SRINAGAR, Dec 5 (IPS) - Political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, a bone of contention between India and Pakistan for more than 60 years, are aghast at last week’s carnage in the Indian port city of Mumbai, carried out by armed men who apparently sailed in from the Pakistani port of Karachi.
Many here believe that renewed hostility between the South Asian giants, set off by the sea-borne attacks in which 200 people died, may prove to be a setback for their peaceful movement for an independent or autonomous Kashmir.
“Violence is nowhere acceptable now; you have to hammer home your argument cogently, not through violent means, if you want the support of the international community,’’ Aktar Hussein, a student at the Kashmir University, told IPS.
At least 10 gunmen targeted the financial hub’s main railway station, two luxury hotel complexes, a Jewish centre and a hospital with automatic fire, grenades and explosives. Barricading themselves inside the two hotels and the Jewish centre, they fought off Indian commandos for more than three days from late on Nov. 26 to Nov. 29.
Counterterrorism officials in the United States have supported the contention of Indian authorities that the attackers were linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (soldiers of god) militant group, which is based in Pakistan but has been fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
And, on Tuesday, while on a visit to Pakistan, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said Islamabad had been given sufficient evidence to take action.
Young people like Hussein recognise that the discourse over a settlement of the Kashmir issue changed dramatically after the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S.
Demonstrably, for them, peaceful mass protests in the Srinagar valley — against the parcelling out of land to a Hindu shrine board — have not only gleaned positive results but also won international praise.
The peaceful phase of the movement against Indian rule began after an estimated 50,000 people died in an armed struggle that lasted for 18 years but began petering out after the 9/11 attacks.
“Kashmiris were just rejoicing over the discovery of an effective way of struggle when the terror strikes occurred in Mumbai… these could have a bearing on the resolution of Kashmir issue,’’ says Kashmir University professor Noor Ahmad Baba.
Almost unanimously, the terror strikes in Mumbai have evoked strong reactions from political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, with the leaders of both separatist and mainstream groups in the state condemning them.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the tallest of the hard line separatists, termed the strikes an ‘‘anti-human’’ act. “The perpetrators are the enemies of humanity,’’ he said and called for an internationally observed, independent probe into the attack.
Even Kashmiri militant groups based in the Pakistan-administered part of the territory have expressed shock at the attack. Salah-u-Din, who heads the United Jihad Council (UJC), a conglomerate of more than one dozen active militant outfits in Kashmir, termed the attacks as “reprehensible” in a statement.
“We would never allow any militant group in Kashmir to carry out such an inhuman attack,’’ Salah-u-Din said in a statement faxed from Muzzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan administered Kashmir where he is based.
The chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Mohammad Yasin Malik, called the terror strikes “a heinous crime against humanity” while talking with IPS over telephone from a hospital in the Indian capital, where he is undergoing treatment.
Jamaat-e-Islami, a religio-political organisation in Kashmir, called the attacks ‘’anti-Islamic.’’ “We condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Our sympathies are with those who have lost their loved ones in these terror strikes.”
The leaders of mainstream political parties have condemned the attacks in more forcefully. “Such gory acts are not only outrageous, but inhuman as well,” said former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who heads the regional, People’s Democratic Party.
Another former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, who is the patron of the National Conference, the other main regional party of Kashmir, declared that in no way were the strikes ‘’in the interest of Kashmiris and their freedom struggle.’’
“This (Mumbai attack) doesn’t seem to be the handiwork of militants who are active in Kashmir,” said one political observer who preferred to remain anonymous and refused to say anything more about it.
Indian Kashmir is presently undergoing staggered elections for the state assembly. Two of the seven phases, scheduled to culminate on Dec. 28, have already been completed and the third phase of polling is slated for Dec. 7.
The first two phases were remarkably peaceful and saw large voter turnouts, although the elections are being held in the backdrop of intra-regional friction and anti-India sentiments since June when the controversy over the land transfer erupted.
Observers say that if animosities between India and Pakistan worsen, it could hamper the rest of the election process. “How can this process go on in a sensitive region like Kashmir, if the tension doesn’t ease off between India and Pakistan?” says Noor Baba.
Both the common people and the political leadership of Kashmir favour friendly ties between India and Pakistan, acutely aware that the three wars they fought over the territory have not produced any settlement and have only hardened positions.