How India Alienated Kashmir

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed, Arab News

Kashmir_mapAN unjust law is no law, warned Martin Luther King, the celebrated US human rights icon. The Kashmiris have been living with such laws for decades. At least one in every five Kashmiris has at some point or another in his/her life suffered violence, humiliation, torture and old-fashioned abuse at the hands of security forces without any recourse to justice or a distant promise of retribution.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been a license to abuse, torture and kill the Kashmiris in their own land. A law that confers “special powers” on men in uniform to do as they please and get away with it; a law that the UN says violates “contemporary international human rights standards” and a law that cannot be challenged in any court of law no matter how grave the crime.  

Following the division of the subcontinent in 1947 when India and Pakistan actively courted the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was promised a “special status” and special treatment by New Delhi. The Article 370 of Indian Constitution was supposed to protect that “special status” of Kashmir.  We made a lot of other promises as well that are too familiar to revisit here.      

And we have ensured and protected that “special status” of Kashmir by gifting them the AFSPA that offers sweeping powers to the security forces while ensuring their total immunity. This special law has turned the Vale of Kashmir that the Moguls believed was paradise on earth into a beautiful hell.

Is it any wonder then the Kashmiris today find themselves hopelessly alienated and persecuted even as our politicians never tire of pronouncing the state an “integral and inseparable” part of India?
How did we end up here? Who lost the paradise? The answer is out there and everyone knows it. In our desperation and determination to keep Kashmir with us and away from our neighbor, we have ended up losing the Kashmiri people.

Of course, the role played by Pakistani agencies, not to mention groups such as the one led by Hafiz Saeed, who have made a business enterprise of jihad, in adding to the woes of Kashmiris isn’t in anyway insignificant.

But if an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up loathing all things Indian it is because of the excessive presence of the security forces in the Valley and their heavy-handed approach to the local population. And if there is one thing that epitomizes all that has gone wrong with India’s Kashmir affair, it is the AFSPA. This black law has created a dangerous, ever deepening disconnect and gulf between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. A draconian law that belongs in a police state, not in the world’s largest democracy.

Thanks to these “special powers”, just about anybody could be picked up from anywhere any time, kicked, abused, raped, killed in broad daylight or simply disappeared and no one including the state government can do anything about it.

Security forces are a law unto themselves. And you see their power in full display all across the state including in capital Srinagar. There are more soldiers than tourists or even locals constantly reminding the Kashmiris of the original sin of being born in this land of incredible beauty. Peaceful protests last year saw scores of young people, some of them as young as nine, felled by the bullets of the forces that are supposed to protect them. In the course of fighting terrorists and cross-border infiltrators, we have turned this beautiful land into a permanent war zone and its proud people a hostage in this never-ending conflict with the neighbor. This war has claimed more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris over the past two decades, not to mention the tens of thousands who have gone “missing.”

If the 2,730 unmarked mass graves recently discovered across the state had been found elsewhere they could have shaken the world, as they did in Srebrenica, in Iraq and Rwanda. But they were met with stony silence in the ever-shrill Indian media and its self-righteous Western counterparts.

Human rights groups including the State Human Rights Commission that finally acted on the complaints of thousands of families of “disappeared persons” unearthing graves with hundreds of bullet riddled bodies fear this may be a tip of the iceberg. The dead in Kashmir have finally begun to speak up, as Arundhati Roy so evocatively puts it.  But justice may still elude the victims as long as the AFSPA reigns in Jammu and Kashmir.  And India’s powerful security and defense establishment, including the army, are determined to retain it. And why wouldn’t they? It’s this law that allows the security forces to rule and treat Kashmir as their fiefdom without anyone, including the elected government, questioning their authority and excesses. Despite being a fine and vibrant democracy with robust democratic institutions and judiciary that we can justifiably be proud of, we are yet to realize that no people can be governed at gunpoint. Not in this age and time. Not with black laws like the AFSPA and not by constantly waving half a million guns that have contributed to the alienation of Kashmiri society and radicalization of its youth.  If India is to win Kashmiri hearts and minds, it could do so only with love, compassion, respect and justice.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East-based commentator and can be reached at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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PM’s Kashmir Visit: “Productive & Fruitful?”

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: Ironically, just when it seemed that Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was taking the right steps to win over Kashmiris in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the week ended with quite a few questioning the government’s intentions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kashmir last week (October 28-29), accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee, Health & Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and New & Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah. Singh inaugurated the 12-km-long Anantnag-Qazigund rail link in south Kashmir. Besides, he reviewed the development efforts being taken by state government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Singh also held discussions with major political parties in the state.

