March 2003 News

With Iraq war, Kashmiris fear black snow again

22 March 2003
The Hindustan Times
Faisal Ahmed, Indo-Asian News Service

Faisal Ahmed: Will the snow in this meadow of flowers turn a diabolical black again, now that another war is raging in Iraq, wonder residents of Jammu and Kashmir. Gulmarg, the best-known tourist destination of Kashmir, may be thousands of miles away from Iraq, but people here fear it. The 1991 US-led war against Iraq and the oilfield conflagrations made Gulmarg's delicate environment pay a heavy price. There was news of 'black snow' is Gulmarg in 1991, and experts said it was due to the dark fumes from burning Kuwaiti oil fields that had travelled as far as Gulmarg and polluted its otherwise brilliant white snows. After almost a decade, a benevolent heavy snowfall this year has once again decorated the lofty snow slopes and a ski tournament is being held here. There is two-metre deep snow everywhere in the meadow, and competitors say it is a skier's paradise. But ski experts, hoteliers, sledge drivers and taxi drivers alike fear that if the U.S. attack in Iraq sets its oil fields on fire again, the Gulmarg snow may be doomed once more. 'I remember when it happened in 1991. We were surprised to see black snow that instilled a diabolical fear in my heart,' recalled Shabir Ahmad, a ski expert in Gulmarg who has won a number of national and international awards in ski competitions. 'I guided a team of environmental experts that came to Gulmarg to inspect the mysterious black snow in 1991 to places where those dark patches lay. After detailed analyses, the team pronounced the verdict - there was no doubt that black oil fumes travelled from Iraq and polluted the snows here.' Ghulam Mohammad Mir, 69, who belongs to the nearby Tangmarg village, said he too saw those black snows. 'To describe highly incredible phenomena, Kashmiris use a traditional phrase meaning as untrue or unlikely as black snow. But in 1991, we saw that black snow was also possible if governments chose to go berserk for political objectives,' said Mir. Unless the hostilities in Iraq stop quickly and U.S. bombs stop hitting hundreds of Iraqi oil fields spread all over that country, distant Gulmarg could lose its chance to retrieve its lost glory as a skier's paradise and a tourist hotspot.


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