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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AFSPA & Kashmir

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Kashmir is in the news again for wrong reasons. Political leaders and parties are engaged in questioning each other’s intentions regarding their stand on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The issue gained importance when J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah voiced his intention to revoke AFSPA from certain parts of AFSPA. It did not take long for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and right-winged groups associated with saffron brigade to strongly oppose this stand of Abdullah. Congress has also expressed its reservations on Abdullah’s views. Considering that Abdullah heads the J&K government with support of Congress, it has been expressed that before taking any decision on this issue, he needs to hold discussions and take opinion of Congress also. Subsequently, Abdullah indicated that the issue will be taken up by his cabinet after November 7, when the J&K government shifts to its winter capital, which is Jammu.

Clearly, Abdullah has not yet given the impression of having backtracked from his stand on withdrawing AFSPA from certain parts of J&K. At the same time, the political furore raised over the issue also suggests that he probably expressed his own personal opinion on AFSPA without consulting others in his government. There is also the possibility of his having deliberately expressed his stand on AFSPA only to gain an idea of various political opinions regarding the same. Considering that Abdullah is well-aware that withdrawal of AFSPA from any one or more parts of J&K is not in his hands alone, he probably deliberately voiced his intention primarily for some publicity and win over Kashmiris’ support on emotional lines. In other words, withdrawal of AFSPA actually from certain parts of J&K is not his immediate agenda. This point is proved by his decision to take up the issue at the state cabinet meeting after Eid-ul-Zuha. If the issue is taken up, it shall be followed by meetings, discussions, countering opposition and consultations with the central government, which are least likely to be completed in a short period. 

Against this backdrop, it is pertinent to analyze the AFSPA from another angle. Why has it been assumed that Kashmiris are against it? Basically, AFSPA is not confined to J&K alone. In fact, before J&K was covered by it, the armed forces were conferred special powers, as per AFSPA, in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The AFSPA was brought in force in these states soon after the act was passed by the Indian Parliament on September 11, 1958. It was extended to J&K in July 1990. 

Legally, in areas proclaimed as “disturbed,” an officer of armed forces has powers to “fire upon,” “use force, even to the causing of death,” against any person “acting in contravention of any law,” “assembly of five or more persons” and/or “possession of deadly weapons.” The act also allows arrest without a warrant, with use of force against any person who has committed a certain offence or is suspected of the same. The act authorizes the officers to enter and search any premise to make arrests.

The AFSPA also gives army officers legal immunity for their actions. The legal immunity, however, prevails for actions taken as per the AFPSA. This also implies that if army officers falsely justify their acts as per the power granted to them by AFPSA, they can be subject to prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding. Against this backdrop, it is relevant to probe a little into how AFSPA has been understood, rather misunderstood, where J&K is concerned. It may be noted, situations in J&K have usually escalated to stage of crisis due to a confrontation between unarmed civilians and the police. In recent past, the involvement of forces and the militants has not been responsible for any major disturbance in the region. The affected Kashmiris have not yet recovered fully from last year’s tension between the civilians and the state-police. More than 100 people, including school children, fell victim to state-controlled bullets last year. Among the first to fall victim was a student Tufail Ahmad Mattoo. He was hit by a teargas shell fired by the police on June 11, 2010. The police was chasing a crowd of stone pelters at Rajouri Kadal. Mattoo was not a part of the crowd. To this day, his family members are waiting for justice. As per AFSPA or any other law, neither the army nor the state police can “legitimize” use of force that led to death of Mattoo. Not surprisingly, Mattoo’s death triggered protests throughout J&K. It is the death of Mattoo and other innocent civilians, who are targeted by state-controlled bullets that raises the question as to why has strict action not been taken against those responsible for these killings.

The army and police, it may be pointed out, fall under two different departments. Understandably, though AFSPA grants armed forces certain special powers in disturbed areas, it does not grant the same to the police. Also, as mentioned earlier, even soldiers are not granted legal immunity if their actions are not as per the norms laid out by AFSPA.

It may take months, even years before AFSPA is lifted from certain areas of J&K. The issue may remain confined to debates and discussions. In this context, rather than indulge only in deliberations and debates on whether AFSPA should be lifted or not, it is imperative to examine carefully whether the act is being strictly adhered to by the army officers and whether police too are taking shelter under AFSPA for their crimes. Omar Abdullah should ensure that strict action is taken against those accused of violating/abusing AFSPA.

13-45

OpEd–An Insulting Comment

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

I was very surprised to find a reference to my work while “googling” to see if a certain academic piece of mine was online, for I wished to make a reference to it, but I discovered, in the internet edition of Outlook India of August 27th 2007 (http://www. outlookindia/article.aspx?23514), I found an unflattering reference to myself.  In an interactive comment at the bottom of a travel article on Kashmir, “Eden’s Secret” by Parvaz Bukhavi, there was an attack not only on me,  but another American academic and three leading progressives in India.  To quote the comment by a Mr. Varun Shekkar of Toronto Ontario in Canada:

“Articles like this [it happened to be an apolitical travel piece] should give lie to Kashmiri separatists, but to their supporters across the border [i.e., Pakistan], and their vulgar sympathizers in the international media like Eric Margolis and Geoffrey Cook(!)..”  The interactive commentator goes on to say because of the comparative peacefulness of the region of Gurais in the (Indian, sic.[!]) State, “…the…Kashmiri movement is not a province-wide struggle against ‘Indian rule’…a strong rebuff to the likes of Arundhati Roy, Praful Bidwai and Nandita Haksar.”

