Response to Intifada: Can GoI overcome its own Predicament?
by Ajay Chrungoo on 25 Aug 2009 1 Comment

Pak response to Intifada
The tactical dimensions of the Intifada in Kashmir valley are coming to the fore sooner than later. Any doubts that the recent public mobilisation drives in Kashmir Valley have been deft manoeuvres to create space for both the Pakistani Government and the separatists in Jammu & Kashmir state in the existing international environment should by put aside, taking due notice of what is emerging from the Pakistani side at unofficial as well as official levels.

The views of high profile former ambassador of Pakistan to USA, Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, which appeared in the press recently, are pertinent in this respect. She very clearly acknowledges a linkage between public protests in Kashmir Valley last year during the Amarnath Land Row and the spate of protest campaigns there after the discovery of female bodies in Shopian. “The year 2008 witnessed the highest number of anti-India protests in Kashmir’s recent history. The catalyst was the controversial government decision to transfer forest land to the trust that administered the Hindu Amarnath Shrine... This was no passing episode as the renewal of protests in 2009 testifies.”

Maleeha Lodhi also alludes to the immediate political objective of the continuing intifada in the Valley: “to understand these questions, it is necessary to place them in the context of what has been happening in Jammu and Kashmir since 2008. This is the year the Indian authorities declared as the most non-violent since 1989, when Kashmir uprising began. The militancy according to Indian officials had been crushed. A relative though surface calm prevailed... The eruption of protests shattered this allusion of normalcy.”

The eloquent Pakistani diplomat further underlines the tactical perspectives as recognised in Pakistan about the intifada in Kashmir by raising the question, “what could happen if the Kashmiri struggle that has increasingly assumed the shape of a non-violent movement fails to achieve its objectives, if its grievances are not addressed; if the stalled Pakistan dialogue is unable to alleviate the demands of the movement? Will this be a game changer?”

The Game Changer

After the Kargil war, the Intifada in Kashmir Valley is being employed as one more game changer. The hope is to break the status quo of Indian position in Jammu and Kashmir. To impart sufficient momentum to this ‘game changer,’ the Pakistani government has come out for the first time to support the proposition of ‘independent Kashmir’.

A day before Maleeha Lodhi’s views appeared in the press, the Pakistani foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit made a statement on August 5: “There, has been no change in our foreign policy. We want an independent Kashmir. We want the Kashmir issue to be resolved in accordance with the wishes of people.” Having given this signal, Pakistan recalibrated its international stand to the previous non-committal posture on the issue of ‘Independence’ to Kashmir. Responding to various questions on Kashmir, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan stated, “Kashmir is still an outstanding issue and Pakistan wants its solution according to UN resolution through plebiscite.”

The to and fro-postures of the Government of Pakistan on the third option (independence) have been aimed at widening the space of Pakistan’s manoeuvrability with separatists, Americans, the entrenched subversive class in India , and facilitate cooperation between pro-Pak and pro-Independence groups operating in Jammu & Kashmir. At more subtle levels, Pakistan is aiming to deepen the ideological wedge between the National Conference and Congress, the parties in alliance and running the government in the state.

The National Conference’s response to Pakistani postures has been on expected lines. It’s MLA from Hazratbal constituency and younger brother Dr. Farooq Abdullah, responded to the Pakistani stance by stating, “Pakistan is now pleading for independent status for Jammu and Kashmir... It is a welcome step”.

Dr. Kamal referred to late Sheikh M. Abdullah’s interview given to London Observer in 1948 in response to the establishment of the UN Commission for India and Pakistan to play the role of mediator on Kashmir issue, and claimed that Sheikh Abdullah had said then, ‘the only viable option would be for Jammu & Kashmir to have a neutral status vis-a-vis both India and Pakistan. However because of ruptured politics within Jammu & Kashmir and given the diverse political, religious and ethnic affiliations within it, the sovereign and autonomous status of the state would need to be acknowledged and guaranteed not just by India and Pakistan, but by the United Nations and the World Powers as well.” During the incarceration of Sheikh as well as after his release right till his death, National Conference maintained that charges of sedition against him were false and fabricated.

