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Azadi / Repurposing Kashmir outreach / After Burhan Wani’s killing, an illusion is shattered in Kashmir / Living in denial on Kashmir

16 July 2016

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Outlook Magazine, 25 July 2016, Cover Story


What exactly does azadi mean to Kashmiris? Why can’t it be discussed? Since when have maps been sacrosanct?

by Arundhati Roy

The people of Kashmir have made it clear once again, as they have done year upon year, decade upon decade, grave upon grave, that what they want is azadi. (The “people”, by the way, does not mean those who win elections conducted in the rifle sights of the army. It does not mean leaders who have to hide in their homes and not venture out in times like these.)

While we denounce—as we must—the gunning down of unarmed protesters by the security forces, the attacks on ambulances and hospitals by policemen, and the blinding of teenagers with pellet guns, we have to keep in mind that the real debate cannot only be about the violation of human rights by Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley. Egregious though they are, those violations are the consequence—the inevitable and unavoidable consequence—of the militaristic suppression of a people’s struggle for freedom. Kashmiris are not fighting for the establishment of the rule of law or an end to human rights violations. They are fighting for azadi. For this, they are prepared to face down bullets with stones. For this, they are prepared to die in numbers. For this, they are prepared to exhibit acts of open defiance that may lead to their death or incarceration in the most densely militarised zone in the world. For this, they are prepared to take to arms, to fight to the death, knowing full well that they will die young. They have proved that with tragic regularity. They have been nothing if not consistent.

It’s no use pretending that what the Indian government has on its hands is a fleeting law and order problem created from time to time by a fickle, volatile people. What is happening is a dangerous, spiralling crisis of unmanageable proportions in a region that is sandwiched between two hostile nuclear powers. For that reason alone it should concern the whole world.

If we really want address that crisis, if we really want to stop the endless cycle of killing and dying, if we really want to stem the haemorrhaging, the first step has to be a small concession to honesty. We have to have an honest conversation. However diverse the views may be, however opposed to one another—the subject of that conversation has to be azadi: What exactly does azadi mean to Kashmiris? Why can’t it be discussed? Since when have maps been sacrosanct? Should a people’s right to self-determination be denied at any cost? Are the people of India prepared to have the blood of thousands of ordinary people on their conscience? With what moral authority can we talk about all the other horrors being visited upon us, if we are prepared to swallow this one? Is the presumed “consensus” in India on the subject of Kashmir real or manufactured? Does it matter? In truth, it shouldn’t. What matters is what Kashmiris want, and how to arrive at that consensus in the most peaceful, democratic and informed way possible.

If there is to be a solution to this terrible, seemingly endless tragedy, we have to be able to think clearly, speak freely and listen fearlessly to things we may not want to hear. We have to find a new imagination. This applies to everybody, on all sides of the dispute.

Something beautiful could come of it. Why not? Why ever not?

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The Tribune, July 15, 2016

Repurposing Kashmir outreach

by Harish Khare

Creating an alternative truth

THERE can be no satisfaction — but only sadness — in observing that our collective obtuseness in Kashmir has burnt out yet another Kashmiri leader. Mehbooba Mufti, who not long ago had so courageously and so craftily taken on the separatist arguments, has been rendered hors de combat by Delhi’s narrow minds and their narrower calculations. Unless she quickly finds an honourable exit out of the Chief Minister’s office, she and her party, the People’s Democratic Party, both would stand consumed in the current cycle of violence and counter-violence. Her political future is important but what is even more critical is the future of New Delhi’s relationship with the troubled state.

The death of more than 30 Kashmiri youths is both painful and inexcusable. Every Indian who believes in democratic values and our constitutional system must feel slightly diminished after the post-Burhan Wani bloodshed. It is no consolation that agents provocateurs may have been at work. After three decades of insurgency, militancy and organised confusion, we should have been wiser.

Two fundamental, somewhat conflicting, propositions need to be reiterated. First, since Burhan had opted for “the gun”, it was inevitable that sooner or later he would be out-gunned. He had become a prisoner of his own myth. There could have been no peaceful “out” for him. Nor should the social media-induced solidarity his death has generated surprise anyone. This is the new tool of mobilisation, and it is being used extensively in the whole country. We tend to forget that five years ago, social media was used to “mobilise” crowds for the Anna Hazare “movement”. Then, we had celebrated “defiance” as the highest democratic entitlement and serenaded the “revolt” of the youth. Burhan Wani was using the same tools to fire up the imagination in the Valley. He made the error of supplementing his poetry of defiance with an AK-47.