Thank you, Mr. Shekkar, for including me in such a stellar array of fighters for human rights!  I am a great admirer of Mr. Margolis, but the Ms. and Mr. Roy, Bidwai and Haksar are, also, Indian citizens, and they are courageous individuals for speaking criticizing their own country’s policies when  those procedures are wrong!  I am afraid my name should not be listed with these brave and learned individuals, but I am glad at least someone is reading my works – even my critics!

For me this insult is praise!  From time to time I receive such “compliments” in the press and listservs.  That is one of the drawbacks for “opinion makers,” such as journalists politicians and other  individuals who expose their necks to the public.

Kashmir, after Palestine, is the most burning political issue within the Islamic world currently, for both sides of the argument are nuclear powers, and they almost came to explosive fisticuffs in 2001-2002 which would have killed and maimed hundreds of millions of human souls if not for the diplomatic skills of Perez Musharaf!
I do not wish to go over the recommendations that I made to the United States State Department through an elected Congressional official with whom I worked with on the conundrum and the United Nations — at their request. Because my scenario depends upon one step following after another, an order which is not the way how negotiations work – which are fraught with compromises, I shall not go into my suggestions as a whole.  Kashmir is a resolvable situation, though, but the problem lies within the Government buildings in New Delhi.

The Simla Agreement, where it was agreed that India and Pakistan would work out “outstanding differences bilaterally” without third party interference, has been unworkable!  Third parties (major extra-regional powers?) are needed – especially for shuttle diplomacy.

There is a fair enough chance that India’s right-wing political party, the BJP, who almost brought the region to catastrophe during the first year of this millennium, might be able to form a coalition after the next general election.

Kashmir can be settled, and it must be!  The sooner the better because of the  changing political landscape in South Asia  (Pakistan, too, is in danger that the struggle in the Northwest Frontier Provinces (N.W.P.)will descend into urban regions and their hinterlands there). 

The Arabian Sea area, which borders South Asia, portions of the Middle East and East Africa, does not only have a nuclear threat from Southern Asia but from the United States, France and Israel from  their nuclear missiles within their submarines which regularly prowl the vastness of that Sea.  The quandary lies not only with the Indo-Pak rivalry over Kashmir, but the other powers as well within that wide maritime territory.  The goal should be a nuclear-free zone in the expanse of that ocean and its surrounding nations!

The first step, though, is that Islamabad and New Delhi should begin consultations without preconditions!

12-14

Of India and Pakistan Talks Open Up Again

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

There are mixed feelings about the recent Pakistan India talks which were the first after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The foreign secretary of the 2 countries discussed the current situation in New Delhi last Thursday, 25th February 2010. These talks worse received with a lot of criticism from the public of Pakistan and India. No agenda was announced for the discussions. The Indaian Foreign Sectretary Ms. Nirupama Rao said that the talks would focus on the core issue of terrorism. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Mr. Salman Bashir said that he wanted to focus on the core issue of Kashmir.

Both sides entered the conversations with different ideas and in turn were expecting completely different results. Since the direction they wanted to take the discussions was so different the chances of this event being successful was a stretch.

Mr. Salman Bashir described his talks in Delhi as exploratory to reporters, “But unstructured talks for the sake of talks, though important, will not produce any long-term results. It is crucial that India agrees to restore Composite Dialogue to move forward,” he emphasized.

About the Kashmir Issue Bashir said: “Pakistan has made it clear to India that Kashmir is an international issue since the passage of the UN Security Council resolutions on it (in 1948) and international intervention is required for its settlement.

Ms. Rao said that in the discussion it was discussed that “the networks of terrorism in Pakistan be dismantled,”  “We have agreed to remain in touch,” Rao added.

While talking to the Pakistani press at the Pakistan High Commission in the evening Mr. Bashir said, the gap between Pakistan and India was widening and he did not see any substantial progress in the talks. He also added that there is no need for secretary level talks if India remains stuck to its stand on outstanding issues.
During these talks the water issue among others was brought up, which was discussed at the talks. According to Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Pakistan had informed the Indian side about the violations of Indus Basin Treaty, storage of water, Indian plan to build more dams, Kishenganaga hydel project, pollution in sources of water and the issue of glacier melting.

From the responses from both sides one cannot say for sure what issues were discussed and at what point the conversation was left but once can say for sure it doesn’t seem like nay significant results have come out of this venture. However it does not mean that talks were a complete failure and this act should not be repeatedly in the future. On the same token no time frame has been set for future discussions.

The issues that were discussed, including the Kashmir issue, are issues that have been under discussion and have been a problem for as long as the separate history of Pakistan and India has existed. From the reports that came in it looked like India and Pakitan had completely different agendas for this meeting and both sides are not really seeing eye to eye on what the real problem is.

India wants to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan and that is its only focus at this time. On the other hand Pakistan has many issues that it needs solved that have been put on the back burners for years for different reasons.

Every time the two countries start talks something takes place that halts the talks. The cold and hot history of the two nations makes it very hard for any peace or revolutionary discussions to take place. The recent halt in discussions came due to the Mumbai attacks because of which one can assume the Indian Foreign Secretary wants to focus on terrorism building within Pakistan according to India.

The Zardari government argued that peace with India would produce economic benefits that would strengthen Pakistan and allow the military to carry out its 15-year development plan.

In January 2007, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a comment to the similar affect when he said, “I dream of a day, while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul.”

No one can be sure if such time will ever come, however we do know that as of right now just thinking about traveling frm one country to another strikes fear in the hearts of many who know what is going on in all of these countries. It would be safe to say that our leaders have yet to give us a world in which what Mr. Singh said would be possible.

12-10

US Special Representative Favors “Friendship” With Indian Muslims

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Farah Pandith, United States’ first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, was here on a four-day visit to apparently “win over” the Indian Muslims and improve President Barack Obama administration’s image among them. Farah has come and gone (Feb 16-19), leaving many questions unanswered about the role such visits can really play in improving United States’ image among the Indian Muslims. Asserting that her visit was “not a popularity contest,” Farah said that it was an “effort to engage with people and strike partnerships to find a common ground of interest for the common good of all.”

Farah, an American of Indian origin, was born in Kashmir. It was her first visit to India as an US Special Representative, a new position created by Obama administration to improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world and also to actively “listen and respond” to their concerns in Europe, Africa and Asia. Sworn to this position last year on September 15, Farah has visited 12 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq and Kuwait. Her visits are a part of Obama administrations to reach out to Muslims dominated by “propaganda, stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations” about Washington.  This is the message Farah conveyed during her addresses in New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia University and India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC).

Farah played her part in displaying her consciousness about her religious identity as a Muslim and also in fulfilling the responsibility assigned to her in reaching out to Muslims across the world. She kept her head bowed as a cleric recited from the holy Quran at the function held at IICC. Farah began her brief address with the traditional Muslim greeting: “Asalaam Alaikum.” It was President Obama’s “vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” she said. “I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you,” she asserted.

Highlighting the significance of her position, Farah said: “Never before America had an envoy for Muslim communities. This is the first time an envoy for the Muslims was appointed. My job is to work with our embassies worldwide to engage with the Muslim communities and focus strongly on the new generation.” “Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to engage with Muslim communities around the world at the grassroots level, and to build and extend partnerships through the US embassies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. I have to look at out-of-the-box ways to engage, based on mutual respect. That is my job, my mandate,” she said.

“With one-fourth of the world’s population that is Muslim, of course our country (United States) wants to do as much as we can to build partnerships across the board,” Farah stated. “We can and we want to extend the partnership in a very strong way that will allow us to develop long-term relationship with Muslims all over the world,” she said.

Drawing attention to Islam being practiced in United States and the diversity there, Farah pointed to having learned reading holy Quran at a mosque there. She also tried convincing the audience that she was “this was not an effort to increase popularity of America by a few percentage points.” Nevertheless, while interacting with Indian Muslim leaders, she pointed to Obama administration being serious about working closely with Islamic world. This, she said, was marked by appointment of Indian born Rashid Hussain as envoy for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Obama’s advisory council for faith also includes Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago.

The US government can act as a “convener, facilitator and intellectual partner” and help forge partnerships on basis of common ideas and common goals, the benefits of which will be useful not only for Muslims, but everyone, Farah said. Elaborating on her mission to reach out to the young generation, she pointed out that 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30. “I will focus more on the young generation in Muslim world and I want to understand the diversity of Islam in different countries and communities as well,” she said.

Though Farah expressed that she was “interested in talking to the Facebook generation, the youth,” she evaded questions posed at Jamia University on United States’ foreign policy on issues that have bothered Muslims across the world. To a question regarding Israel-Palestine, she said: “That is not my job. I am not George Mitchell (US Mideast envoy).” On Washington’s policy regarding West Asia and Pakistan, Farah replied: “I am not Richard Holbrooke (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). It’s not my job to work on Kashmir or Pakistan.”

Irrespective of whether Farah succeeds in improving image of Obama administration among the Muslims, her own identity has certainly played some part in compelling the world to revise the stereotyped image they have of Muslim women. The Obama administration is apparently hopeful that Farah’s image as a “modern Muslim” will help win over the young generation. Suggesting this, Farah said: “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”

12-9

“Building Peace in the Pursuit of Justice: The Issue of Kashmir”

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai

Executive Director, Kashmiri American Council/Kashmir center, Parliament of World’s Religions, Melbourne, Australia

I feel gratified that the Parliament of World’s Religions is seized of the important matters relating to the building of peace in the pursuit of justice. The opportunity to exchange views on this important subject is wonderful.  The intellectual challenge is great and the stakes are equally huge. Men and women have yearned for peace and justice for ages. As the Old Testament taught, we should never sleep untroubled until justice flows down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

International peace has been recognized over the years as an essential condition for the enjoyment of human rights and justice for all. It is axiomatic that international peace defines the basic condition for the respect for civil and political rights and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights. In an environment of turmoil and tribulations, the very concept of human rights becomes a mockery.  The most promising way to prevent conflict is to eliminate its causes.  The latter are well known. Violence and mayhem ensue because of mankind’s desire for domination, wealth, territory and destruction of people and things that are disliked for religious, racial, ethnic, cultural or other reasons.

