A Separatist stronghold and red zone on the militancy map of Kashmir, Sopore is silent. Away from the gaze of paramilitary personnel, its men, young and old, are engaged in an animated conversation — they talk about the politics of Article 370, India and Pakistan.
“We are quiet but don’t misunderstand our silence as surrender,” says Altaf Ahmad, 38, a resident of Noorbagh in Sopore. “This silence is strategic. They want us to react. But we know; it is a long battle ahead.”
As Ahmad talks, 73-year-old Nazir Ahmad joins in. “They (government) have put everything in place. They want us to react,” he says. “We should be sensible and wait for the time of our choosing. We have to take them by surprise.”
The people of Sopore, they say, are angry and the response would be damaging. “For all these years, if a tourist or a non-Kashmiri was killed by the militants, we felt bad. We apologised for every intentional and unintentional killing of a tourist or anybody from outside,” says Rashid Nabi, a college student. “Now for us, every tourist or a non-Kashmiri labourer is a potential settler….”
While on Saturday, the government eased out restrictions in many parts of the Kashmir valley, the roads of Sopore, the home town of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, continued to be barricaded and Army allowed only selected vehicles to move.
While the people are preparing for a long haul, they are looking towards Pakistan as well. “It may be a blessing in disguise for us. After almost 50 years, Kashmir is back on the international agenda,” says a Kashmir University student from Arampora Sopore. “We are sure that Pakistan would intervene. They have no other choice — they have either to intervene or forget Kashmir.”
Twenty kilometres from Sopore, Baramulla is deceptively calm. The people say they are tired of the daily battles of life and want a final solution. “We are waiting for what will happen at the UN. If nothing comes out, we would welcome Pakistan to wage a war. It is better to die once than die every day,” says Ghulam Hassan, a 56-year-old resident of the town.
Some, like Ibtisam Nabi, take a positive out of the developments: the decimation of the mainstream in the valley. “They (mainstream) played the buffer between New Delhi and Kashmir. New Delhi used them to get a strong foothold here,” says Nabi. “It is good for us that the buffer is gone. It would be a direct fight between Delhi and Kashmir.”