The long shadow of Afzal Guru

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Asif Ezdi

WHEN Afzal Guru was hanged se­cretly last month in Ti­har Jail, In­dian of­fi­cials claimed that it was a sim­ple case of the law tak­ing its course and that pol­i­tics had noth­ing to do with it. That is of course not true. The ex­e­cu­tion was a po­lit­i­cal move with an eye on the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions due in In­dia next year and was de­signed to blunt crit­i­cism from the BJP that the Congress-led government has not been suf­fi­ciently firm in stamp­ing out “cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism” from an unloved neigh­bour.

We do not know how the ex­e­cu­tion will im­pact on the In­dian elec­tions but it is safe to say that the con­se­quences for the fu­ture of Kash­mir will be far-reach­ing and long-last­ing. By send­ing him to the gal­lows, the In­di­ans made Afzal Guru an­other mar­tyr for free­dom from In­dian rule. He has al­ready be­come a source of in­spi­ra­tion for a new gen­er­a­tion of Kash­miris who were ei­ther not born when Maq­bool Butt was hanged in the same prison in 1984, or were too young to re­mem­ber it. Both Butt and Afzal were buried within the walls of the Ti­har jail and the de­mand for the re­turn of their bod­ies to Kash­mir for re­burial has be­come a new ral­ly­ing call for the Kash­miris.

Kash­mir has been in a state of con­tin­u­ous tur­moil since Afzal Guru’s hang­ing. Ac­cord­ing to a report in an In­dian news­pa­per (DNA) last Tues­day, there had by then been more than 24 days of curfew and shut­down in Kash­mir af­ter the hang­ing on 9 Fe­bru­ary. The In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion forces re­main on high alert to crack down on any sign of pub­lic protest.

It is re­mark­able that the Na­tional Con­fer­ence (NC) and the Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party (PDP) which con­sis­tently toe the In­dian line on Kash­mir have also sought to dis­tance them­selves from the ex­e­cu­tion of Afzal Guru. Both th­ese par­ties have sep­a­rately called for the re­turn of Afzal’s body. In a let­ter to Man­mo­han Singh, Omar Ab­dul­lah, the pup­pet chief min­is­ter, has also re­quested for the re­turn of Maq­bool Butt’s body to Kash­mir.

The Pak­istan government’s re­ac­tion to the ex­e­cu­tion of Afzal Guru was ex­pressed in a mildly worded state­ment is­sued by the For­eign Min­istry. It reaf­firmed sol­i­dar­ity with the peo­ple of Kash­mir but care­fully re­frained from any com­ment on the ex­e­cu­tion it­self. Nearly a month af­ter the hang­ing, while en­raged Kash­miris were protest­ing en masse against In­dian re­pres­sion and de­mand­ing the re­turn of Guru’s body, our prime min­is­ter de­cided to pay pil­grim­age to Ajmer on a ‘pri­vate visit’, no doubt adding in­sult to the in­jury of the Kash­miris.

In keep­ing with the pol­icy of ‘re­straint’ fol­lowed by the government, our par­lia­ment also re­mained silent for more than a month on the anti-In­dia ag­i­ta­tion go­ing on in Kash­mir. It was only on its last work­ing day and al­most as an af­ter­thought that the Na­tional As­sem­bly, qui­etly and with­out any de­bate, passed a hastily drafted res­o­lu­tion ex­press­ing sol­i­dar­ity with the peo­ple of Kash­mir in the wake of Afzal Guru’s hang­ing and re­stat­ing Pak­istan’s tra­di­tional stand on the Kash­mir is­sue.

Dur­ing its five-year term, this Na­tional As­sem­bly ear­lier passed two other res­o­lu­tions on Kash­mir con­demn­ing the use of force by the In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion forces and call­ing for a so­lu­tion of the Kash­mir is­sue in ac­cor­dance with UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions. The In­dian par­lia­ment did not re­act to any of th­ese res­o­lu­tions. The first one was passed in Au­gust 2008 af­ter In­dian para­mil­i­tary forces killed Sheikh Ab­dul Aziz, a prom­i­nent APHC leader, while he was lead­ing a peace­ful demon­stra­tion against In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion of Kash­mir. The sec­ond res­o­lu­tion was passed in Septem­ber 2010 to con­demn the killing of more than a hun­dred per­sons, mostly teenage boys and young men, dur­ing a wave of pro-azadi ral­lies that sum­mer. The res­o­lu­tion passed on 14 March is al­most iden­ti­cal with that of Septem­ber 2010. There are only two changes. First, there is a sen­tence at the be­gin­ning ex­press­ing deep con­cern at the sit­u­a­tion cre­ated by the hang­ing of Afzal Guru, but there is no con­dem­na­tion of the hang­ing it­self. Sec­ond, there is a de­mand that his body be de­liv­ered to his fam­ily, a de­mand which has been made also by the NC and PDP.

Yet the re­ac­tion of the In­dian par­lia­ment to the Na­tional As­sem­bly’s res­o­lu­tion was fu­ri­ous. Amid some fiery speeches, both houses unan­i­mously passed iden­ti­cal res­o­lu­tions the very next day re­ject­ing “in­ter­fer­ence” by Pak­istan and call­ing upon the Na­tional As­sem­bly to de­sist from “such acts of sup­port for ex­trem­ist and ter­ror­ist el­e­ments”. The In­dian For­eign Min­istry fol­lowed up by can­celling a hockey se­ries be­tween the two coun­tries set for April and May. In­dia has also put on hold the pro­posed group tourist visa fa­cil­ity for Pak­istani na­tion­als.

There are two ex­pla­na­tions for Delhi’s hys­ter­i­cal re­ac­tion. Nei­ther of them has any-

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