Kashmir Saw Protests, But Omar Spelt Hope

25 December 2009

Srinagar: Soon after Omar Abdullah took over as chief minister in January, he faced a series of challenges. Terror-riven Jammu and Kashmir hogged the headlines for violent protests over an alleged double rape and murder, a blanket ban on prepaid mobile phones and the young leader’s name being dragged into a sex scandal. But the state also saw successful conduct of the Lok Sabha elections, a remarkable decrease in violence and resumption of talks between separatists and New Delhi. The top 10 events of the year: 1. Young leader, new hopes: The National Conference and the Congress formed a coalition after the assembly elections in December and Abdullah, 39, was sworn in chief minister on Jan 8 with renewed hopes of peace and stability. Many believe one year is not long enough to judge a young leader’s performance. 2. First law and order problem: Abdullah’s first challenge came in February when two youths were killed in an alleged army firing, triggering massive protests. An inquiry was held and a major and two soldiers were found responsible. Following this, an army camp was shifted out of a north Kashmir village - a first in 20 years of violence. 3. Huge voter turnout again: Voters enthusiastically participated in the April-May Lok Sabha elections defying a separatist boycott call - in a repeat of the 2008 November-December assembly elections. The Congress and the National Conference swept the polls and won all six seats. The lone separatist, Sajjad Gani Lone, who jumped into the fray, lost even his security deposit. 4. Shopian uprising: But the low point was yet to come. On May 30, the bodies of two women - Nilofar Jan, 22, and her sister-in-law, Asiya Jan, 17 - were found by the side of a stream in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. People alleged they were raped and murdered, sparking off massive protests in the entire valley. Twelve people were killed and over 1,000 injured during the violent protests, which have not died down yet. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ruled out foul play, saying the women had drowned. 5. Omar in sex scandal: An angry Omar Abdullah threatened to resign after opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig alleged that his name figured in the list of accused in the infamous sex scandal that rocked the valley in 2008. The storm settled only after the CBI announced in Delhi that Abdullah’s name was never in the list of the accused. The resignation was finally withdrawn. 6. Era of trains in Kashmir: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the south Kashmir Anantnag railway service from Qazigund to central Kashmir Budgam in October. It was an extension to an already existing railway link. 7. High tension, high trade: The cross border trade between Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir touched a record high this year despite heightened tensions between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. 8. Decrease in violence: Despite 400 attempts of alleged infiltration during the year, violence continued to come down, with union Home Minister P. Chidambaram advocating that security and law and order should be taken care of by local police. 9. Quiet diplomacy, quiet dialogue: P. Chidambaram announced in September in the valley that the government was ready to hold “quiet talks, quiet diplomacy” with anybody for an honourable solution to the problems in Kashmir. The separatists welcomed the offer and even indicated that the talks had begun, which led to the murder attempt by militants on Fazal Haq Qureshi, a moderate Hurriyat leader. This was seen as a warning to moderate separatists for entering into the talks process. 10. No more prepaid phone: For security reasons, prepaid mobile phones were banned in November in the state - a union home ministry move which invited criticism from the state, with lakhs of subscribers across Jammu and Kashmir affected. The order has been challenged by public interest litigation in the Supreme Court.