In the seventies and eighties, Srinagar bustled with boisterous political debates in cafes and streetcorners. This was replaced with an outburst of insurrection on the streets at the start of the nineties after the dramatic abduction of Rubaiya, daughter of the then home minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Tens of thousands of Kashmiri youth danced on the roads and bylanes mocking security forces crouching in convoys and sandbagged bunkers. Mosque microphones preached armed insurgency.
A decade of armed militancy later, polemics, anger, hopes, dreams have all vanished from Srinagar. Today, like a terminally ill patient, the city limps along with its eyes shut. Militant attacks, increasingly the handiwork of shadowy foreign mercenary groups, are no longer cause for celebration. Nor do street patrols of armed bsf jawans provoke a second glance from bystanders. There is simply no interest left in politics, just a bitter sense of despondency.
Affaq's father Mohammed Yusuf Shah, a retired teacher, and mother Halima, a teacher, are completely baffled at this desperate act of their 18-year-old son. "He was a quiet, religious child and least interested in politics. We simply can't understand what led him to this madness," they said amid tears. A new militant group, Josh-e-Muhammadi, has hailed Affaq as a martyr claiming him as its member but the police are still not sure whether he was indeed Srinagar's first suicide bomber or the bombs in the car were detonated by remote control without the student's knowledge.
His old faithful, Ashok (Tony) Jaitly, is affable and diplomatic as ever. But even he can barely hide the sense of disquiet within the state government. Much of Jaitly's professional career has consisted of being posted to Srinagar amid fanfare only to be transferred out in ignominy. A decade ago, he was the subject of some national controversy after signing a memorandum protesting against human rights violations in Kashmir. Today the same man is accused of being the lynchpin of a heartless regime which is looting the state. The bearded bureaucrat smiled wryly at the tricks played by the passage of time on Kashmir and himself.
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