Posts Tagged ‘Jammu and Kashmir’

Some Comments on Resolving the Kashmir Conflict

January 19, 2011

by Nasir Khan, January 19, 2011

Editor’s Note: Gorki wrote a comprehensive comment on my article ‘Resolving the Kashmir Conflict (Foreign Policy Journal, January 13, 2011 ) in which he offered his perspective and also raised some important questions. In reply, I have written the following remarks. For the sake of convenience, I have split his comment into a few parts followed by my reply:

Gorki:

Dr. Khan I find your article useful because it allows one to hear the views of the Kashmiris themselves regarding the Kashmir imbroglio.

On the face of it your statement “The best course left for India is to make a break with its previous policy, and accede to the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. This will not weaken India; instead, it will show the strength of Indian democracy as well of the humane aspects of Indian cultural tradition…” sounds reasonable and taken in isolation such views even find many sympathetic listeners in India itself. However the Indians must keep other consideration in mind that cannot be considered imperialistic by any stretch of imagination.

Nasir:

Gorki , thank you for your balanced opinion on a number of points and the important questions you have raised in your comment. I will try to reply to some points.

My roots are in the Indian culture and I am deeply proud of our historical heritage. I am well aware of the Indian Civilisations stretching back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, some five thousand years old. Merely because of the hostile Indo-Pak relations since the partition of India in 1947, the Kashmir Issue has been the main cause of tension between the two states, I have regarded both India and Pakistan as parts of the same body, the body being the subcontinent of India that holds diverse races, cultures and mores showing much diversity while geographically belonging to the same entity. We can compare the subcontinent’s position with the broad geographical areas identified with Europe. In Europe there have been many languages, diverse cultures, political and religious conflicts for well over two thousand years. Despite all that various nations and people of this continent identity themselves with Europe and its civilisations, old and new. In a similar way, as an individual I identity myself with the subcontinent. My regional identity with Kashmir and the historical connection I have with with Kashmir is only natural; it is the affinity of part with the whole. As such they are mutually interdependent, not exclusive of each other.

Gorki:

The reality is that the entire former British India is organically connected and anything that happens in one part has an echo elsewhere in the sub continent. For example when a sacred relic went missing for 17 days from the Hazrat Bal mosque in 1963; there was rioting all over India. Thus any action in or regarding Kashmir cannot be taken in isolation.

While self determination and independence by themselves are honourable goals, anyone arguing for self determination only for the Kashmiris of the valley would either have to argue on the basis of some kind of Kashmiri exceptionalism or else should be willing to accept similar demands for self determination from others such as the Sikhs in the Indian Punjab and the Baluch in Pakistan. Conceding any such demands then would risks major man made disasters like the ethnic cleansing and huge population displacements that occurred in the wake of the partition in 1947.

Nasir:

Here your formulation about the organic connection has the Spencerian undertones! We have histories of India and Indian states before the British came. When the British gradually took over different parts of India by force of arms or by their political skills (and tricks), our people and many of our rulers evinced little concern to what happened to small or big states who were being devoured by the East India Company. Some of them had treacherously sided with the Farangis against those Indian rulers who resisted the British. This is also our history.

The instance of the disappearance of a holy relic in Kashmir you cite has more to do with religious feelings and identities than with the organic connection throughout the subcontinent. Such relics can also be seen as having extra-territorial dimension and impact.

In fact, we have seen major political conflicts and killing of innocent people by the Indian state (and also by Pakistani army in the Northwest Pakistan at the bidding of the United Sates as a continuing policy of crushing and eliminating those who resist and oppose the American wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan). The vast majority of these countries has not shown much resolve to oppose the policies of their governments. But, a religious relic or what believers may call a ‘religious place’ is something different! That moves our masses, and they do what they think is serving their deities!! We know how the religious passions of ordinary people inflamed by rightist forces in India in which the Indian rulers were implicated, led to the destruction of the Babri mosque by the Hindu mobs and the killing of thousands of innocent Indian Muslims in Gujarat.

But what sort of policies a state formulates and implements has a direct bearing on the political developments of a country. The same is true in the case of India; a wise political lead by responsible politicians influences and shapes the political landscape.

Now the question of ‘Kashmiri exceptionalism’ if India and Pakistan hold plebiscite to meet the demands of the people of Jammu and Kashmir: I myself, do not regard the case of Jammu and Kashmir an exceptional one; but no doubt there is a historical context to it. The circumstances under which India extended its control over Jammu and Kashmir is much different from other princely states. At the end of the British rule in India and the partition of India by the imperial rulers, there were 562 princely states, big and small, over which the British held suzerainty or ‘paramountcy’ as in the case of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. We know how these princely states were incorporated into the two new states. How India extended its control over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is relevant to the whole question of the Kashmir Issue. After the military conflict and the ceasefire mediated by the United Nations, both India and Pakistan agreed to hold plebiscite that would enable the people of J&K to determine their future. That promise still remains unfilled and the consequences of that denial have been catastrophic for India, Pakistan and especially the people of J&K.

The Kashmir Conflict continues to be the unfinished task of the 1947 partition. This conflict has not disappeared; neither will it go away because the bullet has so far overridden the ballot and common sense.

Gorki:

Letting Kashmir valley join Pakistan OTOH would in essence be conceding the two nation theory; again not without risks. As you rightly pointed out, India remains a home to some 130 million Muslims. Letting the Muslims of the valley to go join Pakistan would in no way enhance the security of the non-Kashmiri Muslims elsewhere in India and if anything would make them even more insecure and strengthen the very forces of Hindutva that you pointed out threaten India’s fragile communal amity. (Ironically this is exactly what happened to the Indian Muslims of UP and Bihar who had allowed themselves to be emotionally led into voting for the AIML’s election plank of a Pakistan in 1946 which then left them high and dry).

Even within the state of Jammu and Kashmir itself, there would be major upheavals in case the current structure is tampered with. What would happen to the minority Muslims in Jammu and Ladakh?
Also if one argues that Kashmir is a homeland for the Kashmiris then what happens to other non Kashmiri populations of the valley such as the Gujjars etc.? Where would their homeland be?

Nasir:

Here you raise some important questions and also some legitimate concerns. First, the ‘two nation theory’. In fact, the partition of India was on the basis of  the two nation theory. For the sake of argument, I will say that if the people of J&K join A or B country, or decide for some other option they should have the democratic right to do so. The organic linkage you seem to emphasise in case the Valley joins Pakistan is worthy of consideration, but what Kashmiri Muslims want is their right to determine their future and to gain freedom. What that freedom entails is the freedom from Indian rule. This is their wish and to crush their aspirations the Indian state has used more than half-a-million soldiers. They have killed more than one-hundred-thousand people. It is military occupation of a country where India has committed horrific war crimes.

Who contributed to such a perspective that shaped the political history of India and led to the division of India by the British? Well, an easy way for amateurs is to have a bogeyman to explain away the historical facts and blame the Muslim leadership for all that! Even before Mr Gandhi came to India from South Africa, one of the most prominent Indian politician at that time was Mr Jinnah, who was commonly known as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’. He had the vision of a democratic, united India at the end of the British raj. But alas that was not to happen because this liberal, secularist lawyer was able to see the machinations of the Hindu leadership of the Indian National Congress and other Hindu militant organisations standing for the Ram raj and the Hindu domination of the whole sub-continent.

In my political work, at no time have I ever said what the people of J&K should stand for or how they should decide about their future. Neither have I ever advocated that the people of the Kashmir Valley should join Pakistan. That is something for the affected people to decide.

The Kashmiris’ demand and their struggle for Azaadi (freedom) is not directed against any other people, ethnic or religious minorities, who make up the population of their country. The people of J&K, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., have traditions of tolerance and inter-religious accommodation. In 1947, I was a six-year-old; I had seen how Hindus and Muslims had a shared and fraternal existence in our area. If the people of J&K are given a chance to live as free human beings and not under the terror of military power of India, then our age-old traditions of mutual respect and acceptance will reassert. That will be a good example for the Hindutva rightist forces that pose a great threat to the Indian democracy and religious minorities, Muslims being their major target.

