Kashmir through the lens of time……..


70 years after the British withdrew from India, the state of seraphic beauty and Dal lake is a far cry from serenity. Since its accession to India in 1947, Kashmir (Jammu & Kashmir) has been the victim of territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, engulfing the state in an inferno, an abyss which keeps getting deeper and deeper. The cultural and religious diversity which enriched the state, has become the reason for its downfall. The aspirations of independence, of Azad Kashmir, have not disappeared from the Kashmiri consciousness and insurgency is ripping apart Kashmir. The history of post-accession J&K is witness to cross-border terrorism, an inadequate political system which can be described as an oligarchy at its best and social changes giving rise to Islamic fundamentalism.
The day when it all started
No sooner had the rule of Kashmir, Raja Hari Singh, decided to remain neutral of the two nations, that Pakistan, through tribal infiltrators, started annexation of Kashmir. This forced the then Kashmir ruler to seek military help from India and on 26th Oct, 1947 the Instrument of Accession was signed. Kashmir became a part of the Indian Republic. By the time the Indian army stopped the infiltration, a large fragment of the Kashmiri territory had been captured by Pakistan. Under UN supervision, the two warring nations agreed to a ceasefire. A line sliced the state into two parts – one-third the state under Pakistan (now Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Balistan) and two-thirds administered by India (Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladkah). The UNCIP (United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan) which was formed to resolve bilateral conflicts, passed a resolution that the forces on either side be withdrawn and a free and impartial plebiscite be held. Pakistan did not comply with the UN resolution and refused to withdraw from the state.

In September 1951, elections were held in the Indian Jammu & Kashmir for the first time and National Conference under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah came to power, with the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. In 1957, Kashmir was formally incorporated into the Indian Union. J&K was granted a special status & internal autonomy under Article 370 of India’s constitution, which ensures, among other things, that non-Kashmiri Indians cannot buy property there. Indian jurisdiction in Kashmir was limited to matters of defence, communications and foreign affairs.

Meanwhile, China was on a parallel strike course, attacking the princely state from its eastern border. During the mid-1950s, Chinese troops had entered the north-east portion of Ladakh. Border tensions led to Indo-China war in October 1962, with China occupying Aksai Chin till date.

Terror from across the border

In 1965, taking advantage of the discontent in the valley, Pakistan sent thousands of armed infiltrators across the cease-fire line, which resulted in the second Indo-Pak war. A ceasefire was established by September 1965 and the Tashkent agreement was signed on January 1, 1966, with the two nations pledging to end the dispute by peaceful means. However, Pakistan supported militant groups increased their activities in Kashmir. The year also witnessed the creation of National Liberation Front (later known as Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front – JKLF) in Azad Kashmir, with the objective of freeing Kashmir from Indian occupation. Five years later, in 1971, another war between India and Pakistan resulted in the formation of Bangladesh (formerly known as East Pakistan), followed by the signing of the landmark Simla Agreement between the two Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Under the terms of the Simla agreement, the ceasefire line was renamed as the Line of Control. The two warring sides once again agreed to resolve the issue peacefully. In 1977, Congress withdrew support to the Sheikh Abdullah led National Conference. With the ruling party now being in minority, Indira Gandhi declared a state of national Emergency in J&K. Meanwhile, in the neighbouring country, Bhutto was overthrown and executed. Pakistan came under military rule of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. Massive infiltrations started occurring from across the border and terrorism got a new lease of life.
During the 1980s, the people of Kashmir started losing faith in Indian democracy. The Kashmiris were deeply angered by the rigging of elections, failure of democracy and scarcity of employment. The people no longer sympathised with the Indian government as they did in 1950s. From this point on, insurgency in the valley underwent polymorphic growth. Islamization of Kashmir began with full force. The Abdullah Government changed the names of about a thousand villages from their original names to new Islamic names. The major city of Anantnag was to be known as Islamabad (same name as the Pakistani Capital). Not only this, in his autobiography, Sheikh Abdullah referred to Kashmiri Pundits as “mukhbir” or informers (of the Indian government).

The plight of Kashmiri Pandits

In early 1986, incidents of violence against minority Kashmiri Pandits started gaining grounds. Non-Muslim families were being targeted. A reign of terror began and Muslim fundamentalists attacked Kashmiri Pandits in dozens, sparing none. An estimated 1,60,000 Hindus fled the Valley. Pakistan trained and funded Islamic guerrillas labelled the killing of Pandits as “ethnic cleansing”, a part of their freedom struggle. Since then, Kashmiri Pandits have been living as refugees in their own country. The official 2011 census puts the number of displaced Kashmiri Pandit families at 59,442.

In the mid 1990S, cross border tension started growing in Kargil. J&K was entangled in insurgency and break down of law and order. The state was put under longest duration of President’s rule, lasting 6 years and 264 days. In the summer of 1999, infiltrators occupied many key posts, as far as 10 km deep into the Indian territory and spanned almost 100 km of the LOC. With almost 500 Indian troops lost to the war, the two-month long battle ended with India managing to reclaim most of the area on its side that had been seized by the infiltrators.
No respite in the 21st century
In 2001, Pakistan-backed terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament and the Kashmir Assembly. Anticipating another war, India increased the presence of security in the valley. Diplomatic ties were cut and transport link broke. In 2003, diplomatic ties were restored and Delhi-Lahore bus service resumed. At the 2004 UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf meet and lay foundation for the 2006 Indo-Pakistani peace talks.
Start of 2010 was blemished by the killing of a young Kashmiri militant Tufail Ahmad Mattoo. Violent protests and demonstrations continued in Kashmir for months. In 2014, despite boycott calls by separatist Hurriyat leaders, the J&K Legislative assembly elections saw the highest voter turnout of 65.23%, the highest since the valley was engulfed in insurgency. PDP became the single largest party with 28 seats followed by with 25 seats. With no clear majority, PDP and BJP formed an alliance to form government in J&K. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became the 6th Chief Minister (his second chief ministership, first being from 2002-05) of Jammu & Kashmir. This was the first time that a national party entered into alliance with a local party to form the government. As fate would have it, less than a year in the office, he died in January 2016. With the coalition’s support, his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, succeeded her father as the next chief minister.

