Kashmir govt takes no chances with Geelani threat



Srinagar: After hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani refused Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's offer to take a helicopter ride to prove his claim of a road being constructed along the forest trek to the Amarnath shrine, the state government is now trying its best to disprove his charges and ensure he is not able to light protest fires to a "non-issue".

Geelani has threatened a march to the Amarnath Yatra base camps as he claims the state government was constructing a concrete road inside the forests along the north Kashmir Baltal route. (On Friday, he clarified that he was referring to the south Kashmir Pahalgam route.)

Geelani said he would consult various separatist leaders to organise the march and to coordinate the proposed agitation.

To generate public opinion against Geelani's charges, the state government earlier this week took a group of journalists for an aerial survey of the Baltal and Pahalgam routes.

"No road construction has been going on anywhere along the Yatra treks as far as we could see", said a journalist who undertook the aerial survey.

The decision to organise the aerial survey appears to be largely influenced by the state government's bitter experiences of the past.

In 2008, a massive agitation crippled normal life in the Valley after the separatists alleged the government had allotted some land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) in the Baltal base camp forests.

The tremors of the 2008 land row agitation finally brought down the Congress-People's Democratic Party (PDP) coalition government after the latter withdrew.

The National Conference-Congress government that came to power after the assembly elections in December the same year had to finally rescind the land allotment order.

In 2009, the government had to contend with the unrest that followed the rape and murder of two women in Shopian.

A separatist-orchestrated agitation in 2010 claimed 120 civilians as unruly mobs indulging in arson and violence clashed with the security forces across the Valley.

The ripples of the 2010 summer unrest reached as far as New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened an all-parties meet to defuse the tensions in the Valley.

The union home ministry also constituted a group of interlocutors to address the internal dimensions of the trouble in the state. For all practical purposes, their report, recommending the appointment of a commission to examine all the laws and constitutional articles extended to Kashmir after 1952, among others, is gathering dust.

Wiser by its experiences, the Omar Abdullah-led government is trying to steer clear of any controversy, especially one that could give the separatists a handle to start another bloody agitation.

Not many would question the fact that among the separatist voices, the one still seriously heard by the government, is that of Geelani.

The authorities have been placing him and other senior leaders, including Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Muhammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmad Shah and Muhammad Nayeem Khan, under house arrest to ensure law and order on sensitive occasions.

Kashmir has seen one of its most impressive summers during 2012 with more than 700,000 tourists visiting the Valley. Hoteliers, taxi drivers, boatmen, handicraft dealers and others connected with tourism have earned a respectable living after many years.

If violence creates its own constituency, so does peace. What needs to be closely watched during the coming days is whether Geelani's threats to launch a massive agitation concerning the annual Amarnath Yatra becomes real or not.

While the government believes Geelani is trying to rake up a "non-issue", one can never be sure in Kashmir