I am also conscious of the dangers you rightly point to if the ‘current structure’ is changed. But I don’t suppose you offer your solution as the continued rejection of the demands of the Kashmiris because that safeguards some ‘ideal’ unity of India, knowing that India has carried out a militarist solution to crush the demands of the Kashmiri freedom movement. Simply put, it has been state terrorism by an occupying power. This short-sighted policy will fail in the long run as it has failed in the past.

Gorki:

You rightly mention that Kashmir is currently a big source of contention between India and Pakistan. However how certain can anybody be that this will not be the case if this issue is sorted out? Former Pakistani president, General Musharraf once said that India will remain Pakistan’s considered foe even if Kashmir issue is resolved. There are people with strong following in Pakistan who argue for waging a war on ‘Hindu India’ to conquer the Red Fort and restore the Mughal Empire. What of those?

Nasir:

If the main source of conflict between India and Pakistan is resolved according to the wishes of the people of J&K, then we expect the two neighbours will live amicably side by side and their bilateral relations and socio-cultural contacts will increase which will benefit all the people of the region. What Musharraf said is his view and it should not be taken too seriously. Apparently, the climate of hostility and mutual recriminations between India and Pakistan since the partition, people on the both sides have been fed on cheap propaganda. The nonsensical slogans to restore the Mughal Empire is the daydreaming of some Rip Van Winkles who are living in past, not in the twenty-first century.

Gorki:

I agree with you however that the current stifling atmosphere in Kashmir has to come to an end; human rights violations need to be investigated in a transparent manner and the culprits have to be vigorously prosecuted. Kashmiris need to feel that they control their political and economic destiny in their own hands. For this to happen however both the Indian state and the Kashmiri separatists have to demonstrate courage and pragmatic far sightedness.

The state has to take the above listed steps in the short run. In the long run it has not only to deliver on the economic measures promised previously but also to scrupulously avoid the mistakes of the past such as blatant rigging of elections as it did on the 80s in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.
For their part the Kashmiri separatists have to realize that the peaceful and constitutional methods of protest are in the best interest of all Kashmiris and the constitution is their best ally. India is not an empire; it is a Republic and a civic nation.
The constitution does not hold the rest of India in any special position over Kashmir; if anything it is the Kashmiris who hold a special place within the constitution.
Today if the separatists were to come to power via electoral politics, there is absolutely nothing that such a government could not do within the existing framework to better the life (or freedom) of an ordinary Kashmiri that it could do if they had complete ‘Azaadi”.

Nasir:

Some suggestions you make and the prognosis you offer are reasonable. If Kashmiris hold a special place in the Indian Constitution, then obviously Indian control over Kashmir was unlike any other princely state. That also shows that the Indian government had political considerations to accord special status to Kashmir within the Union. But what stops the Delhi government from acceding to the demands of the people of J&K to plebiscite? Why should a great power like India be so afraid to listen to the voice of the people instead of using state terror to crush them?

It is also possible that the vast majority may opt for India. Thus by a generous and courageous political move, India has the power to defuse the conflict for ever. If that happens, then those who stand for separation from India will lose and the consequences will pacify all sides. This can usher in a new era of improved inter-communal and regional relations. Religious fundamentalists and rightist forces on the both sides will not be able to exploit the religious sentiments of the people any longer. That will be a victory of the common sense over emotionalism and communal frenzy.

Gorki:

There is already a precedent of such a dramatic change in political struggle within India. In the 1980s many Sikh leaders were charged with sedition and jailed for demanding a Khalistan and burning copies of the Indian constitution as protest. Today, one of those former separatist is an all powerful Chief Minister in Punjab and there is no opposition because the remaining separatists cannot list a single point in which way the life of an average Sikh would be different in an independent Khalistan.

I do hope to hear form you.
Regards.

Nasir:

In India there are still many regional and ethnic conflicts. I don’t think the Khalistan movement ever had any justifiable political stance and I am happy it reached its cul de sac. But we should be aware of the pitfall of equating Khalistan with the Kashmir Conflict.

Finally, it has been a pleasure to respond to your wise and erudite comment.

Cordially yours

Nasir Khan

POLITICS-INDIA: Separatists Battle Moderates in Kashmir Polls

November 24, 2008


By Athar Parvaiz |  Inter Press Service


SRINAGAR, Nov 23 (IPS) – India’s Jammu and Kashmir state votes Sunday for the second round of staggered, seven-phase, provincial elections that have pitted separatists against mainstream political parties.

The voting follows violence on Saturday in Baramulla town, 55 km north of Srinagar, where police shot dead two young men participating in demonstrations to promote a separatist-sponsored boycott of the polls.

Separatist political parties have been appealing for a boycott of any electoral exercise until there is a resolution of the Kashmir issue, whereas mainstream political parties are encouraging people to participate in the formation of a government that can negotiate a political settlement.

“More than the government formation these elections are seen as an open contest between the mainstream politicians and separatists who stand locked against each other over the issue of participation or nonparticipation,’’ noted political commentator Mohammad Sayeed Malik told IPS.

“These elections have two strands; one is the wider one involving politics surrounding the Kashmir issue, and the other involves a struggle for power wherein mainstream political parties are contesting for government formation,” he added.

Several separatist political leaders who were running anti-election campaigns have been detained by the government. These leaders include Shabir Shah, Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan, Ghulam Nabi Sumji and others. Apex separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq were repeatedly put under house arrest and there have been frequent curfews to thwart anti-election programmes.

While most separatist leaders favour independence from India, some advocate merger with Muslim Pakistan. Separatist politicians and militant groups are opposed to the polls because they believe that elections could strengthen India’s claim over the Muslim-majority territory.

Lying dormant for years, separatism received a shot in the arm about three months ago through a controversial land transfer by the government to a Hindu shrine, triggering regional and communal clashes in the state and revived the freedom movement in Kashmir.

In July, the state was put under direct central rule after the elected government collapsed over the land row amidst mass street demonstrations and clashes with security forces that left some 50 people dead.

Elections were announced in the immediate aftermath of this controversy, though after considerable dithering. Many voices cautioned against holding elections in the state at a time when it was reeling under regional clashes and a renewed freedom sentiment.

In the end, India’s Election Commission, which has a reputation for fairness, went ahead and announced a schedule for the Nov. 17 – Dec. 26 exercise.

It was expected that the polling percentage would be low given the complex setting in the state and the repeated calls for a boycott of the elections. However, the first phase on Nov. 17, covering the three constituencies of Bandipore, Sumbal and Gurez, showed an impressive 65 percent voter turnout.

“This is mainly because the space for mainstream political parties has been increasing ever since the 2002 assembly elections,” says Sayeed Malik. “Political discourse in Kashmir has changed after those elections. Presently there are many common points between the mainstream and separatist politics — both regard Kashmir as a dispute though they have their varied perspectives on it.”

The mainstream political parties in Kashmir are now openly advocating for the resolution of Kashmir issue and maintain that they are only participating in the elections for governance. “We are simply contesting elections for governance; Kashmir issue needs a resolution and the separatists are fighting for that,’’ says former chief minister of the state Farooq Abdullah.

Abdullah’s National Conference (NC), which has ruled the state for about three decades, has unveiled an exhaustive manifesto. “It is for the first time that the NC has come out with an elaborate election manifesto or vision document in which the party talks about the need for the resolution of Kashmir issue through its greater autonomy formulation,’’ says Gul Mohammad Wani who teaches political science in Kashmir University.

“However, in the vision document much space has been given to development and governance issues probably for separating conflict-resolution from governance.”

The other main political party in the state, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has also come out with an election manifesto in which it has talked about issues ranging from self-rule to the concept of a loose sovereignty and the need for development in the state.

“Broadly speaking, the regional political parties have sharply positioned themselves on several important and critical issues facing the state ranging from good governance to conflict resolution,’’ says Wani.