After an end to the ideological confrontation between East and West, the international community had reason to hope that hostilities in many parts of the world would also come to an end and the residual regional conflicts would be resolved peacefully through negotiations. However, contrary to our expectations, in many parts of the world, bloody conflicts are raging which have destroyed all the hopes for a humane and stable world order.  The unresolved conflicts of Palestine and Kashmir are a challenge to international leadership and the human conscience.

Although the UN has written declarations that affirm the rights of vulnerable populations, there must be a greater worldwide effort on the part of governments, NGOs, businesses, and UN agencies to incorporate peace, justice and human dignity into internationalization and globalization.  Peace, justice and human dignity cannot take a back seat as societies globalize their trade, supply chaining, and outsourcing.  Freedom and justice must prevail above all political and economic aspects of international trade relations, and treaties even if it requires canceling trade agreements with countries that blatantly allow gross human rights violations to continue.  It is the responsibility of everyone operating in the international arena to ensure that peace, justice and human dignity are protected.  Global ethics must be fully integrated into the process of globalization.

As long as any one human being suffers the indignation of rape, slavery, torture or sexual exploitation, then peace, justice and human dignity remain absent from the human race as a whole.

The South Asian region furnishes an undeniable evidence of how respect for human rights cannot be achieved without first creating conditions for international peace. The people of Kashmir were pledged by no less authority than the UN Security Council to exercise their right to decide their future under conditions free from coercion and intimidation.  The denial of this right is directly inter-related with the peace of the region.

I believe that peace and justice in Kashmir are achievable if all parties concerned – India, Pakistan and Kashmiris – make some sacrifices.  Each party will have to modify its position so that common ground is found.  It will be impossible to find a solution of Kashmir conflict that respects all the sensitivities of Indian authorities, values all the sentiments of Pakistan, keeps intact the unity of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and safeguards the rights and interests of the people of all the different zones of the state.  Yet this does not mean that we cannot find an imaginative solution.  It is possible provided all parties will modify their stated positions and show some flexibility.

I also believe that peace and justice in Kashmir are achievable only if pragmatic and realistic strategy is established to help set a stage to put the Kashmir issue on the road to a just and durable settlement.  Since, we are concerned with setting a stage for settlement rather than the shape the settlement will take, I believe it is both untimely and harmful to indulge in, or encourage, controversies about the most desirable solution.  Any attempt to do so amounts to playing into the hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is unacceptable to the people of Kashmir and also a continuing threat to peace in South Asia.  We deprecate raising of quasi-legal or pseudo-legal questions during the preparatory phase about the final settlement.  It only serves to befog the issue and to convey the wrong impression that the dispute is too complex to be resolved and that India and Pakistan hold equally inflexible positions.  Such an impression does great injury to the cause.

We anticipate that this forum will make valuable contribution not only to build peace in the pursuit of justice, but also to build stronger partnership between members of various religious groups and civil society for this important task.

Dr. Fai can be reached at gnfai2003@yahoo.com

11-51

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.

11-46

Pakistan–Towards Theocracy?

March 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy

2009-03-15T151234Z_01_ISL35_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-PROTEST
Protester holds a party flag as he kicks a tear gas canister towards policemen in Lahore March 15, 2009. Protesters fought street battles with police Sunday that raises questions of Pakistani stability.       REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Women in burqas and children from the Bajaur and Mohmand agency areas wait to be registered at a refugee camp near Peshawar in January. Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of displaced people streaming into cities and towns.

FOR 20 years or more, a few of us in Pakistan have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. Nevertheless, none anticipated how quickly and accurately our dire predictions would come true. It is a small matter that the flames of terrorism set Mumbai on fire and, more recently, destroyed Pakistan’s cricketing future. A much more important and brutal fight lies ahead as Pakistan, a nation of 175 million, struggles for its very survival. The implications for the future of South Asia are enormous.

Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of IDPs (internally displaced people) streaming into cities and towns. In February 2009, with the writ of the Pakistani state in tatters, the government gave in to the demand of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban Movement) to implement the Islamic Sharia in Malakand, a region of FATA. It also announced the suspension of a military offensive in Swat, which has been almost totally taken over by the TTP. But the respite that it brought was short-lived and started breaking down only hours later.

The fighting is now inexorably migrating towards Peshawar where, fearing the Taliban, video shop owners have shut shop, banners have been placed in bazaars declaring them closed for women, musicians are out of business, and kidnapping for ransom is the best business in town. Islamabad has already seen Lal Masjid and the Marriot bombing, and has had its police personnel repeatedly blown up by suicide bombers. Today, its barricaded streets give a picture of a city under siege. In Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an ethnic but secular party well known for strong-arm tactics, has issued a call for arms to prevent the Taliban from making further inroads into the city. Lahore once appeared relatively safe and different but, after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, has rejoined Pakistan.

