During my Valley trip I interacted with a wide spectrum of civil society at Uri, Baramulla, Sopore, Bandipore, Gandarbal, Anantnag and Pehalgam. The questions I posed to the Kashmiri was: What is his definition of Aazadi?. Does it mean freedom of religion, speech, movement or economic activity? And which of these freedoms were not available to him in India? There was really no coherent answer.
The constant theme was that ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â“Kashmir was separate from both India and PakistanÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â”. Having been studying Kashmir issue for over two decades now, I pointed out that Kashmir was linked to India ethnically, historically and economically. That some of these links were through the present day Pakistan is true, but Kashmir was always part of the Indian subcontinent, never separate. The growth of separatist sentiment is the legacy of last 60 years, when the indulgent media has legitimised the issue of creation of a ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â‘uniqueÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â’ Kashmiri identity.
The most interesting point about the present agitation is that it is confined to essentially urban areas of the Valley. Jammu, Ladakh and Kargil division have been virtually untouched by this demand for ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â‘AazadiÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â’.
While at Bandipore with the army, I was privy to an ongoing operation against a group of 10 terrorists who had sneaked in from Pakistan. Using helicopters, unmanned drones and electronic detection system, they were being tracked all the time and were ultimately eliminated. It would be fair to say that the armed threat in the Valley is now firmly under control.
In short, a vocal and assertive minority wishes to impose its political preferences on the majority of Kashmiri people. The link with Pakistan occupied Kashmir has had one positive impact: the Kashmiris are now well aware of the disastrous situation there. Petrol is Rs 125 a litre (we get it at Rs 50). Rice is Rs 35 a kg, as opposed to Rs 3 a kg in the Valley. So were these azaadi mouthing people serious about boarding the sinking ship that is Pakistan?
Image: An Eighth century Shiva temple on road to Uri. Note the fencing needed to protect it from separatist vandals. (Photograph copyright Anil Athale. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.)
Also read: Next steps for Kashmir