Look Who's Calling Tourists To Kashmir

1 June 2009
Daily News & Analysis

Srinagar: Guess who is promoting tourism in Kashmir? Separatists have finally realised that hampering tourism in the state was doing them no good. So, they are issuing appeals to tourists to visit the Valley to help the Kashmiri people earn alivelihood.The change of heart follows rumours that the Taliban was scaring away tourists in the state. 'The people of Kashmir have always lived up to their reputation of being a hospitable community. They have always cared for their guests but some canards are being spread about the Taliban to scare tourists away. We appeal to tourists to visit Kashmir without any fear. They are all safe in the Valley,' Mohammad Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) said. Even Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani has jumped on the bandwagon. 'Tourists should not feel threatened and they should come to the Valley freely. Our fight is against the government and not the people,' he said. This year, the number of tourists has gone down considerably due to several reasons. The Taliban threat, separatists' agitation and the recently-concluded elections led to a fall in numbers. The Amarnath land agitation also worsened matters. 'Till June 21, 2008, Kashmir was packed with tourists. But after the agitation started, tourists started feeling scared and we were again back to zero. Our losses were to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore. If separatists have taken up the cause of tourism it is a good omen,' GM Dag, chairman of J&K Tourism Alliance, an apex body of tourist related traders, said. Around 3.51 lakh tourists including Amaranth yatris, visited Kashmir from January to July, 2008. This year, the number had dropped, but post elections around 800 to 900 tourists are arriving daily in Srinagar. 'There was a slight drop in numbers, but things are looking up now,' Tanveer Jahan, secretary of the tourism department, said. The state government, however, is not attaching much importance to separatists promoting tourism. 'I can't comment on that. I do not know what they have said,' Jehan said.