'Srinagar is under virtual siege' -- by Ershad Mahmud Back   Home  

There is no denying the fact that under the Indian forces, Srinagar is under a virtual siege. On landing at Srinagar airport, we had to undergo a rigorous security check. Once inside the city, my first impression was that coming over was a big mistake.

Army, heavily armed Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and J&K Armed police were posted everywhere. Significantly, every fourth vehicle was Indian security force's out of 10 vehicles that I saw normally plying on Srinagar roads. During daylight, one cannot avoid noticing the security forces' presence after every 10-15 yards. Almost all street and road corners had forcedly been converted into military bunkers. A few hotel-owners refused to let us rooms; this they quietly conveyed to our hosts. Well aware of their constraints and limitations, our hosts did not mind such unceremonious gestures. This is a hard fact that Kashmiri masses' association or acquaintance with Pakistani citizens can hurt them.

I was granted the visa to visit Srinagar to attend Abdul Ghani Lone son's valima ceremony. Sajjad Lone married Asma Khan, daughter of Amanullah Khan, the previous year here in Islamabad. Indian government was most auspicious in granting us entry to the state where no Pakistani was ever allowed access during the last over 52 years -- a fact we learnt about on actually reaching the valley.

In all I spent eight days in Srinagar and three in Jammu where I had an opportunity to meet a number of important political figures, academicians, intellectuals, opinion-makers, legists, university and college professors, pro-freedom as well as pro-India factions, leaders of Hindu, Pundit and Sikh communities, and certainly with the common people in streets of Srinagar and Jammu.

Kashmiris are frustrated, living in a frightening atmosphere and face economic hardship. Asked how they see an end to this crisis, they were unanimous for a speedy solution of any sort; what sort even they don't know it. I could not see a final demand or bottom line on which Kashmiri people can be settled.

It is greatly felt that general consensus to end people's misery lies beyond India sovereignty. Even people from the ruling National Conference are toeing the same line ie they were more vocal against India than others. This was amazing keeping in view the suppressive Indian regime and its tactics to brainwash people. As to how the elite class is so bitter towards India, I was told that politicians' occasional mud slinging at India is part of political tactics to survive and remain credible in masses' eyes.

During numerous parleys with various political leaders and workers, I noticed signs of exhaustion and a plea for an early solution to the imbroglio. Which solution? No body knows its final shape, format, style or the modus operandi. In this background, people -- to a very great extent -- are optimistic about the upcoming Musharraf-Vajpayee summit. Some political leaders who spent their entire life against India, and who had taken arms against India in their young age, have lost hope and will to struggle and now seek a way out. What they now seem settled upon is greater autonomy; some are even content with minor concession like soft borders, free trade relations between AJK and IHK and opening up of Srinagar-Rawalpindi road. A joint Pakistan-India control in valley is what they view supreme for the time being.

It's a growing impression among Kashmiris that accession to Pakistan is not a feasible option due to international and regional geo-political situation. This realisation ended the debate of options and now Kashmiris feel that they must consolidate their energies and focus on merely the freedom struggle. They also feel that the government of Pakistan on many an occasion sidelined the Kashmiri leadership and tried to settle its score with India. Recent instance of Musharraf-Vajpayee summit is oft repeated in this context. The general impression is that when Musharraf was invited to visit Delhi, Pakistan did not consult APHC leaders. Even Pakistani High Commissioner at Delhi toed the Indian line and stated that Musharraf will not meet APHC. After a decade-long resistance struggle and numerous sacrifices, Kashmiris have gained political maturity and national pride. They are not ready to accept any dictation either from India or Pakistan.

Kashmiris en masse want complete alienation from India is a bare fact. In Srinagar and Delhi, Kashmir analysts believe that if any Kashmiri leader compromises with India without a substantial gain, he will be isolated in the political arena. This fear of isolation has practically kept Kashmiri political leadership from even thinking about a compromise what to say of actually going for it.

Kashmiri populace is politically mature in the sense that generally people take pride in aligning themselves with All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) rather than with any specific political personality. A trader around Lal Chowk, Srinagar, replying to a question said that people stand by APHC because it symbolises resistance movement. On the other hand, in journalistic and intellectual community, a very common perception is that APHC leaders neither represent the whole state nor the entire valley, rather they are leaders of their own constituencies or pockets. Believing this to be their shortcoming, people of Jammu and Ladakh feel deprived for not being consulted or taken into confidence for any policy-making process in the last over 12 years by APHC.

Despite internal divide due to conflicting views, APHC's clear line of action and sticking onto a principled stand had all along given it a large mandate, respect and high moral ground for any decision that it takes or may take in future. The umbrella organisation had thus by and large revived political movement in Kashmir. Credit for this rightly rests with Syed Ali Gilani, Abdul Ghani Lone, Sheikh Abdul Aziz and Shabbir Shah. They are the core political force which in face of hostile and suppressive atmosphere is busy in contact campaigns, going door to door to raise political awareness among masses.

Lamentably, the current uprising neither produced second line leadership nor had any new political party emerged. Though many fake organisations exist without having any meaningful social influence or a political background, yet they receive good media coverage both in local and Pakistani media. It was surprising to find many unhappy with Pakistan Television (Ptv) which, they firmly believe, is not giving them due coverage. I noticed a similar phenomenon in United Kingdom. More than two dozen organisations working for Kashmir cause there demand news and views coverage from the Pakistani print and electronic media. Some have not even the postal addresses but still their leaders demand respect in community.

People believe that two forces dominate Kashmir political horizon; one that has affiliation with Pakistan and the other to India. Despite having great attachment with Pakistan, Kashmiris are most identity-conscious people and insist for their role in tentative plan for the solution of issue. Not only this, Kashmiri people demand that their role must be recognised in any future settlement of the dispute. In this regard one point is very common in the political circles that without taking Kashmiris into confidence, durable solution of Kashmir conflict is not possible.

About Mujahideen's role and struggle, Kashmiri people recognise mainly two organisations, indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Hizb is largest Kashmiri organisation and most of its cadre belongs to Kashmir valley. Its commander-in-chief Syed Salahuddin was long before a political leader and contested election from the valley in 1987. Syed Salahuddin is much respected and trusted personality within Kashmiri elite as well as the common people. Even the pro-independence leaders are confident that Salahuddin will not betray them.

What is most astonishing is Lashkar-e-Taiba image among the common Kashmiris. But, many people were critical about Lashkar's political role; even a few conveyed that Lashkar leadership should stay away from issuing political statements. It is a common perception that militancy has consolidated and now Mujahideen are in a better position to respond to Indian aggression. Infighting has almost ended and pro-India elements have been exposed before Mujahideen. Many renegades have been killed and few are living in the security zone. In this context, it is appropriate to mention that the idea of Indian-crafted-secret army could not get through.

Hurriyat claimed that Indian forces have killed around 80,000 Kashmiris. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah admitted in his statement that over 50,000 Kashmiris have been killed, while even Indian officials themselves say this figure is not less than 35,000. Anyhow, whatever various parties claim, it is a hard reality that the Kashmiris are facing endless suffering. During last decade neither Pakistan nor international community made any headway to get relief to these families. On the ground, it is impossible for any NGO to work for these families. India does not allow any organisation to look after the poor people.

This is a revised version of an article published in dawn.com website. The writer is the first Pakistani media person to be allowed into Srinagar by the Indians in decades. He was in the city from June 5 to 15.