Colonel (retd) Anil Athale travelled to the Kashmir Valley recently to understand the ÃÂdynamics of the duel between violence and peace.ÃÂ In the third and final part of the exclusive series, he argues that while we must make it clear to the separatists that secession is not an option, the pronouncements of new US President Barack Obama on Kashmir could muddy the waters further.
The whole Amarnath land dispute episode was a series of blunders by the government. It was never explained that the land grant was only for three months to have temporary shelters to save pilgrims and their Kashmiri helpers in case of bad weather (four years ago nearly 200 people died in un-seasonal snowfall).
Immature young mainstream politicians were the oneÃÂs who did the initial mischief. The marginalised Hurriyat leaders saw a golden opportunity and took over the agitation, pushing out the bratty upstart novices. But what aggravated the situation was total inaction on part of the state government.
The Governor was confined to the Raj Bhavan and tongue-tied. The Central Government was sleeping, the supreme leader was busy in Beijing watching Olympics, the Prime Minister was busy with nuke deal and Home Minister was busy changing his clothes. When the road link was disrupted and crop of Pears and BabugoshaÃÂs was rotting in the valley, all that was needed was one phone call, a few flights of giant IL 76 transport aircraft of the IAF and valley agitation would have fizzled out!
Even without the Kashmiri demand, the route to Muzzafarbad was slated to open anyway. The Hurriyat leaders soon converted the land issue agitation into demand for ÃÂAazadiÃÂ that in reality demands secession. During my valley trip, I interacted with a wide spectrum of civil society at Uri, Baramulla, Sopore, Bandipore, Gandarbal, Anantnag and Pehalgam.
The question posed to the Kashmiri was what is his definition of ÃÂAazadiÃÂ. 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 ÃÂKashmir was separate from both India and PakistanÃÂ. Having been studying Kashmir issue for over two decades now, I pointed out that Kashmir was linked to India ethnically, historically and economicallyÃÂ ÃÂ ..that some of these links were through the present day Pakistan is trueÃÂ .but Kashmir was always part of 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 ÃÂuniqueÃÂ Kashmiri identity.
Image: An eighth century Shiva temple on road to Uri. Note the fencing needed to protect it from separatist vandals.