The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy. Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals, and ordinary people praying in mosques have been reduced to hideous masses of flesh and fragments of bones. The bearded ones, many operating out of madrassas, are hitting targets across the country. Although a substantial part of the Pakistani public insists upon lionising them as “standing up to the Americans”, they are neither seeking to evict a foreign occupier nor fighting for a homeland. They want nothing less than to seize power and to turn Pakistan into their version of the ideal Islamic state. In their incoherent, ill-formed vision, this would include restoring the caliphate as well as doing away with all forms of western influence and elements of modernity. The AK-47 and the Internet, of course, would stay.

But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of military action against the cruel perpetrators, choosing to believe that they are fighting for Islam and against an imagined American occupation. Political leaders like Qazi Husain Ahmed and Imran Khan have no words of kindness for those who have suffered from Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved for the victims of predator drones, whether innocent or otherwise. By definition, for them terrorism is an act that only Americans can commit.

Why the Denial?

To understand Pakistan’s collective masochism, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have made this country so utterly different from what it was in earlier times. For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula.

This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a rich Muslim culture in India for a thousand years.. This culture produced Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.

This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, under the approving gaze of Ronald Reagan’s America, the Pakistani state pushed Islam on to its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for university academic posts required that the candidate demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and jehad was declared essential for every Muslim.

Villages have changed drastically, driven in part by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other Muslims, who they do not consider to be proper Muslims. Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than Pashtuns, are now also beginning to take a line resembling the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from recent decisions in the Lahore High Court.

K.M. Chaudhry/AP

Pakistan’s Ministry of Education estimates that 1.5 million students are getting religious education in 13,000 madrassas. These figures could be quite off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 such schools. Here, students at the Jamia Manzoorul Islam, a madrassa in Lahore.

In the Pakistani lower-middle and middle-middle classes lurks a grim and humourless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement which frowns on every expression of joy and pleasurable pastime. Lacking any positive connection to history, culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing control of the education system.

“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichtarveena are completely dead,” laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has no teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence.

As a part of General Zia-ul-Haq’s cultural offensive, Hindi words were expunged from daily use and replaced with heavy-sounding Arabic ones. Persian, the language of Mughal India, had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional “khuda hafiz” (Persian for “God be with you”) into “allah hafiz” (Arabic for “God be with you”) took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.

Genesis of Jehad

One can squarely place the genesis of religious militancy in Pakistan to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the subsequent efforts of the U.S.-Pakistan-Saudi grand alliance to create and support the Great Global Jehad of the 20th century. A toxic mix of imperial might, religious fundamentalism, and local interests ultimately defeated the Soviets. But the network of Islamic militant organisations did not disappear after it achieved success. By now the Pakistani Army establishment had realised the power of jehad as an instrument of foreign policy, and so the network grew from strength to strength.

The amazing success of the state is now turning out to be its own undoing. Today the Pakistan Army and establishment are under attack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically, the same Army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jehad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers. Over 1,800 soldiers have died as of February 2009 in encounters with religious militants, and many have been tortured before decapitation. Nevertheless, the Army is still ambivalent in its relationship with the jehadists and largely focusses upon India.

Education or Indoctrination?

Similar sentiments exist in a large part of the Pakistani public media.. The commonly expressed view is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA and that madrassas are the only jehad factories around. This could not be more wrong. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this kind of education will produce a generation incapable of living together with any except strictly their own kind. Pakistan’s education system demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of the schoolchild a sense of siege and constant embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.

The government-approved curriculum, prepared by the Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education, is the basic road map for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an Act of Parliament, passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It is a blueprint for a religious fascist state.

The masthead of an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi, along “Islamic lines”. Although not an officially approved textbook, it has been used for many years by some regular schools, as well as madrassas, associated with the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Pervez Musharraf.

The world of the Pakistani schoolchild was largely unchanged even after September 11, 2001, which led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jehad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation”, Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned-down copy of that under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto, who inherited it from Zia-ul-Haq.

Fearful of taking on powerful religious forces, every incumbent government refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be molded by fanatics. What might happen a generation later has always been a secondary matter for a government challenged on so many sides.

The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jehad became part of the culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, invited students for jehad=2 0in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds at Friday prayers, and declared a war without borders. Pre-9/11, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jehad. After 2001, this slipped below the surface.

For all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation”, General Pervez Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned-down copy of that under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto, who inherited it from Zia-ul-Haq. (From left) Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf.

The madrassas

The primary vehicle for Saudi-ising Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates from the 11th century with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as “moulvi sahibs” teaching children to read the Quran.

The Afghan jehad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the U.S.-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder needed for fighting a holy war. The Americans and the Saudis, helped by a more-than-willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth of Pakistan.

A detailed picture of the current s ituation is not available. But, according to the national education census, which the Ministry of Education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with 2,843; Sindh 1,935; Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA) 1,193; Balochistan 769; Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 586; FATA 135; and Islamabad capital territory 77. The Ministry estimates that 1.5 million students are getting religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.

These figures could be quite off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free room, board and supplies to students, form a key part of their appeal.

But the desire of parents across the country is for children to be “disciplined” and to be given a thorough Islamic education. This is also a major contributing factor.

For the rest of this article, please visit our website:  www.muslimobserver.com.

Madrassas have deeply impacted upon the urban environment. For example, until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from all others in Pakistan. Still earlier, it had been largely the abode of Pakistan’s hyper-elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students with little prayer caps dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm around the city, making bare-faced women increasingly nervous.