According to him parties like the NC and PDP have enough stakes in these elections. “NC lost power to the PDP and Congress [combine] in the 2002 elections after ruling the state over decades. So it would be keen to get back to the seat of power. Should it fail to do so, it faces the danger of disintegration,” Wani told IPS.

“Similarly, the PDP, which is a nascent political party and fancies itself as a viable alternative to the NC, badly needs to perform better in these elections for its political survival,” Wani said.

Wani says that the stakes are even higher for the Congress which is a pan-India party. “Congress’s victory or defeat in Kashmir is likely to influence its performance in the parliamentary elections in India next year. So the party is fairly cautious and has, in its election manifesto, not gone beyond the need for decentralisation of power and overall development in the state.”

Smaller parties, apart from laying focus on a resolution of Kashmir issue, have emphasised the need for relaxation of the live border with Pakistani Kashmir, setting up of a commission for disappeared persons and building a consensus in India regarding the Kashmir issue.

The stakes for Kashmiri separatist leadership are also high. “More than anything else, the separatist leadership has its political legitimacy and reputation at stake. They badly need good response from people about their election boycott calls; should people ignore their appeals, it would be quite precarious and embarrassing for them,’’ says political analyst Noor Ahmad Baba who teaches in Kashmir University.

Till the other day, the equation was tilted in favour of the separatists, but after the good turnout of voters in the first phase it looks as if people may participate with enthusiasm in the remaining phases as well.

“It would not be fair to criticise the separatists if people come out to vote. After all, they were not allowed to campaign against the elections and most of them have been put behind bars under false pretences,’’ said human rights activist Showkat Sheikh.

Kashmiris seek independence now, not Indian poll!

October 12, 2008

Not by Curfews alone, Mr. Governor!

By Dr Abdul Ruff Colachal | Kashmir Watch, Oct 11, 2008, Part 32

Muslims are being tortured and killed almost everywhere, in conservative countries, autocracies and the so-called democracies.  Anti-Islamic regimes kill them to quench their blood thirst, while the Muslim nations do the same in order to appease the terrorist nations led by the USA which many developing countries vie to gain nuclear contracts. Muslims are being butchered in Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and yet none is capable to raise their serious concern against those waging poisonous tails against Muslims. In anti-Muslim Hindu conservative India, even Muslims are made to be work against their own legitimate interests.

Terrorist India that occupies its neighbor Jammu Kashmir by brutal force has over decades created a terror force to kill Kashmiris and groomed a band of anti-Muslim militant-minded journalists to pursue the state agenda of anti-Muslimism who in the name of combating terrorism only keep the inter-civilization wedge intact  if no t further fueling it. They promote only anti-Islamic opinions in the media under their control and influence abroad especially in developing world, more importantly in Middle East. Indian journalists, thriving on “terrorism” cash, see only terrorism in Indian and Kashmir Muslims in one form or the other. They denounce anything “not pro-India’ and term them as ” anti-India” and terrorize even the non-Muslim journalists who make living on terrorism theme.

India is country of hidden agendas at home and abroad. State terrorism has remained the hallmark of Indian policy. As soon as it clinched the nuclerism with USA, it went further to showcase its power to Jammu Kashmir. Indian leaders, including the military top brass, are yet to admit the fact that terror forces are illegally occupying Jammu Kashmir. India has repeatedly asked Pakistan to stay away from Kashmir issue and let the Kashmiris seek independence all by themselves. It is very particular that Kashmir is kept out of purview of any bilateral talks between them. Will India, then, resolve the issue now and surrender Kashmir for good?

Indian and JK governments have complicated the life of freedom leaders particularly Syed Ali Geelani who is being repeated arrested and mentally tortured. During the recent curfew clamped by Vohra regime in Srinagar has further deteriorated the health of this veteran leader.  The Majlis Shoura of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC-G) has appointed Ghulam Nabi Sumji as acting chairman of the amalgam because of the ill-health of Chairman Shah Geelani, who has been advised to get his pacemaker replaced and is being shifted to Delhi for treatment. The condition of Geelani had deteriorated because of his continuous detention and house arrest. He was admitted to a local hospital on October 5.

Geelani criticized the authorities for imposing curfew in the valley and arresting separatist leaders and asked the people not to heed rumors and foil any attempt by miscreants to harm unity. However, in a message to the people of Kashmir, he stressed the need for unity among all pro liberation groups.

People’s power is indeed great and purposeful. Kashmiris have shown that if people are united and fight for a just cause the rulers would be ruined sooner than later.

Discovered by UK in 19th century, the Amarnath temple structure outside India has all of sudden become a Hindutva symbol of Hindus in India and Jammu region of Kashmir. India and its Hindu representatives in Jammu Kashmir seem to have accorded to the Amarnath the status of NRI. After the destruction of Babri Mosque on the pretext that it was once Hindu structure, the Hindu India has taken up a new agenda in Hinduizing occupied Jammu Kashmir. They were under illusion that what they want to do in India and Jammu Kashmir will have to be accepted by Muslims as the final law. But Muslims Kashmir are totally different form those in India made with completely pro-Hindu mindset, and they don’t want to be a part of terrorist India that has killed over lakh [100,000] Kashmiris so far.

Unlike the slavery minded Muslims in India who even don’t have the capacity to fight for the reconstruction of the Babri Mosque demolished by Indian Hindu terrorists, Kashmiris continue to demand freedom from occupying India. Muzaffarabad March sacrificed a prominent freedom leader among others, but it evoked the inner consciousness of freedom seeking Kashmiris who are overwhelming in Jammu Kashmir.  After protestors thronged the United Nations Military Observer Group’s (UNIMOGIP’S) office in Srinagar demanding the resolution of Kashmir dispute the United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has formulated plans to pay a visit to India towards the end of this month or early November. Ban has criticized the India terrorism in Kashmir but, as usual, prompted resented by India. UN chiefs visit to India will be closely watched by the pro liberation camp in the Valley. Many pro liberation leaders are planning to seek a rendezvous with the UN chief and plead for his intervention in resolving the six decades old Kashmir sovereignty issue.

Pertinent to mention that freedom leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani had during a rally held at TRC grounds on August 18 asked Ban Ki-moon to pay a visit to the Valley and ascertain the facts, besides getting a firsthand account on the uprising in Kashmir. Hopefully, UN chief’s visit to this “democracy’ killing Kashmiris for fun will pave way for freedom of Jammu Kashmir.

Not by Curfew alone!

A high level meeting held in New Delhi discussed the Kashmir situation and unanimously decided to impose curfew in the Valley to scuttle the Lal Chowk March. The security agencies were already directed to erect long iron-made barricades at various entry points including Kokerbazar, Amira Kadal, Jehangir Chowk, Regal Chowk to prevent people from marching towards Lal Chowk. “Massive deployment of troops has already been put in place and Lal Chowk will be made out of bound for the people. Meanwhile, authorities have imposed section 144 in Ganderbal and Baramulla districts of Kashmir to prevent assembling of more than four persons at a place.

The curfew comes in the wake of Lal Chowk Chalo March call given by Coordination Committee, a freedom conglomerate, to press for its demands which include opening of Line of Control roads for trade, release of all detainees and revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. A number of freedom leaders, including Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yaseen Malik were put under preventive custody. Hardline freedom leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was shifted to a hospital after he complained of pain in lower abdomen. Among those placed under house arrest were Chairman of moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith chief Maulana Showkat besides senior separatist leaders Abdul Gani Bhat, Bilal Lone and Sajjad Lone.

A virtual siege was laid around Lal Chowk as a large posse of gun-toting security personnel took up position in and around the area. All entry and exit points in Srinagar city have been sealed. There were some sporadic protests when the paramilitary forces refused to entertain curfew passes. However, the issue was resolved later. The new anti-riot vehicles, procured by the Jammu and Kashmir Police recently, were positioned at strategic locations, especially those which had witnessed violence earlier. Due to indefinite curfew imposed by the authorities in Srinagar and elsewhere in Kashmir and the government’s failure to provide adequate number of curfew passes to our staff, distributors and hawkers, the print editions. Some of the local newspapers failed to hit the stands as publishers decided not to print them accusing the government of not providing enough curfew passes to their staff, a charge denied by the government. A private television channel — Sen TV– was banned for allegedly inciting people to disturb public peace and tranquility.

