Conflict & Justice

Kashmir separatists welcome tourists


Indian paramilitary troopers stand guard during a one day strike, to commemorate the killing of dozens of local youth in alleged police actions during the 2008-2010 civilian unrest, called by hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar on June 11,2012. Geelani accused Indian authorities of allegedly inflecting atrocities on the people of Kashmir as part of 'repressing measures'. An armed insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir has claimed 47,000 lives since 1989 with separatists putting the toll twice as high.

As the memories fade of attacks on travelers -- including the infamous beheading of a Norwegian trekker in 1995 -- Indian-administered Kashmir has seen a huge jump in tourist arrivals. But even as a debate quietly simmers over whether this signals that local Kashmiris are happy remaining part of India, the moderate faction of the separatists has also embraced the new trend.

"Separatists are now championing the cause of tourism in Kashmir thanks to the moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who has embarked on a new journey to promote tourism and boost foreign arrivals in Kashmir," India's Daily News & Analysis newspaper reports.

Mirwaiz on Monday met a Japanese delegation and discussed travel advisories with them, the paper said. But the government wasn't exactly convinced.

“Please tell them [separatists] don’t create disturbance. All they have to do is not resort to hartal, strike or dharna. Don’t resort to militant activity and people will automatically lift the travel advisories," DNA quoted the state tourism minister as saying.

Tourism is already witnessing a major boom in Kashmir. More than 500,000 tourists have visited Kashmir so far (most of them from other parts of India), and this year the region is on pace to attract around 50 percent more travelers than it did in 2011 -- around 2 million, compared with 1.3 million.  Those figures exclude religious pilgrims attending the Amarnath Yatra, a trek up the mountainside to view an annual ice formation believed to resemble a Shiva lingam.

Other areas of Jammu & Kashmir have also seen an uptick in arrivals, with the Jammu and Ladakh regions seeing 10 million pilgrims visit Mata Vaishno Devi shrine and 179,000 travel to the mainly Buddhist region of Ladakh in 2011.