What makes Kashmir erupt every now and then?
A fire that devastated the 200-year-old Sufi shrine Peer Dastgeer Sahib in Srinagar’s downtown Khanyar on Monday again brought forth the anger always bubbling beneath the surface. TEHELKA takes a close look at the Kashmir sovereignty issue beyond the headlines
The paradoxes still seem impossible to reconcile
Jai Bans Singh
FOR THREE consecutive years from 2008 to 2010, the valley of Kashmir rocked with internal dissent. The catalysts were different but the reaction was the same; bandhs, strikes, lockouts, stone pelting and general disorder was the order of the day.
It looked as if the separatists had, once again, started gaining the upper hand. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, always an academician first and politician later, felt the need to, once again dig deep into the problems that were making the people of Kashmir react so violently to mundane, day-to-day social problems. It was on his initiative that the government of India appointed a team of three interlocutors on 13 October 2010. The mandate of the team was to conduct a dialogue with the people of the state and prepare a road map that would be acceptable to all stake holders.
While initiating this process, it was conveniently forgotten that the path of appointing interlocutors had been well trodden in the past without producing any tangible results. NN Vohra, the sitting Governor of the State had also, at one point in time, performed the role of an interlocutor as had KC Pant before him. This apart, many non-government initiatives attempted to bring about amity in the minds of the Kashmiri dissidents, the main being a dialogue initiated by Ram Jethmalani. All these had come to naught mainly because the separatistsrefused to participate in dialogue process.
The new team of interlocutors came into the grip of a significant paradox almost as soon as it commenced its task. The situation in the state turned for the better. This had more to do with the people rather than their diligent efforts. The people, fed up with violence, decided to ignore the dictats of the separatists and exhibited a rare determination towards bringing about what is now being termed as ‘normalcy’. Thus, the period during which the interlocutors were busy fulfilling their mandate turned out to be the most peaceful witnessed in the valley over last few decades. This paradox drastically reduced the relevance of the exercise.
There were many more stumbling blocks. The Hurriyat, as expected, refused to meet the interlocutors thus taking the sting out of the exercise and making it as futile as the earlier initiatives. The arrest of Fai by the FBI in US in mid-2011 opened yet another Pandora’s Box. It became known that Pakistan was infusing millions of dollars to build up a campaign of misinformation against India. Unfortunately, media reports of some of the interlocutors having a link with Fai and his dubious Kashmiri American Council also started doing the rounds. This eroded the credibility and questioned the legitimacy of the team to a great extent.
Then came media reports of fissures between interlocutors with MM Ansari pitted against combined might of Dileep Padgaonkar and Radha Kumar.
It was against the backdrop of these problems and misgiving that the interlocutors went about completing their mandate. Their final report, which has recently been submitted to the Ministry of Home and is also available in the public domain has, predictably, drawn a lot of flak. It has been widely acknowledged that they have put in a lot of effort. They have, in the report, mentioned a tour of 22 districts, meetings with 700 delegations and thousands of people and organised round-table conferences as a small part of their effort to construct the document. Why then the flak, the hostility and the criticism?
THE ANSWER revolves around their inability to go beyond the well-trodden academic path. They have failed to give the much required people-centric flavour to the whole exercise. They, for example, have not highlighted the demographics of the region in the right perspective. One wonders as to how they could have missed out on the fact that the Kashmiri Muslims, whom they have kept central in their testimony, do not enjoy the status of a majority community in the state. This misperception, by itself, has led to gaping holes in the entire document. As one goes through the report, the influence of media and some oft repeated anti-national sentiments becomes very palpable.
There are some aspects in the report that are particularly abhorrent to every nationalist Indian; the suggestion to take Pakistan on board for any decision on Kashmir being the most prominent. Next comes the issue of autonomy, self-rule, etc which have been endorsed by the team and which many in the nation consider to be an affront to the very spirit of the Indian nation. Such issues may have had a place during the nascent years of nation building, but for the confident resurgent Indian they are an anathema. There is no point is raising expectations of a small section of Kashmiris where no forward movement is possible. All such talk is neither realistic nor possible.
Finally, it can be surmised that the interlocutors have been very astute as far as the identification of the aspirations of the people are concerned, but when it comes to suggestions they have somehow lost the script. In all probability they were unable to adequately understand the ground situation. As a result, the aspirations of the people and the suggestions given by them are at odds with each other. It is difficult to believe that the same team has authored both the segments of the report. It would not be surprising if this report is consigned to the dusty shelves of North Block to be thrown onto the next fire when it comes about. But where does Jammu and Kashmir go from here? Probably wait for the next government to appoint the next team of interlocutors.
Fai will continue to work for the cause, even in jail
GHULAM NABI FAI, chairperson of the Kashmir American Council, has announced that he will continue to work for the cause of Kashmir during his incarceration at the minimal security Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Cumberland, Maryland.
Fai, an American citizen, was born in Jammu & Kashmir. He was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on 19 July 2011 for concealing transfer of $3.5 million from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to fund illegal lobbying efforts and influence the US government on the Kashmir conflict in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. His arrest came at a time when relations between Pakistan and the US was already strained in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan,and while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on a visit to India. On 7 December 2011. Fai pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax. In March 2012, Fai was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by a US court for ‘conspiracy to defraud the US’ by concealing transfer of funding from Pakistan’s ISI for his illegal lobbying efforts on Kashmir.
Although initially charged under the FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) as an unregistered agent of Pakistan, Fai was never convicted on this allegation, which seemed clearly intended to support negotiations the US and Hillary Clinton were engaged in with India at the time, according to Paul Barrow, Director of United Progressives and the Director of American Affairs for the International Council for Human Rights and Justice.
