Srinagar, Feb 25: Although life started limping back to normal in the Valley on Monday after an intense weekend panic, most Kashmiris are keeping their fingers crossed over what might happen next between India and Pakistan.
Amid a major crackdown on separatists in Jammu and Kashmir that began on Friday, the Ministry of Home Affairs sent into the Valley an additional 100 companies (nearly 10,000 troopers) of the Central Armed Police Forces, including the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Sashastra Seema Bal personnel.
On Saturday morning, the Kashmir Valley had woken up to an unusual fear of war.
However, there are a few optimists who believe the leadership of the two countries would work together for peace and avoid a war.
“Nobody will gain by waging a war, especially given the nuclear capabilities of the two countries.
“God forbid, if a limited conflict escalates into a full-fledged war between India and Pakistan, militancy or terrorism, whatever the two countries call it, would be relegated to the back burner,” said Muzaffar Ahmad, a retired college principal.
Ahmed is of the opinion the two countries would avoid a military face-off.
Majority of locals are, however, worried that the hardening of positions could result in an armed conflict.
“I remember 1965. People thought the two countries would not move beyond hot words and radio propaganda. We did not have television those days. Suddenly, we heard through radio broadcasts that the fighter jets of India and Pakistan were bombing each other’s airports. We pray that the verbal hostilities remain confined to words”, said Bashir Ahmad, a retired government official.
The common man on the street is frightened by the heated debates on television channels.
“Watch any TV news channel in the evening. These look like war rooms. I get frightened. There are hardly any voices speaking for peace.
“Everybody says we have to teach the other side a lesson. If big people like retired army generals and senior politicians advocate war who will care for my family that lives on whatever little I earn by selling fruits on the streets”, said Mehrajuddin, 46, a fruit seller in Srinagar.
The poor are uncertain about what will happen to them. “If there is a separatist shutdown, we suffer. If there is curfew, we suffer. And if there is a war tomorrow, we will be destroyed”, said Muhammad Maqbool, 45, a mason in central Badgam district.
Most Kashmiris belonging to the lower middle class, outside those employed in government services, fear about the growing tension between India and Pakistan.
“Even if someone is a peon in a government department, his monthly pay packet is assured. People like me earn only if there is peace and normalcy. Who would need my three-wheeler to ferry goods if there is a war, curfew or separatist shutdown?” said Javaid Ahmad, 33, who drives a three-wheeler load carrier bought by taking a loan from a bank in Ganderbal district.
Javaid said it is only the well-off who can think of stocking food and other commodities in case of emergencies. “Where is the money to buy stocks of essential commodities?” he wondered.
Official assurances during the last two days that all is well, do not seem to cut much ice with locals given the deterioration in India-Pakistan relations in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack.
“India says the Pulwama terror attack will be avenged. Pakistan says ‘we did not do it, but we are ready to defend our borders’. In a situation like this, how can assurances from the local administration be taken seriously?
“Only Allah can help by sowing the seeds of peace in the minds of leaders of the two countries to pull Kashmiris out of this daily cycle of death and destruction”, said Qaiser Ahmad, 42, a school teacher.