Indian agents in Jammu Kashmir headed by Governor Vohra are trying all tricks including state terrorism techniques to quell the freedom move in Jammu Kashmir by clamping curfews intermittently adding more harm to the Kashmiris. After creating enough trouble for the Kashmir Muslims the Hindu “brethren” in Jammu region are enjoying life by being agents of New Delhi.

Continued . . .

POLITICS-INDIA: Polls Uncertain With Jammu Divided From Kashmir

September 22, 2008

By Athar Parvaiz Bhat | Inter-Press Service News


SRINAGAR, Sep 21 (IPS) – Plans by the central government to conduct elections in Jammu and Kashmir, due originally in November, remain uncertain because of the serious regional and religious differences that have cropped up between the two main regions that make up the composite territory.

Relations between Hindu-majority Jammu and the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley have been souring since May over a move to transfer forest land to a board that manages a popular, annual pilgrimage to the Hindu cave shrine of Amarnath, deep in the Kashmir Himalayas.

Agitations over the controversial move resulted in the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP) withdrawing support to the coalition government led by chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress party and the state being placed under direct central rule on Jul. 7.

And now, the federal government, the election commission, political parties and civil society leaders are unable to agree on when to schedule elections for a new state assembly.

“I don’t think holding elections would be a good thing to do at a time when the state is passing through a difficult situation. The entire state is on edge due to the communal and regional tension. I reckon that it will cause the situation to deteriorate further,” Balraj Puri, a noted expert on the Kashmir conflict who is based in Jammu, told IPS.

“Let the situation calm down. I think an internal dialogue between the two regions should be started on a priority basis to bring about a rapprochement,” said Puri who favours autonomy for the different regions of the state.

Prof. Rekha Choudhary, who teaches political science at Jammu University, believes that by planning to hold elections the central government appeared to be insensitive to the serious regional polarisation that has occurred. ”I think holding elections in the state in the current circumstances would be a huge risk. We have never seen the kind of hostilities between the regions of the state like what exists today,” she said.

Choudhary said the central government seems to be driven by the belief that holding elections would help bridge the gap between the Jammu and Kashmir regions. “In Kashmir pro-freedom groups that have appealed for a total boycott of the elections are going to gain in popularity by capitalising on the popular mood of hostility against India. And in Jammu, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which favoured the land transfer to the Hindu shrine board, is going to benefit,’’ she said.

India’s Kashmir state is a classic example of linguistic and ethno-religious diversity and comprises the three distinct regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. Together, these regions are known to the world as Indian Administered Kashmir.

About 55 percent of the state’s total population of 10 million is settled in the alpine Kashmir region, traditionally the seat of power. While 98 percent of the people who live in Kashmir are Muslim, Jammu’s population is 60 percent Hindu. Ladakh accounts for two percent of the total population.

About a third of the area of the former princely state Jammu and Kashmir is under the administration of Pakistan.

In 1989, people in Muslim-dominated Kashmir began an armed struggle in favour of freedom from India and this spilled over into the Muslim areas of Jammu.

Political analysts say the mistrust between the Jammu and Kashmir regions has been brewing for a long time. The people and leaders of these regions have been competing for central developmental funds and prized positions in administration.

“The government of India never tried to evolve a mechanism to hold all the regions together in order to give them a feeling of belongingness. It never had a focused policy regarding Kashmir and was keen on installing puppet regimes in the state which would serve its own interests,” observes Gul Mohammad Wani who teaches political science at Kashmir University.

“Jammu region is demanding a greater share in power which, according to them, has always remained centred in Kashmir. On the contrary, people in the Kashmir region are demanding complete freedom from India,” Wani said.

Observers say that if the elections are not held by November, they will have to be postponed till April given the harsh winter in Kashmir and Ladakh. Out of a total of 87 assembly constituencies, a majority of them, 50, fall in Kashmir.

Most political parties prefer to delay polls till next year. The exception remains the pro-Hindu BJP which may benefit from the communal divisions, especially in Jammu.

“We suggest that congenial conditions be created for holding elections before announcing election dates,” says Omar Abdullah, president of the pro-India National Conference party. His viewpoint is shared by Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the PDP which also favours Kashmir remaining a part of India.

At least 42 people died during the agitations against the land transfer with the movement quickly morphing into revival of calls for freedom from Indian rule — not heard for the last five years.

Suspicions between the two regions worsened after traders in the Kashmir region announced snapping of relations with their Jammu counterparts in reaction to what they called “economic blockade” of their region by the people of Jammu during the agitation.

Kashmir receives essential supplies and exports its produce to markets in India solely through the 300 km-long Jammu-Srinagar highway.

“How can we think of maintaining trade ties with the traders from Jammu when they were party to the recent economic blockade of Kashmir by the people of Jammu,” says president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) Mubeen Shah. “The wounds, inflicted by the economic blockade of Kashmir, will take a lot of time to heal up’’

According to economists, boycotting trade with Jammu would mean immense loss to traders on both sides.

“Kashmir’s total trade is estimated at Rs 520 billion (11.3 billion US dollars) per annum out of which the yearly trade exchange between the Kashmir and Jammu regions is Rs 270 billion (six billion dollars),” says Prof. Nissar Ali who teaches economics at Kashmir University.

Traders in Kashmir have now intensified their demand for reopening the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, which connects Indian Kashmir with the Pakistan administered part.

Before Pakistan and India grabbed control of parts of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road served as the main link between Kashmir and the markets of Rawalpindi in Pakistan and beyond.

On Aug. 11, thousands of Kashmiri traders and common people took out a symbolic march towards Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan administered Kashmir, to assert this demand. At least five people were killed and many others injured when police, stopped the march by opening fire some 20 km ahead of the Line of Control, the de-facto border between the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir.

MEDIA-INDIA: Columnists Support Kashmir’s Secession

September 4, 2008

Analysis by Rita Manchanda | Independent Press Service,

NEW DELHI, Sep 4  – “Anti-national” is the charge hurled in India at the usual radical suspects who argue for the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people.

But the recent outcrop of media columnists asking Indians to, “think the unthinkable”, “let Kashmir go” and “we’d be better off”, are respected mainstream editors of leading national dailies and top columnists. They include Vir Sanghvi of the mass-circulation the Hindustan Times, Jug Suraiya of the Times of India, popular columnist Swaminathan A. Aiyar and activist-writer Arundhati Roy.

Moreover, according to a recent public opinion survey, these writers are reflecting growing popular sentiment. A Times of India survey of young professionals conducted across nine cities revealed a sizeable 30 percent polled feeling that if the economic and human costs were so high, India should not hold on to the Kashmir, though 59 percent felt they should hold on at any cost.

Some two-thirds of those polled said ‘No’ to the question whether the state of Jammu and Kashmir [or part of it] should be allowed to secede. Poll analysts explained that contradiction as indicating that, while thinking on Kashmir remains unclear, Kashmir’s possible secession has, for the first time in years, ‘’become a matter of common debate.”

What has produced this unsettling in the public perception of restored normalcy in the insurgency-wracked Himalayan valley? Kashmiris are back on streets in tumultuous numbers, defiantly chanting “We want freedom” and with equal intensity, “Long live Pakistan”.

The crisis which began two months ago over the proposed transfer of 100 acres forest land in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley to a Hindu religious Board based in Jammu has shattered the myth of Kashmiris being reconciled to integrating with India. A new twist is the communalisation of the intra-state Jammu- Kashmir divide posited as Hindu nationalists v/s Islamist separatists. It has buried faith in ‘Kashmiriyat’ (or Kashmiriness), the cultural syncretism of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir.

Indian administered Kashmir consists of three distinct regions: Hindu dominated Jammu, the Muslim majority Kashmir valley and Ladakh, which is largely Buddhist. Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas are administered by Pakistan.

