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Kashmir a blind eye: A path to nowhere

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By Kashi Pandit

Much was anticipated to follow the Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019. It didn’t happen. People gossiped that the development of infrastructure would receive unprecedented boost up because, as claimed, it had been either neglected or relegated to low priority for so many decades by the popular regimes in J&K. The refrain was also about stamping out corruption and siphoning away funds meant for some crucial projects of infrastructural development. People naively thought thieves would be caught and brought to book.

Then there was tall talk about political churning and stimulating of nationalist ideology alleged to have been given a rough deal under popular governments. But ever since the passage of the Act in question, hardly even a medium-sized pro-nationalist public gathering was witnessed in any part of the valley since August 2019. The authorities subtly interpreted the phenomenon as a sign of people becoming fed up with militancy, lockdowns and suspension of public facilities, and hence, silently welcoming the new dispensation. Sometimes a government betrays tremendous capability of self–delusion.

Denuding J&K of statehood status and converting it into two Union Territories of Ladakh and J&K was portrayed as a mega step taken by the centre for opening vistas of development in J&K. For decades almost an undeclared war was underway between the anti and pro 370/35-A activists. Now the pro-segment stands humbled. But various technical questions like the domicile issue vis-à-vis State Subject proviso, integration/re-allocation of services, functions and powers of Sarpanchs and DDCs, delimitation of constituencies and the powers and functions of the legislative assembly of the UT etc. sprang with the dilution of the status of J&K. Not all these questions were handled with objectivity and competence so much so that amendments of many orders had to be issued within 24 hours of their declaration. It indicated a lack of coordination in or sabotaging of the functionality of various departments. Some among the top bureaucrats enjoying political clout still wanted their writ to prevail. Diarchy of sorts ruled the roost in the early period of the promulgation of the new Act.

This notwithstanding, there is a fair list of positives as well. Indeed, Article 370 was much abused by the Kashmir-centric political and administrative chapter. Its misuse had put national security in jeopardy. It is also true that endemic regional and parochial tendencies obstructed just and equitable administration and funds coming from the Centre were taken as booty for general loot. These factors were conducive to alienation from the national mainstream which the rulers and the ruled in Kashmir ardently cherished. It changed the idiom of the Kashmir leadership. All this justified doing away with the statehood status.

Consequently, bitter opposition from the vested interests led by political bigwigs was not unexpected and the Gupkar gang was the short-lived outcome. But the question is what strong and forceful measures the government took to undo the impact left behind by Article 370 or the good that conversion of the state into Union Territory would bring. Even the domicile question became confused and complicated that the government had to issue corrigenda after corrigenda only to make things more complicated. The entrenched bureaucracy relegated the issue of the internally displaced people from the valley to the backburner. The fickleness of the Central government in handling the aftermath of the Reorganization Act can be gauged from the fact that a very competent and highly efficient Lt. Governor, Mr G C Murmu was replaced only after nine months (31 October 2019 – 6 August 2020).

The central government appointed this top experienced bureaucrat as the Lt Governor of the UT. People felt that the shortfalls would be made up under the eye of a seasoned bureaucrat. But Governor Murmu was replaced when he had just begun to come to grips with the problems in Kashmir. It was within just nine months that the NDA government, after exuding superficial euphoria had silently decided to continue with the traditional policy of the Congress in Kashmir. Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha was not a bad choice.

Let it be said that as in the case of all other states/union territories in the country, the UT of J&K, too, had its share of misery and economic recession owing to the Covid pandemic. Nobody can be held responsible for that.

However, it is the law and order situation prevailing in the UT since 5 August 2019 that merits a dispassionate analysis. It was loudly claimed by the Home Minister in his 5 August 2019 speech in the parliament and subsequently as well that the law and order situation in the State had become tenuous since action against anti-national and subversive elements was undermined by misusing the special status of J&K.

Under Operation All Out, a large number of terrorists have been liquidated in South Kashmir and other parts of the valley. This scenario has not to be judged only by giving the count of the dead. Two essential aspects cannot be overlooked. One is that most of the killed terrorists are indigenous people; they receive training in indigenous training centres in forest recesses and sequestered places; their arms and ammunition supplies show no sign of depletion and lastly the locals provide them shelter, logistic support, guidance and escape routes etc. Of late news of arresting OGW come in regularly and not necessarily from South Kashmir which is the main battleground of the terrorists but from many parts of North Kashmir like Pattan, Sopor, Handara, Kupwara, Lolab, Nowgam, Rafiabad, Baramulla and Uri. It shows that armed insurgency has spread out to the entire valley even though infiltration from across the border has stopped after the ceasefire was signed between the commanders on the two sides.

