Is India failing to win hearts and minds in Kashmir?
Is India pushing the ordinary Kashmiri people further away by enforcing regular curfews, putting most of their separatist leaders under house arrest and denying them religious freedom by banning Friday prayers in Kashmir’s Jamia Masjid (grand mosque) on a regular basis to avoid violence?
I travelled to Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir this week, and saw how people were tired of violence and wanted peace and dignity in the region.
Many told me how they felt unhappy each time an incident of violence in a remote corner of the city would scare authorities into shutting down the city and forced them to stay indoors, many without any provisions.
The majority of people in Kashmir appear tired of the 20-year-old violence, involving militants and Indian troops, which has declined significantly — with almost no major attacks in the main city of Srinagar for more than a year now.
Having tasted peace for a while now, people in Srinagar want to spend time near the Dal Lake or travel to a picturesque location with their families, instead of being locked up in their homes.
Industry heads and businessmen I spoke to recollect their endless meetings with Indian ministers, requesting them to do more to restore confidence of potential investors to boost the handicraft, horticulture and tourism sectors.
Many bookshop owners, fruit sellers and students I talked to want the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, the main separatist alliance in the disputed region, to hold talks with the government.
Some separatist leaders admit that talks can help their cause.
“With militancy down, this is the perfect opportunity for talks and the onus is on India now to take advantage and resolve the Kashmir dispute once and for all,” Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Reuters.
Could this be the right time to hold talks with the separatists to resolve the Kashmir crisis? And do Indian authorities agree?