Murtaza Shibli |
Last month, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) launched a detailed report on the dire human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The first of its kind on the human rights abuses in Kashmir, it highlights a situation of chronic impunity of multiple violations committed by the Indian security forces. Commenting on the mass public rebellion in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8, 2016, the report states “Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries”.
The death of Burhan Wani has created a new and prevalent legacy of resistance that remains powerful to electrify the Kashmiri youth. His sacrifice and the sentiment associated with it, have become so powerful to have overtaken the heirloom of Kashmiri resistance.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, urged “the UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”. He declared that the conflict is not “frozen in time” and called for political resolution of the problem that “must entail a commitment to end the cycles of violence and ensure accountability for past and current violations and abuses”.
The report is a massive embarrassment for India for it has always sought to blame Pakistan and of late the so-called Islamic terrorism, to absolve itself from any political responsibility of care and not find resolution to the problem. Besides, the report must have caused a personal setback to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has always tried to portray himself as an uncompromising and unapologetic Hindu leader who has been favourably disposed towards officially-sanctioned violence that has already claimed over 100,000 people, mostly civilians, in the last three decades.
Burhan Wani’s Death has Germinated new spirit in the Kashmiris
Among a long list of death anniversaries, Burhan Wani’s is the latest addition to the Kashmir’s resistance calendar. It has emerged as the most potent of all the bereavement listings that are able to galvanize mass public support for defiance – in order to seek a meaningful departure from the status quo that is extremely oppressive and suffocating. Wani’s first death anniversary last year, despite a massive security blockade, saw the attendance of thousands at the ceremony in his native town, Tral, adding festivity and renewal to the spirit of rebellion and revolution. Although the situation has undergone a quantitative change – the military and the security personnel are now more in control of the situation – there is certain nervousness within the official circles that the approaching ritual will incite people, particularly the youth.
This is why, on his second anniversary that falls on 8th July, the government has already announced the closure of all educational institutions. Under the pretext of summer vacations, a tradition that had been abandoned to compensate for the days lost to frequent strike calls, the government announced the closure of all educational institutions from 2-10 July. This is to pre-empt any mass demonstrations from the pupils. Since Wani’s death, students have assumed a leading role in expressing the sentiment of the Kashmiri resistance. With their gleaming school uniforms, scenes of boys and girls fighting street battles with the police and the paramilitary personnel have become the new face of the rebellion. This clearly indicates the new levels of alienation across generations and affords new currency and justification for the Kashmiri struggle. At the same time, these demonstrations have become another source to discredit the official Indian narrative which blames everything on Pakistan.
The death of Burhan Wani has created a new and prevalent legacy of resistance that remains powerful to electrify the Kashmiri youth. His sacrifice and the sentiment associated with it, have become so powerful to have overtaken the heirloom of Kashmiri resistance, including its burdens of history. In the popular imagination, at least for now, it is predicated upon Wani’s sacrifice and its memory to guide Kashmir towards a solution that has eluded several generations. The qurbani, as it is characterised in the common lore, seems to have rearranged Kashmir’s political consciousness and emotional appeal for the utopia of azadi; this hope remains potent enough to spur a renewed commitment from an entirely new generation of followers.
It is no wonder that at the popular grass root level, even the recent report from the UN is being attributed to the ‘miracle’ of Wani’s shahdat or martyrdom and that of the fellow mujahideen who have since followed into his footsteps. Speaking to any cross-section of the public there is a strange feeling being germinated that the recent international attention gained by Kashmir is due to Wani’s sacrifice and his unexplained charisma. References about him being the only Kashmiri rebel whose name reverberated in the UN General Assembly and other international forums are lavishly narrated in support of the argument. Prior to the UNHCR (OHCHR) report, in an overwhelmingly securitised and anti-Muslim atmosphere following the 9/11 tragedy, India was able to reduce the mass cyclical rebellions to cross-border terrorism.
