Saturday 19 December 2009

Kashmir : Times have Changed, Issues are Different - Article by Tavleen Singh

Times have Changed, Issues are Different
Tavleen Singh
There was a time when it seemed as if a solution in Kashmir could bring peace with Pakistan. That time has gone. The Taliban now have a grander plan for the subcontinent.
The average Indian is so bored with Kashmir these days that I always hesitate to raise the subject in a column. If I do this week it is because a meeting took place in Delhi that has to go down as one of the most extraordinary in recent times. It was organized by social activist Madhu Kishwar under the auspices of the Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies, on November 7, and I went along because she invited a glittering array of politicians from Kashmir. I have not been to Srinagar in more than five years and thought the meeting could be a good way to revive my interest in a subject I once wrote a book on.

Among those who came to the meeting in the library of the Nehru Memorial were Mehbooba Mufti, Muzzafar Baig who was Deputy Chief Minister in the last government, Mohammad Sufi Uri from the National Conference, Professor Abdul Ghani Butt from the Hurriyat and Yasin Malik from the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The meeting was chaired by Ram Jethmalani and attended by journalists, academics, Kashmir activists and sundry others. It was a full house.

Madhu, an eager beaver peacenik as ever was, began the day’s discussions by emphasizing loudly and often that we were gathered together to find solutions. Despite this, things got off to an interminably dull start because Mr Uri from the National Conference made a long, boring speech that was full of historical grievances that everyone present was more than familiar with.

Muzaffar Baig took over from him and was more interesting because he offered a solution. He said that Kashmir’s borders needed to be made irrelevant as Dr Manmohan Singh has himself often promised. Instead of redrawing maps there should be a softening of the borders so that Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians could come and go freely and there should be ‘‘dual currency’’.

In view of what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this suggestion seemed so naively oblivious of geo-political realities that I went up to him when he finished speaking and asked if he had heard of the Taliban. Was he aware that this group of Islamist jihadis was close to threatening the existence of Pakistan and Afghanistan? How long would it take the Taliban to conquer Kashmir if Indian troops were withdrawn? He laughed sheepishly.

In any case the meeting carried on peacefully and in a dull sort of way until the late afternoon when it came to Yasin Malik’s turn to speak. I had not seen him in many years and was impressed to see him look dapper and elegant in a black, velvet jacket and a black and white polka-dotted shirt instead of the drab, Kashmiri clothes he usually wears. He looked more like an urbane Srinagar businessman than the terrorist he once was, but he was not allowed to forget his past. No sooner did he rise to speak than the meeting deteriorated into chaos. The hall was filled with insults hurled at him by a group of young Kashmir Pandits who till then had sat silent and unnoticed.

‘‘We will not allow this monster to speak,’’ they yelled, ‘‘ask him who raped and killed Sarla Bhatt? Ask him how many Hindus he has killed? He is a terrorist. He has no right to be here.’’

They said other things as well, angry, ugly things, and they made so much noise as they stood up and shouted their abuse that the meeting was totally disrupted for several minutes. Yasin Malik was infuriated and ready to leave. It was only after many entreaties from Madhu and Mr Jethmalani that he agreed to speak. But then Mr Jethmalani put his foot into it by saying that he himself loved Pakistan more than Pakistanis loved Pakistan and that all Indians should develop a similar love for Pakistan.

Then he added there would have been no militancy in Kashmir at all if the 1987 elections had not been rigged to coincide unfortunately with a large number of mujahideen in Afghanistan suddenly becoming ‘‘unemployed’’ because the Soviet Union withdrew its troops.

Yasin Malik decided to pick this up as the starting point of his speech. He said, ‘‘I was shocked to hear Jethmalani Sahib say what he did. I was the one who started the armed struggle in Kashmir and I was neither Afghan nor unemployed. I picked up the gun because it seemed there was nothing else to do. We had tried peaceful means to achieve azaadi and failed.’’

He then gave details of how the JKLF was among the groups that had set up the Muslim United Front to contest the Assembly elections in 1987. ‘‘We contested the elections because we thought that if we won we would declare Kashmir independent through a resolution in the Assembly but they were not prepared to give us our basic democratic rights. So we had no recourse but to pick up the gun.’’

He added that he had given up violence because he was persuaded by the ‘‘Indian civil society’’ that solutions could come peacefully. He felt betrayed, he said, because he now knew that all the Indian civil society could do was talk.

The Kashmiri Pundits were not going to take that lying down even if the panelists were, and they started yelling that the armed struggle had never ended. What about the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen? Who were they? And who were the other militant groups that continued to kill innocent people in Kashmir?

In the end there was more rancour and rage than debate, and the solution to our Kashmir problem remained as elusive as ever. Sitting next to me at one point was General Lakhvinder Singh, a hero of the Kargil war, and I asked him if he thought that there was any chance of reducing the deployment of Indian troops in Kashmir. He said, ‘‘We’ve tried it. And wherever we have reduced deployment we have seen an immediate increase in militant activities. It is not as easy as these politicians make it sound.’’

It is not easy at all because it is clear to many of us who have followed the Kashmir story carefully for many, many years that the problem has changed. There was a time when it seemed as if a solution in Kashmir could bring peace with Pakistan. That time has gone.

Kashmir’s struggle for so-called azaadi has been subsumed by the worldwide jihad. The Taliban have a grander plan for the Indian subcontinent. They want to conquer Islamabad, and when that is done they want the flag of Islam to fly over India.


The original article appeared here.

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