Over the years there has been a transformational shift in North Kashmir which can now be seen as a progressive region of UT of Jammu and Kashmir. Even the few ‘disturbed’ pockets, Sopore and Pattan/ Palhalan, are now at the cusp of leaving the baggage of terrorism behind. These areas traditionally have been the hub of terrorist activities and generations have witnessed bloodshed and violence. The overbearing hold of SAS Geelani in the region had cemented the psyche of the locals of what was the most prosperous belt in North Kashmir.
While Handwara, Rafiabad and Kupwara regions were equally marred by terrorism, they are now relatively peaceful and have overcome the horrors caused by heinous crimes perpetrated by the terrorists. More so, with infiltration at its lowest, these areas which were directly impacted by infiltration dynamics are now witnessing terrorism at its lowest. However, the answers to why Sopore could not leave the shadow of terrorism as fast as others lie in its geographic centrality in North Kashmir, the centering of road network in the town and of course, the infestation of Jamaitis. But times are changing. The Soporeans have had enough.
While one may consider Sopore just a town, I consider that entire Zaingair area, including the town, forms a larger Sopore. Activities in these areas collectively affect the future of Sopore. It contains 89 villages which have two DDC members, two BDC members and 98 Sarpanches / Panches. Many of these villages have had stains of being ‘black villages’ for a long time. However, the youth have shown Sopore the way forward. Subtle changes can be noticed in the behaviour of younger generation who have been noticing their counterparts in other areas daily. The abrogation of article 370 and the strengthening of PRIs have been reassuring to them. The transportation infrastructure has been upgraded from tongas and buses to private vehicles and sumo taxis. A taxi stand now embellishes every village. These developments have facilitated movement of locals to other areas, exposing them to the niceties outside. The change now, is inevitable.
While a couple of local terrorists continue to remain active in the area, their ability to terrorise precludes calling them ‘terrorists’. Thieves are better; at least they attempt to steal. Moreover, these local terrorists are in the hiding all the time. Sopore is fortunate that the JKP and security forces have tightened the noose so much that these small time ‘terrorists’ are unable to operate in town or even in adjoining areas. But yes, they exist – for how much longer is a question which the society has to answer. I believe that the propitious new generation boys and girls are much stronger and less afraid, and can overcome this problem in due course of time. The society needs to step in to help busting of the OGW modules that support these terrorists. Security Forces, largely the Army, have played a significant role in inducing the idea of peace. This will slowly lead to idea of integration, idea of togetherness and idea of Tiranga.
The development process has started, albeit slowly. Development in Sopore has been hampered by internal political rifts. However, with new leaders emerging, the dirty politics of yesteryears is dying down and the DDCs, BDCs and MCs are making efforts to utilise the money allotted towards development. Road network has improved multifold; street lighting and CCTV cameras’ grid has enhanced the security apparatus. This is important as it makes the common resident feel safe even during odd hours. A sore issue remains that of the road traffic, attributable to the absence of traffic lights in busy areas. Construction of fountains and clock tower at main chowk give an impressive face-lift to the town. This development is backed by open communication channels between the civil administration and MC. Yet, a lot needs to be done to keep all ward members and other important officials in sync with the overall plan.
Positive stories have been emerging from the apple town. Sports have, unexpectedly, been on the upswing in Zaingair and adjoining areas, and village cricket teams take pride in participating in multiple competitions. Formation of Zaingair Sports Association has encouraged large number of sports clubs to join it as members, exhorted by the efforts of Zangair and Sopore Army. Institutions, such as the Sports Association, run and administered by the locals, only strengthen their capacity to manage community affairs. Surprisingly, girls have taken to the fore in multiple sports like athletics, kho-kho and kabaddi, and are even winning medals in uncommon sports like kickboxing and karate. In light of these positive developments, annual sports festival will be planned and conducted by local sports clubs, under the patronage of the Army, to nurture talent and provide opportunities.
The positivity is so infectious that even women have started shedding their inhibitions and are coming forward in all fields. They have formed Self Help Groups and teams to promote embroidery and stitching. Contractors from Srinagar are giving orders to make Kashmiri designs which are being sold to tourists. Large numbers gathered to celebrate the National Women’s Day in Degree College Sopore, an implausible event in earlier times. Girls are yearning to undergo skill development courses in Sopore. This further reaffirms the increasing aspirations of the youth whose potential has been held back for a long time. The ever-contemporary Chinar Radio Station of Sopore now boasts of a long waiting for an interview, with its popularity continually on the rise. The gastronomists of the Town have been bustling too. New eateries like Al- Bark restaurant (Arabian style), River Edge restaurant, Wild Cumin Café, Paras’s Sopore, Icy N Spicy, Zero Miles and Bric n Bite are showcasing a new face of Sopore. Even groceries stores like Mapple Mart, Panun Gangeen, Pick n Pay, U-Mart and Shop n Save have become landmarks in the burg.
The society is changing too. Families of terrorist are being ostracised in the community. Locals are no longer willing to be associated with a family who has an active terrorist from the house. Extended family of terrorists themselves doesn’t want that people should look at them with suspicion. In fact mothers now do not want their sons to adopt this irreversible path, the dreary end of which is known to all. So as society, it should be our moral responsibility to identify potential miscreants and advise their parents to steer young minds away from the evil. No OGW will lead to no network, meaning no recruitment, thereby keeping our youth safe.
Aspirations and development are complementary. New hopes and new ideas amongst the youth are compelling them to ask, “When will this end?” The time is ripe to turn the tide and veer Sopore into an incident and terrorist free city. It has so much to offer. Let us move from Terrorism to Tourism.