On a day this February when newspapers front-paged Afzal Guru’s family’s lament over being denied his remains for burial, the sports pages had a story on off-spinner Pervez Rasool, a cricketing sensation from Kashmir, who staked claim to a Test cap with a spell that tore through the Australian batting in Chennai recently.
Rasool’s cricketing career nearly ended in 2009 when the Bangalore police interrogated him after a device picked up traces of explosives in his bag at the Chinnaswamy stadium. But the lad from Jammu and Kashmir’s Bijbehara went on to make a mark in domestic cricket after he got a clean chit from the police. The cricketer’s case and that of Kupwara’s Shah Faesal, who topped the civil services examination in 2012, are worth a study by those who formulate or influence India’s Kashmir policy.
Both are in their 20s and they symbolise hope: all is not lost in the Valley where a generation of youth (including the Kashmiri Pandits) had a traumatised childhood. They grew up amid violence that made democratic India appear to a section of them a colonising force.
The debate whether Guru should have been hanged or not is an exercise in introspection that adds lustre to our democratic values. But as pointed out by former Research and Analysis Wing chief AS Dulat, the deed could set the clock back in Kashmir. One tends to agree with him that former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, whom he served as an adviser, wouldn’t have sent Guru to the gallows, regardless of the BJP’s demand for his execution. Proof of that was his offer of talks to Pakistan within a year of the 2001 attack on Parliament.
The biggest challenge the political class faces now is to assimilate the alienated Kashmiris in the mainstream. What followed in the aftermath of Maqbool Bhat’s 1984 hanging isn’t easily replicable. It might be too optimistic a view. But the Pakistan of the 1980s — that saw Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile — is today a story of despair.
The fatigue factor in the separatist movement might not be overwhelming. But it’s there and affords policy-makers, including the two regional parties, the National Conference and the Opposition PDP, an opening to harness and creatively deploy the Valley’s invaluable human resource.
Over six lakh educated youth in J&K, a big chunk of which are in the Valley, are without jobs. Freedom from joblessness is a bigger question for them than freedom from India. Slogans for ‘azadi’ of a different kind were heard by Indian journalists who visited PoK’s Muzaffarabad in 2004: “Freedom from the clutches of agencies of the host country.” “I want to return home. I’d have greater freedom there to air my views,” Maqbool Bhat’s brother Zahoor Ahmed Bhat told me. His J&K National Liberation Front supported the ‘third option’ of freedom from India and Pakistan. Together with hundreds of others, he sought amnesty at that juncture as the movement was ‘losing control’ to mercenaries. Scores of them ended up in jails on being trapped by their minders while on a rebellious return journey to J&K.
The situation hasn’t altered over the years. It has turned from bad to worse across the LoC. The Valley is much better off and must be presented as such. A good way of winning back trust would be to create jobs and pursue a policy against persecution. The programme backed by a national consensus must have four prongs: socio-political, developmental and law and order in addition to the external dimension resolvable only through an honest dialogue initiative.
The guiding theme has to be equitable justice, not actions borne out of retribution as the Guru episode has come to be rightly or wrongly perceived. Given that Kashmir is integral to the political discourse, it’s incumbent on mainstream parties to keep the debate civil.
Only a secular India committed to justice and fair play can win over Kashmir. We need to be all-persuasive to convince the Valley’s alienated people that the promised pastures of freedom on the other side are all burnt out and barren.
The Kashmiris will listen if made equal stakeholders in the progress of India. The key to it is statesmanship, not crass militarism or an intelligence culture thriving on distrust.