No place could contrast more with the thought of nuclear
A land of fertile valleys, mountain lakes, and bustling towns,
where fruitsellers pile carts high with cherries and boys play
cricket, Kashmir ought to be the preserve of poets, lovers, and
Tranquil on the surface, this corner of South Asia is the source
of a 50-year-old territorial dispute between the world's two newest
avowed nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. In quieter days a
paradise for tourists, Kashmir is now a hot spot for strategists.
"If the world community and especially the United Nations do not
notice of this grave situation, then the next time India and
clash there will be a nuclear war," warns Syed Ahmed Shah Geelani,
Islamic political leader in Srinagar, the capital of India's Jammu
and Kashmir Province.
Still, the prospect of war seems remote, although assessments
depend on perspective and agenda.
India, waging a successful campaign of attrition against
insurgents and separatists, wants the world to think that the
situation here is calm. "You can't lower your guard," says Girish
Saxena, the governor of the province. But he says his main task is
to "consolidate normalcy."
Mr. Geelani and other separatists in the province, who oppose
Indian rule, want outsiders to think that the two countries are
nearing crisis, their leaders' fingers on the button. They and the
Pakistanis say that international intervention would work against
India in any attempt to resolve this complex and lengthy dispute.
Governor Saxena's is an odd sort of normalcy. At the home of one
of Saxena's officials, Amitabh Mattoo greets guests in the spacious,
flower-fringed house where he grew up. Alongside beds of roses and
yellow irises are sentry boxes with soldiers peering over the wall
the street outside. Mr. Mattoo's father, the government official,
barely escaped kidnapping by militants a few years ago.
"There is this peace,"
says Mattoo the younger, who happens to be a political scientist
who studies his home region. "But discontent seems to be as high as
it was before."
While the security situation has improved since a few years ago,
the ingredients of lingering unrest remain: a government that
maintains order through force, insurgents who have outside support,
and a populace growing more estranged from its rulers.
Mostly Muslim since the 14th century, the province has grown more
so as Hindus and those of other faiths have fled.
India's government, meanwhile, has grown more Hindu with the rise
of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Its leaders, one of whom is prime
minister in a coalition government, have practiced a brand of
politics that identifies Hinduism, India's dominant religion, with