Through Dr Kamal’s response, National Conference aims to claim moral vindication for its politics which has vacillated between maximum autonomy and Independence over the years. Through Kamal’s posturing, National Conference also has sought to preserve the space of deniability to ensure minimum strain on its alliance with the Congress party. Dr. Mustafa Kamal did seek an apology from Pakistan for the tribal raid in 1947, but its purpose seems less to embarrass Pakistan and more to placate Indian opinion.

The sudden and open espousal of independence by one of the credible faces of the Sheikh’s family reminds one of the sudden release of the Greater Autonomy report by the National Conference in its previous tenure. That time Kathwari visited India and his plan was the catalyst. This time it is perhaps the realisation of the widening support in the Pakistani establishment for ‘Independence.’ Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman, while supporting independence option, virtually recognised it as the dominant wish of the people of Kashmir.

Both the separatist establishment in Jammu and Kashmir and Govt. of Pakistan are building a core theme which they hope would crystallise enough support from USA, Europe, and more crucially within India, for change of status quo in Jammu and Kashmir. The features of this theme are that the separatist movement in Kashmir is purely an indigenous phenomenon; separatism in Kashmir is a mass movement which graduated into a violent phase in 1989-90 only after the failure of its non-violent phase; the movement has once again rediscovered its non-violent character through the present intifada providing a unique opportunity for peace; the democratic dispensation in the state is only a makeshift arrangement which is incapable of mitigating the injustice of Indian imperialism; separatists and Pakistan are open to all solutions of changing the status quo in Kashmir which includes greater autonomy, self-rule and even Independence; finding a solution as per the wishes of people of Kashmir will create a congenial atmosphere for defeating terrorism in the region and last but not the least, as per Ms Lodhi, ‘tensions between the nuclear neighbours can easily be reignited by turmoil in the Valley. Paralysis in peace making and international apathy only heightens the danger in a volatile region that is poised at a tipping point.’

Indian Predicament

Indian state is facing a serious predicament in its Kashmir policy. This predicament is mostly self-created.  Instead of contesting and exposing the regressive content of various variants of separatism in Kashmir, GoI has over the years concentrated mostly in transforming its violent expressions into non-violent form. GoI has been more ill at ease only with the violence of separatists, rather than their ideology. It conveyed implicitly as well as explicitly that it was violence which was taking separatism towards a regressive manifestation.

GoI never exerted itself to bring to the fore that the violence unleashed in the state was an inevitable consequence of the regressive exclusivist content of separatism. When GoI started describing terrorism as militancy, and terrorists as misguided youth, it has been not merely a cosmetic or tactical ploy, but reflected the outlook which guides its Kashmir policy. This outlook accords respectability to separatist cause.

The attitude of not contesting the ideology of separatism is explained as a deft physiological intervention which seeks to minimise the affront to separatists’ mind with the hope of taming it. Gross distortions of Kashmir’s history are allowed to be carried forward as gospel truths under the cover of this attitude. The separatist think-tank uses this space to project blatant falsehoods like Kashmir being an unfinished agenda of Partition, Article 370 having a treaty status between two sovereign bodies, namely, Constituent Assembly of India and Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which was eroded unilaterally by India , absolving Kashmiris of any obligation to respect accession, Kashmiris had signed only an Instrument of Accession and not Instrument of Merger and that is why Jammu and Kashmir is still not an indivisible part of Union of India, so on and so forth.

Such falsehoods have sustained separatist consciousness. GoI instead of putting facts in correct perspective, has sought to convey that Indian Constitutional organisation was flexible enough to even provide space for autonomies based on religious identity with only the sky as their limit. As the non-violent intifada unfolds in the Valley, GoI is caught on the wrong foot. It has through its own outlook armed separatism with respectability and disarmed itself of legitimate and crucial arguments.

The predicament is not merely how to counter the thrust of a non-violent mass mobilisation. GoI is in fact face to face with a dangerous cocktail of non-violent Intifada and calibrated violent Jihad. Recent events in the state have shown that violence has not abated at all in intensity or sophistication.

In the first week of August, at least 18 militants, five troopers and two civilians were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in militancy related violence. Gun battles lasted for days, forcing even the Army Chief to admit that militants ‘have changed tactics’. With Pakistan seeming to succeed in convincing the world at large that it was distancing from sponsoring terrorism in J&K and other parts of India, it continues to threaten the world that autonomous terrorists regimes may crystallise an event which can lead to a war between India and Pakistan. It stresses a solution to Kashmir problem as an imperative so that the present non-violent phase of separatist upsurge is not allowed to relapse into violence, bedevilling peace in the region.

Indian predicament only deepens the way it has allowed elected democratic dispensations to be undermined by none other than the elected governments themselves. GoI facilitated the People’s Democratic Party’s emergence on a soft secessionist plank. It introduced fierce competitive secessionism between PDP and NC on the ground. When PDP-led government assumed power, its leader described the elected government as merely an interface between Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The impression has been inculcated that elections are merely a makeshift arrangement for day to day requirements.

The ruling National Conference, taking a cue from PDP even before getting elected, described elections not a solution, but only a day-to-day use arrangement. Hundreds of political workers have perished during the democratic mobilisation in the state during the last one decade. When the world started recognising J&K elections as credible, GoI allowed the governments of which it was a partner to undermine their own legitimacy and credibility by describing themselves as mere ‘interfaces’ or temporary arrangements. The entire democratic mobilisation against the blackmail of armed separatism was disowned by allowing ‘Soft Secessionism’ as a guiding principle of Governance.

Democracy in the state has assumed a form which seeks a reach beyond the Constitution of India. It has started ceasing to be an expression of sharing the sovereignty of India on a principal of equality. Instead GoI has allowed democracy in the state to unleash assaults on the very sovereignty of India. We have now a government in the state whose front partner does not hesitate to support ‘Independence’ of the state. Separatism has a partner in the government which otherwise is expected to fight separatism.

Last but not the least, the GoI has allowed segments of our own strategic community and Track-2 diplomats to flirt with ideas of Independence of J&K or fully autonomous J&K. These ideas have been introduced from our side and the rationale provided has been that counterpoising these options would checkmate Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir. With Pakistan giving clear indications of supporting both autonomy and Independence options, GoI appears to have only checkmated its own self.

The indulgence of a section of the Indian State in promoting religious-based identity politics in Jammu & Kashmir, including the options of Greater Autonomy and Independence, has not been always very subtle. It has been many times crude and ugly. 

During the IInd Round Table Conference on Kashmir organised at the behest of Dr. Manmohan Singh in Srinagar, a delegate, then MLA from Bandipora, Sh. Usman Majid, posed the following to the PM, “Sir, you are witnessing the violence and shutdown in the Valley during this conference. Why was the Jamaat Chief Ali Shah Geelani released just a few days before this conference? If he was released why was he allowed to hold a rally near the airport itself? Who advised the government on this account? Do you know, sir, that the flags hoisted there were that of Lashkar-e-Toiba? Do you know, sir, what where the slogans which were raised there - Lashkar Aayee Lashkar aayee - Manmohan Ki Maut aayee, Lashkar-aayee, Lashkar aayee - Azad Ki Maut Aayee.”

His posers forced some of us who were also delegates to the conference to ponder. We asked ourselves - was Geelani released to raise more radical noises outside to make us recognise that by comparison the ‘self-rule’ slogan of PDP and ‘Greater Autonomy’ slogan of NC were moderate options and as such should command our support? Was GoI itself promoting ideas of ‘self-rule’ and ‘greater autonomy’?

During the entire mobilisation for the present intifada in Kashmir, Jamaat and Dukhtaran-e-Millat cadres have been given a free hand last year as well as this year. There are very few persons who know that none other than former Pakistan Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg is on record saying that even Jamaat of Kashmir may support autonomy or independence.

The predicament which Indian state has built in its handling of Kashmir is gradually turning into a self goal for an ignominious defeat.

Dr. Ajay Chrungoo is chairman, Panun Kashmir


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