‘K’-bomb rocks the Valley
On September 12 night, Tehran-based television channel Press TV carried a breaking news— the Quran has been desecrated in many cities of United States. Izhar Butt, 21, made series of calls to many of his friends and relatives to switch on the channel. Within an hour, hundreds of Kashmiris throughout different parts of the region glued to the said channel, which has sizeable following among the Shia Muslim community of Kashmir.
The news spilled anger and within hours of the night, many networked planning their agenda of protests following morning. Following morning, in Tangmarg, 40 kilometers west of summer capital Srinagar, few dozen youth encircled the Christian missionary school chanting anti-US and pro-Islamic slogans marching through the streets of Tangmarg village and attacked the Tyndale Biscoe School, a branch of one of the oldest missionary-run schools in Kashmir. The main one is in Srinagar, which has produced some of India’s leading bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers and engineers.
Simultaneously, unruly mob in other parts of Kashmir in Budgam, protesting the alleged desecration of the Quran defied the curfew and took to the streets to express their resentment and in turn torched and damaged many government buildings and vehicles. Shouting pro-Islam and anti-US slogans: “Death to the US!” and “Death to Koran desecrators!” thousands of people took to streets in various other areas. Similar scenes were observed in Khanabal, Pampore, Anantnag, Kulgam, Qaimoh, Qazigund, Pulwama, Awantipora, and Bijbehara townships.
And in the subsequent action of Kashmir police, which when failed to control the mob through batons and tear gas shelling took to gun fire, killing 22, these were the highest number of killings and violence act in past three months of Kashmir turmoil. What is wrong with Kashmir as for the past three months, uncontrolled hordes of people have been pouring their anger on streets, pelting stones, defying authorities and facing bullets. So far, over 90 people have died in current protests, which started on June 11 over the death of a 17-year-old Tufail Ahmad Matoo who allegedly was killed after a plastic pellet fired by the police hit him in the head.
Though Kashmir situation has been always unpredictable but, the past few years have been rather peaceful barring few incidents of terrorism. Why is this unrest not settling down while life has totally been standstill with schools, businesses and even government offices? Only two years back, Kashmiris defying separatists’ and radical groups’ poll boycott calls elected the new government registering record participation. Strictly imposed indefinite curfews with “shoot-at-sight” orders have failed to prevent people braving bullets, teargas shells, and batons on the streets. The people armed with slogans and stones in their hands, continue to protest day and night.
The imposed silence of curfewed days and nights is broken by the constant cries of the protesters: “Awaz do, hum ek hain …azadi chheen kay layenge azaadi! Ro rahi hai ye zameen, ro raha hai asamaan. …ae shaheedo asalaam …jis Kashmir ko khoon se sincha, wo Kashmir hamara hai….” If the protest collapses from one quarter, others pick up the thread. All these slogans and protests have seeped into the dreams of children. They don’t have school on their minds. Even the kindergarten kids know how to lisp the rhyme: “Hum kya chahatay?” Azadi!
The month of Ramadan, which is said to preach non-violence and peace was rather very violent in Kashmir this year and equally strife torn was the Eid when an Eid ul-Fitr congregation held by moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq became a protest rally. At Idgah in downtown Srinagar, thousands had gathered for the namaaz. During his Eid sermon, Mirwaiz asked people to march to Lal Chowk for a 30-minute sit-in against the recent killings of protesters. The demonstration became violent and government buildings were damaged and other properties burnt.
Many see protests by the Mirwaiz, who teamed up with the virtually defunct JKLF head Yasin Malik, as a desperate attempt to stay politically relevant. The situation has gone out of hands of India, which few months back has Pakistan licking its feet to restart the dialogue process suspended after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. But, now Pakistani spokesman Abdul Basit asserts that Pakistan will not agree to “any preconditions for resuming the dialogue process”. Why did Islamabad’s attitude change?
The answer lies in two cities: Srinagar and Kabul, both the places where India has big stakes but negligible bargaining power. While India has blamed Pakistan for the current strife as part of its changed strategy to abet sentiments in Kashmir, the fact however is that prolonged civilian strife in the Kashmir Valley will only strengthen Pakistan’s case that resumption of a dialogue on Kashmir alone will enable a more focussed fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
According to a retired Major General of the Indian Army’s Gurkha regiment, Ashok Mehta, “The priority for Delhi is to stop the stone-throwing in Kashmir. Every death is fresh cause for protests. On an hour’s notice, 10,000 people will come out on the streets to join the funeral procession of someone they don’t know. Further, Kashmir’s moderate Islam is being radicalised by the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami, which has made even separatist leaders irrelevant. No one is willing to talk unconditionally anymore.”