Women – the Lesser Species

Total separation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists. Two decades ago the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu; it is a foreign import. But today, some shops in Islamabad specialise in abaya. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, female students are seeking the anonymity of the burqa. Such students outnumber their sisters who still dare show their faces.

While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the path. Those with beards and burqas are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine, and so on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims or, if faced by incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression. Faced with the embarrassment that 200 schools for girls were blown up in Swat by Fazlullah’s militants, they wriggle out by saying that some schools were housing the Pakistan Army, who should be targeted anyway.

Abdul Rehman/Reuters

This high school at Qambar in the Swat valley was among the 200 schools for girls destroyed by the S wat Taliban led by Mullah Fazlullah.

The Prognosis

The immediate future is not hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control over the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas, a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Sufi Mohammad, Baitullah Mehsud, Fazlullah, Mangal Bagh…. The enabling environment of poverty, deprivation, lack of justice, and extreme differences of wealth is perfect for these demagogues. Their gruesome acts of terror and public beheadings are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis as part of the fight against imperialist America and, sometimes, India as well. This could not be more wrong.

The jehadists have longer-range goals. A couple of years ago, a Karachi-based monthly magazine ran a cover story on the terrorism in Kashmir. One fighter was asked what he would do if a political resolution were found for the disputed valley. Revealingly, he replied that he would not lay down his gun but turn it on the Pakistani leadership, with the aim of installing an Islamic government there.

Over the next year or two, we are likely to see more short-lived “peace accords”, as in Malakand, Swat and, earlier on, in Shakai. In my opinion, these are exercises in futility. Until the Pakistan Army finally realises that Mr. Frankenstein needs to be eliminated rather than be engaged in negotiations, it will continue to soft-pedal on counter-insurgency. It will also continue to develop and demand from the U.S. high-tech weapons that are not the slightest use against insurgents. There are some indications that some realisation of the internal threat is dawning, but the speed is as yet glacial.

Even if Mumbai-II occurs, India’s options in dealing with nuclear Pakistan are severely limited. Cross-border strikes should be dismissed from the realm of possibilities. They could lead to escalations that neither government would have control over. I am convinced that India’s prosperity – and perhaps its physical survival – demands that Pakistan stays together. Pakistan could disintegrate into a hell, where different parts are run by different warlords. Paradoxically perhaps, India’s most effective defence could be the Pakistan Army, torn and fractured though it may be. To convert a former enemy army into a possible ally will require that India change tack.

To create a future working alliance with the struggling Pakistani state, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. It must not deny that the majority of Kashmiri Muslims are deeply alienated from the Indian state and that they desperately seek balm for their wounds. Else the forces of cross-border jehad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succour.
I shall end this rather grim essay on an optimistic note: the forces of irrationality will surely ca ncel themselves out because they act in random directions, whereas reason pulls in only one. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and humans will continue their evolution towards a higher and better species. Ultimately, it will not matter whether we are Pakistanis, Indians, Kashmiris, or whatever. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, people will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religion and nationalism. But for now this must be just a hypothesis.

Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy is Professor and Chairman of the Physics Department, Qaid-e Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.

11-13

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!

11-2

Land and Freedom–Kashmir

August 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Arundhati Roy, The Guardian

2008-08-22T122752Z_01_SRI15_RTRMDNP_3_KASHMIR-PROTESTS

A Muslim Kashmiri woman with a 40-day-old baby shouts pro-freedom slogans during a march to “Martyrs Graveyard” in Srinagar August 22, 2008. Tens of thousands of Muslims marched in Indian Kashmir’s main city on Friday, resuming some of the biggest protests in two decades against Indian rule. Hundreds of trucks and buses brought the protesters, many of them sitting on roofs and hanging out of windows, for an independence rally to be addressed by separatist leaders.

REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli 

For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage. This one is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been “disappeared”, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, rebottled and sent back to where it came from.

A sudden twist of fate, an ill-conceived move over the transfer of 100 acres of state forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board (which manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave deep in the Kashmir Himalayas) suddenly became the equivalent of tossing a lit match into a barrel of petrol. Until 1989 the Amarnath pilgrimage used to attract about 20,000 people who travelled to the Amarnath cave over a period of about two weeks. In 1990, when the overtly Islamist militant uprising in the valley coincided with the spread of virulent Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in the Indian plains, the number of pilgrims began to increase exponentially. By 2008 more than 500,000 pilgrims visited the Amarnath cave, in large groups, their passage often sponsored by Indian business houses. To many people in the valley this dramatic increase in numbers was seen as an aggressive political statement by an increasingly Hindu-fundamentalist Indian state. Rightly or wrongly, the land transfer was viewed as the thin edge of the wedge. It triggered an apprehension that it was the beginning of an elaborate plan to build Israeli-style settlements, and change the demography of the valley.

Days of massive protest forced the valley to shut down completely. Within hours the protests spread from the cities to villages. Young stone pelters took to the streets and faced armed police who fired straight at them, killing several. For people as well as the government, it resurrected memories of the uprising in the early 90s. Throughout the weeks of protest, hartal (strikes) and police firing, while the Hindutva publicity machine charged Kashmiris with committing every kind of communal excess, the 500,000 Amarnath pilgrims completed their pilgrimage, not just unhurt, but touched by the hospitality they had been shown by local people.

