May 2002 News

Pak is nothing to us: Kashmiris

17 May 2002
The Hindustan Times

Srinagar: ''We love the people of India,'' says Abdul. ''What is Pakistan to us? We know India, we know its people. Our only problem is this dehshatgardi (terrorism). It has destroyed our peace as well as economy.'' Abdul lives in a village in Baramulla district. His livelihood is dependent on his horse, on which he takes tourists for a ride around the picturesque Gulmarg. Abdul says his village is often visited by militants. Contrary to the general perception about Kashmiri Muslims, he does not call the militants ''jehadis''. He calls them ''ugravadi'' (terrorists). ''They come to our village at night and demand huge sums of money. When we cannot afford to pay, they ask for a boy instead.'' ''They came to my uncle''s house and demanded Rs 1 lakh, or else a son. He couldn''t afford to pay, so finally he forced his eldest son Rashid to go with them. Later, the Army came. They said Rashid had come back to the village and we were hiding him. They also came to my house and beat up my old father. Then they turned on me with batons and gun butts. But we did not know anything… Later we heard that Rashid was killed in an encounter.'' Abdul says his childhood dream was to join the Army. He applied but says he couldn''t get through because of ''rampant corruption''. But despite everything, he would rather have Kashmir as part of India than of Pakistan. ''What can Pakistan give us? It doesn''t even have enough to feed its own people. India is a big country and has a lot to offer. But first we want an end to this terror.'' Tourist guide Salim, meanwhile, is eager to convince anyone he feels could be ''influential'' that the people of Kashmir have no quarrel with fellow Indians. ''Pakistanis tell a lot of lies on the TV. We all know that. Please tell everyone in India that Kashmiris do not hate Indians. Tell them to come here and see for themselves. We only want to get back to those times when Kashmir was called a jannat (heaven).'' When asked how many people he thinks would prefer India to Pakistan, Abdul''s prompt answer was ''Only 20 out of 100 will opt for Pakistan. I am sure.'' A senior police officer has a more conservative estimate — 70:30. Even hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani seemed to concede, albeit cautiously. ''Had India shown its human face to the people of Kashmir and not treated us so shabbily, there was no reason for any Kashmiri to vote for Pakistan.'' ''There''s need to dispel this notion that the average Kashmiri is necessarily anti-India. In fact, people are disillusioned with Pakistan,” said a keen observer of Kashmir.


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