Those who defy the law, order, authority invite a response — often a disproportionate response — from the State. Recently the Jats in Haryana were so riotously on a “warpath” that the Army had to be deployed in town after town; and, people got killed. Last year, the Patels in Gujarat insisted on defying authority and were made to feel the heavy hand of the State. This happens everywhere, almost in every part of the world. No exception could be made in Burhan Wani’s case. He did not ask for any quarter. Nor was he given any.

The second proposition: A democratic State such as India has an obligation to cajole, coax and convince the dissatisfied and the aggrieved citizen(s) to seek him out, hear him out, make him feel un-marginalised and bring him back to “mainstream”. In Kashmir, for three decades now we have been trying to create an alternative truth — the possibility of an India whose citizenship offers the Kashmiri a life of dignity, honour and equality. We have had very little success in convincing many Kashmiris of India’s agreeableness. The post-Wani violence has made the task even more difficult.

Perhaps, it is time to recognise and acknowledge that democratic India has fumbled in Kashmir because our own politics does not invoke respect, leave alone admiration, in Srinagar. If anything, we allow even our common sense — forget about any statesmanship — to get overwhelmed by very ordinary political calculations of ordinary politicians. But we do love to bemoan that the Valley has never purged itself of the “jamati” influence and ideology. We regularly and righteously berate Pakistan for fomenting separatist tendencies and “tanzeems”. Anti-Pakistanism, after all, may be a very paying proposition back in the “mainland” India, but it does not help much in the Valley.

Irrespective of how quickly and efficiently the current turmoil and tension are defused in the Valley, the latest eruption has once again underlined the two-fold task before all those who wish to rule Kashmir from Delhi.

First, to ensure the security and safety of the citizens in Jammu and Kashmir, both against any intrusion from across the border and from those inside who choose to use the “gun” to insist on having their point of view prevailed. Geography and history provide Pakistan a slight edge in keeping the pot boiling, but Islamabad’s potential for mischief can be easily contained. It is the second task that taxes our democratic credentials.

And that task is to summon the imagination and willingness to expand the mainstream, seduce the middle, and isolate the separatist. If the first task is the soldier’s responsibility, the second task becomes the politician’s obligation.

The trick has always been to find the right mix. And, most of the time, the optimal mix has eluded the wise and clever men who “run” Kashmir from Delhi. And in recent years, we have loaded the Kashmir matrix with demands and promises of “toughness.” This overloading of macho pretensions has complicated the current Kashmir scenario.

Ideally, the Modi sarkar is best suited to “solve” the Kashmir issue “once and for all.” There is no dearth of domain knowledge. The Prime Minister is a Kashmir veteran. Not many remember his sterling role as a major domo in the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi’s march on Srinagar. There is the Finance Minister, who once played the interlocutor. Then, there is the National Security Adviser who has a reputation of knowing everything and everyone who matters in Kashmir. There is also the redoubtable “commissar” Ram Madhav, who has been trying his hand at playing the master puppeteer. Never before, perhaps, was such a formidable talent pool available for solving the Kashmir issue.

At one level, there is a smug satisfaction that Kashmir has once again acquired a salience in the discourse back on the “mainland”. Anything which gets the “national” television channels excited and gets them screaming at Pakistan and against “terrorism” and “Islamic radicalisation” would be good for the electoral chances in Uttar Pradesh. Officially, the BJP would be spared the ungainly tactics of having to resurrect the overtly controversial issues like “beef” and “Hindu exodus”. Television channels can be relied upon to scare the Hindu voter.

Anyway, the BJP believes it now has an obligation and a historic chance to achieve the old Jan Sangh’s old agenda. Many of its prima donnas remain mesmerised by the mythological mumbo-jumbo about Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and his “struggle” and “martyrdom”. Then, there are those Nagpur-headquartered nationalists who are breathing down on the decision-makers in Delhi and have a definite view of what the whole Kashmir issue was all about.

