Kashmir Diary-I

Writing On the Wall In Pampore...Ghazwa-e-Hind.
PAMPORE is where south Kashmir begins - the nerve centre of Jamaat’s might that has seen majority of encounters between security forces and terrorists in the last two months. The Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) building is targeted for being a symbol of Kashmiri youth’s escape from the clutches of trans-border Jihad. As Army engages the militants, and local police provides back up support, a third ring is thrown around the operation by the paramilitary forces. Over an arch of two kilometers, the commandoes stand guard with their backs towards the encounter site. I ask the commandant about the queer placement. The boys from the villages pelt stones at forces to distract them from the operation. The third ring is to merely prevent that, he explains. A bunch of students with public school appearance in blazers and ties stops a few meters away, shouts Nara-e-taqbir Allah-hu-Akbar, and leaves as if nothing else needs done.

ASHRAF owns and drives a cab through the tourist circuit of Kashmir. He has a 9-yr old daughter with an ailment that needs a complex procedure in her head every year or so if she has to keep living. Two summers ago as she lay dying, a doctor couple came honeymooning from Delhi. A bond emerged as Ashraf took them around the snow clad meadows of Gulmarg and Pahalgam made famous by score and more of Bollywood flicks from Bobby to Haider. The doctors realized they could help. Since then, Ashraf has driven twice to Delhi, and got her treated for free. How does this affect his thinking? My unit engineer is headed for a guest live in the evening on the outskirts of Srinagar. As the car passes Batmaloo, he asks Ashraf wasn’t this the spot of an encounter a week ago where two terrorists were gunned down? An agitated Ashraf corrects him that they were not terrorists but Mujahids. Over next four days he betrays emotions for Azadi, and speaks the language of victimhood nevertheless.

MILLENIA before the British were born, Pandavas left no mountain range from Himalayas in the north to Vindhyas in the south, where they did not spend some time of their exile, thus marking out lose boundaries of India that is Bharat. So while following a trail of signages for a Pandava hideout in Tangmarg, I bump into Ahmed Bhat, a small time contractor with the state forest department. He invites home for tea. Perched atop a cliff overlooking the scenic Drung valley famous among anglers for its trout, the wooden Bhat home is straight out of a picture postcard. Making us comfortable in the carpeted warmth of his guest room, he vanishes for a while. Just as I start wondering if something is amiss, apprehension melts as Ahmed reappears with tea and biscuits in a tray. His teenage son is studying computers in Ludhiana, and daughter goes to village school. “Have you seen a terrorist?” I ask a cub reporter question on first assignment to Kashmir. "So many of course. They come and stay in any home in the village they want. Who can stop them?" It's a melange of emotions ranging from fear of the gun to camaraderie of a cause, from motivation of Islam to memories of those dead that connects the terrorist and the Kashmiri. Often its the sheer triteness of a situation that hangs as a cloud over the valley most times of the year, year after year. “Who in right mind would want this uncertainty around life? But its beyond commoners like us now. Only thing I could do was to send my son out of this ecosystem and hope for the best,” Ahmed says, pouring more tea.

MUDASIR is a quintessential Kashmiri: passionate, emotional, hewn of the Kashmiri literary tradition. Once, in his youth, he might have been a stone-pelter, shouting Azadi. Now he is a cop. As a sub-inspector heading the Janglatmandi chowki in Anantnag – at the centre of the post-Burhan Wani unrest – Mudasir stands at the other end of the stones, proof of which he carries all over his bruised body.
I meet him the day a blog-post by a young Kashmiri IAS officer has gone viral. The harangue is how alienated the officer feels in the valley because of jingoistic national media in Delhi. While the articulate babu only has to choose on which channels his profile should get aired, Mudasir is more of a nuts-and-bolts man on the ground. “What the terrorist indulges in is visual spectacle,” he borrows from Aristotle. And then adds: “We need a tough body controlled by a calm mind to handle the situation.” Between Newton and Gandhi, the latter is the obvious choice for him. “India won its freedom through Gandhi. We can’t fall in the trap of equal and opposite reaction.” Would this end? He says it won’t. Aristotle concluded in Rhetoric that spectacle was the least artistic form of tragedy. Kashmir’s present is a tragedy wrapped in a spectacle indeed.

HIS name needs to be protected. So let’s call him K. As the Kashmir crisis broke in 1989, K crossed over to Pakistan and spent a year training as a terrorist across the region from Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistani Punjab to Khosht and Jalalabad in Afghanistan. From 1991 to mid-1990s, he remained a militant in the valley carrying jihad against India. That was the time when the foreign elements free from Afghan theatre started gaining upper hand, leaving the local boys disillusioned. They could not connect with the Kashmir that was being introduced to them from across the border. Assisted by the establishment, some of them turned against Pakistan and came to be identified as Ikhwans. K lives a quiet life somewhere in south Kashmir now, and admitted to feeling both suffocated and threatened. His suffocation has led him to social media activism against the Hurriyat narrative, which in turn has brought him under the radar of separatist forces that would want him “sorted-out” as he says, by which he means he might be eliminated. With their hands full post Burhan Wani, security apparatus too can’t offer him anything beyond neglect, thus making him wonder if he chose the right path. His facebook posts however show he still has hopes from Delhi, which in turn should give Delhi some hope.