Burhan became the first pro-freedom militant to be mass mourned and mass eulogized to an extent that he instantly grew into a legend and became a stock of the folk tales.
Kashmiris never forgave Mufti Sayeed for aligning with Modi
When Narendra Modi came to power, Kashmiris were suddenly enveloped by an extreme fear of the unknown. This is despite the fact that for the last three decades, Kashmiris had been subjected to extreme forms of harsh governance and brutality – as enunciated by various reports from the Human Rights Watch or the Amnesty International. But Modi had been batting for a more muscular militaristic approach to “eradicate the scourge of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism”, a position passionately supported by the core constituency of his party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Besides, his past reputation for the anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence in Gujarat, where he had twice been the Chief Minister, enhanced the dread.
As the BJP strengthened its political grip in the Hindu-dominated areas of the Jammu and Kashmir state, the existential anxieties of the Kashmiris ballooned. When the local pro-India People’s Democratic Party (PDP), that had previously sought votes for the preservation of the Kashmiri Muslim identity and its interests, joined the BJP to form the government, Kashmiris felt completely betrayed. Although late Mufti Sayeed, the founder of the PDP who took over as the Chief Minister, repackaged the partnership as the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ to gain acceptance, there were hardly any takers.
Soon it became clear that while the PDP had their Chief Minister at the helm, the party was marginalized, which by default meant further disempowerment of the Kashmiri Muslims. In early November 2016, when Modi visited Srinagar, roughly seven months after the formation of the BJP-PDP government; he publicly scoffed at Mufti Sayeed and told him he does not “need advice or analysis from anyone in this world on Kashmir”, after Sayeed attempted to offer some advice on friendship and dialogue with Pakistan. Sayeed, who would often boast about himself being an Indian by conviction, never recovered from the public humiliation. Soon, he died as a dejected and a deeply degraded man.
The disgrace haunted him even after the death – Sayeed’s funeral was attended by less than 2,000 people, a large number of which were bureaucrats and the police personnel maintaining the security of his funeral arrangements. Despite a day-long canvassing by the PDP functionaries, including public addresses and covert threats from its officials that were dispensed individually, the people in Bijbehara largely stayed away from the funeral or the mourning. In fact, business was conducted as usual in the town with shops, schools and offices running as normal. This was a clear affront to the party and its leadership suggesting deep anger against the PDP for aligning with the BJP.
Burhan Wani was an ordinary person with no supernatural abilities, but his power to connect with the people in general and the youth, in particular, was extraordinary and unique. That is why, when he died, almost everyone in Kashmir and parts of Jammu region identified with him and a mass rebellion of hitherto unimagined quantum was born. Burhan became the first pro-freedom militant to be mass mourned and mass eulogized to an extent that he instantly grew into a legend and became a stock of the folk tales. In his death, the Kashmiri resistance received a new identity and impetus that severely challenged the narratives of status quo as advanced by India and Pakistan.
The events that followed also nullified the respective policy prescriptions of the two countries which had been put in place not for the solution of the problem but its management, to control its socio-political and emotional trajectories. The developments that followed Wani’s death reversed the sustained efforts of India which were employed for well over the last two decades to engineer chaos, confusion, and hopelessness among the population in order to convince them to accept and actively embrace the fait accompli as chosen and delivered by the state.
The renewal of the so-called ‘muscular policy’ is going to bring nothing but unprofitable outcomes for everybody –the Kashmiris, India, and Pakistan. The only way out is if the Indian government displays some real commitment to peace on the ground.
This also caused panic and consternation within Pakistan’s policy setup as they had long deserted Kashmir, however there were occasional verbal outbursts of support lacking any substance or direction. This was primarily carried out to compliment the mood of certain cyclical but drab events.