We may not be back to the grim 2010 and certainly not to the dark days of 1990, but it does seem some of the nagging doubts remain unanswered. Can small men be entrusted with the task of repurposing our attitudes and actions in Kashmir? Who will produce statesmanship in Kashmir? Can the Indian State’s moral authority in Srinagar be redeemed by leaders who do not command any moral stature back in New Delhi? It is anybody’s call.

o o o

The Hindu, July 14, 2016

Living in denial on Kashmir

by Happymon Jacob

There is a return to home-grown insurgency, with religious radicalisation acting as a force multiplier this time. Delhi needs to open a result-oriented dialogue with the Valley’s dissidents

The latest uprising in Kashmir, triggered by the encounter killing of the young Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani, was waiting to happen for some time. The writing on the wall has been clear to those who cared to read it: that Kashmir would soon bounce back to the days of home-grown insurgency, with religious radicalisation acting as a force multiplier this time. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in New Delhi, in its impatient race for power in Srinagar, did not care to read the signs, and when told, it didn’t care to listen.

The Kashmiris knew that things were not going to be easy for them if the BJP were to come to power in the State, and so they voted in large numbers to keep it out. But they were in for a rude surprise when BJP interlocutors sweet-talked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into believing that the “Agenda of Alliance”, that the two parties put together after months of negotiations, would be an inviolable document for political action. The PDP has since been silenced and the so-called guiding document has been cast to the winds. We are perhaps one last stop away from the Valley slipping into another full-blown insurgency: with Rawalpindi aiding and abetting it, disaffected Kashmiris being hopeless and edgy, and clueless New Delhi playing with fire throwing all caution to the winds.

A decade of follies

There was a time, a decade ago, when we were close to ending the Kashmir insurgency. It was the heyday of Manmohan Singh’s proactive diplomacy with Pakistan on the Kashmir question even as his interlocutors were quietly negotiating with the dissident leadership in Kashmir on a ‘Kashmir formula’. As per anecdotal evidence, a majority of the dissident leadership in the Valley, barring Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was on board the formula. Not only were the Pakistanis supporting the process but had even tried to reach out to the dissidents in the Valley to convince them of the proposed solution! Dr. Singh held extensive consultations with the Kashmiri leadership both publicly and privately. While Dr. Singh lost his political nerve in mid-2007 to take the initiative to its logical conclusion, his counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, lost his domestic support thanks to the lawyers’ agitation, and as a result, the deal that would have settled both the conflict in Kashmir and over Kashmir disappeared into oblivion.

Kashmir has never been the same again. Anti-India feelings were steadily on the rise after over 120 Kashmiris were killed at the hands of the J&K police and Central forces in 2010. The seeds of a new indigenous insurgency were sown by the hasty manner in which Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013 during the Congress-led UPA regime. Let’s remember that all this was happening during a decade when terrorist infiltration from Pakistan was lower than ever before thanks primarily to the border/Line of Control fence that was erected in J&K in 2004.

The combined result of this mishandling has been a sharp, and worrying, spike in the number of home-grown militants: educated, armed, religiously inclined and ideologically motivated, and not necessarily shepherded. Second, years since the violent insurgency of the 1990s was put down, there is today a disquieting rise in the legitimacy for armed militancy among civil society and the educated classes of the Valley — Burhan Wani’s father, who is convinced of the righteousness of his son’s mission, is symbolic of that radical change. Anti-Indianism has become fashionable once again. A society that was exhausted by violence and gun culture has suddenly started justifying it. Finally, a decade of mishandling Kashmir has fundamentally damaged the liberal political space that could have politically and ideologically countered the return of militancy. Even the moderate Hurriyat faction finds it difficult today to converse with the youngsters thronging Kashmir’s dark alleys and war-torn mofussil towns, shouting for azadi, throwing stones, and ready to die.

Still losing the plot

Its miserable history of mishandling Kashmir has hardly taught New Delhi how to deal with Kashmir, despite fighting the insurgency for close to three decades now. While it was the Congress’s greed for power that historically, since the 1950s, alienated Kashmiris from the Indian political mainstream, it’s now the BJP’s turn to emulate the Congress with, of course, far more chest-thumping and name-calling.

Having cleverly hemmed in the Muftis, BJP strategists seem to believe that they have finally won the battle of wits in Kashmir, which they may well have. Yet, by being ignorant of the big picture, by investing heavily in short-term strategies and being insensitive to both the disaffected Kashmiris and its beleaguered coalition partner, the PDP, the BJP government in New Delhi is miserably losing the bigger battle for Kashmir and its people.

When these two unlikely partners came together to form a coalition government in early 2015, there was hope that things would get better for J&K given the PDP’s popularity in south Kashmir and the BJP’s historic mandate in Delhi: one and a half years down the road, however, all that J&K is left with is the PDP’s political isolation and helplessness, and the BJP’s inflexible political positions. Both the Muftis, first Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and now Mehbooba Mufti, have repeatedly reminded the BJP on the need to deliver on the promises (such as “the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections”) enshrined in the “Agenda of Alliance”.

