A fragile peace and daunting challenges (Jammu and Kashmir Newsletter)
By Sheikh Qayoom, Srinagar, Feb 16 : After two peaceful years, many began talking of Jammu and Kashmir's turmoil in the past tense. Has the hanging of Afzal Guru belied peace hopes in the state?
There are no easy answers to this question. At least the ruling National Conference and its leadership have no answers.
The hanging of the parliament attack convict Feb 9 has brought into sharp focus the fragility of peace in a state where thousands have died since 1989 in a seemingly unending separatist campaign.
Ironically, another Kashmiri was hanged in the same Tihar Jail in Delhi 29 years ago, alongside whose grave Afzal Guru has been buried.
Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was hanged in 1984.
But Bhat's execution did not invoke any protests in the Kashkir Valley. The present generation of Kashmiris, especially the youth, don't treat Bhat as a rallying point for separatism.
Has Afzal Guru's hanging provided a rallying point for the separatists?
At a subliminal level for Kashmiris, there are many parallels between these two executions.
Politically, the National Conference stands to lose heavily because of the decision to jump the queue and hang Afzal Guru ahead of the killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Punjab chief minister Beant Singh.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah knows that the political dice is now loaded heavily against his party.
From day one, Abdullah has been trying to distance himself from the decision to execute Afzal Guru. He conveyed the possible repercussions of the hanging to the central government.
He said: "I have not signed Afzal's death warrant. If the jail authorities chose to inform the family about the execution through Speed Post in times like ours, then I must say it is unfortunate.
"That he was not allowed to meet his family before the death sentence was carried out is something I will not be able to forget for the rest of my life.
"Ours is not a totalitarian state and I cannot prevent people here from identifying with Afzal Guru," he added.
As Abdullah uttered these words, he probably went the farthest any chief minister could go while his party is part of the Congress-led coalition in New Delhi.
For his rival the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the hanging has come in handy as the state faces elections next year.
The PDP has been trying to project itself as a party that always opposed Afzal Guru's hanging.
In chorus with separatist leaders, the PDP has said the hanging has been timed to gain political mileage for the Congress.
"It seems for the next elections, the UPA has chosen to lose the next generation of Kashmiris," PDP spokeperson Naeem Akhtar told IANS.
Abdullah had to impose a curfew in the entire valley. There has been no relaxation for the seventh day Friday.
Fortunately, the valley has remained peaceful -- thus far.
"We are damned for imposition of curfew, which puts people into a lot of inconvenience. Had we not imposed the curfew, we would have been damned even more had massive violence erupted," said a minister who did not want to be named.
Internet has been blocked to check wild rumours.
Both Abdullah and the peace prospects in Jammu and Kashmir face a major challenge in the days ahead. Even the chief minister's worst rivals would not deny that.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)