Muslim Pakistan and largely-Hindu but constitutionally secular India have, ever since they were created by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent on religious grounds, been in dispute over the possession of Kashmir. Three wars fought over the issue have not succeeded in altering the fact that two-thirds of the territory is administered by India and one third by Pakistan.

‘Kashmir fatigue’ appears to be driving the new sentiment behind the emerging public debate. “It is not being driven by the recognition of the legitimacy of the Kashmiri people’s right to decide, but by a sense of exasperation at pampered and mollycoddled Kashmiris remaining anti-Indian,’’ says leading Kashmir human rights campaigner Tapan Bose. “Shining India does not want to have the blot of coercively holding onto resentful and alienated Kashmiris,’’ he added.

Sanghvi’s article on Aug. 16 succinctly strikes these several chords — “What does the Centre get in return for the special favours and billions of dollars spent?” ‘’Far from gratitude, there is active hatred of India. Pakistan, a small, second-rate country that has been left far behind by India, suddenly acts as though it is on par with us, lecturing India in human rights”. “We have the world to conquer, and the means to do it. Kashmir is a 20th century problem. We cannot let it drag us down and bleed us as we assume our rightful place in the world.”

Swaminathan Aiyar and Jug Suraiya have a more liberal perspective. Aiyar acknowledges that “democracy (in Kashmir) has been a farce for almost six decades”. There are uncomfortable parallels with colonial rule over British India and the quasi colonialism of India’s rule “over those who resent it” in Kashmir. Suraiya tweaks the argument of Kashmir’s secession fatally wounding the idea of India as a pluralist polity and democratic society. “India can survive without Kashmir, if it has to; it can’t survive without the idea of India, central to which is the idea of democratic dissent and the free association of people”. This is being eroded in holding Kashmiris against their will.

Arundhati Roy, writing in the ‘Guardian’ on Aug. 22, gives it a radical twist: “India needs azadi (freedom) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India”. Roy asserts, that “the non-violent people’s protest is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression”. Drawing a wider frame, she warns that “Indian military occupation makes monsters of us and allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged in Kashmir’’.

Expressing surprise at such articles by people who (except Roy) have never campaigned for azadi, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, executive editor of the respected ‘Kashmir Times’ newspaper said: “We have always campaigned for ‘azadi’. This is just the wrong time. Nobody thinks about the repercussions of the disintegration of the state on communal lines (especially, Doda, Rajouri and Poonch). Whose azadi are they talking about? The need is to douse the fires and begin dialogue at different levels.”

Among the flurry of reactive articles, representative of the national security line is strategic analyst K. Subrahmanyam writing in the Times of India on Aug. 22 is adamant against any redrawing of borders. Subrahmanyam, a known nationalist, warns that if Kashmiris are allowed to secede, ‘’there would be consequences that have to be anticipated’’.

‘’During the partition of the subcontinent in 1947-48, such consequences were not foreseen and the result was a bloodbath resulting the death of a million people and ethnic cleansing involving 15 million,’’ Subrahmanyam argues.

Appealing for greater responsibility and efforts to retrieve ‘Kashmiriyat’, eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar warned in the ‘Deccan Herald’ on Aug. 29 that the independence of Kashmir would mean a takeover of the territory by the Taliban or terrorists. Political editor of ‘The Hindu,’ Harish Khare, has on Aug. 28 cautioned against “over reacting to provocative slogans in Lal Chowk’’ and said there is ‘’no need to be apologetic about our democratic values and practices”. Kashmir society could still be “weaned away from violence, distrust and suspicion.”

Sultan Shaheen, editor of the website ‘New Age Islam’, has decried the ‘irresponsibility’ of public intellectuals arguing for letting Kashmir go. “What about the nationalist Muslims of Kashmir? It was the vision of secularism and pluralism that had brought them to India in the first place. Kashmir is important for common Indians because Kashmiriyat is a prototype for Hindustaniyat — a unique blend of unity in ideological diversity.”

(END/2008)

INDIA: Dialogue Missing as Kashmir Erupts

September 2, 2008

Analysis by Praful Bidwai | Inter Press Service, Sep 2, 2008


NEW DELHI, – Even as the Jammu region of the strife-torn Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is settling down to normality and peace, a two month-old turmoil in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley shows no signs of abating.

The Kashmir unrest, which unseated the elected government of the state in July, now threatens to become a serious problem for India yet again, with international ramifications, in particular implications for India’s already fraught relations with Pakistan.

Following independence in 1947 and the partition of India, on the basis of religion, Jammu and Kashmir became disputed between Pakistan and India and three wars have been fought between the two countries for the territory’s complete possession. India’s Jammu and Kashmir state is referred to by Pakistan as “Indian-occupied Kashmir” while India refers to Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas collectively as “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”.

India’s Jammu and Kashmir state consists of two distinct regions; Hindu-dominated Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. A third region, Ladakh, is largely Buddhist. Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley serves as the summer capital and Jammu town the winter capital.

Trouble began with rival Hindu and Muslim militants protesting for and against the transfer of 100 acres of land for camping arrangements to host a Hindu pilgrimage to a shrine in a cave in the Kashmir Valley, called the Amarnath Shrine, where an ice stalactite that forms for up to two months in a year, is worshipped by devout Hindus.

Political organisations in the Kashmir Valley saw the transfer as a means of placating the Hindus and as an intrusion into their autonomous cultural space.

Their protests led the state government to cancel the transfer. The Hindu-majority Jammu region reacted to this with an emotionally charged violent agitation and a blockade of goods entering the Valley along the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the only functional road connecting mainland India to the Kashmir Valley.

This blockade added to the ferocity of the protests in the Valley, and put Kashmiri separatists in their forefront. Some groups that favour merger of the Kashmir Valley with Pakistan waved the green flag of the neighbouring country.

The government of Jammu and Kashmir finally reached a settlement on Sunday with the Sri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS), a coalition of different groups spearheading the agitation in Jammu, many of which are close to the pro-Hindu, nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Sunday’s settlement allows for temporary arrangements to be made for makeshift tents and other facilities during the pilgrimage, without a change in the ownership and status of or title to the land.

Following the agreement, the agitation in Jammu was formally withdrawn. But that has had very little impact on the Kashmir Valley, where the government re-imposed a curfew after thousands of people took to the streets in its Northern towns.

While many Kashmiri parties have not yet reacted to the agreement, the People’s Democratic Party, which ran a coalition government with the Congress party in Jammu and Kashmir for nearly six years, condemned it as a “unilateralist” and “authoritarian” move, made without consulting the Valley’s politicians.

Some other political leaders from the Valley termed the settlement “irrelevant” to resolving the larger Kashmir question of autonomy and freedom in keeping with the sentiments of the people.

“The ease with which the settlement was reached, without substantially changing the status quo, and with only minor concessions being offered to the SAYSS, shows that the agitation was politically motivated in the first place,” says Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University here, who has been involved with reconciliation and peace efforts in Jammu and Kashmir for many years.

“The BJP was fishing in the troubled waters in Kashmir with an eye on the legislative assembly elections, which are due by the end of the year, but are likely to be postponed,’’ said Chenoy. ‘’The organisations it controls in Jammu used deplorably rough methods to enforce a traffic blockade of the Valley, including attacking truck drivers with rocks and acid bulbs. Its methods drew an adverse reaction from the rest of India, which is one reason why it withdrew the agitation. But it has succeeded in polarising Jammu and Kashmir along regional and communal lines.”

One indication of this is the growing alienation of the Valley’s people from India and the pro-separatist mood now prevalent there. The Kashmir situation was repeatedly mishandled by New Delhi through its appointee, Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra and his administration.

The administration first failed to anticipate the protests, and then cracked down heavily on them. Many Kashmiris complain that the government handled the Jammu agitation with kid gloves, but used excessive force in the Valley to suppress even peaceful protests: “rubber bullets in Jammu, and live bullets in the Valley”.