However, not one of the key objectives outlined in the document has been taken up by the coalition so far, not even for discussion. I am reasonably confident that if the coalition had reached out to the dissidents in Kashmir in the past one and a half years that it’s been in power, things would not have looked this bad today.

Judicial observations on AFSPA

On the day Wani was killed, the Supreme Court came down heavily (though in the context of Manipur) on the shocking extent of immunity provided to the armed forces. Indeed, this stinging indictment of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act — AFSPA — has come at a point in time when the BJP has been playing hide and seek with the PDP, and Kashmiris in general, on the AFSPA question even though a need for a relook at this draconian law was clearly mentioned in the coalition work plan. The court’s redefinition of the situation in Manipur as ‘internal disturbance’, summarily rejecting the Central government’s plea that it is a ‘war-like situation’, has undeniable implications for how New Delhi deals with Kashmir and the debates on draconian laws like AFSPA.

It is not enough to issue occasional feel-good statements like ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’ — we should respect their human and political rights and not snatch away what the country’s Constitution guarantees in Article 370. In fact, the court has, on various occasions, made its views sufficiently clear on both AFSPA and Article 370. And as the court noted, every human life is important and therefore extrajudicial killings cannot be allowed. Those of us who justify extrajudicial killings in the name of fighting terror should take a careful look at what the court has said on the matter: “It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the State. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both.” Has any accountability been fixed for the killings of 2010? Has a proper inquiry been conducted into the thousands of unmarked graves in Kashmir?

Immediate next steps

In our country, the government and the political class look for solutions only when there is trouble in Kashmir: they make calls for peace, and send an occasional all-party delegation to the Valley (as happened in 2010) and promise to look into the genuine demands. Sometimes even a team of interlocutors is appointed to negotiate with the dissidents. The tragedy is that once the trouble subsides, promises are forgotten and the committee reports, as usual, get ignored. There is therefore a need to look for sustainable political solutions if the government is serious about pacifying the conflict in Kashmir. The more you wait, the less appetite will there be in the Valley to talk to New Delhi: there was more positivity in the Valley about talks a decade ago than is the case now.

In difficult times such as these, hard decisions have to be taken and the political class should show courage to do so. Here are some suggestions to bring normalcy back to Kashmir: repeal or at least amend AFSPA, release political prisoners, institute a broad-based inquiry into extrajudicial killings in Kashmir, and open a result-oriented dialogue with the Valley’s dissidents to discuss the larger political questions as promised by the ruling coalition. If the Indian state could strike a peace deal with the Naga insurgents, why not Kashmir, which is even more central to India’s national security?

This round of agitation will eventually end, but the Kashmir issue is certainly not going to go away: it will keep simmering, with occasional eruptions such as this one. With terrorism engulfing the region and the Islamic State waiting at the gates for an opening, India can ill-afford not to pacify its domestic insurgencies. Let’s face it, branding dissent as terrorism would only frustrate our efforts to deal with real terrorism.

Moreover, we should shed our national habit of pointing fingers at others when trouble brews in our country, and own up to our share of mistakes.

Finally, India and Indians need to speak to Kashmiris, openly and without prejudice, but not through prime-time shouting matches by TV anchors some of whose ignorance of history and politics, or basic discursive decency, could both shock and embarrass us.

Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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The Indian Express - July 13, 2016

After Burhan Wani’s killing, an illusion is shattered in Kashmir

How does one address words to Kashmir? What do you say in a political context where all texts are sub texts, all ends dead ends?

by Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Kashmir evokes, above all else, an overpowering and numbing sense of futility. When “heaven is on fire”, to use Muzamil Jaleel’s evocative phrase, it is not clear to whom words are addressed. How can one address words to the Indian state that has repeatedly produced outcomes of the kind we have just witnessed since Burhan Wani’s killing: Thirty-one young people killed, scores injured, many blinded? What does one say to this state that has, whatever the formal legalities and mitigating circumstances of the case may be, acted as an occupying army, immobilising considerations of justice at every turn? What does one say to its custodians, who at this point, mouth platitudes about their resolve over Kashmir, more I think to convince themselves, than to address Kashmiris? What does one say to this state that refuses to see the problem for what it is: A deep legitimacy crisis of the Indian state and a standing rebuke to Indian democracy? This state will, doubtless, be able to curb the violence in a few days: We will again feign normalcy, till the next round takes us by predictable surprise.

