By: John Elliott

“SRINAGAR: There is virtually no prospect in the foreseeable future of long-term peace coming to India’s disputed state of Kashmir, where the army has been called in today to quell a month of clashes between security forces and stone-throwing, mostly young, demonstrators.”

That was the introductory paragraph to an article that I wrote on this blog almost six years ago in July 2010 – and here is the almost identical intro to today’s article:

There is virtually no prospect in the foreseeable future of long-term peace coming to India’s disputed state of Kashmir, where the army has been called in to disperse people protesting against a soldier’s alleged molestation of a young girl.

Five people have been killed, some shot by the army – the fifth one April 15 when youth were throwing stones at an army camp. There are curfews in some areas, mobile internet services have been cut by security forces, and train services have today been suspended to the rest of India.

Life appeared to be mostly calm when I spent a few days in Kashmir, though there were two indications of trouble even before the alleged molestation and army action.

One came after Kashmiri students at a National Institute of Technology (NIT) college in Srinagar in the politically sensitive Kashmir valley defiantly celebrated the West Indies defeating India on March 31 in a T-20 cricket World Cup semi-final.

That triggered pro-India protests by the college’s students from other parts of the country who were then attacked with lathi (long bamboo stick) charges by Kashmir police. In the days that followed, the college became a fortress guarded by para-military forces.

The second indication came when thousands of people attended the funeral prayers on April 7 of a militant belonging to Kashmir’s Hizbul Mujahideen separatist organization who had been shot by government forces in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

This was the latest example of people, especially the young, parading anti-India sentiment by attending such funerals – as many as 30,000 are reported, maybe with some exaggeration, to have been at the funeral of a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) commander last November, and there have been several other similar incidents. Youth also sometimes throw stones at the security forces to divert them while a militant under siege escapes.

body-of-dawood-ahmad-sheikh-hizbul-mujahideen-inex-march-9-16
The youth joining the militants are reported to be increasingly from well-off families, having been born in the early 1990s at the height of the troubles, growing up surrounded by violence and arrests. Even the black flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) is sometimes waved as an act of defiance.

“In the 1990s, it was anger and alienation, but now it is hatred against India,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a prominent Muslim cleric and a moderate leader of the Hurriyat, an umbrella separatist organization. “I know militancy is not going to solve the problem, but we can’t control it.”

Such is the fragile situation in the apparently idyllic surroundings of the Kashmir valley, where tourists last week dodged the rain to enjoy boat rides on Srinagar’s Dal Lake, and travelled 50 km to the 2,650 meter high Himalayan ski resort of Gulmarg to be pulled by local ski-wallahs on toboggans and ride to 4,200 meters on a cable car called the Gondola.

Reputed to be Asia’s highest suspended tramway, the Gondola is symbolic. It was commissioned in 1988 by the then chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, just before Kashmir’s insurgency and Pakistan-aided terrorism began. Pomagalski of France started construction, but work was abandoned in 1990. It was completed when the situation calmed down and the first stage was opened in May 1998.

It is symbolic because it illustrates Kashmir’s superficial normalcy, with the flow of tourists varying in the past 20 years while terrorism and militancy has come and gone in waves.

gondola-2