Eventually, taken completely by surprise at the ferocity of the response, the government revoked the land transfer. But by then the land-transfer had become what Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the most senior and also the most overtly Islamist separatist leader, called a “non-issue.”

Massive protests against the revocation erupted in Jammu. There, too, the issue snowballed into something much bigger. Hindus began to raise issues of neglect and discrimination by the Indian state. (For some odd reason they blamed Kashmiris for that neglect.) The protests led to the blockading of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only functional road-link between Kashmir and India. Truckloads of perishable fresh fruit and valley produce began to rot.

The blockade demonstrated in no uncertain terms to people in Kashmir that they lived on sufferance, and that if they didn’t behave themselves they could be put under siege, starved, deprived of essential commodities and medical supplies. 2008-08-22T133347Z_01_SRI18R_RTRMDNP_3_KASHMIR-PROTESTS

To expect matters to end there was of course absurd. Hadn’t anybody noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi, freedom? To threaten them with mass starvation amounted to committing political suicide.

Not surprisingly, the voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world?

There have been mass rallies in the past, but none in recent memory that have been so sustained and widespread. The mainstream political parties of Kashmir – National Conference and People’s Democratic party – appear dutifully for debates in New Delhi’s TV studios, but can’t muster the courage to appear on the streets of Kashmir. The armed militants who, through the worst years of repression were seen as the only ones carrying the torch of azadi forward, if they are around at all, seem content to take a back seat and let people do the fighting for a change.

The separatist leaders who do appear and speak at the rallies are not leaders so much as followers, being guided by the phenomenal spontaneous energy of a caged, enraged people that has exploded on Kashmir’s streets. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrel
s of soldiers’ machine guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. Hum Kya Chahtey? Azadi! (We want freedom.) And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with equal intensity: Jeevey jeevey Pakistan. (Long live Pakistan.)

That sound reverberates through the valley like the drumbeat of steady rain on a tin roof, like the roll of thunder during an electric storm.

On August 15, India’s independence day, Lal Chowk, the nerve centre of Srinagar, was taken over by thousands of people who hoisted the Pakistani flag and wished each other “happy belated independence day” (Pakistan celebrates independence on August 14) and “happy slavery day”. Humour obviously, has survived India’s many torture centres and Abu Ghraibs in Kashmir.

2008-08-22T123509Z_01_SRI19_RTRMDNP_3_KASHMIR-PROTESTS On August 16 more than 300,000 people marched to Pampore, to the village of the Hurriyat leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who was shot down in cold blood five days earlier.

On the night of August 17 the police sealed the city. Streets were barricaded, thousands of armed police manned the barriers. The roads leading into Srinagar were blocked. On the morning of August 18, people began pouring into Srinagar from villages and towns across the valley. In trucks, tempos, jeeps, buses and on foot. Once again, barriers were broken and people reclaimed their city. The police were faced with a choice of either stepping aside or executing a massacre. They stepped aside. Not a single bullet was fired.

The city floated on a sea of smiles. There was ecstasy in the air. Everyone had a banner; houseboat owners, traders, students, lawyers, doctors. One said: “We are all prisoners, set us free.” Another said: “Democracy without freedom is demon-crazy.” Demon-crazy. That was a good one. Perhaps he was referring to the insanity that permits the world’s largest democracy to administer the world’s largest military occupation and continue to call itself a democracy.

There was a green flag on every lamp post, every roof, every bus stop and on the top of chinar trees. A big one fluttered outside the All India Radio building. Road signs were painted over. Rawalpindi they said. Or simply Pakistan. It would be a mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan. Some of it has to do with gratitude for the support – cynical or otherwise – for what Kashmiris see as their freedom struggle, and the Indian state sees as a terrorist campaign. It also has to do with mischief. With saying and doing what galls India most of all. (It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a “freedom struggle” that wishes to distance itself from a country that is supposed to be a democracy and align itself with another that has, for the most part been ruled by military dictators. A country whose army has committed genocide in what is now Bangladesh. A country that is even now being torn apart by its own ethnic war. These are important questions, but right now perhaps it’s more useful to wonder
what this so-called democracy did in Kashmir to make people hate it so?)

Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry Pakistan se rishta kya? La illaha illallah. (What is our bond with Pakistan? There is no god but Allah.) Azadi ka matlab kya? La illaha illallah. (What does freedom mean? There is no god but Allah.)

For somebody like myself, who is not Muslim, that interpretation of freedom is hard – if not impossible – to understand. I asked a young woman whether freedom for Kashmir would not mean less freedom for her, as a woman. She shrugged and said “What kind of freedom do we have now? The freedom to be raped by Indian soldiers?” Her reply silenced me.

Surrounded by a sea of green flags, it was impossible to doubt or ignore the deeply Islamic fervour of the uprising taking place around me. It was equally impossible to label it a vicious, terrorist jihad. For Kashmiris it was a catharsis. A historical moment in a long and complicated struggle for freedom with all the imperfections, cruelties and confusions that freedom struggles have. This one cannot by any means call itself pristine, and will always be stigmatised by, and will some day, I hope, have to account for, among other things, the brutal killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the early years of the uprising, culminating in the exodus of almost the entire Hindu community from the Kashmir valley.