The government relented in the Valley during much of August, as it proceeded to break the blockade in Jammu. However, since Aug. 24, it has resorted to a crackdown, arrests of prominent leaders, and repeated curfew.

“This has resulted in heightening the alienation of ordinary Kashmiris from the Indian state,” says Yusuf Tarigami, a Jammu and Kashmir lawmaker from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and a widely respected political leader. “Mercifully, that alienation is not as severe as in the early 1990s, and may yet prove transient.”

Tarigami cites a number of differences between the post-1989 climate and the present situation. Then, a number of militant groups, including the largely indigenous Hizbul Mujaheedin, were hyperactive in demanding “freedom” and Kashmir’s separation from India.

These militant groups managed and subdued the relatively moderate political leadership of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Pakistan armed and financed the militant groups and lent them logistical support. Savage repression unleashed by Indian security forces only helped them build a support base in the Valley.

Today, militant groups are no longer able to recruit cadres. Until the anti-land transfer protests broke out, the Kashmir Valley was relatively peaceful and the extremists were isolated. Issues of governance and day-to-day survival became dominant. Tourism experienced a boom.

The Hurriyat was even on the verge of deciding not to issue a call to boycott the assembly elections, as it usually does.

“Above all, Kashmir has not been a live political issue in Pakistan since the peace process with India made progress,” says Karachi-based social activist and political analyst Karamat Ali. “It hasn’t figured in the domestic political debate at all since the February elections and later developments, including Pervez Musharraf’s resignation as president.”

This offers a chance for India to begin a serious dialogue with the different separatist political currents in Kashmir and put the issue of autonomy up-front on the table.

But the Indian establishment appears divided on the issue. Hardliners such as National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan play down the serious nature of Kashmiri alienation and popular discontent with the domineering presence of Indian security forces in the Valley. Narayanan told a television channel, two days ago that he expected the Kashmir situation to become normal in 10 days’ time.

However, another section of the government has advised Governor Vohra to explore the possibility of a dialogue with separatist leaders and Vohra has been contacting them since Sunday.

“Eventually,” says Chenoy, “a viable solution to the Kashmir problem will have to be found in the kind of suggestions for regional and interregional autonomy made 10 years ago by an official committee chaired by Balraj Puri, and through a strengthening of the special status for Kashmir guaranteed by a particular section (Article 370) of the Indian Constitution. This must be accompanied by a thinning out of the presence of Indian security forces in the Valley, and devolution of power to local and regional bodies.”

Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in India which enjoys special autonomy under Article 370, according to which, laws enacted by Indian parliament, except those concerning defence, communication and foreign policy, is inapplicable unless ratified by the state legislature.

But Chenoy emphasises that “in the short run, there is no substitute for a dialogue. That alone can build the necessary confidence and goodwill, which India so badly needs’’.

Kashmiri protesters defy curfew in Srinagar; one killed

August 25, 2008
Supporters of Mohammed Yasin Malik

Supporters of Mohammed Yasin Malik, a senior separatist leader, came out on streets defying curfew in Srinagar. (Reuters Photo)
The Times of India, August 25, 2008

SRINAGAR: One person was killed as security forces opened fire to quell violent protesters at Narbal on the outskirts of Srinagar today while nearly 65 others were injured in clashes elsewhere in curfew-bound Kashmir.

Showkat Ahmad Khanday was shot dead and another youth injured when security forces opened fire to contain stone-pelting protesters at Narbal who came out on roads defying the curfew, official sources said.

Two people have been killed and 105 injured since Sunday when curfew was clamped in all the 10 districts of the Valley to thwart a march by separatists. Yesterday, one person was killed in firing at Dalgate area of the city.

In similar incidents elsewhere in the Valley, as many as 65 persons were injured, the sources said.

At least 24 persons including four security personnel were injured in clashes at Hajan in Bandipora district of Jammu and Kashmir.

“A group of protesters tried to defy curfew and indulged in violence at Hajan. Four security force personnel received injuries as someone from the mob fired at them,” an official spokesman said.

He said in retaliatory firing and tear gas shelling by security forces, 15 persons were injured.

However, sources said 20 persons were injured in the action including several with bullet injuries.

At least 25 people were injured as security forces opened fire on violent protesters in Choora village on Srinagar Balamulla Highway, the sources said.

Two persons each were injured in action by security forces against protesters at Kupwara district town and Beerwah in Budgam district, they said.

While separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq were arrested from their residences late Sunday night, JKLF leader Mohammad Yasin Malik was taken into custody on Monday morning as he tried to defy curfew and march towards Lal Chowk, official sources said.

India: Repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act

August 19, 2008

50th Anniversary of Law Allowing Shoot-to-Kill, Other Serious Abuses

Source: Human Rights Watch

New York, August 18, 2008 – India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been used to violate fundamental freedoms for 50 years and should be repealed, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

" The Indian government’s responsibility to protect civilians from attacks by militants is no excuse for an abusive law like the AFSPA. Fifty years of suffering under the AFSPA is 50 years too long – the government should repeal the AFSPA now. "
Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
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Human Rights Watch’s 16-page report, “Getting Away With Murder: 50 years of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act,” describes how the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA, has become a tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination. The law grants the military wide powers to arrest without warrant, shoot-to-kill, and destroy property in so-called “disturbed areas.” It also protects military personnel responsible for serious crimes from prosecution, creating a pervasive culture of impunity.

“The Indian government’s responsibility to protect civilians from attacks by militants is no excuse for an abusive law like the AFSPA,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Fifty years of suffering under the AFSPA is 50 years too long – the government should repeal the AFSPA now.”

Enacted on August 18, 1958 as a short-term measure to allow deployment of the army against an armed separatist movement in India’s northeastern Naga Hills, the AFSPA has been invoked for five decades. It has since been used throughout the northeast, particularly in Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. A variant of the law was also used in Punjab during a separatist movement in the 1980s and 90s, and has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. Indian officials have long sought to justify use of the law by citing the need for the armed forces to have extraordinary powers to combat armed insurgents. Human Rights Watch said that abuses facilitated by the AFSPA, especially extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and “disappearances,” have fed public anger and disillusionment with the Indian state. This has permitted militant groups to flourish in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.

The AFSPA has not only led to human rights violations, but it has allowed members of the armed forces to perpetrate abuses with impunity. They have been shielded by clauses in the AFSPA that prohibit prosecutions from being initiated without permission from the central government. Such permission is rarely granted.

“Violations under the AFSPA have served as a recruiting agent for militant groups,” said Ganguly. “In both Kashmir and the northeast, we have heard over and over again that abuses by troops, who are never punished for their crimes, have only shrunk the space for those supporting peaceful change.”

Indians have long protested against the AFSPA. The Supreme Court has issued guidelines to prevent human rights violations, but these are routinely ignored. Since 2000, Irom Sharmila, an activist in Manipur, has been on hunger strike demanding repeal of the act. The government has responded by keeping her in judicial custody, force-fed through a nasal tube, and has ignored numerous appeals for repeal from activists in Jammu and Kashmir.

Following widespread protests after the 2004 murder in custody of an alleged militant called Manorama Devi in Manipur, the Indian government set up a five-member committee to review the AFSPA. The review committee submitted its report on June 6, 2005, recommending repeal of the act. In April 2007, a working group on Jammu and Kashmir appointed by the prime minister also recommended that the act be revoked. However, the cabinet has not acted on these recommendations because of opposition from the armed forces.

There has long been international criticism of the AFSPA. Over 10 years ago, in 1997, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the “climate of impunity” provided by the act. Since then, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (2006), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2007) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2007), have all called for an end to the AFSPA.

Human Rights Watch said that the government should follow its own example when in 2004 the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repealed the widely abused Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). POTA was enacted soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and allowed security agencies to hold suspects for up to 180 days without charges. In practice, the law was often used against marginalized communities such as Dalits (so-called “untouchables”), indigenous groups, Muslims, and the political opposition.

“The Indian government acted with principle when it repealed the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act,” said Ganguly. “It must display the same courage now in repealing AFSPA.”

