By Minhaz Merchant
20 April 2017
You can’t solve a problem unless you look it straight in the eye. In the Kashmir Valley, as summer approaches, Indian politicians and the media have failed to do that. The real problem in Kashmir is the Islamisation of the Valley. Unless that infection is treated, Kashmir will fall victim to political septicemia. Jihadists seek precisely this outcome at the bidding of Pakistan which pays, arms and instigates them.
Indian policymakers are unable or unwilling to fix the real problem because they refuse to acknowledge what the real problem is. A classical case of dissimulation is an op-ed on April 15 by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in a national newspaper. It is distinguished by a refusal to look the problem in the eye. He merely states the obvious when he writes that Indian democracy has failed Kashmir over the decades.
But facts must be faced squarely. It is widely acknowledged that the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir Assembly election was rigged by the Congress-National Conference (NC) alliance led by Farooq Abdullah. Till 1987, the Valley was free of Islamists. Sufism prevailed. Muslims had Hindu names (Bhat, Shah) as indeed they still do.
When I first visited Kashmir in the summer of 1978, Srinagar still had cinema halls. It doesn’t now. I stayed on a houseboat on Dal Lake. The shikaras were rowed by young Kashmiris with smiling not sullen faces as now. My two companions, Norwegian and British, wanted desperately to see a Hindi movie. We strolled along Srinagar’s flower-fringed roads to a cinema hall which in that glorious summer of 1978 was showing Kabhie Kabhie, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor.
The two girls were thrilled. In Norway and even in Britain, they said, Hindi films were still a rarity. Both enjoyed the songs and all the prancing around that passes for acting in Indian cinema. The point is there was a cinema hall in the heart of Srinagar and several dozens across the Valley. They were shut down by jihadists, one by one. None remain today.
Years later, in 2005, I was in Srinagar to interview then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. There was a strong military presence on the road to the CM’s residence. The rigged election of 1987 lit the spark that led to the insurgency of 1989, fuelled by Pakistan when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. After a decade of fighting the Soviets, the CIA-funded mujahideen needed a new enemy. The Islamist warlords of post-Soviet Afghanistan found that enemy in Kashmir.
Pakistan, still smarting from being broken into two after the Bangladesh war and radicalised through the Zia-ul-Haq years, had long sought revenge. It saw its opportunity in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. The year 1989 was a watershed year in Kashmir’s history.
The Pandit exodus began, driven by violence and arson. The brutal ethnic cleansing of an entire religious group would end with the exile of over 4,00,000 Pandits who had given Kashmir its intellectual vibrancy, its literature, poetry and plural culture. What was left was a rump: the Kashmiri Muslim — genetically more akin to his Pandit brothers than the jihadists who infiltrated the Valley — was subverted. Pakistan moved quickly to Islamise the Valley.
The events of last week when CRPF jawans were kicked and manhandled by Kashmiri youth, followed by the Army using a Kashmiri tied to its jeep as a shield against a rampaging mob, underscore how successful Pakistan’s venal project in the Valley had been. Yet Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his article mentions Pakistan only in the last paragraph and jihadism not at all. Mehta naturally offers no solutions, only despair.
But there, of course, are solutions to Kashmir. Three to begin with: First, extern the Hurriyat separatists from the Valley. They are the poison that kept voter turnout to a dismal seven per cent in the recent by-polls. India has indulged the Hurriyat far too much for far too long with farcical house arrests and hush payments in the hope that such bribes can buy peace. They can’t, they haven’t, and they won’t.
Second, re-establish the standard operating procedure (SoP) for the army and paramilitaries. Be tough with stone-pelting mobs but use non-lethal force. For the paramilitaries, discard pellet guns. There are better weapons available to control mobs including old-fashioned tear gas and modern plastic bullets and water cannons.
Finally, the PDP-BJP government must keep its promises on distributing funds for flood relief, investing in the Valley and rehabilitating Pandits — first in secured colonies, later spread across the Valley. That will bring a semblance of balance back to Kashmir’s fractured demographics.
None of these solutions guarantee success. But bemoaning the failure of Indian democracy does not guarantee it either. Pakistan is the only beneficiary of violence in the Valley. It craves equivalence with India — an equivalence that is as much a myth as the myth that Burhan Wani was a freedom fighter.
Till the dynastic families who have ruined Kashmir over the decades, and still refuse to call Burhan a terrorist, control the political narrative in the Valley, Kashmir will burn at Islamabad’s command.
Hillary Clinton famously compared Pakistan-sponsored terrorists with keeping poisonous rattlesnakes in the backyard. It’s only when the source of that poison in Kashmir is removed will the Valley return to its historical plurality.