Kashmiris Swing Between Hope, Despair On Peace Process
12 May 2003
The Hindustan Times
Srinagar: Even though the people of Jammu and Kashmir prefer to sound optimistic about peace overtures between India and Pakistan, many of them are still not convinced that violence will end in their troubled state. Recent statements by Indian leaders that cross-border incursions must end before talks begin and from Pakistani leaders sticking to Islamabad's known stand on Kashmir have only multiplied the number of cynics in the Kashmir Valley. 'They have already started talking in the traditional status quoist language,' argued Rashid Paul, a resident. Paul strongly felt that statements of Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani and Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri were not a good omen for the confidence- building process between the two countries. 'They have fought wars and mistrusted each other so long that even a negative word is enough to upset any bonhomie that might have been created,' he said. The peace overtures between India and Pakistan had heightened hopes among Kashmiris that their long tryst with misery would end some day. But as the two countries appear to be gradually slipping back to their usual stands on Kashmir, the people have begun to feel their pessimism and cynicism might not be misplaced. 'Peace between the two countries has been too good to be true. Ever since 1947 we have been hearing of a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem that would result from some larger understanding between them,' said Mohammad Ashraf, 59, a university teacher. 'But each time peace seems to be round the corner, mistrust takes over. (Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari) Vajapyee was in Lahore trying to hammer out peace when guns started booming in Kargil. President (Pervez) Musharraf was in Agra when the hardliners in the two countries picked up the gauntlet about the language of a draft joint communiqué,' he said. Ashraf said all his life he had waited, like other Kashmiris, for permanent peace in the region. 'It is a curse under which Kashmiris are born. It is the pessimist's dictum here that if you want violence, talk of peace,' he said. Businessman Ghulam Qadir Latha, 49, is more specific. 'There are vested interests in both the countries that feel threatened by peace. Don't you know it? 'Why does violence register new highs in Kashmir each time somebody speaks about peace? It is not a question of the hawks and the doves. It is a war between the vested interests and those who want to break that vicious circle,' he said. The setting in of a thaw in India-Pakistan relations because of the bold peace initiative of Prime Minister Vajpayee and a befitting response by his Pakistan counterpart, Zaffarullah Khan Jamali, could be at stake because of subsequent statements by some leaders from the two countries, say Kashmir watchers here. 'Pre-conditions on contentious issues have not worked in the past. They would not work in the future as well,' said Zafar Iqbal, 27, a research scholar. 'The best way would have been to start talking, be it trade or whatever and later take up sensitive issues. If India talks of stopping cross-border incursions as a pre-condition and Pakistan talks about the right of self-determination to Kashmiris, then there will be no meeting ground.' There is a growing feeling here that unless the two countries move quickly on the road to peace and reconciliation, the much talked about bonhomie might be yet another pipe dream. 'Why don't people in Delhi and Islamabad realise that Kashmiris are stewing in their own soup? It is now too long and too disappointing. If the present initiative too fails, then we have had it,' said a National Conference leader.