From Daily News and Analysis, “The Only Thing That’s Not Acceptable is Status Quo”
Does the recent spike in violence and civilian deaths mean that India is back to where it was in the 1990s with regard to the Kashmiris?
While the essence of the protests remains the same as it was in the 1990s — the demand for azadi — it would be a mistake to see the recent events in Kashmir as the same, particularly from the Indian point of view. In the 1990s, the movement for azadi was quickly overshadowed by the overwhelming influence of Pakistan, and of armed militants with a substantial allegiance to the Pakistani state. That doesn’t hold true any more. The protests are much more an indigenous event now.
Secondly, this time around we are seeing massive unarmed protests, not an armed insurgency. So the 100 deaths are a result of the firing by security forces on the protesters, not some generalised ‘violence’. This gives the protesters a moral authority which the Indian position will find increasingly difficult to deal with.
What is the root of the recent upsurge in demand for azadi? Why do so many Kashmirs continue to feel alienated?
The recent upsurge should not be seen as something which began only this June, with the killings of young boys on the streets. Nor is it correct to imagine that it has its roots in the cold-blooded killing of three men who were passed off as militants earlier this year. The roots lie in last year’s rape and murder of two young women in Shopian town, and in the peaceful protests of the year before. What is happening in Kashmir today is intimately and intricately connected with everything that has been happening over the past 20 years in the valley.
How would you rate Omar Abdullah? Does he bear some responsibility for the situation spiraling out of control?
I don’t think it is very useful to obsess about Omar Abdullah or his deficiencies. I doubt if any other politician from the other ‘pro-India’ parties, as they are called, could have been much more successful in controlling the situation. Please remember that the government in J&K is significantly in the control of New Delhi: it’s Army, its paramilitary forces, its home ministry and intelligence services. Because they remain less visible does not mean that they should not stand equally in the dock.
It appears that it takes very little for the security forces to open fire on protesting Kashmiri mobs? Are some elements deliberately provoking the forces to retaliate?
Despite their overwhelming numbers, the security forces in Kashmir are not able to control the people in Kashmir, that is the sad fact. It seems that people have had enough, they will not be controlled.
They do not fear the police, they do not have the fear of being killed anymore. This is a situation that the police are just not used to, and they frequently resort to firing, hoping perhaps that the old fear will return. But it’s not working.
What, in your opinion, is the way forward in the Valley?
The way forward is currently blocked by a wall of uniformed soldiers. So first of all, without substantial demilitarisation, nothing will change. Second, the Valley needs a revival of democracy. Right now, democracy has shrivelled, shrunk and died in the Valley. I’m not talking about elections, for those have always been held, and Kashmiris have seen through the farcical nature of that exercise. They will not be fooled, even if Indians are. Let students speak, let political formations hold meetings, only then will people feel that their political aspirations are being addressed.
Some Kashmiris are determined to settle for nothing less than azadi. But is that really in the realm of possibility?
What is possible depends on what we all make possible, Indians and Kashmiris together. But the first step has to lie in the ability to contemplate, or imagine, that every kind of solution can be considered: azadi, autonomy, Pakistan, or another hundred ways of changing the current alignment of forces. The only thing that is totally unacceptable right now is the status quo
Will dividing the state help?
If done with the assent of the people who are affected by it, if they see it as a solution, yes. But not if it is done to divide and weaken the people.
Kashmiri Pandits have been forced out, while residents in Jammu and Ladakh resent the Valley’s domination? How fair is it for those in the Valley to complain of mistreatment from Delhi when they stand accused of the same crime?
Kashmiris accused of the ‘crime’ of mistreatment by Jammu and Ladakh?! I detect substantial misinformation here. The departure of the Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s remains one of the darkest chapters in the last 20 years. The subsequent communalisation of many Kashmiri Pandits, and their complete absorption by right-wing Hindutva forces has further compounded that problem. But I am optimistic, I look at the 3,500 odd Pandits who still live in the valley, and however hard it is for them to remain a community, I see hope in their determination to stay in their motherland.