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Azadi – Autonomy

August 11, 2010

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called an all party meet on the ‘Kashmir issue’ at his residence. This was in response to the unending violence and demonstrations in the Kashmir Valley for the past month or so in which more than 50 Kashmiri’s mostly youth lost their lives. More than a thousand security personnel got injured and the repeated calls for bandh and curfew imposed by the administration in response to the violence saw the valley face major economic setback.

There has been much talk about the ‘uprising’ and the call for ‘independence’ – Azadi by the demonstrators in the valley. There have been slogans of ‘Go Back India’ – calling out to the Indian security forces to withdraw. Some say that the situation in the various towns and cities of the valley has never been as bad as it now since the early nineties when Kashmir first saw violence. The situation became so bad that Omar Abdullah had to call on the separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani and a call from him saw the valley experience some kind of ‘normalcy’.

Speaker after speaker including the chief minister have called for a ‘political resolution’ of the ‘Kashmir issue’. I must add here that the ‘Kashmir issue’ has again blown in the face of the leadership in New Delhi ever since Omar Abdullah has taken over as chief minister. Is the young Omar so incompetent that he cannot run a state? The first few months with Omar as chief minister went off pretty well but later Mehbooba Mufti led People’s Democratic Party has refused to let the government function. The PDP was in power earlier with the Congress as their allies and Congress had a pretty rough time sharing power with them. The National Conference and Congress have formed an alliance now and the PDP has been left out. They have to sit in the opposition and that is their problem. There are elements in the valley that would hate to see peace and tranquility – some of them find backing from across the border. Mehbooba Mufti and her party have ignited a proverbial tinderbox and the result is for all to see. Kashmir valley is in flames. Mehbooba Mufti and her party are largely responsible for the strife, the mayhem and the loss of innocent lives in the valley. This is no way to conduct politics. Farooq Abdullah said that the PDP must realize that if they burn the valley they will themselves be singed! All efforts to get the PDP in the all party talks first called by Omar Abdullah and now by the prime minister have been rejected by the PDP. Mehbooba Mufti keeps on parroting the need to address the ‘core issue’. When Farooq Abdullah asked one of the lady journalists who was vocal about the ‘problems of the Kashmiris’ the lady said that the forces must be withdrawn and the AFSPA must be scrapped!!

The much maligned Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was introduced to check the blatant misuse of slow judicial process which worked to the detriment of the ability of the forces to enforce law and order in this highly volatile state. While it may be true that this act may have been misused at times, but it would be foolhardy to withdraw it as it may reduce the effectiveness of the security forces in countering terrorist and anti-national forces. The very leaders that are calling for scrapping of AFSPA will then feel insecure and find difficult to operate in this volatile region. AFSPA has also been a reason for peace in Kashmir (till stone pelting mobs took over) and the ordinary Kashmiri feels safer with the forces around.

Kashmir Map - courtesy Washington Post

Now let us try and understand what this call of Azadi – autonomy mean – the so called ‘core issue’ that bedevils the state of Kashmir. The so-called need for a ‘political solution’ is surely on the minds of all. Let us try and examine the possible ‘political solutions’. The much heard of ‘masail’ (issues, problems) need to be understood. What are the ‘masail’ of the ordinary Kashmiri?

With all his ‘extremist jingoism’ Syed Ali Shah Gilani has one quality – the man does not mince words. He is upfront about the fact that since India and Pakistan was divided on the basis of religion and since the state of Jammu & Kashmir has a majority of Muslims therefore J&K should be allowed to amalgamate with Pakistan. For New Delhi this is an unpalatable proposition. But more than New Delhi this is one proposition that is unacceptable to majority of Kashmiris. They see the situation in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and in the Northern Areas and they realize that they are much better off with India. The fact of the matter is that in POK and Northern Areas the development has been negligible. The education levels are less than 10 percent. There are no schools and colleges and such basic necessities like running water and electricity are woefully short of demand. There is a university in Muzzafarabad but by and large the region has remained backward. To top it all the people of POK and Northern Areas did not have the right to vote, as the region was bracketed as a ‘disputed area’.

The situation is so precarious for those on the other side of Kashmir that they could not apply for jobs and the influx of Punjabis and Pashtuns was so pronounced that the local Kashmiris find themselves inundated. Kashmiris are now almost a minority in their own state with no facilities and no recourse to their grievances. Contrast that with the special provisions for J&K where non-Kashmiris cannot purchase property in Kashmir and the situation becomes clear. Political outfits have sprung up to extricate POK and Northern Areas from the clutches of Punjabi Pakistan. I am sure Gilani saab is aware of these facts. He still continues with his tirade against the ‘repressive’ Indian forces because he has his own political agenda, unmindful of what is good for his people.

The much talked about ‘autonomy’ is another of the ‘solutions’ being bandied about. What they mean is that the pre-1952 situation must be restored where the Centre controlled only the defense, foreign affairs, communication and currency. This does not bode well for the ordinary Kashmiri who wants to amalgamate with the rest of India.Hurriyat Conference has been vehemently advocating ‘autonomy’ for Kashmir. One young man innocently asked on one of the innumerable talk shows as to why educational institutions like Amity and Manipal do not have campuses in Kashmir? Well, if there is peace and tranquility only then can there be investment in J&K, whether in the field of education, or in the field of technology or in any other sphere. Constant strife and bandhs will shoo away any prospective investor. The fact is that the violence and curfew in the past months have left the state reeling economically and those who are daily wage earners and that includes shopkeepers and those with tourism industry have been hard hit. While most of Kashmiris want to integrate with India some want more ‘autonomy’ and believe that taking such a stand is vindicating their Kashmiriat or their separate identity. “Autonomy’ is not impossible, but then Kashmiris should be ready to be treated ‘differently’ by the rest of India and that includes their exclusion from jobs outside of their state.

