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Opinion

Fifth column

August 28, 2016

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Remilitarising Kashmir is the final blow

The Indian army is back on the streets of Kashmir’s towns and villages. They have taken over school and colleges, empty government buildings and public squares that were vacated less than a decade ago following a simultaneous process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan and India and Kashmiris.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in alliance with the extremist Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has buried all hopes of rapprochement with the besieged Kashmiris, giving a final symbolic blow to any hopes of the now-stalled ‘peace process’, its pet project that it flaunted so vigorously over the years to seek legitimacy as some sort of a champion of pro-Kashmiri sentiments.

After more than 14 years, the Border Security Force (BSF) is back on patrol in the streets of Srinagar while the army has taken over the main roads and several towns across the Kashmir valley. Redeployment of a few hundred or a few thousand troops in a place like Kashmir where more than half a million troops are already stationed may not make much of a difference, but its emblematic importance and psychological mark will go beyond the streets and public squares. In layman’s terms, we are back to where we started in the early 1990.

An unnamed senior police officer quoted in a newspaper report termed the newly introduced patrolling of BSF as a “routine affair”. Some government officials are calling the deployment for “law and order duties”. Regardless of the spin or the slant, the development signifies a growing trend of re-securitisation of Kashmir, both the narrative and the physical milieu, and should be a cause of serious concern for everyone who espouses permanent peace between Kashmiris and India, India and Pakistan and in the Saarc region as a whole.

The process of remilitarisation comes at a time when the ruling PDP and its masters in Delhi are shaping the narrative in terms that are extremely incendiary, anti-Islamic and outright racist. After Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s crocodile tears and woolly phrases failed to garner any positive public response, the PDP has unleashed a frontal attack against Kashmiris and their Islamic faith pandering to the Hindu extremists in India, both in power and those militants who pull the strings from the outside.

It all started on August 13 when Muzaffar Beig, a PDP parliamentarian and vice president of the party, made scathing attacks against Islam, Muslims and Kashmiris during the All Parties Meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a fitful farrago, Beig claimed, in front of Modi, that the current uprising was a problem created by madressahs that wanted a revival of the Khilafat Movement and were supported by ISI, the ubiquitous Pakistani spy agency usually blamed for everything bad that happens in India. Ridiculing and vilifying the people of Kashmir, Beig sought to distort the ground reality to suit Mehbooba Mufti’s ceaseless quest to remain in office at whatever cost to the poor Kashmiris.

Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister, was the only Kashmiri leader of import who issued a befitting rebuttal to this toxic propaganda. In a reference to the BJP’s anti-Muslim narrative, Abdullah accused the PDP of “reading from a political script to suit a jingoistic, condescending narrative that stereotypes Muslims and also distorts the political issue in Kashmir as an alleged manifestation of radicalisation and religious indoctrination”.

Since then, the PDP is drip-feeding the Indian public with anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri propaganda using Indian media or public gatherings outside of Kashmir, mainly in the Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu. These statements then get endorsed by the BJP and other extremist Hindu leaders provoking public demands for harsh and severe military actions against Kashmiris.

Taking his cue from Beig, a week later, the Indian finance minister and an anti-Kashmiri hardliner, Arun Jaitley, stated the situation in Kashmir was serious and said that “Pakistan, separatists and religious forces had joined hands to attack the integrity of India”. He also described the stone pelters as “attackers” and warned that those indulging in “violence” would be dealt with sternly without any compromise.

Jaitley’s statement evoked a serious response from pro-freedom leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who advised the people to start preparing for harsh days ahead, a refrain articulated by the octogenarian pro-freedom stalwart Syed Ali Shah Geelani a few days earlier. “It does not shock us but it vindicates what we have been saying. It brings to fore anti-human and anti-Kashmir approach and totalitarian mindset of the ruling regime towards the people of Kashmir”.

In this backdrop, remilitarisation of the Muslim areas of Jammu and Kashmir can be seen as a practical manifestation of India’s growing belief that the Kashmiri masses can be brought under control only by employing more ruthless means, appeasing the all-powerful extremist Hindu groups who demand an endless supply of Kashmiri and Muslim blood from their soldiers on the ground.

Such a position also suits the ruling PDP as it stands exposed on the ground, so much so that no amount of spin or emotional blackmail seems to work for the party at present. Mehbooba Mufti has been looking visibility annoyed and angry at her Kashmiri compatriots as her usual repertoire of theatrics fail to influence anybody on the ground. As a result, while she is launching scathing and vilifying attacks on Kashmiri Muslims, the party under her command has totally subordinated its survival to an endless appeasement of the Hindu right by calling for and enacting more repression.

Despite the continuing and gradual increase in repression against the common masses, the defiance of Kashmiris continues unabated. Syed Ali Shah Geelani dismissed the talk of more army deployment saying India can bring its whole army but they will continue to mount their resistance. As an official policy, the government is trying its best to stop the continued public rallies – attacking the venues and even killing peaceful protesters – but people remain adamant in taking out processions. Over the last three weeks, more and more attacks on civilians are being carried out by the army or paramilitary forces.

The army and its affiliate Border Security Force (BSF) have a very historical and a potent role in the hierarchy of repression in Kashmir. Its deployment in towns and villages of Kashmir provokes painful memories of the 90s, when the force committed several gruesome massacres in length and breadth of the valley – from Sopore to Srinagar, and Handwara to Bijbehara. In one attack alone, on October 22, 1993, on a peaceful public demonstration in Bijbehara at least 51 lives were lost and 200 wounded, according to an Amnesty International report. They have also burned localities, arrested and killed hundreds and thousands more remain untraced in cases known locally as enforced disappearances.

The militarisation has also a direct relationship with the ascendancy of the Muftis. When the old and deceased Mufti took over as the Indian Home Minister, he installed Jagmohan as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir forcing Farooq Abdullah, the chief minister, to resign. This resulted in massive human tragedies, mainly at the hands of the Indian army and BSF. Summing up the role of Mufti Sayeed, Omar Abdullah, said in a May 14, 2012 interview with India Today: “People have not forgotten the massacre let loose on civilians at Gaw Kadal, Islamia College and other places by Jagmohan under the orders of the then Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed”.

As Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley expands the anti-Kashmiri state narrative by describing the public uprisings of 2008, 2010 and the ongoing mass rebellion as Pakistan’s proxy-wars, there is news of thousands of additional troops being rushed to quell the rebellion. It is anyone’s guess on what lies ahead.

The former chief minister, Mufti Sayeed, gave Kashmiris more than a dozen inhuman massacres that stoked a rebellion costing us two generations and bringing the two nuclear countries to the brink of extinction on several occasions. Mehbooba Mufti, imbibing her paternal desire to cling to power regardless of the human cost, seems to be following a similar trajectory and ready to bring us more destruction and instability. This has the potential to throw the whole region in a new quagmire, and for a long time.

 

The writer is a journalist,
author, and communications and security specialist. He lives
between London, Lahore and
Srinagar, Kashmir, where he is currently stuck.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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