OVER 30 years ago, prime minister Indira Gandhi called off talks with Pakistan on a no-war pact because Pakistan’s representative to the UN Human Rights Commission, Agha Hilaly, had compared Indian Kashmir with Palestine. That was before the eruption of militancy in the former in 1989.
Since then, the parallel has become even more apt. In both places, the people’s resistance finds itself forsaken by the international community and its leaders divided. Six months since the killing of Burhan Wani, the situation in Kashmir remains depressing, with little prospect of improvement in sight.
The BJP-PDP coalition, headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, is torn by rifts. She lacks the most elementary qualities of a leader. The BJP raises issues like the return of Pandits to the area; acceptance of Hindu refugees from Pakistan as ‘state subjects’, entitled to own property and to vote in elections; on police reforms; and even on transfer of civil servants. This was a marriage in which each partner had kept its left hand on the door knob of the divorce court.
Modi seeks to perpetuate the status quo by sheer force.
Unsurprisingly, the Indian government does not take her seriously, and knows she has no other option but to yield to its snubs and orders. Orders for the house arrests of separatist leaders come from bureaucrats in New Delhi — as they did in her predecessor, Omar Abdullah’s, time.
On Jan 3, she told the Srinagar assembly that 59 youths had joined armed outfits. In December, she said at a public meeting, “We were left with no option other than to take tough measures to protect life and property.” Punjab and the northeast have seen worse cases of violence; bullets, not stones, were used. Pellet guns were freely used with her approval and support.
In a report published in December, entitled Blind to Justice: Excessive Use of Force and Attacks on Health case in J&K, India, Physicians for Human Rights stated that pellet guns are “inherently inaccurate, indiscriminate, and capable of penetrating soft tissues even at a distance”.
The report gives a well-documented account of human rights violations in the second half of 2016: “The authorities lack respect for the right to health.”
It goes on to catalogue numerous incidents of ambulance drivers being prevented from taking the injured to hospitals, of doctors and patients being intimidated and even beaten.
The centre poured more troops into Indian Kashmir in August. Some of them took over schools to use as barracks. Development economist and activist Jean Drez, upon visiting the region after a 16-year gap, reported that he found popular resentment had “intensified” amidst a “massive military presence”.
In this terrible situation, the response of Kashmiri ‘leaders’ is an essay in irresponsibility. Omar Abdullah seeks to acquire credibility by belatedly uttering some truths others had already accepted — for instance, that the present unrest is not inspired or sponsored by Pakistan and the Kashmir issue itself has local roots.
Late last year, as working president of the National Conference, he said, “To blame Pakistan alone for the political situation or the current unrest in the Valley is a distortion of the truth.”
The people of Indian Kashmir, he said, had “espoused a political sentiment even when there was no external interference and this political sentiment forms the basis of [Kashmir’s] special status that has since been eroded by extra-constitutional machinations”.
He reiterated that the political issue was a result of historic blunders and broken promises by successive dispensations in New Delhi. “The situation today stands compounded because of the present central government’s refusal to even acknowledge that a problem exists in Kashmir.”
Advocates of ‘dialogue’ never answer the question: on what? The Modi government aims to ‘resolve’ the Kashmir dispute; internally, by crushing the people’s agitation, and externally, by rejecting any negotiations with Pakistan. In short, perpetuate the status quo by sheer force.
The biggest disappointment is the joint resistance leadership comprised of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. It is no secret that it is Geelani, the short-sighted ambitious hardliner, who does the running. The hartals and shutdowns inflicted heavy losses on traders and grave stress on the populace.
On Dec 14, 2016, the joint resistance leadership finally resolved, after wide-ranging talks with members of civil society, to call it a day. “Now it is time to consolidate the gains and build upon them.” The leadership felt that “a long term sustainable strategy … is the way forward”.
It promised to hold consultations on such a strategy. Its deliberations and their result will be an acid test of the quality of its leadership. A truly sustainable long-term strategy is sorely needed. Civil society must contribute to the debate.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn January 14th, 2017