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Books and Bullets.

Byline: Taj M Khattak

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and so it was when a photograph appeared around the world showing a Kashmiri youth tied in front of a Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) vehicle and used as a human shield against villagers who were pelting stones and protesting against atrocities perpetuated by the state apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir for the last many years. Local people said the man had been picked up by the Indian army and handed over to CPRF for this inhuman treatment. The incident occurred in village Gundpora in district Budgam, Kashmir on the eve of a polling and re-polling process and evoked instant indignation universally.

Stone pelting has been used as a method of protest in Kashmir since long but it has intensified in the last few years. The Kashmiri youth throwing stones have been intimidated and tortured for years and are resorting to this mode of protest in pure anguish after receiving a grievous treatment. There is a clear pattern of worsening repression by the Indian state and a corresponding increase in the level of protests by the Kashmiris. After every incident of murder or hanging (Maqbool Butt in 1984, Afzal Guru in 2013 and Burhan Wani in 2016), these protests have intensified and have assumed the form of an 'Intifada' where there is no particular leader and which can erupt anywhere and at anytime at a short notice.

In the present situation, a majority of Indians feel that Kashmiri Muslims are pro-Pakistan Wahabis and the Kashmiri Muslims consider Indians to be die -hard communalists of whom they have had enough. The growing and effective use of social media and television is further hardening the positions on both sides. Since each side has a constituency of extremists, more so under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these perceptions are gaining deeper traction. After the fake encounter of Burhan Wani, the Kashmiris responded with the lowest ever turnout of about 7% in the recent elections which were marred by violence and consumed many lives on both sides.

The Indian media has got it all wrong to claim that these are pro-Pakistan protestors who are being agitated by Pakistan and are doing this for money. The media is in such frenzy that it is not prepared to listen to sane words from any quarter. Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, recently stated that these young men were throwing stones for their nation but he came under scathing criticism and his view was trashed. The media does not ask such questions as to why young people, many amongst them well educated, tech-savvy and with a future ahead of them, would risk their lives and future for a pittance on someone else's bidding. The core issue which Indian people and media conveniently ignore is the horrifying level of frustration amongst Kashmiris which transcends any fears about their personal safeties.

Lately, the situation has taken a turn for the worse as women and girl students have now become a part of these protests. They have resorted to new methods of pelting stones and have rejected economic packages of all kinds. In every household, a father, mother, son and daughter, with stones in their hands, are not afraid of death. In every society, youth is the future but when it is out on the streets in Kashmir, oblivious of its safety. As someone described it, the war is between the pen and pellet, books and bullets.

The Kashmir issue is as old as the history of independent India and Pakistan. There are numerous United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) - UNSCR 47 (1947), UNSCR 80 (1948), UNSCR 91 (1951), UNSCR 98 (1952) and UNSCR 122(1957, which call upon India and Pakistan to resolve the issue in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people and their fundamental rights as enshrined in the UN Charter. The world body appointed a five member United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) comprising Czechoslovakia, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, and the United States. UNCIP also passed similar resolutions in 1948 and 1949. The Indian political leadership, from time to time in 1947, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1955, made commitments to hold a plebiscite in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) but reneged on its public declarations.

The Kashmiris have not forgotten the numerous promises made to them in the past; one such declaration was by India's Deputy Prime Minister; Sardar Vallabhai Patel, who was considered a sagacious and deeply thoughtful leader. Addressing a public meeting in Bombay in October 1948, he said, '"Some people consider that a Muslim majority area must necessarily belong to Pakistan. They wonder why we are in Kashmir. The answer is plain and simple. We are in Kashmir because the people of Kashmir want us to be there. The moment we realize that the people of Kashmir do not want us to be there, we shall not be there even for a minute. We shall not let Kashmir down'. (The Hindustan Times, October 31, 1948).

The Kashmiris today are crying hoarse that they don't want the Indians in Kashmir but no one seems to be listening. Sadly, such unfulfilled promises have proved to be a line in the sand obliterated by ravages of time. There is a small minority in India which has gone deeper into the causes of turmoil in Kashmir and it points towards shattered perceptions of law and order in the valley. Many of the young protestors belong to families which have given up on hopes of any kind. For them, beatings, torture, humiliations and harassment is the order of the day. To them, stone throwing is the only strong form of protest left to express their resentment and comes as a kind of catharsis - a feeling of having taken revenge for what has happened to them. It is not that many of them are not pro-Pakistan. Yes they are, but the fundamental cause continues to be their political alienation which is seeping in the Kashmiri polity and deepening to the level of outright hatred for Indian occupation forces.

In the aftermath of 2014 elections, when two ideologically opposite political parties, Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (JKPDP or simply PDP) and BJP joined hands to form a government in Srinagar, there were some who were hoping that it might lead to relative calm but this did not happen. In the 'Agenda of Alliance', agreed upon by the two parties, BJP took a u-turn on abolishing Article 370 of the Indian constitution and PDP diluted its stance on theArmed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). There were expectations amongst the Kashmiris that the political commitments made therein would reduce the anger in Kashmir but it proved short-lived.

After Burhan Wani's brutal murder, both the state and central government have been surprised at the intensity and consistency of the agitation. Mahbooba Mufti, Chief Minister of the ruling coalition did initially make some overtures for a dialogue with protestors but BJP didn't support the idea. The BJP is clearly determined to take a hard line against the agitation in the valley which, in its grossly flawed perception, is attributed to historical support from Pakistan, and lately increasing influence of ISIS on militant cadres. New Delhi's response is therefore to put its state's repression machinery into a higher gear - a strategy which has time and again failed in the past - a failure acknowledged by the Indian people.

The only serious effort to internally address the grievances of Kashmiri citize-ns was made during the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government when a team of interlocutors interacted with the Kashmiris. The committee recommended that the autonomy of Kashmir Assembly be restored. It also recommended serious parleys with Kashmiris and Pakistan along with repealing the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which has been in force in Jammu and Kashmir for the last 27 years and criticized by saner elements of Indian society. The AFSPA is a successor to the 1942 British era Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance, which was legislated by a colonial power to suppress the 'Quit India Movement.'

The irony is that the forefathers of many of those enforcing AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir today would have been at the receiving end of the same draconian measures in the past when India marched towards independence in the 1940s. These recommendations have not seen the light of day so far. India has also floated the idea of a political package for the people of Kashmir in the form of 'Greater autonomy to the State.' There is, however, serious doubt about its feasibility as on the one hand, the Hindu population is opposed to any restructuring of the existing constitutional relations between New Delhi and Srinagar and Muslims, on the other hand, are uncertain whether the 'autonomy package' would satisfy the militants as a basis of settlement with the Indian government.

Clearly, India is striving to substitute 'greater autonomy' in lieu of the 'right of self-determination' granted to the Kashmiris under the UN charter. Former Prime Minister Narisma Rao during his stint in office had gone to the extent of saying that the Congress government would concede 'Azadi' - short of 'Independence' to meet the militants' demands - exactly in the manner when prior to partition in 1946, Congress had accepted a Muslim State within the Indian Union under the Cabinet Mission Plan.

The crisis in Kashmir is fast snowballing towards a huge tragedy which will destabilize the entire region. It is patently unfair to demonize all those who are pelting stones as traitors as they are protesting for their fundamental legitimate rights. In spite of Indian atrocities and massive human rights abuses in Kashmir, it has become very clear that the people of Kashmir at large are standing firm for their right of self-determination. It is the need of the hour for the international community to call upon India to stop the bloodshed, uphold the sanctity of the UN Resolutions and ensure a resolution of this festering dispute. There is no other alternative.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 30, 2017
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