Talk to Kashmiri separatists or the fanatics may take over
A little improvisation on a Noam Chomsky quote explains best Kashmir’s diametrically held images in the Valley and in mainland India: The general population doesn’t know the problem and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.
In the obtaining conflict of sentiments, of emotions bolstered by partisan accounts, waging conflict is easier than waging accord. On offer are two relative truths; choices driven by predilections influenced by propaganda. Dialogue that is essential isn’t easily acceptable.
Saner elements in the Valley recognise the need for reaching out to people beyond the Banihal Pass. But to them the wall of distrust — mortared each night by jingoistic television accounts — seems impenetrable.
A worrisome fall-out from it is the inexorable demise of traditional politics in Kashmir. Dialogue apart, there isn’t a semblance of engagement between opposing voices except in studio wars. Regional forces such as the PDP and the National Conference are losing ground. Even the separatists we’ve known over the past quarter-century stare at irrelevance in the face of militancy’s Islamic edition!
The evidence of what could be in store was Zakir Musa’s threat to behead Hurriyat leaders who described Kashmir as a political dispute. There are unmistakable signs of the ousted Hizbul Mujahideen commander’s religious pitch finding traction among sections of alienated youth. Ranks of stone-pelters are joined by children from affluent families. They do it out of conviction, revenge or disdain for the security forces. Not for money.
Officials with whom I spoke in the Valley agreed that if the situation was allowed to drift without political intervention, Hurriyat could be overrun by a parallel, fanatically uncompromising force. The choice, so to speak, is between the devil known and the devil unknown! The separatists’ decimation or fall in popular esteem could prop up entities that’ll make Syed Ali Shah Geelani seem a moderate.
The distrust for dialogue is equal and mutual. On one side, public opinion is driven by ‘excesses’ symbolised by the human shield episode; on the other by mobs stoning security forces. Wariness rooted in history makes even the talk about talks an act of treachery. A leader ruefully remarked that the Jammu and Kashmir he knew was now “Jammu versus Kashmir.”
But there has to be a way out of the blind alley. Kashmir’s tragedy is aggravated by the absence of statesmen-politicians who could pull it out of the quick-sands in which it has sunk. Geelani, who’s well-regarded in the Valley, is disregarded by New Delhi for his extra-territorial leanings.
The ageing separatist is a maximalist, not a terrorist. He could, if the Centre willed, be of use the way the NSCN(I-M) leaders were in Nagaland, in at least cooling tempers down. He’s in the twilight of his life — like the late Isak Chishi Swu at the time of the 2015 ‘framework’ pact.
Only a miraculous shift away from majoritarianism in the Centre’s Kashmir policy can make the impossible happen. It’s desirable but unlikely. In the outside chance of Geelani softening up to Modi’s “Hindu” India, his fate could be similar to Punjab’s Harchand Singh Longowal.
That leads one to Mehbooba Mufti. Her presence at the helm, as I wrote earlier, is the buffer the Centre needs. But her ability to absorb shocks cannot be in excess of the freedom she has as a CM in coalition with the BJP.
Her short-term salvation could be in reaching succour to people from corruption and police excesses — stories about which abound in Srinagar’s social circles. The 2015 experience of Pakistani flags at Geelani’s post-release meetings makes her circumspect about allowing Hurriyat leaders to meet and discuss Governor NN Vohra’s request of help for a peaceful Ramazan, Eid festival and the fruits season.
But the risk is worth taking for a peaceful Ramazan followed by a smooth Amarnath Yatra which is source of livelihood for more than one lakh Muslim families. In these difficult times that’ll be a sobering reminder of Kashmir’s syncretic past.
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