Kashmir’s govt, separatists come together for tourism
For the first time, both mainstream and separatist Kashmiri leaders have joined hands to promote tourism in the Valley, and not use the number of tourists as an indicator of normalcy.
Both Chief Minister Omar Abdullah (39) and separatist leaders like Sayeed Ali Shah Geelani (74) are of the opinion that come what may, Kashmir’s tourism may remain untouched and unrelated to the political scene.
In New Delhi, Abdullah, buoyed by the tourist inflow this year, said: “We tried to do so (linking tourist arrival with normalcy) in the past and we saw what happened.”
Abdullah had his first high tea with Kashmiri journalists working in New Delhi on Friday.
Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s government that took over in 2002 started treating the rising number of tourists as a sign of weakening of militancy in the state. In 2007, after the government gave a big push to tourism, claiming waning militancy, more than 13 tourists were killed.
“Let us not repeat past mistakes,” said Abdullah, breaking from the past trend of drawing parallels between dip in militancy and rise in the tourist arrival graph.
Geelani, from the other side of the political fence, is also trying to woo tourists with the right noises. The leader of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference told HT over phone: “The peaceful resistance programmes should not affect tourism.”
He said, “Tourists should not feel threatened or harassed in the Valley or other parts of the state. They are our guests irrespective of what religion they belong to.”
In fact, Geelani has found a political reason to form his views. “Once tourists visit Kashmir, they will get to see the situation here. They will realise we are fighting for our rights,” he said.
After the armed uprising in 1989, the tourism sector went for a toss, and the lowest footfall was witnessed in 2006 — with just 20,000 visitors, mainly to Ladakh as it was more peaceful.
With Geelani putting in the effort to make the atmosphere positive, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who leads the moderates in the Hurriyat, has gone a step further.
“Cross-LoC tourism and regular flights to Lahore from Srinagar should be started to give a fillip to the tourism sector,” he told Hindustan Times over phone from Srinagar.
The Mirwaiz thinks the Amarnath Yatra is a plus for Kashmir’s tourism. “Time and again we have proved ourselves good hosts even in the most hostile conditions, especially during the massive mass agitation in summer 2008.”
Last year, the Yarta became a sore point between Jammu and Kashmir after the then Congress-Peoples Democratic Party government allotted more land to the Amarnath Shrine Board for facilities of pilgrims.