It’s iris not ISIS season in the Valley

Intifada-style stone-pelting by separatists at security forces after Friday prayers at Srinagar’s Jama Masjid is now part of local ritual. It is greeted with stifled yawns by most Kashmiris and as an annoying but sterile routine by security forces.

This Friday, however, the stone-throwing shifted to social media.

News channels got footage of protesters carrying the now globally-dreaded Islamic State flag after Jama Masjid prayers, and unsurprisingly went berserk. Social media started trending "Srinagar", and the black flags generated the kind of thunderous anxiety online that Voldemort’s dark mark would among wizards in the Harry Potter books.

And although the memories of '90s militancy still haunt, the distance between Srinagar and Mosul is 2,900km and metaphorically a lot more.

And while there is bewildered anticipation in both the Valley and Jammu of what the PDP-BJP experiment will spring, skepticism about its staggering ideological contradictions, the first 100 days of the marriage had no illusions of a honeymoon but no portent of a swift divorce either.

In fact, there are some reasons to be optimistic.

Glimmer of tourism, money

In spite of one of the world’s most crippling floods last September and a relapse this spring, tourists have started coming back. Most hotels are packed, and the airport greets you with the unkempt warmth and gaggle of guests arriving at a fat Indian wedding.

It may not reach 2011-12 levels this summer, but for a state picking up the pieces after the rampaging waters have subsided, it is not bad either.

CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has travelled to Mumbai and made a special pitch to Bollywood to return to the Valley to shoot. A new generation of movies on Kashmir or shot there will not just push up the local economy directly but will also create new waves of tourists eager to visit.

Local dealers say car sales are brisk too, one of the tell-tale signs of a light-footed economy.

Apart from photo ops and outrage-fodder that a handful of hotheads, a waning Geelani, and an irrelevant Asiya Andrabi offer our "nationalistic" media, there is no sign of trouble in most parts of the state. The only explosions are of iris, petunias, roses, carnations, hollyhocks and suchlike.

Road to recovery

Flood rehabilitation has been relatively swift and cheques have gone out, although putting life and colour back to swathes of ghost towns will need a massive effort. The Centre’s delay in releasing funds is making everybody nervous, but Mufti has said he is hopeful that his alliance partner ruling in Delhi will not let him down.

Road work is happening too. The crucial National Highway 1A connecting Srinagar with Jammu — the only surface link — is being repaired and widened so that the Valley does not get cut-off. The four-laning of it too is likely to gather speed.

The CM has been reportedly prodding the Border Roads Organisation to step up maintenance of Kishtwar-Sinthan-Anantnag, Bandipore-Gurez, Sopore bypass, Jammu-Poonch, Basohli-Bani-Bhaderwah, Doda-Bhaderwah, Reasi-Mahore, Rajouri-Kandi-Budhal, Pouni-Kalakote-Rajouri, Surankote-Buffliaz, Loran-Basam Gali-Tangmarg, Dhar-Mahanpur and Old Samba-Kathua roads, as well as the Thanamandi-Buffliaz stretch, which connects Poonch district of Jammu with Shopian in Kashmir valley through the Mughal Road.

Masarat is good news

Nuances of statecraft often get flattened by the heavy roller of social media. Release of separatist Masarat Alam created "epic" (in SM’s own hyper-terminology) outrage against ‘anti-national’ PDP. The possibility of the Indian state releasing Masarat to spoil SAS Geelani’s plan to position his sons Naeem and Naseem as heir did not occur to most of us.

For all its faults, splitting up the world of separatists is an art the Indian establishment has mastered in Kashmir.

Also, the number of infiltration attempts has come down dramatically because of a tighter and multi-layered anti-infiltration grid comprising fencing, posts, brigades etc. There have been just eight or ten attempts this year.

There have been 35 kills of terrorists by the Army in the first five months compared with 64 in entire 2014.

There have also been growing signs of desperation. After BSNL removed equipment that terrorists used to speak to their handlers in Pakistan and after many were tracked and killed tracking their cellphone positions, there have a couple of attacks on towers by Lashkar-e-Islam. The Army believes it is a little-known front of Hizbul Mujahideen, as the Hizbul doesn’t want to be seen by locals as the ones blowing up their communication lines.

The reason for worry is the list of 17 new homegrown terrorists that forces have identified. From locals, one hears the lore of one Burhan in Traal, who has gone from being a young engineer to a particularly brutal terrorist, or a Muzzu Maulavi in Sopore.

But then, it is not even the dregs of the '90s, and Iraq and Syria are still a long distance from the Valley.



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