Lolab Valley Awaiting Peace Beyond Border

25 November 2008

Lolab: The Lolab Valley in north Kashmir hit the headlines just a month ago when four militants from Kerala were trying to crossover to Pakistan. Lolab, till recently, was a dangerous playing field for militants. Now just like everywhere else, it is in the middle of election season with just one question on everyone's mind - Will the peace hold here as well? In 2002, National Conference Minister Mushtaq Lone was among those brutally assassinated for daring to take party in the elections. Now his nephew Qaisar Jamsheed Lone, is the candidate, and this time, he says, things are very different. 'I believe people are the biggest power and when people have come out without any fear, naturally the incidents you are talking or the elements who were carrying out them were discouraged,' said Qaisar. Lolab has often been desribed as the launch pad for militancy in the Valley. But in the most dramatic shift yet for Kashmir, villagers say that they haven't received any militant threats to stay away from elections. 'Government can resolve our issues, our roads, electricity and other problems. They cannot be solved without the government. There is no fear and 110 per cent people are ready for voting,' said Abdul Rashid, a Lolab resident. Kashmir observers say that the absence of militant violence points to a larger peace process taking shape between India and Pakistan. On the back channels, Syed Salahudin, the chairman of the Pakistan based United Jehad Council, has said that militants will not use force if there is no coercion by the security forces. So far, both sides have kept their word. The beauty of the Valley is hiding many a dangers in its landscape. However, it seems the poll fervour has overwhelmed them. Lolab Valley has witnessed some of the worst incidents of violence in the past. The big question is whether the relative peace will hold, and if this poll process remains free from militant violence, it will be a big indicator that the peace process is taking shape quite outside the public eye.