Indian Engagement with the Kashmiris
The 2016 public rebellion was punctuated by a sustained and ferocious campaign of death and destruction. It caused a massive loss of lives – both civilians and resistance militants – fuelling more resentment and resistance. In the first six months of this year alone, nearly 100 militants and almost a similar number of civilians have been killed by the military forces. At the same time, more than 100 youths from all across the Kashmir valley have joined the resistance ranks. The unprecedented surge in the Kashmiri youth joining the armed resistance clearly indicates that the Indian government has failed to achieve its desired results of controlling the population into submission. Although the path to militancy is laden with a certain possibility of death, there is no dearth of new recruits ready to sacrifice themselves for a dream, even if it does not seem to have any chance to come to fruition, at least for now.
Despite the fact that the lifespan of a new militant is less than six months, the cause is increasingly attracting well-educated youth, including Ph.D. scholars, university lecturers, and other professionals. These developments recently forced the Indian Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, to openly admit the limitations of the use of unbridled military domination on the ground. He accepted that the military power was not working and called for a political engagement to arrive at a solution of the problem. This was a diametric departure from his previous position wherein he had boasted that his army could control the mass rebellion and had publicly threatened the civilian protestors that they will be treated as terrorists.
One of the motivations for the recent but now-rescinded Ramadan ceasefire was General Rawat’s candid admission about the limitations of his authority to break the resistance. Besides, according to a report in The Hindu, the decision to halt military operations during the holy month was made on the basis of several intelligence reports which stated that the killings “were not yielding the desired results and the emotional upsurge at funerals of militants killed in encounters was aiding recruitment”. Sadly, the ceasefire proposal did not yield a substantial response from the public or the pro-freedom leadership of the Joint Resistance Forum, headed by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik.
This is because there is a bitter history of broken promises and announcements made by successive Indian governments. Since 1947, many Indian Prime Ministers have made a myriad of promises – from Nehru’s now infamous promise to hold a referendum for the right to self-determination to Narasimha Rao’s assurance that the ‘Sky is the limit’ or Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s promise to assuage the bruised Kashmiri feelings under ‘the ambit of humanity’. All these lofty promises failed to stop the continued march of death and destruction. Although the Ramadan ceasefire did manage to arrest the spike in producing Kashmiri dead bodies, its spirit was compromised by sporadic but violent attacks on civilians by the military forces.
These violations, during a supposed ceasefire, clearly demonstrated the trigger-happy nature of the forces and the lawless regime wherein they operate with little or no accountability. However, it also demonstrated the importance of peace and holding on to any possible leads to achieve it. While the long-term peace can only be achieved if it is linked to a political settlement, which would need sensible and sensitive management of the problem – the short term hiatus in hostilities or violence could pave the way for a future engagement. It is extremely unfortunate that following the end of the BJP-PDP government and the recent imposition of the Governor’s rule in the state, the BJP-led government has annulled the ceasefire and reverted to its earlier policy of relentless and wanton violence. There is overwhelming empirical evidence and a potent political memory that such a policy will lead to failure and breed more violence.
The renewal of the so-called ‘muscular policy’ is going to bring nothing but unprofitable outcomes for everybody – the Kashmiris, India, and Pakistan. The only way out is if the Indian government displays some real commitment to peace on the ground. While one of the ways is to pursue measures that actively seek to limit hostilities that are responsible for deaths in the first place. A long-term approach would need a solid pledge to pursue peace through a negotiated settlement of the issue by actively engaging with the besieged population. There is a dire need for some resourceful initiatives that can pave the way for engagement at the grass root level.
The current situation demands for a committed top-down approach that aims to remove the immediate grievances with an obligation to subtract the biased institutional mechanisms capable of perpetuating and justifying violence against the Kashmiri people. That is only possible if the central Indian government takes the initiative without being sidetracked by electoral politics. There is a stronger case for supporting a dedicated and honest political engagement rather than pressing for hard military solutions on the ground – a recipe for a continued disaster.
Murtaza Shibli is a Srignar based British author of the book, 7/7: Muslim Perspectives, a collection of reactions by the UK Muslims on the London Bombings of 2005 that killed dozens of Londoners. He writes on political and military issues. He tweets: murtaza_shibli. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.