State Cultivation of the Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir

August 17, 2008

by Gautam Navlakha | Monthly Review, August 8, 2008

The origins of the conflagration in June in Kashmir on forest land allocation for construction of facilities for the Amarnath yatra lie in open state promotion of the pilgrimage. The yatra has caused considerable damage to the economy and ecology of the area. The high-handed actions of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board only aggravated the situation.

The Amarnath pilgrimage erupted into a major controversy last month entirely on account of the actions of the state. The Act setting up the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) was passed by the National Conference government in 2001. On January 1, 2008, the SASB informed the legislature of Jammu and Kashmir, through a letter to the deputy chief minister, that “(t)he Governor is sovereign ex-officio holder of the power . . . who acts on his own personal satisfaction and not on the aid and advice of the council of ministers . . . the member (of the legislative council) may be explained that he does not enjoy the powers to question the decisions of the body” (Greater Kashmir, June 12, 2008).

Disconcertingly, the SASB, when presided over by S K Sinha when he was governor, has been engaged in some controversial transactions. The chief executive officer (CEO) of the SASB is the principal secretary to the governor. The CEO’s wife, in her capacity as principal secretary of the forest department, granted permission to the SASB on May 29, 2005 to use forest land for the pilgrimage. Because this action was not in accordance with the provision of the J&K Forest Conservation Act of 1997, the state government withdrew the order. However, a division bench of the J&K High Court stayed the withdrawal of permission to occupy forest land. But when in mid-2008, the state cabinet gave its approval to “divert” 40 ha of forest land for the yatra the issue erupted into widescale public protests. The deputy chief minister, belonging to the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), went so far as to claim that Congress ministers “blackmailed” them into giving this approval (Indian Express, June 16, 2008).

The Indian state has often used the yatra to promote a certain kind of nationalism. During the Kargil war, in 1999, the Press Information Bureau put out a press release stating: “(the) yearning for moksha (salvation) can move the devotees to the challenging heights of Kashmir and will be a fitting gesture of solidarity with our valiant soldiers who have been fighting the enemy to defend our borders” (‘Amarnath Yatra – 99 Acid Test of Devotion’, 15-July 15, 1999).

A Little Known Shrine

Thus, what is otherwise a religious pilgrimage of the shaivite Hindus has been elevated to represent a patriotic enterprise. What is interesting is that the translator of Rajtarangini, Aurel Stein, found no reference in 1888 in either the Rajtarangini or the Nilmata Purana to the Amarnath cave. For Kashmiri Hindus the holiest site was the Haramukuta (Shiva’s Diadem) and Haramukh-Gangabal pilgrimage (see M Ashraf, ‘Aggression at Its Worst’, Greater Kashmir, June 20, 2008). The cave was in fact discovered in the 18th century and a Gujjar family and its descendants who found it were given the right to a share of the offering as a consequence. Even until the 1980s, this pilgrimage was not well known and in 1989, only 12,000 pilgrims visited the cave in a fortnight of pilgrimage. It is only after 1996 that the Amarnath cave acquired its prominence when militancy in Kashmir was at its peak.

The SASB is headed by the governor (until recently S K Sinha, a former lt general in the army) and his principal secretary, from the Indian Administrative Service, is the CEO of the SASB. Thus when the SASB pushes for movement of a larger and larger number of pilgrims and rejects the right of the legislators to even raise a question regarding the functioning of the SASB, the Indian state is sending a simple message.

Imagine if a Muslim governor of Rajasthan were to ask to set up an independent Ajmer Sharief Dargah development authority, with say, control over a large part of Ajmer city. What would be the response of Rajasthan’s BJP government or the right wing Hindutva rabble-rousers?

Ironically, it is the deposed custodian of the shrine Deependra Giri who has been crying hoarse over SASB’s promotion of pilgrimage as tourism, flouting the principle of penance inherent in such pilgrimages as laid down in the Hindu scriptures! The point is this promotion of Amarnath can be faulted on temporal, religious and secular grounds. In other words it is downright duplicitous when the Indian state promotes religious tourism (tourism in any event) in the guise of the welfare of Hindu pilgrims. This is an extension and/or part of the process of acquisition of a huge mass of land (orchard and cultivable fields, including the precious saffron fields of Pampore) by Indian security forces and water management and control through the National Hydro Power Corporation.

Continued . . .

Oh the Pangs of Reunion: Reversing 1947

August 11, 2008

Tanveer Ahmed, August 8, 2008

Blunt realism can lead one to the depths of darkness and despair, idealism invariably provides scope for hope…

Indeed, it’s time for people in Jammu and the Valley to trade in their verminous polemics and self-destructing demeanour to prepare for the lofty heights of economic dynamism, communal cohesion and environmental revitalisation. Meanwhile, the governments of India and Pakistan should each swallow an ample dose of sober medication and realise it’s time to confess; “We tried for almost 61 years to control the tempo, fracture the identity and dictate the destiny of Kashmir: We’re terribly sorry, it hasn’t worked out well for any of us, not least because we attempted to defy nature: It’s over to you folks, we both hereby concede that you’re more than capable of reversing the mess we’ve put you in.”

(An imaginary and quite wishful quote no doubt – but to paraphrase the venerable Kashmiri pandit film-maker Sanjay Kak “The obnoxious silence has to break.”)

Background

The Kashmiri people, be they Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist, are an incredibly accommodating lot. Judging by how they’ve overlooked and tolerated the rule of ‘outsiders’ in these past few centuries; functioning as a tug of the pernicious post ‘47 two-nation theory was an absolute given. Pakistan tried in earnest to make the Muslim much more of a Muslim than he needed to be while India gradually did much the same to the Hindu. Where did that leave the poor Hindus in Pakistan or the hapless Muslims in India? Marooned in their very own ancestral abode!

The millions of ‘desis’ that had been forcibly uprooted from either side of the un-natural divide, found it excruciatingly difficult to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, left behind or killed in cold-blooded communal frenzy. The Sikh of Rawalpindi (undivided India and post partition Pakistan) who escaped with his bare life to Jallandhar (India), didn’t merely change his address in the Punjab, it was a blood-soaked divided Punjab. His centuries old identity and ancestral roots were ripped in exchange for a new identity, which defined his roots as enemy territory. The Muslim from pre-‘47 Agra (India) led a contorted existence in Karachi (Pakistan), her family members who didn’t migrate with her became her nascent nation’s enemies.

As the decades passed by, progress and development for India and Pakistan was a laborious struggle. Amongst other factors, unprecedented population growth and unhealthy military expenditure made post-colonial restructuring nigh on impossible for both countries. Whilst poverty in the region rippled; education, health and infrastructure were coldly sacrificed. Intellectual and artistic advancement was and still is sadly, deemed a luxury, ill-affordable to a pair of overly paranoid nation states.

Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India were an existential threat to each other and so sermonised Doordarshan and PTV, not to forget Radio Pakistan or All-India Radio. Their favourite playground for battle was of course Kashmir, attrition after attrition. The intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan, in conjunction with local lackeys; ensured that the Kashmiris were forever obliging hosts. Dissension or god-forbid obstruction was never an option. Pakistan’s “Jugular Vein” (Shah Ragh-Urdu) and India’s “Integral Part” (Atoot Ang-Hindi) were loaded oxymorons that quite literally made morons of the Kashmiri mentality.

Setting aside the moral liability of nuclearisation for just a moment, 1998 was a year of technological accomplishment for the region. Both countries demonstrated vigour to defy the “International Community”. Nevertheless, Kashmir as an issue that accompanied the creation of Pakistan and independence of a crippled India was the perfect binary foil that prevented the “International Community” from prolonging its dismay. The “Islamic” and “Hindu” bombs were here to stay.

1999 and Kargil’s fiasco; followed by 9/11 have mercifully in retrospect, changed the modus operandi, if not modus vivendi, from the proverbial ‘war-war’ to ‘jaw-jaw’.