A few days ago, addressing a gathering of American Muslim leadership and well-wishers in Fremont, California, Fai said there is no restriction on him to continue his work for the cause of Kashmir and pointed out that prosecution had withdrawn charges levelled against him.
During the hearing, Fai’s attorney Nina Ginsburg stated: “Judge, I think (Assistant US Attorney) Kromberg’s arguments to the Court are appalling. [Federal investigators] have a lot of words that were captured in intercepts, 20 years of intercepts, hundreds of thousands of intercepts, and Kromberg cannot stand in front of this Court with one example of a statement, a public statement by Fai, a writing by Fai, a position taken at a conference he sponsored, not one, not one word, that is anything that could be characterised as propaganda for the Pakistani government.”
Fai himself said he frequently took positions at odds with those espoused by Pakistan. Most fundamentally, he said, he advocated for Kashmiri independence while Pakistan wants the territory annexed into its own country. Ginsberg also took exception to the government’s efforts to paint Fai as an extremist. She said they had been monitoring his email and phone calls surreptitiously for 20 years, and could produce no evidence to back up those assertions. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, she said Fai answered the government’s questions truthfully — he knows many members of the group, which is prominent in many Muslim countries, but is not a part of the organisation.
Judge Liam O’Grady, while announcing the verdict for two-year imprisonment, had made it clear that “it’s (sentencing) necessary, even though you have done some very moving things on behalf of the Kashmiri people and that your cause is a wonderful cause,” Fai told the gathering.
Judge continued, “And I do not doubt that your mission over the last 25 years has been a mission to bring peace to Kashmir and to try and identify a means to peace between India and Pakistan and Kashmir. You are to be heartily commended for those efforts.”
He quoted again Judge O’Grady as saying: “I sincerely hope that while you’re at a minimal security facility like Cumberland, that I see no reason why you can’t continue to advocate on behalf of the Kashmiri people and to write.”
Fai stressed that no solution to the 65-year-old Kashmir conflict that didn’t command a consensus among the 17 million Kashmiri people could endure just as no solution to East Timor held a chance of success until the East Timor’s leadership was consulted and a referendum on independence from Indonesia was held.
Fai is the founding chairman of the California-based World Peace Forum, chairperson of the International Institute of Kashmir Studies and the London-based Justice Foundation. During the trial, the courtroom houseful with people from California, Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC, North Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states.
US professors, civil rights advocates support sovereignty
An address in San Francisco via Skype by Yasin Malik kicked off a meeting with global delegates
AN ARRAY OF American Muslim leaders and civil rights advocates also spoke at the gathering held at the San Francisco Bay Area’s popular Chandni banquet hall in Fremont/Newark. The event was sponsored by the American Muslim Alliance (AMA) and the ICNA Council for Social Justice.
The programme began with an address via Skype link by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader, Yasin Malik, from Srinagar. He spoke about the atrocities caused by the Indian forces.
And said the basic reason of unrest in the state is “the usurpation of our freedom and prolonging of solution to our political problems,” adding there will be peace once the Kashmir issue is resolved in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of its people. Malik said that at present the struggle of the Kashmiris is a non-violent movement and if the global community did not give attention, this turn violent.
Hatem Bazian, Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said that Kashmir is on the global chess board. “The US wants India to balance China, because if there is a conflict with China. We always like that the darker people fight our war and the more these people die is better for the officers because racism can be seen across many sectors.”
Alluding to Fai’s case, Bazian said that “in the post-9/11 era there is strategic and systematic process of targeting the Muslim leadership, of organisational structures, by eliminating the existing leadership that has developed over last 40 years studying together, graduating together.
You disrupt the civic political engagement in the country and second you allow infiltrators those who are on the payroll of government to cause disruption.”
He went on to say that Fai was targeted because he is successful. “It is because of his ability to transcend from this small area of his work and to reach out beyond the confines and be very effective in advocacy.”
Mohammad Ahmadullah Siqqidui, Professor of Journalism and Public Relations at Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois, argued that just like East Timor and South Sudan, Kashmir should be made an independent state. He said he was convinced one day Kashmir will become an independent entity. Former chairperson of the US Libertarian Party, Mark Hinkle, said that his party supports the right of self-determination of Kashmiri people.
Author and freelance journalist, Edward Hasbrouck, said he was looking forward to see an independent country and his passport is stamped with the visa of Kashmir.
He said, “I’m disappointed to see so few people like me here, who are neither South Asian nor Muslim. They need to know that what is happening to Fai and other Muslims could happen to them too. So as we work to build awareness of the situation in Kashmir, let us also redouble our outreach to activists for human rights, opponents of political injustice, and supporters of political prisoners from all communities in the US.”
He also said he looked forward to working with a broader coalition to repeal the Foreign Agents Registration Act and to support human rights in the US.
Agha Seed, the American Muslim Alliance chairperson, the strategist behind the Muslim leadership gathering, was unable to speak because of his sickness. His message in support of Fai was read by his assistant.
Imtiaz Khan, Vice-President of the Kashmiri American Council, was another major speaker at the gathering. In his speech Khan said that more than 1 lakh Kashmiris have been killed by Indian military and paramilitary personnel over the last two decades.
He deplored the silence of the international community because of India’s nuclear and economic strength. He said that the United Nations has a moral obligation to intervene on behalf of the people of Kashmir; and, that the United Nations should strengthen its monitoring force along the cease-fire line.
It may be pointed out that the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on India’s human rights violations was released the same day when Fai’s verdict was announced.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns released an interim report at the end of his 12-day visit to Jammu & Kashmir and the states of Gujarat, Kerala, Assam and West Bengal, terming the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as a symbol of excessive state power that has resulted in consuming innocent lives in these areas.