Kalam Strides Into A Valley Free Of Fear
27 June 2003
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Kashmir is changed. Just take a walk down the Residency Road and the Boulevard around the Dal lake. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is in town. The shops are open, traffic is plying, securitymen are everywhere but life is normal. There's no tension - which always accompanied the visiting dignitaries from New Delhi since 1990. In fact, Kalam's visit to Kashmir symbolises a change. Militant violence has declined. The suicide bombings - that had become routine - are rare. Tourist flow has increased by several folds. Evenings are no longer scary. But it is not that militants have disappeared or that the security forces are in total control of the situation. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's 'healing touch' has had its positive effect but this normalcy has hardly anything to do with the ground situation. In fact, Kashmir is witnessing the fallout of the changing international situation. How long will Kashmir enjoy it with peace will depend on whether the change on the ground is accompanied by a geniune peace process. 'Violence has lost its significance for them (militants). Every country repulses terror,' a senior police officer said. 'The aim behind militant violence was to attract the attention of the world. But now it is counter-productive. It puts Pakistan under pressure'. He accepted that the change in the situation is an outcome of the militant strategy to lie low. In fact, the field officers of counter-insurgency forces don't hide their reservations. 'They (militants) are there. They have been using this break to re- group,' a BSF officer said. The logic behind this lull is seen everywhere as the international pressure on Pakistan. 'People were dismissing Pakistan's change in policy especially towards militancy as a mere strategy, but now one can feel it on the ground,' Mohammad Ashraf Lone, a lecturer said. 'When Pakistan clamped down on Hizbul Mujahideen recently, it was nothing less than a climax'. He said this was a golden opportunity to launch a peace offensive. In fact, Mufti realises the need to pounce on this change and strengthen it with confidence-building measures. But his government exhibits utmost caution not to provoke militant anger. 'We are thankful to them (militants),' Mufti said addressing a seminar last week. 'There is a happy change in the situation and we want Kashmir to become a bridge between India and Pakistan. Vajpayee's peace effort is a welcome step. We wish a dialogue between the two countries starts as soon as possible.'