Delhi will have to start from scratch in rolling back alienation by reaching out to youth. Neither has Congress President Sonia Gandhi nor Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Srinagar since the troubles began in June. Until a few months back, Kashmir was the most violence-free state in India, as security forces had significantly marginalised insurgent and terrorist groups over the last three years. Islamabad is not about to take over Kashmir according to a survey by London-based think tank Chatham House last month, just 2 per cent of the population favours joining Pakistan. But as the cry for azaadi grows louder, no one has a clue when this uprising is going to stop.
Delhi needs to do something before US President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit in November. And amidst all this, one man who has been in the wrong light ever since the people’s war has been waged in Kashmir—he is Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who has almost every finger pointed at him and holding him responsible for the whole havoc. It is a turbulent phase in political career of Omar Abdullah, who when took the reigns 19 months back was seen as a dynamic, progressive and clean imaged but as accepted by Omar himself that he lacks political gaming skills, he has become more of a liability for New Delhi.
Congress is unable to find a way to rescue its coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. With Chief Minister Omar Abdullah failing to come up with a ‘creative discourse’ to soothe tempers in the Valley, Congress leaders here acknowledge that the Centre cannot delay a decisive intervention. Meanwhile, Omar had been campaigning for withdrawing or softening the Armed Forces Special Power Act in Kashmir. But, that’s not going to happen for now as the two meetings chaired by the Prime Minister on Kashmir ended without any consensus on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Opinion on the Act is divided not just between parties, but within the government as well.
Omar Abdullah wants the Act to be lifted in areas where terrorism has been declining. Home Minister P Chidambaram wants to amend the Act to make it more “humane”. His blueprint for the revised Act was discussed. What has been decided at that meeting attended by leaders of all major political parties is that an all-party delegation will visit J&K soon. That may help soften the blow dealt earlier this week by the union government which said in an official statement that it acknowledged a “governance-deficit” in J&K. Sources close to Omar said that while he was disappointed with that snub, he would not make a decision on whether to resign soon.
Who holds real command in Kashmir? Once sidelined for his pro-Pakistan and hardliner stand, the 82-year ailing Syed Ali Shah Geelani who heads the hardliner Hurriyat faction is the new hero along with his young brigade of Asiya Andrabi, head of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM) and Masarat Alam Bhat, leader of the pro-Pakistan Muslim League, and they spearheaded the “Quit Jammu and Kashmir” campaign call given by Geelani in June, which led to the current turmoil. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the head of moderate Hurriyat too jumped on to the protest bandwagon and gave a call for a march to Sopore on June 29, but within hours, it became clear that the moderates did not have any street presence.
The slogans were clearly in favour of Geelani and his team. Both the DeM and the Muslim League are constituents of the Hurriyat Conference faction led by Syed Ali Geelani and Alam. Asiya shot into prominence in the late 1980s when she launched the DeM essentially against social vices. However, she jumped into the separatist campaign, which began with the armed insurgency in 1990. She has been a strong supporter of an “Islamic State” and the state’s merger with Pakistan. She has been jailed several times for supporting terrorist activities. Andrabi is married to the former terrorist commander and Islamist separatist leader, Aashiq Hussain Faktoo alias Mohammad Qasim who is serving life imprisonment in the case of murder of rights activist HN Wanchoo.
The 39-year-old Masarat Alam, a terrorist commander-turned-separatist politician, had just been released from prison (June 8) on bail after 21 months in custody. In the absence of Geelani, Alam—the acting general secretary of the hardline Hurriyat, but not from a Jamaat background—took control of the protests.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the moderate Hurriyat Conference, attempting to forge the elusive unity between the various separatist groups in Kashmir has extended olive branch to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and JKLF’s Yasin Malik.
The All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) had split in 2003 when Geelani had slammed the People’s Conference of Abdul Ghani Lone, one of the constituents of the Mirwaiz conglomerate, for fielding proxy candidates in the 2002 assembly elections. Geelani was against participation in the elections. While it’s not known whether Geelani and Malik will take up the Mirwaiz’s offer, there remains a great deal of mutual suspicion between the hawks and the moderates, and to some political analysts, the Mirwaiz’s proposition does not amount to anything more than a trial balloon.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu