Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Grimness of Kashmir

RAJESH SINGH

My Kashmir: The Dying of the Light

Author: Wajahat Habibullah

Publisher: Penguin/Viking

Price: Rs 499


It is a crisis that fails to be resolved and refuses to go away. Kashmir has become a melting pot of conflicts fuelled by separatists in the Valley, infiltration from across the Line of Control and high-handedness of the security forces. It is an elephant that is being probed by blind men, who all have different interpretations of what has gone wrong and what could set it right. In the process, the common citizen is caught in a seemingly unending bind, not knowing when he will be able to lead a normal life.

Wajahat Habibullah’s personalised account presents a largely grim picture of the situation, and he offers little cause for optimism, delving often in the sayings of Kashmiri Sufi saints for solace. This is a disappointment, but at least the author has been honest in his appraisal. As a retired civil servant who spent much of his career days in Jammu & Kashmir, Habibullah was often closely involved with some the most important — and defining — developments in the Valley. He speaks, therefore, from experience as much as he does from his own assessment of the crisis. Yet, one cannot agree with all that he expresses in the book, since he allows personal prejudices to come in the way of an objective analysis of certain contentious events. Two of these deserve special mention: One, the 1993 Hazratbal shrine siege; and, two, the 1990 assassination of Mirwaiz Farooq and the subsequent violence.

The author says, “To this day, the Kashmiri public holds him (then Governor Jagmohan) responsible for the murder of the Mirwaiz and of those in the funeral procession.” But Habibullah does not say whether he agrees with the view that Jagmohan should be held accountable for the Mirwaiz’s killing. Since he admits elsewhere that extremist elements within the separatist movement were responsible for the death, the author should have categorically stated that Jagmohan could not be held guilty of the act. But, while Habibullah plays safe on the Jagmohan issue, he is unequivocal in criticising him for the violence that happened thereafter, in which several people were killed when the police opened fire on the Mirwaiz’s funeral procession. He notes, “This mishandling, by no means the last by the State’s administration, turned the fully fury of public rage against the Governor.”

If Jagmohan was indeed responsible, as Habibullah says, the matter should have been resolved after the former was shunted out following the incident. But it did not; on the contrary, things went from bad to worse with successive governments and Governors. In any case, there are other versions of the firing on Mirwaiz’s funeral procession, and the author’s is not definitive.

The author’s version of the Hazratbal siege by militants details the tortuous negotiations that went into the release of inmates taken hostage by the extremists. But, while he is elaborate in laying down how the discussions proceeded, he seems to have taken a soft view on the manner in which the Indian state capitulated at every step. This was capped by the release of the ultras after they surrendered. Their release was naturally part of the agreement reached. For Habibullah, the important thing is that the shrine “emerged unscathed, free from even the suspicion of desecration”. No doubt, that was a huge relief to all, but one wished he had slammed the militants for holing up in a shrine that is revered across the State. His observation — that the “successful conclusion of the negotiation is widely perceived as a turning point in the insurgency” — is na├»ve, even for a person who has not had the ringside view that the author enjoyed. Barely two years later came the Charar-e-Sharief disaster, after which one of the culprits, Mast Gul, escaped to Pakistan and continued his nefarious activities against India. More incidents of unrest continued to take place even after.

Habibullah is right in detailing the blunders made by the Government of India in handling the Kashmir issue, and none can deny that a more judicious approach could have saved the Valley from the unrest. But mere discontent with the Centre’s handling of the issue cannot be reason enough for the flourishing of militancy in the State. The active desire of hardliners in the Valley to dismember Kashmir from the Indian state and their readiness to accept assistance from across the border has complicated the issue. They have never been dealt with strongly enough; instead, the police — and at times the security forces — have made the situation worse by targeting innocents and giving a handle to the militants to exploit the situation.

The author’s interpretation of the frequent calls for ‘azaadi’ is cautious. In his view, that azaadi could well be a demand for greater freedom for the ordinary Kashmiri people to get on with their lives without the threat of death hovering over their heads. They want ‘inclusivity’. Fair enough. As any another Indian citizen, the Valley’s resident too has that right, and they exercise it — if need be, through demonstrations. But what does one make of the anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans that emanate from such processions?

A solution to the Kashmir issue won’t be possible, as the author says, without ensuring dignity to the people of Kashmir. But it will have to also provide dignity to the Indian state. The moderate leaderships in the Valley, and in our political system, will have to work together to achieve that goal.

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