Kashmir on the boil and Pakistan's Reaction

Editorial: Kashmir on the boil and our reaction
Daily Times, September 9, 2008

Kashmir’s top leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has warned that “India’s heavy-handed crackdown on protests could renew a violent upsurge in the long-running freedom struggle”. He and two other leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Syed Ali Geelani and Mr Yasin Malik, are under house arrest in the wake of the recent protest in the Valley. There was a threat in Mr Farooq’s tone as he insisted that “if India pushes us too hard to the wall, tomorrow you can’t really ignore the fact that the youth might be angered and forced to resort again to arms”.

The story behind the recent upsurge of protest in the Indian administered Jammu & Kashmir is reflective of the stupidity of the governor appointed by the centre and inaction from the centre as the dire consequences of his action unfolded. In India, perhaps for the first time, the reaction of the intelligentsia has been strong, forcing one senior editor to actually ask India to gain “freedom from Kashmir”. The fund of sympathy that the Kashmiris have won from across India has been unprecedented. The reason is the story itself.

The J&K state governor, Lt Gen S K Sinha, tried to tinker with the famous ancient spiritual pilgrimage called Amarnath Yatra. The offerings at the hallowed high-altitude cave were traditionally shared by two custodians of the shrine, one Muslim and one Hindu, which gave a cross-communal identity to the ritual. In 1996, after a blizzard took 200 lives, the yatra or pilgrimage was reorganised: the whole affair would be restricted to six weeks and the number of pilgrims would be no more than 100,000. Things were normal till Governor Sinha decided to flout the regime and immediately fell foul of the chief minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. But when the next chief minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, proved more malleable, the stubborn governor went ahead with his plan.

An order was passed in May 2007 “diverting” forest land to the Amarnath Board at Baltal. The route demarcated was not necessary at all in view of the ceiling of 100,000 pilgrims. Even the Indian army thought it was a dangerous plan. The next blunder was to “allot” the land on terms that the Kashmiris resented because it smacked of colonising the valley. The new governor, Mr NN Vohra, rescinded the order but then the RSS and BJP-dominated province of Jammu acted up and systematically blocked all food trade to the Valley, forcing the starving Kashmiris to come out on the roads and protest. What happened next is what has been happening in Kashmir when the army confronts unarmed Muslim protesters.

Pakistan’s reaction has been measured so far but signs are that this could change under pressure from vested interests. India has been restrained about commenting on our troubles in the Tribal Areas. The PPP government has announced trade liberalisation with India, which is also a good confidence building measure. This non-interference by Pakistan in Kashmir affairs has compelled some Indian analysts to think seriously about finding solutions to developments in the Valley. Therefore, any aggressive posture from our side would immediately divert the Indian feeling — and that of the world — to cries of “terrorism” from Pakistan and undermine the broad based sympathy that is building up for the Kashmiris for the first time in mainstream India. Under the circumstances, Islamabad must not help in a lethal reinterpretation of the entire Amarnath Yatra episode to Pakistan’s detriment.

Some kind of “signalling”, however, seems to have gone ahead in Karachi last Sunday. A well known jihadi organisation with a record of “achievements” in Kashmir has held a conference in which fiery speeches about the need to restart jihad in Kashmir were made. The organisation has already been accused by the Indians and the international community of getting its proxies and sleeper cells to commit terrorism in some states of India. So if this is a growl aimed at India it is not a very wise growl. As in the past, it is not going to force India to let the Kashmiri Muslims off the hook. In fact if there is a chance that they will get what they want partly or fully, it will be doomed, and the Indo-Pak process of normalisation, already jeopardised by “Taliban” attacks on each other’s diplomatic offices, will run aground.

At this juncture Pakistan must not think of reverting to policies that have failed in the past and recoiled on us through the creation of multiple centres of power within the state and civil society. Unless we are cautious, we run the risk of giving ourselves the identity of a failed-cum-rogue state with hardly anything holding together inside it. The jihadi militias held in reserve should be disbanded. The option of jihad is at an end. It is time to save the country from the clutches of the Taliban, many of whom are veterans of the Kashmir jihad. *

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