Shadow of Kashmir spoils Vajpayee, Musharraf’s Agra ‘honeymoon’
16 July 2001
The Indian Express
Gulmarg: Were Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf in the mood, they could have jumped into one of Gulmarg’s famed honeymoon beds; they are going at temptingly-discounted rates because there aren’t too many takers for them at the moment. For honeymoon couple, sir, said the boy, full bed at half price and pony ride free, but only for honeymoon couple sir. I am, of course, gone too far down the line now to deserve either honey or moon or both. I had no maiden on my arms and was, therefore, ineligible for the discount the vendor was offering. Vajpayee and Musharraf could have pondered the prospect — what better sequel to an embrace at the Taj than a dalliance in the dale of Gulmarg? But then, there would be the needle of Kashmir in the honeymoon bed and that isn’t coming with any discounts; it remains as capable of causing sores as ever. Vajpayee and Musharraf perhaps don’t need to travel to Gulmarg to get a feel of it; Kashmir has proved its pinch in Agra itself. Yesterday, they seemed to be pirouetting in happy tandem, today Kashmir has calcified their stances. And here, in Gulmarg, you can stare down the ugliness of the war the wedge called Kashmir has spawned. Till not so long back, if rumour has it right, Gulmarg was a party — Eden in the summers, a piece of St Mortiz in the winters, minus its extravagance. Today, Gulmarg’s many seductions are measured under the jackboots of jawans and the mulch of military vehicles. No tourists, sir, no tourists this time too, the boy selling honeymoon beds said, What love do I have for honeymooners that I would offer them such discounts. I would overcharge them, but they haven’t come. It is a good discount to offer because there is nobody to take it. I suffer no losses. There was a dark humour about the youngster’s dubious business sense but you could barely have complained about it. He has, he said, fed and lost more than half a dozen ponies while waiting for tourists these past seasons. They don’t come for the snows in the winter, they don’t come for the flowers in summer, they just don’t come. I was here last summer, I was here last winter, what option do I have but to be here and wait? The long and straight road from Srinagar to Gulmarg remains what it has been for a long, long time — a series of checkposts and barriers that, halt after halt, demolish the illusion that you are headed for a holiday resort. You are forever more likely to cross more armoured personnel carriers and patrol columns than joyriders. As one official in Srinagar, who would often taken his family upto Gulmarg on weekends, says, Gulmarg is no longer a ride and it is certainly no joy. By the time you get there you have been stopped and frisked so many times you want to just turn back and go home. For all the noises being made about the urgent necessity of establishing it in Agra, peace is still a far cry in the Valley and fun yet further away in the haze that refuses to lift. Even as Vajpayee and Musharraf were resolving on the need to persist with dialogue and the search for peace in the interest of both peoples, more than 50 people were killed in Valley-wide incidents — suicide attacks on security units in Magam and Zachaldara in Kupwara, exchanges of fire in Baramulla and Poonch, a stray crossfire death in Sopore, guns and bunkers and suspicious eyes everywhere. It is sometimes tough, and painful, to connect this troubled, chaotic world to the splendours of its backdrop, or to the hopeful voices from Agra. And if a little of yesterday’s hope dissipated in the hard heat of rhetoric over Kashmir at the summit today, it was probably only fitting because Kashmir is still a needle in the honeymoon bed New Delhi and Islamabad want to mount.