Weekly Bang-e-Sahar Karachi Saturday, September 6——-September 12, 2008
Dr Shabir Choudhry
People of Jammu and Kashmir have suffered for many decades; and their struggle for right of self-determination and national identity has seen many twists and turns. The new and probably the last phase of this long struggle has begun. It is claimed that the new struggle is similar to the ‘Palestinian intifada’ and is peaceful in nature and was not led by any leadership but by the ordinary people. In this new struggle ordinary people-truck drivers, fruit growers, fruit sellers, shopkeepers etc, who were hitherto not part of the struggle are taking a lead role; and ‘leaders’ were obliged to take part in these processions to make themselves relevant.
The previous phase which started in 1988/9 had many dimensions and many phases within it. Some claim this militant phase ‘internationalised’ the Kashmir dispute, but it also brought suffering and disaster to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Sad thing is that despite all the suffering, deaths, torture, rapes and destruction the Kashmir dispute is still viewed as a bilateral dispute which has to be resolved by India and Pakistan.
The present uprising has astonished many Kashmir watchers and some think the authorities were also taken by surprise. But some experts think there is more than that to this uprising. Local Kashmiris I have spoken to claim that it is truly indigenous movement, but similar claims were made about the uprising of 1989 which was later proved that it was sponsored from outside. Indian authorities thought they had probably seen the worst in Jammu and Kashmir and situation was gradually returning to some kind of normalcy. The peace process, although we Kashmiris were not part of it and it did not bring any tangible results to the solution, brought some relief to the people, especially to those living in border areas. So to the Indian policy makers there was no need to make any concessions or to take any concrete steps to resolve the dispute. They perhaps thought that they can play for time until such time when the situation is favourable to them or when Pakistan is in deep trouble, and has no time and resources left to continue tinkering with the Kashmir dispute; or even worse, when Pakistan because of political contradictions and internal divisions disintegrates as a nation state.
As a political analyst, I want to read between the lines and try to see what is behind the headlines. I wonder if it is just the issue of transfer of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board or something else behind it. Or is it just an excuse to give this matter a religious flavouring that people could be provoked and motivated to take extreme actions in name of religion both in the Valley and in Jammu?
SAHB was established by Jammu and Kashmiri government of Farooq Abdullah and rightly or wrongly the land was also transferred by a Jammu and Kashmir cabinet headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad. Apparent purpose of this land transfer was to provide facilities to visitors that pilgrimage is made easier which will encourage more people to visit the Shrine. Tourism whether religious or leisure brings money and creates jobs and supports local economy; and when there is widespread unemployment in the Valley why oppose actions which will ultimately promote tourism and help to end unemployment? In the past, militants threatened to stop Amarnath Yatra which is clearly against teachings of Islam. Those who stopped religious festivals and adopted violent methods for it had no interest in the local economy or welfare of the people as they were mercenaries – those who are paid to execute a mission for monetary gains. Similarly, APHC leaders and other leaders have no worries about bread and butter as they know they have accumulated enough wealth that their 5/6 generations don’t need to worry about their kitchen.
Those who have vested interest in affairs of Jammu and Kashmir, and want to maintain the status quo by ensuring that the Kashmir pot continues to boil, knew very well that the New World Order DOES NOT approve militancy and terrorism. They knew Kashmir pot could not continue to boil by use of gun for too long. A new strategy was desperately needed for this, and I indicated this in June 2008, in article: ‘They are back in Islamabad’. It must be noted here that some kind of trouble or low level insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir suits many which could be broadly termed vested interest. This term vested interest encompasses all those who, one way or the other, have benefited from this struggle and suffering of the people, and they are on both sides of the divide and include some members of the Kashmiri Diaspora. This ‘benefit’ could be in form of wealth, power, status, undue publicity etc, and beneficiaries include people in politics, militant groups, religious groups, army and corridors of power and policy makers. Peace, stability and resolution of the Kashmir dispute is not in the interest of those who have made it a commercial enterprise.
Space for extremists: With militancy on decline and some kind of gradual normalcy returning to the Jammu and Kashmir, although still around half million armed personnel were there, political space for extremists was declining. Same was the case for the politics of APHC. They felt that days of their politics were numbered, and they would be badly exposed in the next elections which were just around the corner. They also knew that the people ignored calls of boycott at the time of the last election even situation was much worse than what it was in June 2008.
Similarly, appeal of extremist politics in Jammu was on decline. Secular minded people and members of the Kashmiri civil society in Jammu and the Valley opposed forces of communalism, extremism and hatred. Extremists both in Jammu and the Valley wanted to create a political space for themselves by playing communal and regional cards.
The issue of land transfer has provided the opportunity to the extremists to assert themselves both in Jammu and in the Valley. They have used religion and regional grievances to make space for their politics, and it looks that extremists are in the driving seat in both regions, and space for secular minded people and members of the civil society is declining.
One can understand the disappointment of people with the progress of the peace process. One can also appreciate their frustration and alienation, not to mention the trauma and suffering they have endured since 1988/9; but does that mean we give in to forces of extremism? Does it mean that members of the civil society remain silent spectators and let extremists call shots in politics of Jammu and Kashmir? People have once again expressed their feelings that they are not happy with the status quo, and I for one will welcome this peaceful struggle; but I am deeply concerned with the communalism and regionalism embedded in this new phase of the struggle. If this trend of communalism and regionalism is not checked soon my fear is that it will tarnish our struggle and perhaps lead to disintegration of the State on communal lines. Already there are talks that Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir should be divided in to three administrative units. One Kashmir watcher said the new phase of the struggle may be peaceful, but tactics of the authorities are same as they were in 1989/90. It looks either the authorities have not learnt anything from the two decades old militant struggle or they have deliberately let the situation escalate. It is mind-blowing to think that authorities let the situation reach a certain point before taking any action, which is generally violent and result in human rights abuse and killings.
Authorities knew by being a silent spectator it only encourages the movement to have a snowball affect. They also knew that by adopting harsh measures, as were adopted in 1989/90, they will breed more violence and further alienate people. People show their resentment and dissatisfaction by holding large peaceful processions, but that must not be construed as a support for Pakistan, as some Pakistani leaders are claiming. They wave Pakistani flags to taunt and tease India as they know Indian authorities will dislike it, but it doesn’t mean they want to join Pakistan. People of Jammu and Kashmir know what is going on in Pakistan. They know F16 and helicopters are in action every day to kill and destroy those Pakistanis who are demanding their rights and identity. It is wrong of Pakistani leaders to assume that Kashmiri struggle is for ‘completion of Pakistan’, when we know Pakistanis are working hard to destroy the remaining Pakistan. (The writer is Spokesman of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. He is also Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: drshabirchoudhry@ gmail.com)