Briefing media, after concluding his two-day visit, Singh described it as “productive and fruitful.” During their talks, he and Abdullah “took stock of the development efforts in various sectors and discussed ways and means of expediting the implementation of various central projects,” Singh said. In his discussions with other political leaders and various sections of civil society, Singh made an “appeal” for dialogue, which he hopes “will be reciprocated in the spirit in which it was made.” “We have to carry all stakeholders with us to achieve a permanent and peaceful reconciliation in Jammu & Kashmir so that we can concentrate on an ambitious development agenda that will lead to a full economic revival and reconstruction and create lot more jobs for the young people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Singh stated that he was returning to Delhi “fully satisfied” with his visit. “I believe that a new chapter is opening in the peace process in the state and we are turning a corner. We will extend full support to the efforts of the state government to fulfill the high expectations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir,” he said.
During his address, at the inauguration of the rail-link, Singh pointed out that his government has taken a number of steps for the state’s development. These include, Singh said, the “bold step of reviving the movement of goods and people across the Line of Control on the Srinagar – Muzaffarabad road and on the Poonch – Rawalakot road.” Accepting that a lot more needed to be done, he said: “We have to speed up the pace of development in the state. We have to reverse the brain drain that has denuded the state of many of its teachers, doctors, engineers and intellectuals. We have to create the conditions for them to return and to be the instruments of change and development. We want to strengthen the hands of the state government so that they can implement an ambitious development agenda.”

Singh outlined the central government’s to involve the state’s youth under the “Skill Development to Employment” program, directed towards training them as tourist escorts, developing Information Technology sector in J&K and setting up two central universities in the state- one in Jammu and one in Kashmir.

“The era of violence and terrorism is coming to an end. The public sentiment is for peace and for a peaceful resolution of all problems,” Singh pointed out. He laid stress that his government is “committed to having unconditional dialogue with whoever abjures violence.” On talks India has held with Pakistan, Singh said: “We had the most fruitful and productive discussions ever with the Government of Pakistan during the period 2004-07 when militancy and violence began to decline.” “For the first time in 60 years, people were able to travel by road across the LoC. Divided families were re-united at the border. Trade between the two sides of Kashmir began. In fact, our overall trade with Pakistan increased three times during 2004-07. The number of visas that we issued to Pakistanis doubled during the same period. An additional rail link was re-established. These are not small achievements given the history of our troubled relationship with Pakistan. Inside the valley, as militancy declined, trade, business and tourism began to pick up. We were moving in the right direction,” Singh said.

When there was a “feeling among the people that a durable and final peace was around the corner,” Singh said: “All the progress that we achieved has been repeatedly thwarted by acts of terrorism. The terrorists want permanent enmity to prevail between the two countries. The terrorists have misused the name of a peaceful and benevolent religion.” Before concluding his address, Singh appealed to the Pakistan government that the “hand of friendship that we have extended should be carried forward” in “interest of people of India and Pakistan.”

Undeniably, Singh’s Kashmir-visit suggests that his government is leaving no stone unturned for peace and development of the state. But the Kashmiris started questioning the same moves as the center decided a day later to stop pre-paid mobiles in J&K from November 1. An official release from the home ministry stated that the decision was taken because of “serious security concerns” which had risen as “proper verification” was not being done while providing pre-paid mobile connections (October 30).

Criticizing and questioning the sudden decision taken by the center, the Kashmiris asked as to why should they all suffer for “wrong doings” of a few militants. “Are all users of pre-paid mobile services being viewed as terrorists?” asked a Kashmiri student. Mehboob Beigh, a legislator of National Conference (NC), which heads the state government, said: “It is unwise to do this at a time when the PM has stressed on creating an atmosphere for peace.” Opposition leader, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti described the situation as “unfortunate” and sought the PM’s personal intervention to restore the service. The move negates the statements made by PM in his Kashmir visit, she said. On the one hand, she said, the “union government was claiming that the situation has improved in the state and on the other residents of this state have been denied facilities like mobile services in the name of security threats.”

“What kind of a message is being conveyed to industrialists and prospective investors across the country? That Kashmir is a state where terrorism is as high as before the mobile services were launched in the state in 2003?” asked a businessman. In the opinion of some, it would not have much of an impact, as people are likely to lobby and convert the existing pre-paid connections into post-paid ones.

