Kashmir: the second uprising
Kashmir needs more honest treatment. The problem is now far beyond its territorial colour. The slightest indignation of Kashmiri sensitivity rekindles a passion for azadi. Let us face it, not only from India but from Pakistan as well
1989 was Kashmir's first significant uprising and it ran its complete cycle. From initiation to activation to application, it created a furore in the Indian establishment that attracted a disproportionate response from the centre. Close to 750,000 military and paramilitary troops were positioned in Kashmir to fight off what looked to India like a cross-border sponsored effort at secession. The majority of these forces still remain in Kashmir and continue to police any sentiment that seems inimical to the Indian estab- lishment's perception and fears. It has now become the source for Kashmir's second uprising, the pangs of which reverberate through the valley with death, blood and the stench of gunpowder.
In some of the more recent parleys at the track two level between India and Pakistan, a point has been repeatedly made: Kashmir looks unusually peaceful, tourists have returned and businesses seem to have picked up; will it remain so as Kashmir heads into its peak season? We, the Pakistanis, have generally listened to what has always seemed loud thinking full of premonition and apprehension accompanied with a strange inquisitiveness as if we could provide some clues.
Kashmir has been a difficult case for both countries. It has been a hard nut, difficult to crack, a mention loathe to Indian sensibility. Kashmir has been such a psychological bind that has held to ransom all matters between the two states and those that needed to be initiated between Jammu and Kashmir and the centre. Sometimes its mention and another time its lack of mention are both seen as potent triggers of extreme emotion on both sides. Kashmir begs rational treatment.
Somewhere along the course of the erstwhile 'composite dialogue', the issue has been dealt varying responses, at times bold when the back channel during the Musharraf years seemed to be proffering a solution of sorts, at other times with utmost caution when the Indian politico-bureaucratic establishment has been wary of bringing Kashmir into focus with their Pakistani interlocutors.
In this current phase of the Kashmiri uprising, the treatment of the issue is again instructive. The broader Indian intelligentsia opines differently from the establishment's view when it insists that the issue is home-grown and based on serious inadequacies of sufficient political and economic sensitivity. The Indian national security establishment on the other hand, after an initial acquiescence to the need for a political solution, has gone back to harp on the old tune of cross-border sponsorship. Both approaches work at counter-purposes to each other and defy what seems to be the emerging new tack in India on Kashmir: that of internalising Kashmir as a domestic issue and externalising Pakistan from anything to do with it. When blaming Pakistan, the Indian security establishment implicitly makes Pakistan a relevant player, even if in a negative connotation, and largely subverts the imminence begging immediate attention by trivialising it as an externally motivated problem. The effort by Indian nonestablishment agencies, such as the media, continues to rant from the fresh script of avoiding Pakistan's mention and, by implication, making Pakistan irrelevant. In the ongoing debate on Kashmir in the Indian print and electronic media, any inclusion of a Pakistani perspective is strictly out of bounds.
Following the 2009 elections, credit was claimed for wide enfranchisement of the Kashmiris. Today, ironically, it is a frequent lament of a lost opportunity and a waste of political capital in Kashmir, when both the state and the centre have failed to build on the incrementally improving political climate within the valley. For some reasons, the policies either change or are put to waste. The recent spate of killings in Kashmir, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the highly callous treatment of some high profile human rights cases including denigration of women, all add fire to the residual sentiment of disappoint- ment when both the state and the centre disregarded Kashmiri sensibility on the Amaranth land case a few years back.
The nature of Kashmir's defiance has clearly changed, and that must shake the Indian establishment out of any complacency. What is homegrown is usually deep, builds slowly, but persists, as is the case with the current cycle of agitation. What will come from external motivation must of essence be short, violent, destructive and aimed at giving quick results. Any effort by the Indian establishment to demean the importance of what is happening in Kashmir is, at best, opportunist and deviational.
There are two concurrent approaches to Kashmir in India. One believes in the safer option of keeping Kashmir out of focus, also popular in Pakistan under the rubric of placing Kashmir on the backburner.