Cloning Cairo: A New Map for Kashmir?

Cloning Cairo: A New Map for Kashmir?
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, February 14

Everybody seems to now know what Tahrir means. Liberation, they intone. And then starts the search for a mirage – the replication of it in their own territory. The latest to join in the people’s mission is Mehbooba Mufti who heads the main opposition, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in Jammu and Kashmir.

This state had been ruled much like the dynastic fiefdoms that seem to dictate South Asian democracies. But, there have been elections, whatever be the merits of such an exercise in a region that is captive to both terrorism and the armed forces. There is not one despot the people can overthrow. With a few political parties, coalitions and almost 150 militant organisations, indigenous as well as infiltrated, how would liberation be defined?

According to a report in the Times of India, “Drawing parallels between the Cairo protests and last year’s summer unrest in Kashmir, Mehbooba said that while the people in the most populous Arab country were not accused of anything, the leadership in J&K was dubbing protesters drug addicts and Lashkar-e-Taiba agents.”

One does not imagine that Hosni Mubarak’s team did not accuse the protestors; had that been the case there would not have been any bloodshed at all. The protests in J&K were not designed to overthrow any regime but to express disgust towards the political and military establishment. There was no gathering that gained momentum. These were stray acts by helpless youngsters, women and men. That is how it started and then it was only a matter of time before the leaders of political parties as well as terrorist groups would take over and sneak in their cadres to score points. The anger of the protestors was manipulated. If anything, it revealed that not only do the militant outfits lure young blood, it is also the political ethos currently sweeping the Indian nation that is looking for a new generation of unemployed disgruntled youth to act as vassals and carry forward their message. In chaotic situations, it is impossible for unorganised dissent to have any credence on its own steam.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah responded in an expected fashion: “When Mehbooba Mufti asks Kashmiris to replicate Egypt, it looks as if she wants army rule in the state since her party is in the opposition…This shows her mind is focused on grabbing power in the state through unfair means. But, fortunately, the people of the state have understood their (PDP’s) mechanizations and won’t be swayed and take to violence for petty politics.”

Petty politicking is rampant in every state. However, conjecture at such level can be dangerous. The PDP has often allied openly with the major separatist groups in Kashmir. It was even accused of giving the street protestors its party flags. How can such a party then want anything to do with the army?

In the state there are no fair means of grabbing power. The people do not want anyone that is part of the Indian or Pakistani government. Mr. Abdullah forgets that he had derided his own people for violence a while ago, so his magnanimity towards the Kashmiris and their steadfastness against the sweeping tides is merely a hollow echo in the valley.

It is important to remember that there is no possibility of an Egypt clone in Kashmir because while Tahrir Square symbolised the protest at the ground, Kashmir’s Lal Chowk is essentially the hub of demagogues. If there is a gathering there, then the politicians want to be protected from their people; the militants need to be protected from the army and the army from the militants and the people. There are multi-pronged attacks in the state.

In this diversity, which has been reduced to a dialogue between India and Pakistan with barely a nod towards the Kashmiri population, Mehbooba Mufti has added one more claimant: China. Her party has drawn a map that shows Aksai Chin and the Karakoram region as a part of China. She says it is for the convenience of Kashmiris and her party’s ‘vision of Kashmir’. It is easy to dismiss this, and we may be allowed a smirk regarding the ‘convenience’ aspect, for the lay person would not take cognisance of or be interested in such territorial issues.

But what about the reality that China does have those areas, that it is developing a project in what is now Gilgit-Baltistan? The acceptance of what exists would not in ordinary circumstances be cause for alarm. India believes any claim over those territories is illegal but has done nothing about it. Even after Ms. Mufti’s comment, in typical bureaucratic mode Union home minister P Chidambaram told a television channel that if the map was not corrected he would take action.

As a registered party the PDP will probably make the modifications, but there are several maps drawn by separatist groups that the Indian government has no control over. The Hurriyat’s Mirwaiz Umer Farooq had mentioned China as a stakeholder in 2009. He was not permitted to travel to the country because India objected to its stapled visa policy, by which it conveys that it sees Kashmir as a disputed region as a whole. Just as we can accuse China of using this issue – it has not asked or been invited to be part of any dialogue or tripartite talks – the Chinese have a long-standing wrangle over the North East regions of India and are perhaps trying to push that agenda along. Their role in Pakistan goes with their old allegiance. It is no secret that Pakistan has had an easy relationship with China and its nuclear personnel have trained in that country. If one is to believe American analyst Selig Harrison, then Pakistan has given “de facto control” of Gilgit-Baltistan.

These areas have not been under Pakistan’s legal control and the present revolt is a convoluted game that involves the army, the elected parties, the local Pashtuns, the Taliban and the US troops. It is a sort of food chain-like situation. India has expressed fears about all these ‘characters’ in the Pakistani drama except for the NATO troops. There are some sections that indeed believe they act as a safety gear for India. The Chinese troops that are supposedly based in the Northern areas are seen as a threat. The paranoia has some historical relevance given the Chinese penchant for hidden dragon tactics.

The people of Kashmir who do accept the Chinese position are doing so for pragmatic reasons. One such unidentified person in a report a while ago had said, “China is developing a mega hydel project in the Neelum Valley in Muzzafarbad. Tomorrow, if Kashmir were to be independent, China could finance projects here. An independent Kashmir could sustain itself by just selling power to India.”

If we do not want China in the picture, whether in a map or otherwise, then we must address the fact that since Pakistan ceded those territories are those areas included in any of the talks that we have with our neighbour? Mufti’s wanting to connect Srinagar with Karakorum would necessitate passing through legitimate Chinese territory. Is this a civil matter of transportation and connectivity or a diplomatic or a military issue? The point is not whether China can claim such areas but whether we can reclaim them.

Once again, the issue has been reduced to territory. Unlike Egypt, Kashmir has in fact always been in a state of insurgency with portions being amputated at different times in its history. And despots have reigned in varied forms. Kashmir was recently thrust with Centre-appointed interlocutors whose job is “confidence building and dialogue” and to tell the state and the Centre what the people are cribbing about.

The Chief Minister has also decided to pre-censor shooting of Bollywood films in the state. “I will first ask what the film is all about. I won’t let them shoot a film in the Valley which shows that only bombs go off and bullets are fired in Kashmir. There’s hardly anything untold in Kashmir. What’s untold is its positive aspect.”

Cinema did show the positive aspects of snow-capped mountains, red blazing trees and boat rides on the Dal Lake, when that was all that was really good. The situation is different now. On what grounds can he prevent the reality from being portrayed? If that is the case, then why does he issue statements against the army when they kill innocents? Today he is with the Congress party; yesterday he had aligned with the rightwing BJP. The people don’t have the luxury of such see-sawing and separatist organisations choose their narrow lanes.

The state had a recruitment drive for the police force and many showed up. Unemployed people would. There is no reason to gloat because a former special police officer (SPO) who had killed ten rebels during his tenure and whose services were terminated because he lost an eye during an attack was last seen begging in the streets. You may prevent a cinematic version but truth cannot be hidden.

Kashmir does not need to be a Cairo and cannot be. From whom or what will its people get liberated when they are pulled in several directions by a hydra-headed monster called political opportunism?