Mehooba inherits a war like situation

Within months of Mehbooba’s governance, came the killing of Burhan Wani. Since July 2016, The aftermath of Wani’s death has seen widespread violent protests in which more than 87 people have died and around 7000 civilians and over 5,000 security personnel have been wounded. Separatists leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq are instigating the young population of Jammu & Kashmir. The misguided youth are worshipping Wani and chanting his name like a messiah, and put him on a pedestal as a martyr, wrapped in Pakistan’s national flag.
The Central and the State governments, along with the support of other political parties have come together to find a solution for the problem, to deter the gullible youth of Kashmir from being hoodwinked by the rant of Hurriyat leaders. The all-party delegation (APD) unanimously resolved that dialogue with “all stake holders” has to be established. But the Hurriyat’s refusal to hold talks with the Srinagar bound APD in early September has put the Centre in a petulant mood, which is indicated in the toughening of its stand against the separatists. The message is clear……those who do not believe in the Indian constitution will be dealt with firmly. National sovereignty and security cannot be compromised with.
Mehbooba Mufti’s government has its task cut out. She not only has to take tough decisions on matters of J&K’s internal security but also has to deal with dissent issues within her party. PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig’s wavering faith in the CM is becoming incipient at an unwanted hour. Earlier, Tariq Karra, MP and one of the founding members of PDP, resigned over civilian killing in Kashmir. Sr. Vice President (distt. Srinagar) Nisar Ahmad Mandoo also renounced his party membership over “anti-people policies adopted by RSS backed BJP-PDP coalition. Scrapping of Article 370 has jostled the nerves of many. The Article which was implemented to empower the deeply vulnerable population of J&K, is being seen as having strengthened the separatist tendencies in J&K.
BJP-PDP alliance fuelled the anger of the masses
Not only with the Muslim majority, the BJP-PDP alliance has not gone down well with many inside PDP as well. Party senior Tariq Karra has termed the alliance as “unholy, unethical and unacceptable”. According to him, the fall of the alliance will bring calm on the streets of Kashmir as the electorate feels betrayed because the votes were sought to keep BJP out of power.
BJP’s hyper-nationalism and saffron tilt is seen as a major threat by the Kashmiri Muslims, who constitute 99% of the population in Kashmir and 35% in Jammu. The ground perception is that the government is anti-people. The Centre’s stand on article 370 and intention to resettle Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley have instilled fear amongst Kashmiri Muslims. This feeling was stoked in June when a teacher of the Delhi Public School, Srinagar, was dismissed for wearing a full abaya, that included a face veil. Face veil, which was never seen in Kashmir, has become a symbol of opposition to India. In the rising wave of insurgency, Kashmiri Muslims are gravitating towards a more conservative Islam.
Pellet guns
Pellet guns were used in Kashmir for the first time in 2010 during the Omar Abdullah government. Following the killing of militant Mattoo, the Valley was engulfed in violent protests. The mobs indulged in heavy stone pelting causing a lot of casualties in the security forces. Many civilians were also injured which further angered the masses. In order to maintain law and order and to save the lives of civilians, the Abdullah government decided to use “non-lethal” pellet guns. But that’s not so.
Pellet guns don’t take lives but cause immense damage to the body, especially the eyes. Pellets are loaded with lead and upon firing, disperse in huge numbers. Pellets penetrate the skin and cause wounds inside. Eyes are delicate and once the pellet goes inside the eye, it shatters tissues, causing impairment and loss of sight. Doctors treating the pellet gun victims opine that it maims a person forever. The number of fatal eye injuries has resulted in public outcry and severe criticism for the government.
Fresh protests erupted in the Valley when the body of an eleven-year-old boy was found pierced with 400 pellets.
Where lies the answer to the Kashmiri conundrum?
Over decades, innumerable civilians have been injured, many lives have been lost and many more are looking at a life filled with darkness. The shadows of abhorrence and antipathy are getting longer and longer. The once busy streets are gawking at loneliness. A vicious cycle of terrorism seems to have set its deep roots in the Valley. The disgruntled and aggrieved youngsters chase after false dreams of azadi. And when they are jolted out of their dream world, they attack authority and defy the very symbols of peace and harmony which have given them the liberty to speak and live freely.
Home to a number of religious and ethnic groups, any sustainable solution for Kashmir will have to incorporate the aspirations and ambitions of all Kashmiris, including the ones who have been living the life of refugees outside their soil. For generations, Kashmiris have been part and parcel of India. They enjoyed Indian cinema, sporting achievements and celebrating national events. The wave of insurgency which engulfed the Valley in the 1980s makes it difficult to differentiate between the youth genuinely dissatisfied with the state of democratic process in J&K and those whose are born out of terror campaigns arising out of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In either case, religion alone cannot be the deciding factor for inclusion of Kashmir into Pakistan. The proof is in the 47 million Muslims who chose to remain in India in 1947, far outnumbering the 27 million who decided to cross over.

Looking at the present day situation, the Valley’s population is equally dissatisfied with the Indian government over the lack of care the Centre has shown in handling the post-Wani agitation as with how Kashmiris, in the past, have been fooled with rigged elections, false promises, repudiation of elected governments, incidences of violence. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are faced with a grim economic situation. According to the latest Niti Aayog data, the GDP of the state has dipped below zero to -1.57% in 2014-5 from 5.63% in 2013-14. Local businesses have closed down, job opportunities are limited, tourism and handicraft sectors have taken a strong hit. The Valley’s 2.5 lakh artisans have been severely affected by the prolonged shutdown. Schools and colleges are faced with constant shutdowns. Cellphone and internet services have been blocked, and newspapers have also been restricted in many parts of the state. Cinema and entertainment is missing.

The youth are restless and full of resentment. The older generation is living with the memories of past 70 years of turmoil and pain.

Will increasing the security in the Valley guarantee peace? Is the Uri terror attack which saw death of 17 soldiers the beginning of another war? Security will be beefed up and lives of Kashmiris will be further doomed under the shadow of the guns. What does future hold for Kashmir? Will the shikaras adorn the beautiful Dal lake again?

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