On New Year’s Day, Kashmir will complete 150 days of siege – the longest ever in any place along with the world’s longest-ever internet blockade.
Although the curfew-like siege that started at midnight on August 4 has been considerably eased, the wherewithal of the cordon remains entrenched and determined to activate with a wild vengeance whenever Kashmiris display any potential for resistance.
So far, the only reason Kashmir has been spared a bloodbath is the strategic restraint of the population from taking out any large demonstrations that would have allowed the authorities to commit mass murder on a much larger scale than what was done in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing when nearly 150 youth were brutally killed and tens of thousands injured or blinded. Earlier, in 2008 and 2010-11, similar massacres were carried out to quell mass uprisings.
In the current iteration of the crisis, absence of any large-scale murder of people does not absolve the conduct and character of New Delhi or suggest it has weaned herself of Kashmiri blood. There are credible reports that Governor Satya Pal Malik had prepared a large-scale contingency plan to deal with the mass public massacre that it envisaged to control the public reaction in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370.
From New Delhi’s point of view, absence of large-scale public battering does not bode well for its future predatory engagement with the people and the region. Had a few massacres happened, the total ban on communication would have masked it well and in a world of fast-changing priorities, it would have even been forgotten by the world by now – leaving Kashmiris exhausted to mourn all alone, as they’ve done in the past. Therefore, there is a fear that a public rebellion is lurking around in the very presence of a prying security bandobast.
The pro-India Kashmiri political groups like National Conference and People’s Democratic Party also stand baffled. Two days before the abrogation of Article 370, Omar Abdullah issued a general appeal to the public to come out on the roads to block the impending Indian move. A public response would have certainly caused a justification for brutal violence as the state’s choicest response against any peaceful protests since 1931.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his extremely long and passionate speech on September 27 at the United Nations General Assembly had issued a chilling warning that “there would be a bloodbath when India lifts its curfew”. Although there is still extreme coercion and threats, with little respect for public safety and security, the curfew in Kashmir stands lifted.
The bloodbath has been avoided, at least so far. Pakistan looks strained for want of a meaningful and credible reaction to the Indian moves in the region. True, Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his televised address to the nation in late August, vowed that “Pakistan will go to any lengths to support the cause of the oppressed Kashmiri people”. All that it has managed so far is a lot of rhetoric that also seems to have run out of steam as the situation progresses into a new year.
Before the Indian elections, Khan, in his off-the-cuff spirit to trivialise every issue of import to a reductive terminology of sport, had batted for Narendra Modi’s re-election suggesting there may be a better chance of peace talks with India, a lazy view that fails to explore anything beyond the confines of a cushy workplace environment.
While Khan’s nature as a peace-maker is commendable, his naive optimism has led him to a dangerous blind – as demonstrated by the aftermath of Modi’s re-election. When the abrogation of Article 370 occurred, it came “out of blue for Pakistan” as one senior politician from Azad Jammu and Kashmir told me. With time, the dread of the unknown might have settled a bit – but failed to generate any credible and actionable response.
So far, all that has been done from the Pakistani side is letters to various regional and international forums and cyclical statements of impending doom and exhibiting concern of various degrees. However, placing the blame on the current government alone would be inappropriate. This is a natural outcome of a sustained official policy of three decades.
But that also seems to have boomeranged, since there was a failure to gauge the Indian mood exposing deep structural flaws in her engagement with India and Kashmir. This should have called for a serious review to understand the failures.
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