We will unleash our rhetorical prowess on Pakistan; stand firm in our resolve to fight terror. All well and good and justified. But let no one underestimate what has been on display in Kashmir since the killing of Burhan Wani: In one fell swoop the legitimacy of the Indian state has been eroded. The comforting illusion that all we face is a cross-border intervention, not the deep and continual alienation of our own citizens, has been shattered. The response will alas be predictable: First the law and order solution and then some promise of good governance. The latter could be a start, but that promise has been betrayed so many times that one cannot make it with a straight face. And these instruments have not been enough to break the vicious cycle of distrust. The structure of competitive politics will, in the end, be too preoccupied with competitive bickering.

But it is a fatal mistake to assume that there is just an instrumental solution to this challenge. The small windows of relative normalcy, the inevitable desire of so many young Kashmiris to make their way in the world has always lulled us into a sense of complacency. The sense in Kashmir that the idea of India is not a beacon of light and hope, but an ever strengthening shadow of darkness and violence, of disappearances and denial, of betrayal and repression, is strong. One measure of this is that it is hard to think of an Indian state that has produced such a poetry of pain (but then in these times of prose, who reads poetry). As the shadow of majoritarianism increases, this credibility crisis of the state will worsen. But how can one say this to a state where even an attempt at the description of the problem will be met with the usual ideological barrage: Insinuations of romanticising separatism and much worse. There is nothing in the ideological and empathetic armoury of the Indian state that is geared to addressing the deep alienation of those who matter in Kashmir. It is designed mainly to address Indians in the rest of India, so that we give our state a long leash in Kashmir.

I must confess that I am surprised that we are constantly surprised that teenagers in Kashmir are throwing stones at the Indian state. The real surprise is that it does not happen more. If we were subject to the regular interdictions of the police most of us might be tempted to pick up a stone or two; what years of army occupation, no matter how well intentioned and well run, would do is anybody’s guess. Our insecurities have produced a failure of empathetic imagination on our part, we want to hide behind a cloak of monumental ideology that mutilates any conversation about what it is really like to live in a state of siege. But I am also surprised at the surprise that a terrorist like Burhan Wani can be made a martyr by the general public. It is important to remember that this is not a phenomenon unique to Kashmir. It is still hard to dissociate far graver acts of terrorism, the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, from the construction of ethnic identity and politics in Punjab and Tamil Nadu respectively. This political phenomenon needs deeper diagnosis.

But how does one address words to Kashmir? What do you say in a political context where all texts are sub texts, all ends dead ends? Writers like Chetan Bhagat are more confident of their locus standi in addressing Kashmiri youth. Given what we know about our state, I am less confident that we can look them in the eye and make even a credible promise let alone redeem the pain of the past. All we can do is try and make this India, in whose name we licence violence, attractive and credible enough. Just as we hope that the Indian state will make truth not illusion the starting point of its strategy; we hope Kashmir politics will do the same. The path of violent state subverting terrorism, just as a matter of political reality, has almost never led to success. Whatever romanticism there was about the idea of Kashmiriyat, it is now tinged with the irrevocable odour of ethnic cleansing and reactionary radicalism. The Indian state, with its size and might, will probably absorb the cost of this turn. But in the end, the price of that violence and turn to reactionary radicalism will be most deeply felt by Kashmiris. One can easily grant the mutilations inflicted by the Indian state; but these do not have to be compounded by a kind of self-mutilation that violent terrorism by its nature brings. It may seem cathartic for a while, but this path hardly contains the seeds of regeneration. We can all remind ourselves of Sheikh Abdullah’s insight: That the fate of Kashmir inevitably depends upon the fate of India-Pakistan relations.

A transformation in that relationship opens up options; hostility in that relationship diminishes possibilities. It is easy to propose interim steps in Kashmir. But as Vajpayee used to ask, “yeh sab karega kaun?” No political force is minimally up to the task. The crisis will deepen as this episode puts a strain on the PDP-BJP alliance. All we can hope for is that politics throws enough cold water on the heaven that is on fire. But the sense of foreboding is only growing.

The writer is president, CPR, Delhi, and contributing editor, ‘The Indian Express’

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The real tragedy: There will never be a solution to the Kashmir problem

We are not Canadians or British who would conduct a referendum to decide on a state’s demand to secede.

by Ajaz Ashraf


The above material is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use