Dialogue and communication as a means of conflict resolution, is not only plausible, efficient, cost-effective and positively natural. For Kashmiris of whatever persuasion, it’s the only possible method; an alternative simply did not and will not exist. It would be far too rich and ludicrous for either India or Pakistan to suggest any indigenous provocation of violence. Contrary to what some Kashmiris and others have suggested, there is little evidence of any of the many ethnicities in Kashmir espousing martial instincts.

Moving on to the “irreversible Peace Process” initiated in January 2004; this has thankfully proven to be the freshest of fresh airs since 1947. Both entities have shown an element of maturity and resolve, tit-for-tat provocations notwithstanding. Dialogue between Indian and Pakistani civil society has invoked and propelled fresh thinking as well as nostalgia of an un-divided past. Ruefully, at the insistence of both countries, most of this ‘dialogue’ has taken place outside the region in the wider “International Community”. Both governments still feel it un-nerving and unsafe for barrier-breaking intra-dialogue and initiatives to take root in the region.

Of utter frustration to the Kashmiri is that any peace dividends that have accrued so far have been primarily gobbled up by the Indian and Pakistani national. Movement between the two countries has increased exponentially while between the two parts of Kashmir, it’s still barely a trickle. The contrast is startling if one considers that many ‘well-connected’ Indians and Pakistanis have travelled to each other’s country on numerous occasions and at will, to “merry-make” while there are ample Kashmiris belonging to divided families, who have yet to meet their siblings after 61 years!

Intra-Kashmir movement and dialogue, though unprecedented has been lacklustre to say the least. By extension, reference may be extended to economic activity, cultural interaction, administrative reform and well…the list is endless. In short, India and Pakistan have not kept pace with global socio-economic/geo-political changes: Elements of an ‘Iron Curtain’ reminiscent of the ‘Cold War’ are starkly evident, particularly in Kashmir. Their respective administrative mechanisms are not quite equipped or even focused on speeding things up, both having a tendency of getting bogged down in inevitable cul-de-sacs. Old habits do die hard!

A bit of historical perspective

It’s an indisputable fact that pre-colonial India was an economic powerhouse of global proportion (in relative terms, way ahead of it’s current trajectory) and a fabulous specimen of world-class culture and art; driven by an amazing array of diversity in food, clothes, language and construction; organised and administered by a harmonious fusion of Hindu/Muslim spirit.

Ideas, people, goods and services in whatever dimension flowed freely. If an artisan of Attock (NWFP/Punjab-Pakistan) decided one day that he wished to venture East for work…his destination may well have been no less than modern day Myanmar….traversing the breadth of modern day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh…others of his ilk had little hesitation in setting up home en-route, if a place took their fancy…indeed, Tagore’s “The Kabuli Wallah” fails to escape reminiscence.

Symptoms

In its current collective predicament and despite modern advancement in transport and information networks, the region has poisoned itself with a mad concoction of Westphalia and inappropriate religious fuel, amidst a rotten basket of other self-inflicted ills. As a consequence, entities within the historic ‘whole’, repeatedly fail to recognise the humane aspirations of those it has been programmed to categorise as the ‘other’, this blinds it from visualising the stupendous potential; that a harmonised region with an efficient governing structure can deliver.

Pakistan and India, despite their vast potential, have cultivated fractured societies with fault-lines in every direction. Pro & anti-US, extremist-moderate, local-national, Muslim-Hindu, pro-establishment & anti, Punjabi-Other, progressive-traditional, spiritual-material, Aryan-Dravidian even etc etc. Though both are unanimous on progress, they are blinkered on any form of reform or revision: In the meantime, those who consider themselves victimised and/or isolated, are screaming out for recognition and opportunity.

A major irritant is the glut of misinformation that public opinion is subjected to. There is only one way to make democracy work: to provide accurate, unbiased information and contextual education, particularly of our common history.

An example from another tormented region may be apt: Alan Hart is a seasoned British journalist with arguably unrivalled exposure to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The following is an excerpt from an interview he gave to worldpress.org last month.

URL reference> http://www.worldpress.org/Mideast/3206.cfm

“Most citizens throughout the Judeo-Christian world are totally ignorant about the truth of history. I’m a classic example. I came out of my mother’s womb conditioned by Zionism’s version of history. It took me 12 to 15 years of being an ITN TV reporter to actually get to the other side of the story. I can understand how people who didn’t have my exposure to it don’t challenge.”

The Kashmiris are akin to being stuck in a sardine can, compelled to either defer to India or Pakistan. Lack of freedom to evolve their own identity, traps them in the communal mess that we repeatedly witness.

Fears

The current crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir has the un-needed potential of repeating the horrors of 1947. The symptoms are all clearly visible. There is ample human potential in the region, forever un-utilised and repressed; conditions perfect for dancing towards collective doom.

The peace process at its current pace is blatantly ill-equipped to neutralise the situation. India and Pakistan simply do not have the requisite time or the broad strategy necessary to solve a problem which has thus far, exasperated them and caused an unwanted shift of focus from their respective schedules. If anything, a hands-on approach on their part could exacerbate the tension. When people are suffocating on one side (Valley) and lava-laden on the other (Jammu), military instruction/obstruction or ‘intelligent’ manipulation could cause an uncontrollable eruption.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir are galvanising and by extension contemplating isolation of the minority Hindu community. As death tolls rise and economic activity on the Jammu road from the Valley dwindles to a complete halt, consequential blocking of India’s only surface route in and out of Kashmir could be a precursor to a communal division of the state. Anathema for the construction of a global “super-power”, forever exposing the region to become servile to the machinations of ‘others’.

Recommendations

Solidifying the whole region; not on communal lines but by re-aligning diversity to the whole region. Pakistan and India need to get over the idea of restricting movement via borders and imposing separate identities. It is important for both to not come across as inveterate narcissists who do not like to be crossed. They should provide an historic opportunity for Kashmiris to demonstrate how calmly they can, through penetrating dialogue and inspiring initiative, solve problems that have afflicted the State. This will change the perception of seeing the Kashmiris as a liability to witnessing them as a force that cements the region together.

Thus far, political rhetoric alluding to some of the above has not been translated into practice. Those who can instigate a change in approach are metaphorically tied in chains e.g. writers, artists, activists and other energetic members of civil society. Whereas, lackadaisical technocrats and bureaucrats, wearing the badge of either country are given the duty of enacting the rhetoric.

That doesn’t work. It raises false hopes at best and repeatedly exemplifies a frustrating inability to bridge the gap between political decisions and implementation on the ground. We’re not living in the 5th century BC; this is the age of instant communication, overt round-the-clock economic consciousness and unbridled movement of people and ideas.

If one were to sincerely make an effort to convert looming tragedy into benign opportunity, the current scenario could be viewed as “The Pangs of Reunion”, an actual desire by the public to revert the region back to it’s natural formation, minus borders of course.

A broad strategy could focus on provisioning a return of religious space to the Hindus and Sikhs who were forced to leave Pakistan and Pak-administered Kashmir. Hence re-vitalising their ancestral roots and giving those areas the much-needed diversity they have sorely lacked for 61 years. L.K. Advani and others should work vigorously with the Pakistani establishment to re-create Hindu space in Pakistan, especially in his home province of Sindh where remaining Hindus live in isolation.

Giving the Hindus and Sikhs who live in the border areas of Indian-administered Kashmir, an opportunity to rebuild their mandirs and gurdwaras in their ancestral land in Pak-administered Kashmir is a crucial part of this suggestion.

In light of all above, Amarnath is but a minor issue, perhaps not worth the environmental degradation and political agitation that it has evoked. Symbolising it as a landmark of the re-union of the sub-continent could have unlimited positive consequences.

The 61 year old Indo-Pak mess could be transformed into giving the Kashmiris what the Moghuls, Afghans, Ranjit’s Sikhs, the Brits and Dogra rule couldn’t give them…the freedom to utilise their abundance of talent.

The writer is a freelance journalist, activist and consultant

E: sahaafi@gmail.com

W: maloomaat.net


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