Many BJP activists, panchs and Sarpanchs and Municipal Councilors have been gunned down by the terrorists. The fear of the gun is as pervasive today as it was before 5 August. There is a sizable gap between what the government intend to project and what the situation on the ground exactly is. When the commanders of the Indian and Pakistan army announced the ceasefire on the LoC on the 25th of February, the national press was euphoric about the wisdom of army commanders on both sides.

Some Kashmir watchers including this writer had many reservations about the way ceasefire was introduced. Our reservations were centred on Indian army commanders demonstrating extraordinary haste in accepting the ceasefire offer without bringing to their mind the entire background of recurrent armed clashes between the two sides since long. The commanders should have concentrated on one simple question viz. Why did Pakistan break the ceasefire agreement of 2003 several thousand times and why is she now readying for a ceasefire along the LoC without any pre-condition? Of course, copious material has been produced by the journalists and commentators on the nitty-gritty of the ceasefire but an answer to the core issue has remained elusive.

We are re-opening this question keeping in mind the recent tragic killing of a Kashmir-based BJP Councilor, Rakesh Pandita in Tral by the terrorists. Exactly a year ago, another BJP activist Ajay Pandita was gunned down by the terrorists in Lok Bhavan in South Kashmir. It may be argued that these were political and not sectarian killings. Well whatever, it shows that the ground situation is not in the control of either the civilian administration or the security forces. What justification was there in gunning down Akash Mehra, the proprietor of Krishna Vaishnov eatery in Lal Chowk? It was an act of communal killing like the killing of 70-year old Satpal of Sarai Bala who had succeeded in obtaining a domicile certificate which became the cause of his end.

The reaction of the government is to treat such cases as crimes, lodge an FIR, issue few words of condolence to the bereaved family or sanction a modicum of relief and then let the matter die down its death. This then is the example of the big exercise which the government claims to have undertaken to restore normalcy in Kashmir through the instrumentality of the Reorganization Act etc.

We don’t know if there is any concern at any level of the governing apparatus that it is not a fight against terrorism as is usually orchestrated. It is the broad-based Islamic jihad working along the lines of so many jihadist ideologies like Wahhabi-ism, Al Qaida-ism, Islamic Caliphate-ism and Ghazavatul Hind etc. The armed jihadist movement and fight against the Indian forces have spread their roots deep and wide in the Kashmir Muslim community. Don’t think that only South Kashmir is their battleground: the entire valley, like Kupwara, Handwara, Lolab, Bandipore, Sopor, Baramulla, Rafiabad, Hamal and Nowgam right up to Tootmar Gali, the entire North Kashmir is in the grips of insurgents.

Pakistan accepted ceasefire because she knew her jihadi terrorist organizations had spread their tentacles far and deep in Kashmir and their brainwashing of Kashmiri youth was complete, in every habitat, every village, every town, every tehsil, every district, every den and every dale. Will this type of insurgency be quelled by the kid-glove tactics called Operation All OUT?

The announcement of ceasefire along the LoC and observing it in letter and spirit gives a big handle to Pakistan to sell the theory on international platforms that there is an indigenous freedom struggle in Kashmir against what she calls “occupational army” because Pakistan no more violates the ceasefire and does not promote infiltration. There are many takers of Pakistan’s story. Our policy planners should have imposed the condition of handing over the known chiefs of at least half a dozen terrorist organizations based in Pakistan to India, the ones who are indicted for involvement in bomb blasts and attacks on Indian military installations and camps – Mumbai, Pathankot, Pulwama, Uri etc. If Pakistan declined to hand over these criminals, India had a very strong case to place before the world community. Alas, we have surrendered the handle to Pakistan.

In Kashmir, we have taken a blind path that will not lead us anywhere. Paperwork is different from fieldwork. The policy of appeasement, jobs and extension of pecuniary largesse are all old and outdated tools blunted by indoctrinated masses of Kashmiri people.

