chapter  8
13 Pages

TOWARDS PEACE?

In the summer of 1989, or so goes the story,MajorMir emerged from the hollowedout Chinar tree in the small village of Wathora that had been his home for years. “It is time for me to go to war again”, the old Indian Army soldier-turned-mystic supposedly declared, “and I do not know whether or not I will return”. Major Mir, some in the village believed, had gone along with a team of his

fellow Sufi mystics to do battle against the forces of the devil, whomever they were; other versions have it that Major Mir and the other mystics were the custodians of Kashmir’s cultural essence, and will return with it when peace comes again. The stories about Major Mir were, most likely, fantasy; like all such tales, they spoke of both despair and hope. Until 2002, Wathora’s small community of folk artists, who were among the last practitioners of the dying traditions of the Bhaand Paather dance-drama, were only rarely able to perform. Jihadist groups had deemed their satirical, sometimes bawdy, performances un-Islamic. On occasion, the Sufi shrines where the Paather were performed had been attacked. Late in the summer of 2002, Wathora’s Bhaand Paather performers resumed

regular public performances, at shrines and folk festivals across central Kashmir. A full-blown India-Pakistan war, which had seemed almost unavoidable just months earlier, had been averted. Elections were held that autumn, and were widely hailed as among the fairest Jammu and Kashmir had ever seen. A new coalition government replaced the National Conference, marking a widening of democratic space; New Delhi also opened negotiations with the All Parties

Hurriyat Conference. Most importantly, violence declined steadily. By 2005, killings in Kashmir were at their lowest level since the late-1980s, and most observers concurred that infiltration across the LoC by terrorist groups had declined to a small fraction of their earlier levels. A vigorous India-Pakistan détente was in place, a bus service across the LoC had been launched, which allowed the first direct contact between individuals and families on the two sides of the state since the war of 1947-1948, and politicians were speaking of the prospect of a permanent resolution of the conflict in Kashmir. To employ Prime Minister Vajpayee’s symbolism, spring around the corner?