As the crowd continued to swell I listened carefully to the slogans, because rhetoric of ten holds the key to all kinds of understanding. There were plenty of insults and humiliation for India: Ay jabiron ay zalimon, Kashmir hamara chhod do (Oh oppressors, Oh wicked ones, Get out of our Kashmir.) The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan. (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself – Pakistan.)

Why was it so galling, so painful to listen to this? I tried to work it out and settled on three reasons. First, because we all know that the first part of the slogan is the embarrassing and unadorned truth about India, the emerging superpower. Second, because all Indians who are not nanga or bhooka are and have been complicit in complex and historical ways with the elaborate cultural and economic systems that make Indian society so cruel, so vulgarly unequal. And third, because it was painful to listen to people who have suffered so much themselves mock others who suffer, in different ways, but no less intensely, under the same oppressor. In that slogan I saw the seeds of how easily victims can become perpetrators.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani began his address with a recitation from the Qur`an. He then said what he has said before, on hundreds of occasions. The only way for the struggle to succeed, he said, was to turn to the Qur`an for guidance. He said Islam would guide the struggle and that it was a complete social and moral code that would govern the people of a free Kashmir. He said Pakistan had been created as the home of Islam, and that that goal should never be subverted. He said just as Pakistan belonged to Kashmir, Kashmir belonged to Pakistan. He said minority communities would have full rights and their places of worship would be safe. Each point he made was applauded.

I imagined myself standing in the heart of a Hindu nationalist rally being addressed by the Bharatiya Janata party’s (BJP) LK Advani. Replace the word Islam with the word Hindutva, replace the word Pakistan with Hindustan, replace the green flags with saffron ones and we would have the BJP’s nightmare vision of an ideal India.

Is that what we should accept as our future? Monolithic religious states handing down a complete social and moral code, “a complete way of life”? Millions of us in India reject the Hindutva project. Our rejection springs from love, from passion, from a kind of idealism, from having enormous emotional stakes in the society in which we live. What our neighbours do, how they choose to handle their affairs does not affect our argument, it only strengthens it.

Arguments that spring from love are also fraught with danger. It is for the people of Kashmir to agree or disagree with the Islamist project (which is as contested, in equally complex ways, all over the world by Muslims, as Hindutva is contested by Hindus). Perhaps now that the threat of violence has receded and there is some space in which to debate views and air ideas, it is time for those who are part of the struggle to outline a vision for what kind of society they are fighting for.

Perhaps it is time to offer people something more than martyrs, slogans and vague generalisations. Those who wish to turn to the Qur`an for guidance will no doubt find guidance there. But what of those who do not wish to do that, or for whom the Qur`an does not make place? Do the Hindus of Jammu and other minorities also have the right to self-determination? Will the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, many of them in terrible poverty, have the right to return? Will they be paid reparations for the terrible losses they have suffered? Or will a free Kashmir do to its minorities what India has done to Kashmiris for 61 years? What will happen to homosexuals and adulterers and blasphemers? What of thieves and lafangas and writers who do not agree with the “complete social and moral code”? Will we be put to death as we are in Saudi Arabia? Will the cycle of death, repression and bloodshed continue? History offers many models for Kashmir’s thinkers and intellectuals and politicians to study. What will the Kashmir of their dreams look like? Algeria? Iran? South Africa? Switzerland? Pakistan?

At a crucial time like this, few things are more important than dreams. A lazy utopia and a flawed sense of justice will have consequences that do not bear thinking about. This is not the time for intellectual sloth or a reluctance to assess a situation clearly and honestly.

Already the spectre of partition has reared its head. Hindutva networks are alive with rumours about Hindus in the valley being attacked and forced to flee. In response, phone calls from Jammu reported that an armed Hindu militia was threatening a massacre and that Muslims from the two Hindu majority districts were preparing to flee. Memories of the bloodbath that ensued and claimed the lives of more than a million people when India and Pakistan were partitioned have come flooding back. That nightmare will haunt all of us forever.

However, none of these fears of what the future holds can justify the continued military occupation of a nation and a people. No more than the old colonial argument about how the natives were not ready for freedom justified the colonial project.

Of course there are many ways for the Indian state to continue to hold on to Kashmir. It could do what it does best. Wait. And hope the people’s energy will dissipate in the absence of a concrete plan. It could try and fracture the fragile coalition that is emerging. It could extinguish this non-violent uprising and re-invite armed militancy. It could increase the number of troops from half a million to a whole million. A few strategic massacres, a couple of targeted assassinations, some disappearances and a massive round of arrests should do the trick for a few more years.

The unimaginable sums of public money that are needed to keep the military occupation of Kashmir going is money that ought by right to be spent on schools and hospitals and food for an impoverished, malnutritioned population in India. What kind of government can possibly believe that it has the right to spend it on more weapons, more concertina wire and more prisons in Kashmir?

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir.

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as – if not more than – Kashmir needs azadi from India.

· Arundhati Roy, 2008. A longer version of this article will be available tomorrow at outlookindia.com.