not arranged by any government agency nor was he at that time under the protection of the Indian Army or state police. But he had begun to send out feelers to the government and was keen to continue with peace talks.
Minutes after the interview I landed at the office of the army officer commanding the Srinagar-based 15 Corps to interview the affable Lieutenant General Joy Mukherjee. As I was leaving the compound of 15 Corps, a colonel, who was escorting me out, asked where I was in the morning. I mentioned, "with Majid Dar." The colonel, not ready for a minute to allow his mask of arrogance as an authority on Kashmir slip, replied, "Oh, he is under our custody."
Later, a respected senior officer from an Indian intelligence agency tracked me down after learning about my interview from his sources. He was frank to admit that the interview was probably Dar's only extensive response on several issues crucial to the progress of future negotiations.
During our conversation lasting more than a couple of hours Dar was categorical on several issues. Including the condemnation of suicide attacks, saying Islam did not allow one to take one's own life. He clearly represented the miniscule minority that attached morality at some level even while cruelly killing innocents. He carried the romance of a bloody rebellion.
The new breed of terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad represent an uncompromising stand on life, death and Kashmir. A Jaish commander who I tracked down last year was busy investing the massive funds he was receiving regularly and had bought up vast properties in south Kashmir.
Those militants are far away from what Dar represented. The fact they control Kashmir's militancy today makes peace a much more difficult proposition. Not that Dar didn't enjoy the perks of being a militant, but to my knowledge money wasn't the motivation behind his decisions, including support for peace negotiations.
Dar was concerned about the influence violence would have on the children of Kashmir and Pakistan's over-riding intentions to continue violence in Kashmir. He spoke of the need for development in Kashmir, and had by then realized that Kashmir had no future outside India.
But he also had an equally deadly side. He spoke poker face about his favourite operations, killings, enemies etc. He had no qualms in wielding the gun to kill someone. He didn't realize that no cause is worth a life.
And that is the danger in Kashmir. Kashmir is a cause now lost in rhetoric and gun shots. Both are motivated by money, the overflowing inspiration common on either side of the struggle.
Militancy is a billion dollar industry; counter-insurgency is a flourishing cottage industry. Peace mostly comes packed in dollars, conflict resolution has mysterious sponsors. In the rich landscape of Kashmir money is abundant.
During conversations outside the interview Dar gave me an insight into the thriving underground arms bazaar of Kashmir. Over the past decade, a huge cache of arms and ammunitions had flooded the Kashmir valley.
Dar named one of his clients from Bihar, an elected representative with several criminal cases against him.
I have been in touch with Dar over the past two years, mostly through intermediaries. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's election as Kashmir's chief minister had given him and his supporters hope.
Dar came from Sopore, the apple haven that produced some of the fiercest separatists in Kashmir. That made him more than just a figurehead in an emerging group of peaceniks in the valley.
As the face of militancy changes, as more and more foreign terrorists troop into Kashmir, the path to peace gets blurred in the valley. Abdul Ghani Lone, Abdul Majid Dar, and numerous others who were ready for peace gave up their lives instead.
Unfortunately, for Kashmir these sacrifices do not guarantee peace. They only chase peace further away.
Until this cycle of violence stops, Kashmir will have to wait. Counting its dead.