The other oft heard ‘solution’ is that of ‘Azadi’ – independence. Are we to understand that Kashmiris genuinely believe that there can be an independent state of Jammu & Kashmir and that India and Pakistan will withdraw their forces from their respective parts that they control? Were India to unilaterally withdraw forces from Jammu and Kashmir do the Kashmiris believe that they will be left alone by Pakistan and China. If hypothetically Indian forces start withdrawing, there will be a mad scramble between Pakistan and China to control as much part of Jammu and Kashmir as they possibly can. As it is, China is controlling Aksai Chin and Shaksgam Tract illegally. These are Indian territories that they have usurped illegally. One gifted by Pakistan to China and the other controlled illegally since the 1962 war. Do the people of Kashmir want to be a part of Pakistan and China? A survey by Pew Institute showed that only 2 percent of Kashmiris want to go with Pakistan. What percent would want to be a part of China is unclear because that was not an option in the survey, suffice to say that the percentage will be less than those wanting to go with Pakistan!

So where does that leave us? The fact of the matter is that majority of Kashmiris want to be an integral part of India. That is where their future lies and that is where they belong. Majority of Kashmiris realize this basic fact. I have heard people say that they want to decide their own ‘mustaqbil’ – fate. Well, here in India all states decide their own ‘mustaqbil’ every five years. Governments change and leadership changes. That is as good a way to decide one’s own ‘mustaqbil’ as any. The people of Kashmir get a chance to decide their own ‘mustaqbil’ every six years – that is another facility that our Kashmiri brothers and sisters enjoy. I am not sure they will get a chance to decide their own ‘mustaqbil’ either under Pakistan or China. One is a phony democracy where the army is in control and the other is overtly Communist.

This whole charade of trying to ‘address the Kashmir problem’ is nothing but a ploy to keep on whining to get more from the centre. Rampant corruption in the state finds a few filling their coffers while the common Kashmiri suffers. The fact is that common Kashmiri does not give a damn to any of these political parties – all they want is to be left in peace – to be able to earn their livelihood and to live their lives on their own terms. The ordinary Kashmiri is inherently secular. It is a big effort for Pakistan to foment trouble in the Muslim dominated valley. They have to send Mujahiddin – terrorists to ensure there is some strife in the state. These terrorists have killed hundreds of Kashmiris and some have forcibly married their daughters. They have also killed hundreds of security forces. A few hundred ‘disgruntled youth’ who really are terrorists are now taking the state to ransom. Political figures like Mehbooba Mufti make their task easier when they encourage them to take to the streets pelting stones and destroying public property. There is a political ‘maryada’ (righteousness). I am afraid Mehbooba Mufti and her PDP just do not know how far is too far. There are times when elders in the party need to take the lead. This is the time for Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to come out of hibernation and call on all PDP cadres to restrain themselves, let the assembly run and to ensure that there is peace in the Valley. Otherwise the future of political outfits like the PDP will become a big question mark.

Note: I admit that I have fallen into the same trap that most Kashmir observers find themselves in. This article is heavily skewed in focusing on the Kashmir Valley. Ladakh, Kargil and Jammu have their own view on the Kashmir ‘problem’. They are vehemently opposed to any truck with separatists and terrorists. They want to be an integral part of India and do not want any special privileges.

Addendum: The news filtering through 7, Race Course (PM’s residence) is that the Kashmiri leaders have rejected the proposal of ‘autonomy’ and have said that even that will not solve their ‘problem’. Among those rejecting ‘autonomy’ are the Hurriyat Conference of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP. For Ms. Mufti of course we understand what her problem is – she wants the NC-Congress government headed by Omar Abdullah to be thrown out and PDP invited to form the government. I dare say, she is ambitious at best and totally out of sync with reality at worst. The Mirwaiz is politiking as they always have and would up the ante come what may. The Hurriyat is trying to pacify their masters from across the border while understanding that ‘Azadi’ is just a mirage. Pakistan also understands the situation and wants to bleed India with a thousand cuts. The festering wounds of Kashmir are therefore vitally important for their overall ambitions.

There was a third party vehemently opposed to autonomy – the people of Ladakh. But their reasons were very different. They fear that any more ‘autonomy’ may lead to balkanization of Leh and Ladakh and that for them will be death-knell.

There is another dimension to the constant barrage of protests. Kashmir has the highest density of government employees in the country. Almost every family has at least one member in some government job. This is a kind of umbilical chord with the government. But this works another way too. Since most families have a fixed income the effect of a bandh or a strike is minimal. They know that at the end of the month they will get their pay packet. So such stone pelting and unrest does not affect the lives of common Kashmiri. And yet they want Azadi! Food for thought.

Update 17.08.2010: There was this shoe throwing incident during the Independence Day celebration at Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar when Omar Abdullah was hoisting the tricolour. One suspended Head Constable Jaan was apprehended. One inquiry it was found that this breach in the Chief Minister’s security occurred because the man had been given a pass to the function by some PDP MLA. Trust Mehbooba Mufit and the PDP to stoop down to the level where they hire disgruntled men to throw shoes at the Chief Minister. Omar Abdullah reacted by saying that it is okay if people hurl shoes, this is at least better than throwing stones!! Farooq Abdullah however was livid, and it appears that he insisted that the police officers on duty be suspended for the breach in security. 15 officers are cooling their heels out of service – with temporary suspension.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kaanjo permalink
    August 12, 2010 1:19 pm

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