Srinagar: 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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)