The killing of the Hindus and ethnic cleansing of Kashmir of its Hindu religious minority by the local terrorists for whatever reason is a direct challenge to the authority of the Indian State, something which New Delhi shies away from conceding. The Indian government is tackling terrorism in Kashmir on day to day basis thinking that the All Out Operation is the final word and will work wonders. It evaluates its success by counting the terrorists and the OGW or UGW it can liquidate. Kashmir problem cannot be solved by side-tracking the core issue in the footsteps of Congress.

The government must sensitize the people of India that unlike any other democratic state India is faced with a direct challenge by the Islamic jihadists. Indian society has to come out of its shell and prepare for a decisive outcome of this struggle. It is for the planners to consider conscription as in a situation of war.

We have lost the truth in the axiom that if you want peace you have to be prepared for war. The Buddhas and the Gandhis who had promised peace through non-violence were idealists fit for a Utopian state. Ours is not a Utopian State but the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

The Pandits of Kashmir must be clear in their minds that nobody is going to provide them either security or opportunity for progress. What they are facing in Kashmir is a clear warning to them to arrange for self-security mechanism and not depend on state security at all. They must either stand up and fight against injustice and aggression or perish with time. If a Councilor cannot move without a bodyguard, if a Hindu is killed for obtaining a domicile certificate, or if a Hindu is killed for running an eatery, do these incidents prove that there is peace and law and order is in place in the Union Territory? The sooner the Indian nation understands that Kashmir has been turned into a jihadist battlefield the better are the chances of preparing an effective plan of defusing. Kashmir is gone and two-third of the Jammu region, meaning the Muslim dominated region, is on its way to follow suit.

Now is the time to detach Jammu and create a Greater Duggar Desh corresponding to Shivalak Khand as a newly carved state? At the same time Kashmir Valley together with the sub-Himalayan regions become strategically and militarily hyper-sensitive where three Asian nuclear powers are present with their nuclear and missile arsenals capable of destroying half of Asia. Russia and the CARS will not have the option of standing on the sidelines as silent spectators. The region will ultimately become the centrifugal force of Indian military and nuclear might.

As a prolonged scene of externally sponsored religion-based armed insurgency for so many decades, the Kashmir Valley has lost its identity. Consequently, a new identity commensurate with the ground reality has to be forged as suggested above. This border region will be governed by a high-powered joint civilian and military council functioning under a Chairman to be appointed by the President of India in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces. The Centre should set forth the powers of the Council and its terms of reference. The arrangement should be for thirty years in the first place.

The Indian government is a victim of its hypocrisy. The ink was still wet on the JK Reorganization Act when the Home Minister went on apologetically announcing that soon the State will return to the statehood and that its conversion into UT was only a temporary matter. Who does the Home Minister want to befool? I hope the Home Minister will not play with fire any more.

In the final analysis, India has to rethink seriously undoing of status quo in Kashmir. The Pandits, the indigenous people of Kashmir, cannot be made a scapegoat by telling them that they will return to their land. Where is their land? If their land is to be retrieved, then Kashmir has to provide them with a protected territory managed by the Centre either directly or through the instrumentality of the joint civilian and military council at least for three decades. That is the only solution of Kashmir imbroglio.

Pakistan makes talks with India conditional

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By K N Pandita

Pakistan newspaper Dawn has reported that during his interaction with the press, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that “talks with India can be resumed only if New Delhi restores Kashmir’s pre-Aug 2019 status”. He contends that holding talks without India restoring the pre-August status for J&K would tantamount to the betrayal of Kashmiris. He added that Kashmiris will infer that Pakistan is prepared to compromise with India’s action of August 5 in Kashmir.

It will be recollected that only a month or more back, Pakistan Army Commander General Bajwa while addressing the cadets had said that India and Pakistan should bury the past bitter memories and work on a new road map that would lead to the establishment of peace in the region.

Such statesmanlike utterances rarely come from the other side of the border and more especially from the Army chief. The power and role of the Pakistan army in running its sway over major policy matters, external as well as internal, is not hidden from anybody and hence there is no point in repeating it.

Political commentators have blackened reams of papers in trying to interpret and analyse what and why General Bajwa said what nobody ever expected from him to say. Whether he had taken the Prime Minister into confidence or not is somewhat immaterial because the Prime Minister usually administers the country via GHQ.

One aspect of General Bajwa carrying the cross is that he wanted to convey a subtle message to the Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud who has become very vociferous on Kashmir and has begun to do haranguing on various platforms that there is what he calls “genocide of Muslims” in Kashmir by the Indian army since 5 August 2019 when the Indian Parliament abrogated Article 370 and 35-A which allowed J&K a special status in the Indian Constitution.

