The ‘harm’ the land row did to Kashmir peace process

August 16th, 2008 - 12:03 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine
(News Analysis)
By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, Aug 16 (IANS) A frenzied mob of not more than a thousand marched through the narrow roads of old Srinagar - some carrying green flags and shouting slogans. Incidentally, nobody was leading them as none of the known political faces, from separatist or mainstream camps, was seen in the procession. Like this one Friday, the Kashmir Valley has been seething with huge protest demonstrations since Aug 11, when the police fired at marchers who were attempting to cross over to Pakistan. And analysts here say the situation is out of anybody’s control.

“Recent protests have altered the complexion of the Kashmir conflict,” says Sajjad Lone, a pro-separatist leader and chairman of Peoples Conference. “It is the beginning of a peaceful mass movement, all in the hands of the new generation,” Lone, 40, told IANS.

The dispute over a piece of land for a Hindu temple trust and the death of at least 22 Kashmiri Muslim protesters in police firing have electrified separatist sentiments after years of relative peace and stability in the valley - something that Pakistan-sponsored militancy almost failed to do.

As Friday’s mob got close to a paramilitary picket in the old city, the pro-Islam and pro-freedom slogan shouting got louder.

“We Want Freedom”, “Yahan kya chalega Nizam-e-Mustafa” (Only Prophet Mohammed’s rule will prevail here), “Islam Zindabad”, they roared, almost testing the patience of the security forces.

Fortunately the paramilitary troopers didn’t come out of the picket. They kept their cool and allowed the marchers to move on - unlike other processions where the police and security forces opened fire.

The mob got bigger before reaching the city centre Lal Chowk - the business hub of the valley - where four of them climbed the clock tower. And in a few moments, four green flags were hoisted on the tower.

The rest of the crowd cheered as the “pennant of rebellion” was fluttering.

This was happening at the same point where India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and former chief minister Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, believed to be the most popular leader of Kashmiris, addressed a historic rally, one of the biggest ever in Kashmir, in 1947.

Abdullah in his address had quoted a famous Persian couplet to sum up Kashmir’s accord with India.

“Man too shudam, too man shudi; ta kas ne goyad ba’ad azin, man digaram too digari”. (We have become one today so that nobody from now on thinks we are different).

But the mob was doing the opposite. Relentless protests and police firing across the Kashmir Valley in the past week have thrown the state back to its early militancy era.

It all started after an order was passed - and later cancelled - allotting 40 hectares of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), the management body of a Hindu cave shrine in the south Kashmir Himalayas.

The allotment even threatened a division of India’s only Muslim-majority state on religious lines after Hindu protesters in Jammu forced a blockade of essential supplies to the valley. It was enough to re-infuse pro-separatist sentiment among Kashmiris.

It could not have worked out better for the separatist leaders. “Separatist groups like the Hurriyat Conference have played with the issue in their favour as much as they could and have succeeded so far,” says Sartaj Gul, a university teacher here.

“In the near past they (separatists) were politically irrelevant. They wanted an election boycott but had no issue.” The election is due later this year.

“Now the government has gifted them with an issue they could have never dreamt of,” Gul added.

“It’s no longer a land dispute,” said a newspaper editor, who didn’t wish to be named given the volatility of the situation here. “It has gone beyond that. It is fast slipping out of the authorities’ control. The crisis has of course played into the hands of separatists but even they cannot control the mobs now.”

The little progress between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, according to the editor, has been dashed by the trouble, “the biggest ever in two decades”.

“It has caused a setback to the peace process on Kashmir. I think we have been pushed back to where Kashmir was many years ago.”

Armed separatist violence began in Kashmir in 1989. Thousands have been killed since then. But the past few years had seen some peace and progress.

But a former militant and a government employee now, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, is not at all worried.

“We have seen this before. The issue is of course serious. But I am sure this will fizzle out soon. What is needed is a political awakening on the part of New Delhi now. The issue calls for sincere consideration,” he said.

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