The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A new wave of uncertainty is gripping Jammu and Kashmir. Although the state has attracted a large number of tourists this year, there are genuine fears that violence could once again engulf Kashmir in the weeks to come. This sense of uncertainty is accentuated by the disarray within the separatist camp and the inability of the Centreís interlocutor to make breakthrough in his talks with representatives from the state. At first glance, any visitor to Jammu and Kashmir will be astonished by the ostensible degree of normalcy that prevails in the state. The Kashmir valley has received a record number of tourists this summer. Not since 1989 have so many domestic tourists visited the valley, and many foreigners too are coming in large groups. Most hotels are totally booked, and even the houseboats on the lakes are, unlike in previous years, reporting high occupancy rates. Local Kashmiris too are visiting the Mughal gardens in Srinagar and holiday resorts in the valley in large numbers. Meanwhile, the pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave promises to attract a record number of devotees. And yet, as is clear, this normalcy is far too superficial. Reports of the security forces suggest that infiltration of militants into the state is continuing, and there has been no let-up in the training of terrorists within Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. There is some evidence, however, that Pakistanís Inter-Services Intelligence has given instructions to militant groups to temporarily suspend action.

Clearly, Islamabad is tying the continued reduction of violence to Indian concessions on the diplomatic front. On present evidence, however, this is unlikely to happen. Since the launching of the peace initiative of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, there has been little movement on the ground. No agenda or schedule for resumption of talks has been exchanged by the foreign ministries of India and Pakistan. In other words, if the stalemate in India-Pakistan diplomatic relations continues, violence could, once again, escalate in the state. In addition, the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, the separatist umbrella alliance, is deeply divided with no clear plan of action. Not surprisingly, Mr N.N. Vohra, the Centreís designated negotiator, has made little progress in his talks. While a large number of groups have met him in Jammu and Srinagar, there are few from the separatist camp who have responded to his invitation. The situation thus is in deep flux. And unless there is a dramatic new policy initiative from New Delhi, or Pakistan makes a U-turn, Kashmir could once again return to another period of instability and violence.

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