General Bajwa and the think-tank in the Pak army as well as Imran Khan knows that the Foreign Minister of Pakistan is trying to bite more than what he can chew. Be it the OIC, or Pak-Turkey bilateral relations or any platform of the UN and its subsidiary bodies, Shah Mahmud has only one point agenda of bringing a charge sheet against India of perpetrating all imaginable oppression and suppression of the Indian Muslims in general and those of Kashmir in particular. Of late he has been trying to project himself as the spokesman of Indian Muslims, Kashmiri Muslims, and Palestinian Muslims saying they are under the control of non-Muslim regimes.

Quite strangely he does not include 2.5 crore Uighur Sunni Muslims in his list of oppressed Muslims around the globe. Why does he exclude them? It is so because they are under the control of the “Iron brother” against whom Shah Mahmud has no guts to raise his voice. Leave aside raising of the voice, Pakistan is among the Muslim countries who wrote a letter of appreciation to the Chinese President praising him for meting out “just and humanitarian” treatment to the Sunni Uighurs of Xinjiang. This is when the world press reported that millions of Uighurs have been removed from their native homes and enrolled in concentration camps like prisoners. There they are being brainwashed and trained in Han cultural milieu and advised to integrate with the Han culture which is the paramount culture of China.

Kashmir Reorganization Act of August 5, 2019, will be entering the third year soon. During these three years, there has not been a single demonstration at any place in the Union Territory against the Reorganization Act. Not a single bullet had to be fired and not a single lathi-charge had to be indulged in. All this shows that the people of Kashmir understood that Article 370 was a big impediment in the path of Kashmir’s freedom and at the same time, it has been made the source of recurrent disruption, strikes and lockdowns by the vested interest.

Who introduced Article 370 and 35-A in the Indian Constitution? It was the people of India through their elected representatives in the Parliament. Who abrogated these Articles? It was the people of India through their representatives in the Parliament. What is the problem of Imran Khan?

Yes, of course, the Gupkar gang has been speaking of the restoration of pre-August 2019 status. The said gang has been trying to sell their story to the world media, to the western countries, to the OIC and the Islamic bloc. It is so because they have entrenched interests in restoring the old status. The interest is that they are not prepared to give an account of the huge grants they received from the Centre under the category of developmental projects. Wherefrom have the ex-ministers been able to amass enormous wealth and raise mind-boggling properties not only in India but in the US, France, UK, Dubai etc. How come a day in and day out the ED conducts raids on the houses and palaces of these people and seizes huge monies, jewellery, priceless estates, expensive cars and a super lifestyle. Wherefrom has this windfall come? The Gupkar gang is lamenting the loss of the source of undefined monies and it does not lament the abrogation of Article 370 etc.

These people with self-aggrandizement tried to forge unity among various political groups under the patriarchy of Dr Farooq Abdullah. The balloon burst only after making the maiden midway flight and now each of the confederating group is trying to swim ashore the turbulent waters. They are loud-mouthed in talking of suppression of the rights of Kashmiris and Pakistani leadership imitates them thinking the Kashmiri separatists will appreciate. But only the other day, Mr Altaf Bukhari, the leader of the Apni Party very frankly advised the parents in Kashmir to stop their children and youngsters from joining militancy and getting killed for nothing.

Pakistan leaders are the only daydreaming. They have no courage to spell out the true ground story. The truth is that under the operation All Out, a large number of militants affiliated with various terrorist groups in Pakistan have been liquidated. The local informers have played a significant role in identifying them and tracking them down. The financial and weapon supplies to the active militants has gone down. Border crossing has been checked to a large extent. What is more depressing for Pakistan terrorist leaders are that the ceasefire is holding and their reinforcement has been cut down drastically?

Before concluding, it must be said that General Bajwa has been categorically told by his friends and well-wishers in the Pentagon that the only way of overcoming economic downslide for Pakistan is to mend fence with India, forget Kashmir and explore the huge prospect of trade and commerce with India. He has been told that the Indo-Pacific strategy is not what Pakistan and China might think something counter-move to CPEC or China’s RB programme. Indo-Pacific is the 21st-century compulsion of preserving and promoting democracy as the political arrangement of the free world.