The reverberations of Black Tuesday, when the symbols of American economic and military might fell prey to terror from the skies, are being felt as far as in the Valley here. Even those in Srinagar who do not support the US policy on Palestine believe that the events of September 11 will impact Kashmir. Should Afghanistan turn into a war zone, the peace process in Kashmir would be derailed, they fear. Says Fazal Ahmed, a law graduate: "I feel sad by the death and destruction. But as a Kashmiri I feel all the more sad because this incident is going to affect us directly—it further reduces the chances of an early solution to the Kashmir problem." Reflecting this sentiment, the Hurriyat Conference has appealed to the US to desist from taking any "drastic action" which would aggravate the situation in the Valley.
The politics aside, the average Kashmiri believes a US role is crucial for any possible solution to the Kashmir problem. For the past decade, many in the Valley have viewed America as a friend and mediator who could get Pakistan and India to sit across the negotiating table and resolve their differences. Many separatist leaders have over the years advocated US involvement in any peace process. After the failure of the Agra summit, hopes had been pinned on the meeting between A.B. Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf in New York. Tuesday's terrorist attacks have put paid to these hopes.
The nature of attacks has fuelled fears of another kind. The belief is that suicide attacks in New York and Washington may embolden foreign militants active in Jammu and Kashmir. They have been terrorising the state through fidayeen (suicide) attacks for two years; now they might step up their activities. Says a senior political analyst in Srinagar: "What happened in the US will provide a boost to the guerrillas here. I foresee more fidayeen attacks. It may not be like what we saw in the US, but far deadlier than what we have been witnessing here in the recent past." Suicide squads have been regularly striking army and bsf targets. With the US now likely to pressurise Pakistan into cutting support to the militants, it could push them into acts of desperation in the Valley. Says a senior army official: "One man prepared to lay down his life can be more destructive than 10 others fighting in a more conventional manner."
A renewed concern is that foreign militants, who till now were being funded from across the border, could turn to extorting money from the local population. Says a Srinagar doctor: "From the statements made by Bush and the cooperation being offered by Musharraf to fight terrorism, it is clear that the groups fighting here will find support diminishing from across the border. Then the obvious source of funding will be the Kashmiri. That's frightening."
Businessmen in Srinagar who have invested their money believing that the worst days of terrorism are over, echo that sentiment. Says a carpet dealer on Srinagar's Residency Road: "Right now many people take comfort in the fact that the foreign militants are only fighting the army. But if they are pushed into a corner, they could turn on innocent civilians. And then whatever gains we have made in the last few years will be lost."
People in Kashmir may have learnt to live with terrorism, but they haven't ceased fearing it. Which is why it's become easier to terrorise them, and even a little-known group like the Lashkar-e-Jabbar can succeed in imposing a dress code for women (see box). This despite exhortations from the police, the army and even other militant organisations to ignore the diktat. There have been other instances in the past when all it required to spread fear in Srinagar was a call from a spokesman of a militant group to a newspaper or a news agency.
Militant groups, usually quick to react to any incident that impacts on Kashmir, are silent on the strikes in the US and have refrained from making direct comments. Some separatist political groups and leaders have condemned Tuesday's attacks albeit with some reservations. Says Hurriyat Conference chairman Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat: "We condemn the attacks on the US and express solidarity with it in this hour of grief." He was however quick to add that "we need to address the issues which lead to bloodshed anywhere in the world. Human blood should not flow, neither in America, Palestine nor in Kashmir". Similarly, 'General Abdullah', chief of the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen, links the US attacks to Kashmir, saying that "America will now feel the pain of the hapless Kashmiri people". The Kashmiri people meanwhile stay glued to their televisions to keep pace with events in Washington. Their future depends on it.
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