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J&K Elections: Voters’ Message Beyond The Ballot vs. Bullet Fight

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2008-12-31T121210Z_01_SRI09_RTRMDNP_3_KASHMIR-LEADER

Omar Abdullah (L), president of the National Conference (NC) party, waves to supporters as Ali Mohammed Sagar (R), a senior NC leader, looks on during a rally in Srinagar December 31, 2008. Thousands of strife weary Kashmiris gave their new leader, Omar Abdullah, a rousing welcome when he arrived home on Wednesday after he was named to lead a new coalition government in the disputed Himalayan region. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

NEW DELHI: Despite the Jammu and Kashmir elections having thrown a hung assembly, ruling out prospects of single-party government in the India-occupied state, unlike the previous ones, these polls carry a different message. Though the elections were held with terrorism, as has been the routine in the past, bringing Indo-Pak diplomacy to the stage of tension, this time the issue of militancy in J&K was pushed to the backstage. It was overshadowed by excessive noise made in the subcontinent and elsewhere over terror-strikes in Mumbai, with India blaming Pakistan-based groups as responsible for these. The reported casualty in these elections was 12 civilian and five security personnel, compared to 220 civilian and 148 security personnel killed in the 2002 polls. This suggests a fall of 86 percent in militancy related incidents in 2008 polls against that in 2002.

Equally noteworthy is the large turnout of voters, 63.21 percent while that in 2002 was 44 percent. “In the last one year, there has been a reduction in militancy-related incidents and hence the fear factor was not there. The real success is wherever there was low percentage in the last elections, there was higher turnout this time and it showed that people wanted to participate in the democratic process in a big way,” according to Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami.

Notwithstanding the tensed Indo-Pak ties, marked by war-hysteria in certain political circles as well as media, amazingly these did not have any negative impact on the atmosphere in the J&K. Trade across the much-disputed Line-of-Control continued despite Indo-Pak animosity reaching a new height over Mumbai terror strikes. The cross-border trade, which began from October 21, continued amid the hype raised about India and Pakistan being near a war-like stage. For instance, earlier this month, as expressed by sources in Jammu: “A trader from Pakistan has sent a truckload of 150 boxes of oranges and 100 boxes of pomegranates besides 252 pairs of special Peshawari sandals to a business firm in Poonch.” The Indian firm had sent a consignment of 2,200 kg of tomatoes on December 23 as demanded by the Pakistan trader, they said.

Opening of LoC for trade between the two sides apparently has had a major influence on pulling Kashmiris towards the ballot box. This has assumed a yet greater importance in view of the weeks before the polls spelling tension within the state over Amarnath-issue. The three-month long tension, also marked by economic blockade of the Valley by extremist Hindu groups in Jammu, at one point even raised speculation whether the elections would be held in time. Amid this backdrop, the opening of the LoC for trade certainly carried a new meaning for Kashmiris (primarily Muslims) in the Valley. Even though trade across LoC has yet to reach substantial proportions, that it has begun, certainly signals a new importance being given to their economic concerns. The beginning of cross-border trade at LoC at least signals that Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir has been – at least now – pushed to the background, with economic concerns of Kashmiris being given greater importance. This is indeed a major move for average Kashmiris, who till the last elections, only seemed to be caught needlessly between the bullet and the ballot, with neither spelling a solution to their socio-economic problems.

Despite the Amarnath-row signaling a clear split, marked by polarization of votes, between Jammu and Kashmir, it is not without reason that Kashmiri voters turned out in greater numbers than before to cast their vote. Thus even though the Congress party won fewer seats this time (17) than in 2002, when it won 20, the party leaders have welcomed the results. “The large turnout of voters is a vote for democracy. It is a vote for national integration. As far as who wins or who loses is a secondary issue,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. Giving emphasis to electoral results carrying little importance than people’s participation, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said: “I have been saying from the very beginning that it dose not matter who wins, what matters is that the people of the Valley, the people of Jammu, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have placed their full faith in the democratic system which is a lesson to be learnt by our neighbors.” Highlighting the holding of state elections as scheduled, Gandhi said: “I have been saying from the very beginning that elections should be held in time and I am glad that they were held in time.

Compared to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having won only a single seat in 2002, this time it has managed to win 11. While some hold the Amarnath land-row as responsible for BJP’s gain, with there being split between Jammu and Kashmir on religious lines, others hold the poll outcome as reflection of voters “regional” divide.

In the 87-member assembly, the National Conference (NC) has emerged the party winning the maximum number of seats (28), followed by People’s Democratic Party (21), Congress (17), BJP (11), National Panthers Party (3), with one each gained by Communist Party of India-Marxist, Democratic Party Nationalist, People’s Democratic Front and four won by independents.

Notwithstanding the fact that a hung assembly carries apprehension of political instability in the state, by turning out in large numbers the voters have send a strong message. They have defied the separatists’ call for boycott of polls. This may not have been possible if security measures had not been enhanced and had the trade across the LoC not been opened. Though the turnout was still less than in 1987, which was more than 70 percent, it carries a great significance. The Kashmiris have taken a major step forward to display their preference for peace in the region. For the Kashmiris and the government, the significance of 2008 elections should not be confined to their having cast their votes in large numbers. Now, it is for the center to ensure that Kashmiris’ hopes expressed through the ballot boxes are not defeated by bullets!

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