MY guide for the Makhdoom Sahib dargah perched atop Hari Parbat in downtown Srinagar is in his early-20s. He is clean shaven and wears denim. As I get in, he stops at the entrance. Says he does not believe in dargah worship. Inside, the shrine has equal number of men and women partaking spirituality without segregation. Haji Ali, take note. Makhdoom Sahib in many ways represents the original instrument of accession of Kashmir with India. A contemporary of Akbar, and a seventh generation convert from a Chandravanshi Rajput family of landlords, the saint had invited the great Mughal to take control of the valley and contain the spread of Shia influence of the waning Safavids to the west. By the mere act of refusing to enter the shrine, the young boy disowns the very Kashmiriyat for which the stone pelters are ostensibly fighting. Till about a decade ago, Asiya Andrabi would orchestrate acid attacks to intimidate young Kashmiri women into wearing hijab. Now, sisters Atiya and Nafsia Rizwi have opened an Abaya shop in Hawal area, selling designs they call a fusion of Arabic and Iranian cultures. Arabic? Iranian? Kashmiriyat?

(Should there be part-II to this Paradise Lost?)

Whom Does Balochistan Hurt?

CONCERNS have been raised in some quarters that Prime Minister’s Balochistan outreach (as also sharp focus on Gilgit-Baltistan) with emphasis on Pakistan’s human rights record in these territories might backfire.

The specific fear is that mirroring Pakistan’s stance is a false equivalence which might bring unnecessary global attention to Kashmir. Also, it can potentially rile the extended neighbourhood, and bring down India’s moral standing in the comity of nations.

Let’s take these arguments one by one. In the fluttering-twittering times that we live, should we fear internationalization or losing the plot to the enemy? To be provocative, has Kashmir not had international resonance earlier? If yes, to what consequences?

From the UNCIP/UNMOGIP days in the immediate aftermath of partition, to JK Galbraith’s soft borders solution, to the Robin Raphel nadir in mid-1990, Kashmir has shown atavistically on global radar through much of its troubled history. While those might have been engaging, even tense periods for diplomats, subsequent history proves that it did not waiver India’s resolve to hold on to Kashmir in any manner. In fact as the post-Kargil United States’ pressure on Pakistan proves, it was in India’s favor as well.

There are a couple of reasons why international focus in changed circumstances might even be to India’s advantage. First is connected with the growth dynamics of India. When Kennedy sought to push his plans with Nehru, India was also begging for PL480 wheat. Cut to George ‘Dubya’ Bush, when his Af-Pak emissary Richard Armitage, bluntly told the Pakistanis that he was no interlocutor on Kashmir. This was when India was close to becoming a trillion dollar economy. Now we are close to 2.5 trillion with clear markers of it touching 10 trillion in a decade or so.

The second factor is connected with global currents. Ignoring Islamist radicalization much through 1990’s, demarches would be issued to Indian diplomats in Washington, Geneva, and Oslo on our human rights record in Kashmir. Statements would ritually add that the problem should be solved “taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people.” But 9/11 made western capitals realize that the Frankenstein could turn towards them too. The sermons got muted. And post-ISIS world is going to be even more receptive to India’s viewpoint on Kashmir. This year has seen nights spent by foreign tourists in France down by 8.5% due to terror risks. It has started hurting.

Now let’s come to the other two issues raised. That Modi’s picking up Balochistan could alarm neighbours has partly come undone with Afghanistan making noises of approval. Does it rile China? May be yes, but why should it be a cause for worry? That the 40-billion US dollars China-Pakistan Economic (CPEC) corridor creates security challenges for India is an accepted fact. Iran opting to give Chabahar to India is indication enough that Gwadar is a concern for them as well.

Lastly, the argument that India’s moral stature could stand diminished sounds a little antediluvian. Is it not a redundant Nehruvian argument, a relic which most of the times failed Nehru himself? Are China and Russia members of the Security Council because of their moral standing? Has our moral posturing all these years since 1947 restrained Pakistan in any manner?

There is no gainsaying that the Modi government’s handling of its Pakistan policy has ranged from clueless to confused despite Prime Minister’s restlessness to engage with the truculent neighbour. But that should not stop from a calculated innovation to be brought in. It is up to the MEA mandarins now to fine tune the initiative.