Srinagar: Bashir Ahmad Bhat, a shopkeeper in uptown Srinagar, is hoping peace will return to Kashmir Valley with the Central government announcing an eight-point initiative to restore normalcy, though many Kashmiris are not so optimistic. Most separatists have dismissed the initiative.
"I hope and pray peace returns to Kashmir and the mad dance of death and destruction is stopped here," Bashir Ahmad Bhat said fervently.
"It is very difficult to say whether or not the announcement would make any difference on the ground, but I pray it does," said Bhat, whose business has taken a severe beating in the last three months of violence that has seen more than 100 people dead, and curfews and shutdowns. Bhat complained he had not earned enough even to pay his salesmen or the rent for his shop since the violence began June 11.
"You can well imagine my plight, but it is better to suffer once than suffer continuously over decades. If it is a fight to the finish as the separatist leaders claim, then so be it," he said.
Other locals are less stoic.
"It is not difficult to resolve the Kashmir dispute provided all the parties are sincere. It’s still not too late. Somebody must come forward to relieve us of the continuous suffering now," said Nazir Ahmad, 35, who teaches Urdu in a local college.
"Ibn-e-Maryam Huwa Kare Koyi/Mere Gam Ki Dawa Kare Koyi (I pray Christ is reborn so that he relieves me of my miseries)," Ahmad said philosophically.
Kashmiris have over the years always received announcements from Delhi with cynicism and this time too they are hoping against hope that union Home Minister P. Chidambaram`s announcement makes a difference.
"It is very good to have decided that the youth arrested for stone pelting would be released without any charges framed against them.
"This generous step would help the youth to engage themselves with pursuit of their careers, but if things do not move forward in the right direction, the same youth would be arrested again later during another stone pelting incident," Muzaffar Ahmad, a college teacher here, said.
"You must appreciate that children and youth have not been pelting stones to get killed or arrested. They are simply making a political statement which must be understood and taken in the right spirit by both Delhi and the local leaders," he added.
The Central government on Saturday announced that a group of interlocutors will be appointed to hold dialogue on the Kashmir issue and youth arrested in the recent stone-pelting incidents will be freed soon. Compensation of Rs 5 lakh each will also be paid to the families of those killed in the violence and the state government has been asked to convene a meeting of the Unified Command - comprising the chief minister, the home minister and senior army, police and security officers - to decide on deployment of security forces in the Valley and on the future of the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Hardline separatist leaders have dismissed the initiative as "another eye-wash to continue the status quo".
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has decided to call a meeting of the Unified Command to deliberate on the issue of withdrawal of the Disturbed Areas Act from some areas, so that AFSPA automatically gets revoked in those areas.
The main opposition party in the 87-member state legislative assembly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has welcomed the announcement with guarded optimism.
"It is a good beginning and for every problem which needs a solution there has to be a good beginning", said Naem Akhtar, spokesman of the PDP here.
Syed Ali Geelani, chairman of the breakaway Hurriyat group, told reporters that New Delhi had once again proved it is not sincere in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
"Nobody died here for economic packages. The announcement made by the Indian home minister did not even refer to our basic demands.
"Our foremost demand is acceptance of Kashmir as an international dispute and the Home Minister announced yet another committee of interlocutors.
"Talks between New Delhi and Srinagar have borne no fruit since these were started in 1952 and would bear no fruit even today.
"The package is an eye-wash to continue the status quo on the Kashmir dispute," Geelani maintained.
Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the moderate Hurriyat group, and Muhammad Yasin Malik, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), have said they would call a meeting of party constituents to study the package and then announce their reaction to it.
With the mainstream politicians trying to sell the 8-point package to Kashmiris with the hope of ending the cycle of violence here, much will ultimately depend upon how the separatists take it.
"The committee of interlocutors would try that once again, but it has not succeeded in the past," said an activist of the hardline Hurriyat group who requested not to be named.
Meanwhile, Geelani announced yet another protest calendar for the coming 10 days and asked people to strictly implement it.
All schools, colleges and universities and other educational institutions, that have been shut since the last three months are to reopen Monday. The cabinet panel also announced Rs.100 crore for the state government to re-build schools and colleges.