THE people of Held Kashmir, who have been out in the streets for months protesting against the allotment of a large chunk of land to house Hindu yatris, could not have been expected to greet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with smiles as he visited the Valley to inaugurate the Baglihar dam project built in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty and a railway track. They had sacrificed about 80,000 of their kinsmen during the past two decades (50 of them since yatris' land issue erupted) at the altar of New Delhi's greed about retaining the illegal hold of their homeland. And they see little sign of its giving the forcible occupation second thoughts despite the undeniable reality of Kashmiris' firm resolve to secure their right of freedom. Quite appropriately, Dr Singh's visit was marked by a complete strike in Srinagar in response to a call from the Jammu-Kashmir Coordination Committee. The streets were deserted and life had come to a standstill, with shops and businesses and schools and colleges closed. The security agencies took no chances and, fearing demonstrations, put up steel barricades and spread a network of barbed wire all over the town. Speaking on the occasion, the leaders of the freedom movement made it clear that no amount of economic package that Dr Singh was offering could detract the people from their innate right of self-determination. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, underlined the reasons for the Kashmiris' protest as the Indian government's attempt to sideline the Kashmir issue. If the Indian leaders had any doubt about the indigenous nature of the freedom struggle in Kashmir, the Prime Minister's visit and the views of the media back home, which is increasingly talking about massive public rallies calling for the end of Indian occupation and the grant of the right of self-determination, should make them wiser. The pity is that despite its democratic pretensions, India has not only persisted in suppressing the urge for freedom with brutal means but also sidetracked all attempts by Pakistan to come to a reasonable understanding to settle the issue consistent with the aspirations of the people concerned. Kashmiris have suffered a great deal and Pakistan has gone out of the way to make one concession after the other only to find India's unwilling to come to grips with the dispute. It must realise that lasting peace that holds the key to lifting the world's largest mass of poor people to a decent standard of living cannot be achieved while this sore of a dispute continues to fester.