Kashmir is torn between tourism and the militants

UNTIL KASHMIR'S insurgency broke out 10 years ago, every other Bollywood musical used the stunning scenic beauty of the state as a backdrop for romantic dance routines.

With the eruption of violence, the film-makers fled. And Kashmir's cinemas closed as well, bombed into darkness by Islamic militants. They have been closed ever since. Then last year two small new ones opened. But both were in military cantonment areas, well protected against attack.

So the reopening last Friday after 10 years of the Regal Cinema in central Srinagar was a bold attempt to turn back the clock to happier times. But it was not to be: after the second screening - the film a typical slice of Hindi escapism entitled Love Is Not Just a Game - militants threw grenades at the audience streaming out, killing two and injuring 20.

The Regal is dark again now. On Sunday Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, an Islamic fundamentalist militant group, said it was responsible and demand-ed that all cinemas, video cassette shops and cable TV operators close in two days.

Underlining their demand, militants also ransacked the premises of a cable TV operator outside Srinagar, destroying his equipment. Tehreek- ul- Mujahideen says it has called for the ban to enforce strictly the Islamic code of conduct throughout the Kashmir Valley.

In the proscription of something as innocent as film-going there is a strong whiff of Afghanistan's Taliban, for whom any medium that employs human imagery is taboo.

But observers in Srinagar believe this is less a reflex of Islamic dogma than the latest round in a trial of strength and propaganda between the militants and the state authorities. The Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, and his government are doing everything in their power to tell the world that life in Kashmir is back to normal - or even better than that.

This year saw the return of a few film crews to the valley. A Hindu temple that locked its doors in 1990 opened again to the few Hindus still living here. In spring, domestic tourists began streaming back to Kashmir - 75,000 by the end of May, compared with 615 for the same period in 1990 and 2,000 last year.

It was at this point - some believe it was no coincidence - that Pakistani Army infiltrators in the mountains north-east of the valley provoked the Kargil conflict, which nearly plunged India and Pakistan into another full-scale war.

But the Pakistanis and their militant allies withdrew. And now state government ministers insist Kargil was no more than a nasty hiccup in Kashmir's return to normality.

To ram home the message, Dr Abdullah also this month announced the granting of a licence to India's first casino, due to open in autumn in Srinagar's Grand Palace Hotel, offering competition to the host of casinos operating in and around Kathmandu in Nepal.

He has also authorised the building of a golf course, now taking shape on the shore of Dal Lake. Asked why he was pouring millions of rupees into such a venture when the state was practically bankrupt, he said: "Even if I have to spend billions ... of rupees I will do it for ... my people, who have no other means [except tourism] to earn their bread." Gambling and golf were followed in quick succession by the opening of the Regal Cinema. But now the militants have given their answer.

Kashmir's election - the final polling date in the state is next Monday - has been a terrifying shambles: a mass boycott, the assassination of a candidate of the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, the dragging of refusenik youths to the polls by paramilitaries, the attempted assassination of another candidate, have all left the valley in a state of extreme tension. To open a cinema and hail the return of normality against such a backdrop smacks of Don Quixote.

The confrontation in Kashmir seems to have entered a new phase. More than a military struggle, what is being waged now is a propaganda war. The militants are making a determined effort to paint the state government as illegitimate and Kashmir as ungovernable by India.

With the example of East Timor before them, now they see their best opportunity to present Kashmir as a suitable case for similar treatment - in particular for the holding of the plebiscite conditionally prom-ised by the United Nations on 1 January 1948 but never held. Any fair plebiscite would almost certainly go against India, as surely as East Timor's went against Indonesia.

Dr Abdullah tries strenuously, by contrast, to paint all Kashmir's problems as temporary local difficulties. But although it is true that most of the popular heat went out of Kashmir's insurgency years ago, he is not having much luck.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing