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Author: David Devadas

J&K: Partition refugees deserve domicile status, but this is not the time to play with fire

It is enough to make one want to scream!

Just five months ago, various sections of the ruling class seemed to be at the end of their tether with regard to Kashmir. Enraged teenagers held large parts of the Valley to ransom for several months. During that time, India’s Parliament humiliated itself by knocking on various leaders doors, only to be rebuffed. The army was called out in Kupwara and right across south Kashmir – although that last resort that was not used even when there was a greater rage on the streets in 2010.

Unrest in Kashmir Valley. ReutersUnrest in Kashmir Valley. Reuters

Unrest in Kashmir Valley. Reuters

There is every reason to believe that the unrest of 2016 has only subsided; it is not over. Anger still simmers. Indeed, many observers within Kashmir not only predict more unrest in 2017 but that it will surface much earlier in the year than it did in 2016.

And yet, various sections of what pass for political leaders have been playing short-term politics of the sort that prioritises expected advantage to one’s party over the national interest or the objective of long-term stable peace.

Even National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah did it in early December. And Mehbooba Mufti’s government did it in July.

The latest is the controversy over granting domicile certificates to those who are called ‘West Pakistan refugees’ in the state. These are the about 100,000 descendants of those who, during the murderous mayhem of the 1947 Partition violence, scrambled across the border from Pakistani Punjab into areas around Jammu.

Many of them are of Dalit background and have little political or economic clout. Ergo, they need positive discrimination from the state more than others.

The ‘West Pakistan refugees’ are distinct from those who fled that horrible year from Mirpur and Muzaffarabad areas on what are now Pakistan-controlled parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Large numbers of them and their descendants too live in Jammu – with all the rights of state subjects.

Several states, including Himachal, deny domicile rights to those who are not, or are not descended from, longtime residents. However, the denial of domicile rights — which basically boils down to access to state educational institutions, state government jobs and ownership of freehold property — to those who have been residents of the state for 70 years is clearly unjustified.

There can be no doubt that, owing to the special circumstances of their migration to the state, and the length of these families’ stay, they deserve the domicile status they were given a few days ago.

However, this is an inappropriate time to grant it. For, that grant has been resisted for decades by Kashmiri Muslims who fear that domicile status could be a first step towards their getting full citizenship of the state. That, they fear, could dilute their own demographic and political domination.

Explosive situation

I have pointed out before that the Kashmiri uprising of 2016 was different to the uprising of 2010 or 2008. One, Pakistan has been in far greater control this year than it was, particularly in 2008. Two, India does not face Pakistan alone on the battlefield that Kashmir has become. It is a Sino-Pak axis now. Three, the challenge may only have begun to emerge. Worse lies ahead than we experienced in 2016.

Of course, the BJP feels pressure to fulfill the poll promise it made to the refugees. Politically, it touches more than the 100,000 persons it directly affects, for the issue strikes a chord among many in the Jammu-Samba-Udhampur-Katra heartland of Hindu identity consciousness. So the BJP would fear an electoral backlash if its promise remains unfulfilled.

And yet, the dangers inherent in implementing this at this point are huge. Intelligence analysts may have advised that the beginning of the peak of an extraordinarily cold winter was the safest time to do it. Energy is low as people across the Valley try and cope with the cold and power outages.

Yet, anger over the issue has gathered steam. Hartals and stone-pelting demonstrations have begun again over the past few days. Independence leaders such as JKLF chief Yasin Malik and Bar Association president Abdul Qayoom have been given a fresh lease of popular support to demonstrate against the domicile status.

Once again, Pulwama has been a hub of unrest. The generally well-informed Ghulam Rasool Pandit had predicted to me that the unrest would revive again in 2017. “Why do you talk about summer?” he asked. “It could begin much sooner.” When I asked him about spring, he smiled laconically and asked why I did not consider January. Pandit is well connected on both sides of the conflict. His son, Naseer, became one of the best-known and popular militants of the area after he left the police to take up the gun. Naseer was killed last spring.

At that time, the police and government had made much of having demolished the insurgency with arrests and ‘kills’ of militants. A couple of months later, they seemed to be at the end of their tether in the face of mass rage.

The move to give West Pakistan Refugees domicile status may be entirely deserved on the face of it, but it stems from a similar sense of misplaced complacency. The nation may have to pay a huge price for such complacency and narrow political calculations.

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 19:07 IST

Christmas 2016: Celebrating birth of an impoverished migrant has a message for today’s world

An evocative line-drawing did the rounds of social media in the days leading up to Christmas. It showed an open stable with a bright star over it, fir trees on either side, and only a cow, a sheep and a donkey around an empty manger inside the stable.

A comic depicting the nativity scene. Image Courtesy: Joanna Wieruszewska, Marek Wieruszewski

A comic depicting the nativity scene. Image Courtesy: Joanna Wieruszewska, Marek Wieruszewski

The caption was thought-provoking: “A nativity scene without Jews,  Arabs,  Africans or refugees.”

Scenes commemorating the nativity (birth) of Jesus normally show an infant in the manger, surrounding by Mary, Joseph, shepherds and three ‘wise men from the East,’ — who are often depicted as Africans but could very well have been from India.

Amid the bright lights, presents, parties and decoration-festooned shopping splurges, it is easy to forget that Jesus’ parents were impoverished travellers who had been given shelter in a cattle shed, where he was born.

He remained poor through his life. Yet, without influence, social standing or political ambition, he resisted the rich and powerful. One of his most striking teachings is that it is tougher for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

That is reminiscent of the Prophet Mohammed’s claim that ‘poverty is my pride.’ It also brings to mind Guru Nanak’s mendicant ways, Buddha’s insistence on begging, and the Jain emphasis on abnegation. The birth legends of Jesus and Krishna have some parallels too: both were predicted to be dangerous for tyrannous regimes.

Indeed, Jesus met a gruesome death, by crucifixion, partly owing to his trenchant criticism of the established clergy of his time. Accusing them of having turned the temple into a den of thieves and gamblers, he broke up a normal day’s gathering of the movers and shakers of his time in Jerusalem’s grand temple. He taught inclusivity, and privileged the poor and socially marginal.

Modern concerns

Amid the pomp and pageantry of religious practice, it is easy to forget the nature, values and attitudes of the man whose birth Christmas celebrates. But it is worth focusing on what Jesus actually represented, especially at a time when impoverishment, xenophobia, racism and refusal to give refuge, have become very potent issues — as that recent sketch on social media highlighted.

The issue of poverty came into prominence in the middle of the 20th century too, when the Western Church faced a lot of soul-searching.

The World Council of Churches, established by several leading Protestant and Orthodox Churches in 1948, pressed for social responsibility, environmental conservation and fraternal relations not only between different Church traditions but also different faiths. They grappled with apartheid, hunger, gender discrimination, and human rights in Latin America and elsewhere. ‘Justice,
Peace and the Integrity of Creation’ became the Council’s watchword around the 1970s and 1980s.

For the Roman Catholic Church too, the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were a period of wrenching turbulence. Given its size and influence, that was of huge historical import. After Pope John XXIII called for a rethink of the Church’s modern agenda, a pro-poor, culturally ‘indigenised’, inclusive vision emerged.

Difficult journey

By the time the Vatican Council ended in 1965, a new pope was in office. Uneasy about rocking the boat, he sought to ease in changes moderately. But the election of the little known John Paul as his successor in 1978 jolted the establishment. This short-lived pope resisted traditional royal pageantry at his installation, and made it clear he wanted to clean out the system in the Vatican.

John Paul did not last. And, under Pope John Paul II and his lieutenant, Cardinal Ratzinger (who succeeded him as Pope Benedict XVI), the liberal, inclusive, gender-sensitive and pro-poor vision that the Vatican Council had set out were put aside.

Many observers thought that those two popes had erased the liberal legacy of the Vatican Council through their appointments of cardinals and bishops in the 35 years from 1978 to 2013. Indeed, among the electors in even 2005, only one cardinal other than Ratzinger had been appointed before 1978.

And yet, the spirit of the Vatican Council remained alive. It is clearly visible in Pope Francis — almost as if John Paul were back.

Like John Paul, Pope Francis has faced resistance to his efforts to change the ethos of the prelates who run the Church. For the third year running, he has complained about this publicly during his Christmas speech to Vatican prelates. Christmas is “the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order,” he told them on 22 December.

Indeed, a leaf out of Jesus’s life can upset those who thrive on fear and prejudice — those who are becoming today’s ‘established order.’

First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 08:46 IST

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat is next Army chief: Govt has superseded two of the best senior officers

Many senior army officers will not only be surprised but also deeply dismayed at the government’s decision to supersede the Indian Army’s two most senior officers while appointing Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of Army Staff. For, not only has seniority been given the go-by, the two officers who command almost unparalleled professional respect have been humiliated.

Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Command, was widely expected to take over as the next chief. Many in the Army looked forward to that eagerly. Not only was he the senior most, he is respected as an exceptional officer.

The officer next in line, Lt Gen PM Hariz, is equally respected as an outstanding professional of rare calibre. He has also been superseded.

army-chief

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat with be the next Chief of Army Staff. News18

General Bakshi had been the Chief of Staff of the Northern Command at Udhampur before he took over as Army Commander in the East. He has had hands-on experience of the current situations on the major fronts on which India faces threats from both Pakistan and China. He was perfectly trained, prepared and suited for the top job.

Some senior army officers have even compared generals Bakshi and Hariz — and Lt Gen BS Hooda, who retired at the end of last month as Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command — with the exceptional General BC Joshi, who was chief in 1993-94. Some rate Joshi as the best Chief of Army Staff India has had since Field Marshal Manekshaw retired in January 1973.

“It is very rare to have three such extraordinary officers near the top of the pyramid at the same time,” another very senior officer had remarked earlier this year. Now, the country faces the prospect of losing all three officers. For, it is possible that Generals Bakshi and Hariz may resign rather than serve under their junior.

The worst part of this denouement is that it comes at a time when the country faces a huge security challenge from the Sino-Pak axis. It would be a grave error to think the challenge in Jammu and Kashmir is a thing of the past. Militant attacks keep occurring (three soldiers were killed in one of two attacks reported on Saturday). There has been a lot of infiltration over the past couple of years, and unrest in such disturbed districts as Pulwama continues.

To lose three extraordinarily fine top officers at such a juncture is a compromise on national security. More importantly, this could have an adverse effect on morale down the line — particularly in the higher echelons of a force that has been through a lot of hard knocks in the past few months. Both superseded officers are hero-worshipped by many senior officers.

The fact that Lt Gen Hariz is a Muslim is irrelevant in the Armed Forces, which are more inclusive than perhaps any other major national institution. However, given the doubts that hang over the current government’s commitment to the country’s secular ideal, both domestically and internationally, his supersession gives a negative signal.

The greater irony is that this move has come from a government run by a political formation that strongly criticised Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for years after she superseded Lt Gen SK Sinha in 1983. Until now, that was the only time in the life of the republic that the senior most officer in the army was superseded in the appointment of a new chief of army staff.

This sort of thing is far more common in Pakistan, where the army is much more political than the Indian Army has so far been. If supersessions become the accepted and expected norm, officers would tend to invest in relationships with political parties and build other sorts of political alignments in the course of their careers, hoping for rewards.

That would not be good for the army.

It would be even worse for the country.

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 08:35 IST

In agitated Newa, Lashkar militants feel quite at home, impose diktat on shopkeepers

The large black crosses look like multiplication signs with squiggles at the top left corner. The edges are uneven, a bit of paint dripping at places, but the strokes are broad and bold, a couple of feet long.

Such signs have been painted on the shutters of some of the shops in the main market at Newa. Newa is a market hamlet on the highway from Srinagar to Pulwama. It is within Pulwama district in south Kashmir. Pulwama is arguably the district worst affected by unrest over the past five months, and within the district, Newa is a nerve centre of agitation.

Not just agitation, Newa is also a centre of Lashkar-e-Taiba militants. Yes, those black crosses on shop shutters are warnings — warnings that those shops have been marked by Lashkar-e-Taiba activists for defying the hartals ordered through the ‘protest calendars’ issued in the name of the joint Hurriyat groups.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Many well-informed Kashmiris, including some Hurriyat leaders, acknowledge that control over the situation in Kashmir has been harnessed by Pakistan, that the broad guidelines come from there for how and when protests and various degrees of violence are to be organised.

In Newa, Pakistan does not need remote control mechanisms. Lashkar, the most aggressively anti-India war group based in Pakistan is right there.

A local asks me quite nonchalantly whether I would like to meet Abu Dujana, as if it were the most natural thing. Since Dujana is Lashkar’s militant head in Kashmir, the suggestion startles me.

I look around to take in how well that surreal suggestion fits with the physical and social landscape. I have just emerged onto a rock-and-mud surface that suffices for a road. We have turned sharply right towards a makeshift bridge that has remained makeshift two years after a flood destroyed the bridge. There’s been no proper reconstruction yet.

I have just had a series of chats with locals in Gudoora village, not far from Newa. Much of the angst expressed in those conversations revolved around forces’ discourtesy — things like their entering houses with shoes on, breaking doors late at night, and disrespecting women’s privacy. These essentially cultural issues plug into receptivity to foreign militants.
So apparently, even a militant head as major as Dujana flits around places such as these, quite at home. Those who want to can get to him.

Continuing instability

For all the recent talk of restored normalcy, Pulwama is one of those Kashmir districts that remains unsettled. Not only was it one of the three most disturbed Valley districts (along with Kulgam and Kupwara) in summer and autumn, it not only still simmers, it is home to militiants. Several are of Hizb-ul Mujahideen, but Lashkar too is embedded in some pockets of the district such as Newa.

There’s more surreality in how the power of the state is exercised. A police officer at the Pulwama police station airily explains the relative lack of protests in places like Tral, compared with Pulwama, saying that “that’s because there are militants there. They don’t attract attention where there are militants”. Visits to places like Gudoora indicate that there are plenty of militants in Pulwama too. So that sort of talk from police officers is either calculated to mislead, or that such officers live in la-la-land.

In places like Newa (which apparently falls under the jurisdiction of the Pulwama police station), people even talk of posters urging shopkeepers to follow ‘protest calendars’, and announcing that Lashkar will deal with those who continue to flout it.

Even that police officer says later in our conversation that a hundred or so local militants are probably active now, 10 or 12 of them in Pulwama. His estimate is that there must be double that number of foreign militants, since, he points out, the ratio of locals to foreigners in encounters with the forces is often 1:2.

His theory is that, for the moment, the HM (often local) boys have been instructed to sustain themselves and survive, rather than get exposed, while Lashkar operatives engage in battle as and when.

That Lashkar not only engages in operations but seeks to impose its will on shopkeepers and others in places like Newa indicates that hard-core militants are entrenching themselves. The future looks as bleak as the wintry landscape of bare poplar clusters standing in a grey-brown haze in sub-zero day temperatures.

First Published On : Dec 11, 2016 13:12 IST

Kashmir unrest: Stone pelting may have stopped for now, but youths still agitated

The 12-year-old who looked angelic last spring has become an obstreperous teenager this winter. He still sits at the back of the room, but is confidently full of beans, not shy or red-faced. He speaks glibly, jokingly, not breathless with the effort of talking — the way he was in spring.

The room has changed too. In spring, I met a large group, including many of the same students, in a classroom in their school. Now, they squat on rugs in the home of one of their senior teachers, so that they might prepare for, and take, exams. The private school premises have been shut since July, but the teachers (backed by parents) insist on exams even though the state government has granted mass promotions.

The students, mainly teenagers, are in pherans — black-on-fawn checks seem to be in fashion. A few of them are in bright, thick anoraks. Last spring, they were neatly turned out in bright uniforms, and sat in orderly rows at desks.

File photo of Kashmiri youths. PTI

File photo of Kashmiri youths. PTI

The look is not the only thing that has changed. The youngsters’ mood seems generally more relaxed than it was last spring. Girls in particular appear less angry than they were back then. Perhaps the angst of that season has been eased by stone-pelting, barricading and other protests through the summer and autumn.

A couple of them mimic Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s talk of ‘kaasmeer.’ Another complains that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was travelling while people were being killed in Kashmir. Yet another says he requests Modi to check the breaking of white goods such as fridges during forces’ operations within homes. They do not specifically disparage democracy, as some of them did last spring.

One points out that there is no Kashmiri in the Indian cricket team, citing it as proof of discrimination. Another student says Kashmir is a piece of Pakistan in India. Others respond that they want to be independent from both countries.

Beef and Hindutva figures such as (believe it or not) Baba Ramdev, Kashmiris having to show identity cards to ‘outsiders,’ … — the teenagers’ reasons for wanting ‘azadi’ have not changed much,  but the means have, their expressions are relaxed than last spring – when the same students were taut with tension.

There are angry complaints about sisters and mothers being vulnerable during searches and when forces swoop in to take ‘pelters’ into custody. Some talk of being treated like ‘animals’ at the police station. That turns out to be a complaint about the level of chillies in the food given to detainees. Indeed, one who forgets the value of courtesies, hospitality, and ‘izzat’ in Kashmir is doomed.

They specifically mention that Irfan, who lived down the road, was killed in the second week of July, rather than all the other scores of teenagers who were killed in forces’ action this year. That gives a glimpse of the great impact the killing of even one locally known youth makes in Kashmir.

One teenager seems more angry than the rest. He seems staunchly anti-India. It turns out that he suffered assault and humiliation when he was locked up by the police for ‘pelting.’ Another boy has visible signs of injury on his face, but he refuses to say anything despite repeated requests from me and his schoolmates sitting around him. They prod him physically, and I approach so that he need not be heard by the entire room, but he looks diffidently down, silent.

Since he seems bashful amid all the attention, I do not even ask if I may photograph his injuries. He, like the rest of this room full of teenagers, and the area, have been through a lot already this year. And they will, one fears, go through worse yet.

First Published On : Dec 10, 2016 12:32 IST

Kashmir’s victims: His sight and zest extinguished, Shaukeen plods on, ignored and forgotten

Pulwama: His pet name is Shaukeen, which means zestful. At present, the name is a heartbreaking irony. For he is listless, alive but barely so.

I am not sure how bad his condition is when he first walks into the room unassisted, walking tall with quiet dignity. His hair is neatly combed and he is tidily turned out in a long pheran. His face is expressionless, partly because of his thick black shades.

Shaukeen. Image courtesy David DevadasShaukeen. Image courtesy David Devadas

Shaukeen. Image courtesy David Devadas

For a moment, I am not sure how much he can see. For he walks through the door and to a corner of the room, where he sits down unassisted. His walk is slightly slower than it might normally be for a 25-year-old, but it is purposeful.

Shaukeen, whose actual name is Imtiaz Ahmed Sheikh, was a driver until he lost sight in both his eyes on 30 June this year. That was a week before the Valley erupted in turmoil.

Shaukeen had just returned from Jammu and was carrying his clothes into the small, barely furnished house. A public protest was taking place on the street just then, since two militants had been killed in an encounter.
In response to the protests, the police and CRPF fired pellets. Shaukeen was hit and lost his sight.

There were no pellet injuries on his lower body, says the man for whom Shaukeen’s younger brother works — the man who plays host for my visit. For, he has taken over the expenses of the household. Shaukeen, he points out, was the sole breadwinner.

My brief encounter with Shaukeen leaves me sadder than any experience in 28 years of covering Kashmir as a journalist. Perhaps it is his silence, his calm fortitude, his withdrawn lifelessness.

A friend later tells me that Shaukeen has lost the will to live. He is not married and, being the eldest in his family, probably feels the weight of responsibility.

Five-and-a-half months after he was blinded, there has been no assistance or compensation from any side. The world has moved on, his half-existence ignored and forgotten.

Passer-by victims

The saddest part of Shaukeen’s story is that, like many of those who have been killed or blinded in Kashmir, this year and in 2010, he was a bystander in the cycle of action and reaction, fury and repression, stones and bullets. Indeed, like so many other victims, he may have been hit precisely because he was a bystander.

Pulwama-based educationist Tariq Ahmed Wani theorises that the forces avoid firing into the thick of a protesting mob, for that could result in several deaths. So, they target someone on the sidelines – who might not be involved at all. According to Wani’s theory, the mayhem that results from that hit leads to a shift in focus, even dispersal.

A couple of days ago, the government put out another explanation, talking about ‘a stray bullet’ as the cause of a young man’s death in Anantnag. Perhaps the two versions overlap to some extent.

Certainly, a large number of victims in Kashmir are said to have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Down the road from Shaukeen’s little house, I visit another small, barely furnished house, also along the highway from Srinagar to Pulwama. The owner runs a traditional baker’s shop half a kilometre away.

His 15-year-old smart and talented son, Irfan Malik, had gone with him to the bakery at dawn on Sunday, 10 July. Around 8 am, the boy decided to return home. He carried a bag of bread with him for the rest of the family.

A large convoy of the CRPF came down that road just then, for fresh forces were being deployed after the mayhem the previous day – a day after militant commander Burhan Wani was killed on the evening of 8 July.

A mob of boys pelted the convoy with stones. The convoy stopped. The CRPF and accompanying policemen got down to beat back the protesters. According to his father and some neighbours, Irfan was walking home down a side path off the highway when he was hit by a bullet.

Versions of what happened often differ in Kashmir. This much seems clear, though: those who get killed in forces’ action are invariably economically poorly off, like both Shaukeen and Irfan. And it is often a single person on the sidelines of a mob who gets killed – or, like Shaukeen, blinded.

To most of us, both are victims. But one of his neighbours says that, to Shaukeen, those who die on the spot are actually better off than he.

First Published On : Dec 9, 2016 15:13 IST

Farooq Abdullah’s pro-Hurriyat line shows once again that dividing lines in Kashmir are only on paper

Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s public endorsement of the Hurriyat Conference is one more indication of the fact that there is no real dividing line between the so-called ‘mainstream’ and so-called ‘secessionist’ politics.

I was sitting with a couple of ranking Hurriyat Conference leaders the evening after Abdullah’s statement. One of them remarked with a cynical smile that Abdullah was preparing the ground to contest a Lok Sabha by-election in spring. By-polls are due for the Srinagar and Anantnag seats – the latter vacated by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Both the major mainstream parties have at various times played with people’s emotions. Not only do they destabilise each other’s governments by funding `pelters,’ they promote secessionist sentiment through the education system, bureaucrats, police, media, and various institutions when they are in government.

If indeed Dr Abdullah has an eye on the by-elections, it would not be the first time this sort of thing has occurred. During the 1977 elections, 29 months after the Indira-Sheikh `accord,’ both Mirza Afzal Beg for the National Conference and Mirwaiz Farooq for the Janata Party obliquely or directly promoted secession and Islamist sentiment in their respective campaigns.

After the Centre pulled the rug under his feet in 1984, showing contempt for his House majority, Abdullah and his party learnt a hard lesson: he would keep on the right side of whoever was in power at the Centre. Since the Centre has given him and his party short shrift of late, he seems to have opted for populism in the run-up to the by-elections.

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Reuters

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Reuters

A veteran of Kashmir’s backroom politics observed that, if the Congress and the National Conference pooled forces, the Congress could win the Anantnag seat, and Abdullah the Srinagar seat. In fact, Abdullah could win even without pooling forces.

Despite this week’s googly, Abdullah should be complemented for having avoided such populism since his father’s death in 1982 brought him to the forefront. The PDP, on the other hand, has walked a delicate tightrope ever since it was formed in 1999 – beginning from its choice of a green flag and the same election symbol which the secessionist Muslim United Front had adopted in 1987.

The Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami has covertly backed the currently ruling PDP in the 2002, 2008, and 2014 elections. As politics in other places have shown, such alliances can prove costly. A case in point: activists of the Jamaat have been at the forefront of organising this year’s uprising.

To a large extent, the constituent units collectively known as `Hurriyat’ are only the front for a vast and variegated range of forces and interests. This year, the buttons of remote control have been operated from Pakistan.

The poor end up dead

The tragedy is that the children of the poor get killed in the sordid blood games of those with interests in that vast array of forces, which benefit from unrest and instability. The children of those within those interest groups never come to harm. Their studies – often abroad or at least in different parts of the country – have generally not been affected this summer.

A few hours after Dr Abdullah’s statement on Monday, I sat with some of this year’s leading `stone-pelters’ in Pulwama. They were intent on `azadi’ (which one of them described as the removal of armed forces), but agreed that it is always the poor that end up dead in Kashmir’s repeated unrests.

They had little idea of the ideology, programme or borders of an independent Kashmir – much like the various so-called `Hurriyat’ `leaders’. When I asked about Ladakh, saying the people there want a closer relationship with India, they decided after a four second discussion to grant Ladakh what the people there want.

Their emotions are ever-so-often pushed to fever pitch by the speeches and positions taken by a range of `leaders’ who want power but have no vision – or commitment to any position, or political agenda.

The boys agreed that stone-pelting has become something of an obsessive game for their generation. They even said that they had attended practice sessions at Srinagar’s Idgah, under the gaze of security men, where organisers had taught them that over-arm lobs did not leave the elbow aching the way straight throws did.

They said that, when they were children in the previous decade (they were all born between 1994 and 1998), they used to play with army men, and share their food. It was during the agitations of 2008 that they learnt a different narrative, and began to hate the army, and India.

Since 2008, a carefully orchestrated `narrative’ about `occupation,’ `colonization’ and repression, peppered with talk of `mass graves,’ `mass rapes’ and so on, has shaped a new generation’s sentiments, a new movement, and a new militancy. Universities, literary festivals and the media have been vehicles for this.

Those two Hurriyat men with whom I sat the next evening in Srinagar spoke of their despair at the extent to which this generation, mainly teenagers, are influenced by radical ideas about Islamism. Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Omar had expressed similar views more than a year ago (please hyperlink my interview-based article of last November). The powers that be still apparently thought the situation was `under control’ at that time – as perhaps they have convinced themselves once more.

The fact is that, in the cesspool of Kashmir’s politics, so-called `secessionist’ leaders sometimes shows more maturity and responsibility than so-called `mainstream’ ones. All too often, much depends on who has been fed how much, and the stakes they see for gaining power or money.

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 18:39 IST

Jammu and Kashmir: A university funded by religious faith is a centre of inclusive liberality

Inside the large hall, two young men in jeans and a young woman in leotards take turns at the drum set. One of them is trying it for the first time. Another student toys with the synthesizer, while another two jam on electric guitars, one of them a bass. A large mixer stands on a table in the middle of the room, wired for sound.

Another student squats in a cozy corner just outside the music hall, to practice the tabla. He is obviously talented, and the pleasure on his face as he practises a fast rhythm is sublime.
This is the music society of the Sri Mata Vaishno Devi University (SMVDU), on the second floor of one of the academic buildings, on a normal late-semester evening. The University sprawls on what used to be rocky bushland between the highway and the little town of Katra. It is a 40-minute drive from Jammu on the national highway to the Kashmir Valley.

SMVDU campus. Image courtesy: http://www.smvdu.ac.in/

SMVDU campus. Image courtesy: http://www.smvdu.ac.in/

In the cool dark of the campus, a brilliantly lit basketball court looks like a scene from a Hollywood movie, as students practise in shorts and vests.

In just over a decade since it was established, this university has matured into a metaphor for the rounded development of young people. It is the only place in north India with a state-of-the-art biotechnology lab. And it has an outstanding architecture college, the only one in Jammu and Kashmir. Plus, of course, it buzzes with extracurricular activities.

At the University guest house, one bumps into extraordinary academics. Kisor Chakrabarti, for instance, was professor of philosophy at Princeton, Duke and Berkeley before he retired as the vice-president for academics of a college in the US — though he insists on being introduced as a former Calcutta University lecturer.

Chakrabarti enjoys being at the SMVDU enough to have returned to the University a third time — to deliver a series of lectures to the philosophy faculty and PhD candidates. “I am most impressed by the high quality of courses offered at this University, the attention and care which the faculty continually provides to their students, and the stunningly beautiful campus,” he says, measuring his words carefully.

Hub of inclusivity

But perhaps far more important than all these is a less obviously noticeable aspect of this institution: It is a harmonious island of not only high achievement, but also of inclusiveness, in a generally troubled and divided state.

The state’s education minister Naeem Akhtar pointed out at a function at the University’s Matrika Auditorium on Wednesday evening that the institution, entirely funded by contributions by devout Hindus (at the Vaishno Devi shrine nearby), has opened its doors wide to students of every kind.

Indeed, one noticed during a visit to the University during Ramzan a few years ago that special arrangements had quietly been made in a hostel kitchen to provide Sehri and Iftar (pre-dawn and post-sunset) meals to Muslim students who wanted to keep the annual month-long fast. There was no propaganda projection of these arrangements; it was simply what the University did for students it considered its own. The University’s dynamic Vice-chancellor, Sanjeev Jain, says matter-of-factly: “We never differentiate on caste, creed and all that.”

Tabligh preaching was the fashion in those days. So some students from the Kashmir Valley kept long beards, short pyjamas and skull caps. One of them noticeably averted his face when he passed a woman. Another sat with their girl friends of different backgrounds in the coffee shops and canteens. Neither seemed to attract a reaction.

Not only do students from various backgrounds seem to be readily included in the University’s life, several students and teachers go out of their way to make them feel at home. “Students tend to avoid loose talk (everyday abusive punctuation) among themselves when Kashmiris are around. They are aware that these come from a more refined culture,” says Dr Varun Kumar Tripathi, who supervises cultural programmes as chair of the University’s cultural council.

“Teachers are also careful,” he adds. “They make an effort to ensure that a Kashmiri student has no problems.”

This University has worked hard from the time it was established to nurture an inclusive culture. One reason it may have succeeded better than others is that it has remained select: It only has about 1,600 students. On the other hand, its infrastructure was liberally funded by the Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, which draws more pilgrims than any other shrine in north India and so has vast funds.

So efficiently did the second vice-chancellor (Prof NK Bansal, formerly of IIT Delhi) build it up that it draws students from across north India and a few from south India too. Indeed, the inclusivity of the place can also be seen in the hostel menus — idlis for breakfast on certain days, for instance.

Naeem Akhtar pointed out in his speech that the University has a central locational advantage to play an inclusive role in a state that is more diverse in culture, languages and ethnicities than any other.

Akhtar drew applause when he said that people of different backgrounds have to live together in this country. We must therefore remove the thorn of distrust deep in our hearts regarding persons from identity groups different to our own.

If a University is meant to draw universal knowledge to open a world of opportunities to its students and the society it serves, this beleaguered state surely needs top-drawer universities. SMVDU seems to be climbing fast and sure on the steep path to the ‘highest international levels of excellence’ which its mission statement charted.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 10:27 IST

Nagrota attack: Let’s make mobile commando units the arrowhead of army ops

The suicide attacks at Nagrota and at Samba on Tuesday morning highlighted the urgency of reorienting war tactics radically.

The key first response to such attacks is what the army calls a QRT (quick response team). Within minutes (zero minutes, ideally) after such a surprise attack gets going, the nearest QRT is meant to spring into action and take on the attackers in combat. That’s how it has worked in several of the attacks over recent months.

A QRT responded on Tuesday morning, just as another one had at the Uri brigade headquarters on 18 September, and during the attack on an army convoy on the highway at Baramulla on 17 August.

The way warfare is developing, war planners must examine how QRTs can become more central to the army’s range of tactical options.

Army personnel take position during encounter after militants attacked an Army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

Army personnel take position during encounter after militants attacked an Army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

The reason for this proposition is that suicide attacks and other forms of surprise attacks have emerged as the chief method of offence over the past quarter of a century, and seem likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. As in the past, shelling at the Line of Control and the border continues to be another major tactic in what passes for peace time. We ought, however, to come to terms with the fact that this is not peace. Undeclared war by other means (call it proxy war if you like) has become more or less the norm. It was in play in — or over — Kashmir from 1989 to 2005 and has returned with intensity over the past couple of years.

To be sure, it has been intertwined with an indigenous freedom struggle each time, but the Pakistani Army has taken on the Indian Army and the Indian State in tandem with that indigenous struggle. One might even say it has done so under the cover of the indigenous struggle — a point that a group of Kashmiri journalists made volubly to Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India not long ago.

It is the need to refine army tactics for that proxy war, rather than for the indigenous struggle, that the long series of recent attacks have brought into focus.

Most modern armies have evolved from the armies of Europe and West Asia, which were conceptualised around infantry and cavalry. Horse cavalry gave way to tanks exactly a century ago.
The nature of war underwent another sea-change after the Second World War. Nuclear weapons brought deterrence into play. However, armies have remained organised in the same ways, based on the same concepts about how wars are fought.

That changed radically in the battlefields of Afghanistan during the 1980s. Rag-tag forces with non-standard equipment but extraordinary mobility took on a superpower army, and forced it to withdraw.

No doubt the orientations of surrounding populations played a key role — vast support for those rag-tag groups, and antagonism towards the superpower.

Then came another phase of war — symbolised by the aeroplane attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre on 11 September, 2001. Surprise of every sort was the hallmark of this phase of neo-warfare. Surprise attacks can take various forms. And there has been no dearth of surprise tactics in Kashmir — from the emergence of suicide strikes to the coordination of public demonstrations and militant attacks.

The army has responded in many ways. It spawned the Rashtriya Rifles for internal security operations, for example. However, in many ways, RR has become little more than a variation of army units. The idea of the QRT needs to evolve now. Small, highly alert, extremely mobile, units should, ideally, be able to take on militant groups even before the latter get to their targets. Small units, tiny in terms of the strengths to which armies have got accustomed, should be able to operate relatively independently — the way contemporary attackers do.

Like them, these units would need to be trained for commando operations and survival so that they could operate without the sort of logistical and other sorts of vast support systems that armies are used to.

Of course, such units would need to be backed by far more sophisticated intelligence inputs than now seem to be available.

Given the inertia that sets into any established way of functioning, it will be very difficult to conceptualise — leave alone operationalise — refined tactics of the sort that the situation requires.

It is time the various flatulent security think-tanks put what minds they have to work on this challenge.

So far, they have done precious little to help the nation face these cutting-edge challenges.

First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 09:44 IST

Nagrota attack: Strike near 16 Corps HQ shows proxy war is only just starting

The proxy war attack close to the Indian Army’s 16 Corps headquarters in the Jammu region has several lessons for us. The most obvious of these is that a lot more violence lies ahead.

Just the other day, a top officer rued the fact that the Centre still does not seem to realise the seriousness of the challenge in Jammu and Kashmir. We are already in the middle of another proxy war. The ‘surgical strikes’ did absolutely nothing to halt Pakistan’s unfolding war plans. There have been major attacks in Baramulla, Srinagar and now at Samba (again) and Nagrota (where the Corps is headquartered). Like those other attacks, this one has gone on far longer than it would have in the very worst phase (1999 to 2001) of the earlier proxy war. Three army men had been killed at Nagrota in the first five hours of the attack on Tuesday.

Army personnel take position during the encounter after militants attacked an army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

Army personnel take position during the encounter after militants attacked an army camp in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday morning. PTI

Such attacks will not only continue, they will get much worse — probably next summer, when we can depend on one trigger or another to cause public demonstrations in tandem with the attacks. It is a multi-pronged war, with fronts at the Line of Control and at any point where militants decide to strike.

And these attackers typically have far more sophisticated military training than most of the militants who operated in Kashmir in the early and mid-1990s.

Another thing that has become clear over the past couple of years is that this proxy war is being engaged across the Kashmir and the Jammu regions, and neighbouring districts of Punjab such as Gurdaspur and Pathankot too.

For a while a couple of years ago, Pakistan had tried hard to stoke the fires of the Khalistan movement afresh. That did not catch, but this has not deflected Pakistan from its war effort in the north.

Indeed, a very senior member of the Jammu and Kashmir government expressed what is unfolding in dire terms. Pakistan wants to turn Kashmir into ‘another Afghanistan’, he said — referring to the violence and chaos that has become commonplace in various parts of that country over the past three decades.

In this context, those who crow over the ‘return of normalcy’ in Kashmir are shameless propagandists trying to conjure a fool’s paradise.

Taking a cruise or other vacation to celebrate ‘peace’ not only highlights how little has been learnt over the years about how things unfold in Kashmir, we are witnessing deep cynicism. For, those who allowed the situation to deteriorate when it could have been controlled in the second half of July ought to be working in overdrive now to sort things out at the ground level, when they have a (probably brief) window of opportunity.

One of the factors that those who claim peace have pointed out is the change in guard in the Pakistan Army. They say it is a positive sign, having seized on a remark of the new army chief, General Javed Ashraf Bajwa, that extremism is a more serious threat to Pakistan than any threat from India.

The fact is that he is only stating the obvious.

It does not mean he intends to suspend militant operations in Kashmir. A senior Indian Army officer pointed out that the apparently less aggressive mien of Pakistan’s new army chief did not mean that the basic anti-India institutional disposition of the Pakistan Army has changed.

Analysts will get nowhere unless they focus on the fact that we are already in the middle of a  proxy war. We have been for some time now. Indeed, things have been gradually unfolding towards the strategic challenge for the past eight years.

With apologies to propagandists of various hues, one must acknowledge the unfortunate fact that the near future seems very bleak.

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 12:57 IST

Kashmir conflict: Let’s wean back local militants, says Northern Army commander-in-chief

The outgoing commander-in-chief of the Jammu and Kashmir-based Northern Command, Lieutenant-General DS Hooda, has emphasised the need to improve processes for drawing back into society Kashmiris who had taken to arms.

“Can we do something to get the boys back? That is the concern,” he says, highlighting an aspect of counterinsurgency that most tough-talking militaristic minds tend to neglect, while focussing instead on ‘kills’ and ‘catches’. Hooda, who retires at the end of the month, is keenly aware of the importance of this concern. He and the officers and men under his command have had their hands full as a new militancy has rapidly gained ground over the past year-and-a-half, and large-scale protests and unrest have kept the Kashmir Valley on the boil through the summer and autumn.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Those with a less nuanced perspective might have expected him to talk of the need for battle preparations, fortifications and reinforcements. But it is a measure of how much the army brass has evolved since the ‘proxy-war’-oriented phase of the second half of the 1990s that Hooda emphasises the need to win back those Kashmiris who have at some point taken up arms.

To be sure, he has quietly gone about the core tasks of the army too; extraordinary steps have been taken since mid-September in terms of war preparedness. But Hooda has not lost sight of other priorities in what must be a multi-pronged strategy.

Local sentiment is one of the most important priorities. Each death of a local boy can have a multiplying effect. “The more (a) local is killed, (the more) you will have a reaction,” as Hooda says. For more than a year now, the funerals of young militants killed in action have been highly emotional events, drawing large crowds — and inspiring fresh teenagers to become militants.

These young recruits are sometimes jolted by the less-romantic reality they confront when they leave their homes. So surrender must be made easier — and the rehabilitation of former militants into society made smooth.

The rules only allow militants to surrender at four specified points — two trade and crossing points on the Line of Control, the Wagah border, and Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. Hooda points out that each of those points is hazardous for those who might want to surrender. For, Pakistani officials keep a hawk-eye on those who want to cross at Wagah and the specified trade and transit points. In fact, it takes several weeks to get through the red tape of permissions that are required to use those crossing points.

The result is that many of those who actually want to surrender try and get to Nepal and then cross the border into India — or find their way surreptitiously across the Line of Control or border. But using either of those methods puts them on the wrong side of the rules. Since they cannot technically surrender thus, they can be treated as terrorists, and of course the laws for that category are daunting.

The trouble for an army commander such as Hooda is that this causes many of those who may changed their minds after getting to Pakistan to remain in the ranks of militants. And, any smart strategist knows that, even if a local militant is often less lethal than a foreigner, a local draws in the wider support of the community — and that can be a far greater challenge in a situation like Kashmir.

The general also refers critically to the post-surrender dimension of policy. “There is no rehabilitation dimension, as far as the surrender policy is concerned.”

Indeed, the message that goes out from those who have surrendered in the past is that it leads to a life of social, economic and political marginalisation, shame and harassment. In many cases, special cells of the local police demand that a surrendered militant report to them regularly, and then force them to do what those cells require.

If militants felt assured that they would be protected by law-enforcers, and be able to fruitfully resume their places as respectable members of society, it might attract more militants to surrender.

For, there are many who realie that the life of a militant is not actually as wonderfully as it is romanticised to be.

First Published On : Nov 28, 2016 07:45 IST

Kashmir: Literacy without learning a ‘ticking time-bomb’, says education min Naeem Akhtar

Much of what governments do is aimed at trying to undo the damage of what they have done in the past. One might expect such words from a radical critic of the governance system, perhaps a fiery and radical student activist. One rarely hears them from a minister. One especially does not expect such words from one who, in his own state, is a pillar of the establishment, a pretty conservative one at that.

But Jammu and Kashmir’s education minister Naeem Akhtar was in a feisty mood on Friday evening. In a brief speech at New Delhi’s hallowed India International Centre, he did not beat about the bush. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (universal literacy movement) is “a ticking time bomb,” he said. The “atrociously implemented” scheme had been little more than a mechanism to divert taxpayers’ money to let favourites open a school at home, and employ a cook too.

The scheme was a pet project of the Centre during UPA-I, when Arjun Singh was the minister for human resource development.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The idea that India has a demographic advantage from its 1.3 billion people has been reduced to “a slogan,” Akhtar said, pointing out that education had become focused on the formal process of obtaining degrees and certificates rather than learning. Literacy without learning was not just useless but actually counterproductive, he seemed to suggest.

In a speech to launch a fund-raising drive for a university in Ladakh, Akhtar asked what sort of future the country hoped to produce through its current education.

The new university has been envisaged by Sonam Wangchuk, the founder and head of the Ladakh-based Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement Of Ladakh (Secmol). Wangchuk recently won an international award for innovative ideas — for a mechanism to create artificial ice cones which could re-green the ice desert of Ladakh.

Akhtar has taken on established vested interests in the education sector since he became education minister in the Mufti Sayeed-led government last year. It has, at times, been a rough ride.

Ironically, Wangchuk too had taken on the entrenched vested interests of the education department in Leh district — and the rest of the district establishment too – after he set up Secmol in 1994. Things came to such a pass in 2007 that Wangchuk was run out of the state, with an FIR accusing him of being a foreign agent hanging like Damocles’ sword over his extremely useful, and popular, work in the Leh district.

Such are the ways in which Jammu and Kashmir’s extraordinarily compromised establishment sometimes deals with change makers who try and work for peace and progress at the grassroots!
Both Akhtar and Wangchuk have both stayed the course — and Akhtar on Friday publicly assured Wangchuk of the government’s full support.

Schools without students.

In the context of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Akhtar said he had had to close 4,000 (non-functional) schools in Jammu and Kashmir, Akhtar said. And Rajasthan had closed 20,000 schools.
The minister added that he had also closed 142 schools that had teachers but no students. Indeed, it is a fact that several such schools have been operational, at which salaries are paid for no work done. One such school operated down the road from the Jawahar Nagar house in Srinagar, where Akhtar lived for several years.

Akhtar is almost the only minister in the current Mehbooba Mufti-led government who has made his presence felt during the turmoil since July. He directly took on the Hurriyat, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, through an open letter. He has insisted throughout the recent unrest that examinations would be held, and that schools must function.

Of course it is a different matter that the government caved in to popular demand recently and ordered mass promotions, and halved the syllabi for state board examinations. One hopes the government will now stand firm on the commitment Akhtar made on Friday to support Wangchuk’s pathbreaking university project.

First Published On : Nov 27, 2016 08:36 IST

Ladakh’s innovator Sonam Wangchuk toils for a visionary project to reverse climate change

This is a story of dedication and resilience to bounce back after nasty knocks: Sonam Wangchuk, the Ladakh-based innovator and educationist, has initiated plans for a huge, work-oriented, job-generating and work-sustained new university.

It would have been an ambitious vision even for the one born with a silver spoon. But for the one whose life has been a roller-coaster ride, this step is amazing.

Sonam Wangchuk. Facebook.

Sonam Wangchuk. Facebook.

Wangchuk’s vision is as global as it is local: the place will regenerate glaciers in its vicinity — which is sometimes called ‘the third pole’ — in order to reverse climate change.

It will aim for ‘zero waste’, not just for sustainability but to ‘inculcate a culture of zero waste’ among its students. ‘Please live simply in the cities so that we can simply live’ in the mountains, he urged his audience while launching a fund-raising drive in New Delhi on Friday.

The motive to build the university is to initiate an environment-recovery-cum-democracy-inculcating-cum-employment-generating-cum-town-sustaining movement. Wangchuk hopes a town similar to Leh will grow in the area around the university, where his innovative ice stupas will turn from desert to greenery.

Ten days after he won a global prize for innovation, for an ice stupa prototype, he used a public lecture on Friday to launch a fund-raising effort to seed the proposed university and its environs. Having invested his $ 150,000 prize money, which amounts to about a crore of rupees, into the fund, he hopes to raise Rs 50 crore from the public at large.

The Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) has already allocated 200 acres land for the university, a project of the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement Of Ladakh (SECMOL) which Wangchuk had launched in 1994. He has, in turn, offered the LAHDC a 33 percent stake in the project.

He proposes to install a series of ice stupas above the premises, to provide water during the lean season. He hopes that water would sustain greenery around the university and sustain a bustling university town which has a rugged desert landscape today.

The prototype of an Ice stupa constructed in Ladakh. Facebook.

An Ice stupa constructed in Ladakh. Facebook.

Wangchuk’s roller-coaster life

Wangchuk had revolutionised education in Leh district beginning two decades ago. That was a huge task since India’s second largest district sprawls across some of the highest inhabited mountains in the world; many hamlets are isolated in the world’s most challenging terrain. The district schools often had a failure rate of 85 to 90 percent. Seeing this, Wangchuk had given up his engineering studies and turned to grassroots initiatives to improve schooling. He set up a wonderful little school full of busting energy just above the Indus a little upriver from Leh. Wangchuk’s team used mud and other local building materials; innovative design brought warmth during winters and cool during summers without any power-consuming heating. Rather, the south-facing building used solar energy and simple convection. Solar energy even kept the cowshed warm.

Wangchuk quipped at the launch programme that the cows, sheltered in warm cowsheds, gave three times more milk than most cows in Ladakh.

The first qualification to be admitted to the school was unique: the student must have failed certain subjects. Yet, the school turned out some of Ladakh’s best achievers – and promoted gender equality and rights.

He emphasised that the school is run by students where they have their own little parliament. The students then elect a leader who allocated responsibilities to other students. The posts of the students are changed every two months. Thus, the school is a little country within a country, he joked.

SECMOL has also tried to empower village communities across the district to take control of their government-run village schools through Village Education Committees (VEC). Gradually, the pass-rate of Ladakh’s students saw an upward trend which has now reached 75 percent. However, as it had approached 50 percent, a series of vested interests began to see Wangchuk as a political threat. His visionary VEC scheme was in keeping with the essential concepts of the Panchayati Raj acts which the country had recently adopted. But the venal, self-serving, unwilling-to-be-accountable education system, teachers’ associations, and the political-bureaucratic Leviathan hit back around a decade ago.

For a while, Wangchuk had to flee the state in fear for his life and liberty. Now that his grit and never-say-die spirit has brought him into the global limelight, Wangchuk doesn’t seem to harbour any resentment. Perhaps the greatest education his movement can give is the art of forgiveness, of positivity and resilience. Of course, global inclusiveness would be a close second.

First Published On : Nov 26, 2016 20:10 IST

Kashmir unrest may be down, but it’s far from over: We could see a reemergence in 2017

The recent provocation at the Line of Control (LoC), in which a soldier’s body was mutilated, was one more indication that the troubles in Kashmir are not over. There are other indications too, which together paint a sombre picture of what might happen next summer.

Many in positions of authority hope that things would settle down since school examinations have been held, markets are bustling, and traffic is back on the roads. But their expectations ought to be tempered with caution.

The respite is tenuous and it might turn out to be temporary.

A file picture of protesters pelting stones at police in Kashmir. PTI

The first thing that one needs to recognise about the 2016 unrest in Kashmir is that it was not a repeat of 2010. There is no doubt that the internal and external dimensions of the challenge faced in Kashmir have been more intricately linked this year.

So, the return of traffic and exams can’t take away the heavy shelling — including high-calibre artillery — which has killed many people near the LoC and forced even more to relocate.

Besides, militant attacks have taken place sporadically, and there is no doubt that there are plenty of foreign and local militants in the Valley.

Stone-pelting too is not a thing of the past. There have been recent instances of it, including a major one in the Pulwama area on Wednesday.

Another big spurt?

A large-scale unrest such as that witnessed over four months this year could well be repeated next summer. All it would take is a trigger like the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani, which started the unrest on 8 July.

As more evidence continues to emerge, it is pushing analysts to the view that the unrest was planned for the period following Eid this summer. In fact, Lieutenant-General DS Hooda, the commander-in-chief of the Northern Command, is among the many who believe that this year’s eruption had been planned.

From the very next day after Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July, mobs across the Valley, showed a sort of uniformity in their tactics — as if they were following a pattern. The most significant of these tactics were mob attacks on police stations and paramilitary camps.

However, he says that if Burhan Wani had not been killed some other trigger would have been used. Further, those who had planned this year’s unrest are likely to look for an opportunity next summer too, adds Hooda, who is set to retire from the army at the end of this month.
Such a prognosis makes sense. And, the agents provocateurs who have taken control of coordinating the agitations in various parts of the Valley appear to be controlled from across the border.

Leading activists of several organisations including the Jamaat-e-Islami, have played key roles at the ground level. At times, they have benefited from a benevolent attitude from very high functionaries of the state.

In tandem, large numbers of foreign militants have infiltrated Kashmir in 2015 and 2016 —  a hundred during the first ten months of this year, according to Hooda.

A nuanced view

Unlike many of the military men who held control of state power during the 1990s, the erudite Hooda is keenly aware of the distinctions between different sorts of militants, and variations in the ideologies of those active on the ground.

He points out astutely that “the more (a) local is killed, (the more) you will have a reaction”. However, asked if this summer’s unrest might have been avoided if the widely popular Burhan had not been killed, Hooda replied: “We were not aware that Burhan specifically was there. But even if we had known, would we have done it differently?”

He alludes to the fact that the Indian Army cannot by itself make a distinction between one militant and another. He is, however, acutely aware of the need for political initiatives. “Everything cannot be fought kinetically,” he says.

Clearly, much needs to be done — on various levels, and through several channels. Such initiatives are very urgently required in light of the various prognoses that another summer of unrest is in the offing.

First Published On : Nov 24, 2016 12:21 IST

Kashmir conflict: New sturdier fence might be the answer to mounting infiltration problems

A fence of ‘an absolutely new design’ is being built along the Line of Control (LoC) at the edge of the Kashmir Valley. Fifty kilometres of this new fence has been built this year. The Army is confident that it will be more effective than the fences that have been built since 2003-04 according to Lt Gen DS Hooda, the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command. It has been redesigned to withstand the pressures of weather as well as the wiles of infiltrators and other enemy tactics.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

So far, the fence has been a white elephant with barbs. One, it collapses under the weight of tons of snow every year. Two, it costs the earth to build, rebuild and maintain. Three, it doesn’t seem to have made very much difference to stemming infiltration. Since it came down every winter and was rebuilt every summer, the construction of the fence has been something of a continuing process — a very costly one. That should have been predictable when the idea was conceived. For most parts of the LoC get up to ten metres (30 feet) of snow every winter — more than enough to push those fences into the ground. Since they could only be rebuilt when the snow melted after April, reconstruction generally continued until September every year.

Multi-layered fence

The current fences consist of barbed wire strands and coils. The strands are strung along high iron girders. A few of those strands are electrified. The coils are lower but far more forbidding, since there are barbs all over their bunched strands. At most places along the LoC, the fence is actually a series of two or three fences, placed some distance apart. The calculation is that invaders who get past one fence might get caught or held up at the next one. Even the first fence is well within the Indian side of the LoC. Construction and repair right at the LoC would be fraught with danger, since Pakistani bunkers and machans could open fire at any point. Work on the new fence has gone well this year in both Baramulla and Kupwara districts, despite the army’s preoccupation with external and internal strife. The army brass are confident that the entire length of about 300 kilometres would be covered over the next two summers.

The new fence has stronger supports and includes cement grouting to help hold firm. The engineering challenge is huge, in light of heavy snowfall every winter. The sheer weight of the snow brings down the wire strands and girders. To be sure, even the old fences do look forbidding. But it has become obvious over the past couple of years that their effectiveness is limited. Large numbers of militants are reported to have crossed over during the past couple of years. The army estimates that a hundred militants got through during the first ten months of this year, three times more than the entire year 2015.

First real test

This is the first time the fences have faced a real test since they were built — from 2003-04. The mobilization of troops right along the international borders in Punjab and Rajasthan, by India and then by Pakistan too, throughout 2002 had forced Pakistan to severely curtail infiltration. The two armies had been in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation following the attack on Parliament House in December 2001. After the armies were pulled back, Prime Minister AB Vajpayee reached out to make peace with Pakistan in April 2003. Pakistan responded at the end of that year and a potentially historic breakthrough was agreed at Saarc’s Islamabad summit in January 2004. As peace talks made tremendous headway over the next couple of years, the militancy which had begun in 1988 petered out around 2006. Already, fighting in those last years had been limited largely to those who had already been in the field by the end of the 1990s; not much infiltration was attempted after the end of 2001.

Ineffective, and too late

When there was massive infiltration, throughout the 1990s, there was no fence. Thousands of Kashmiris crossed both ways in peak months such as April 1990. The proportion of Pakistani and other foreign militants expanded from December 1992 on, until it was more or less a proxy war during the decade from 1996 to 2006, with Kashmiri militants playing largely supportive roles. The current militancy began around 2009, when police atrocities, administrative unresponsiveness, religious radicalization, and a well-orchestrated `narrative’ caused a few Kashmiri boys of the generation born during the earlier round of militancy to go underground.

These generally ‘snatched’ a weapon from a police or paramilitary soldier, but did not cross the LoC for training. For example, the internet-based star, Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, never apparently crossed the LoC. Nor did he or his young Kashmiri comrades do much as militants, compared with those who have infiltrated from Pakistan to join them. Even three years ago, the army brass and New Delhi’s high profile ‘strategic thinkers’ were oblivious to new infiltration. They insisted there was none. Meanwhile, the ineffective fence kept coming down annually, and getting rebuilt; large amounts were happily spent. Now that infiltration has become far too obvious to miss, let’s hope the new design is effective — and thus worth the huge cost and effort.

First Published On : Nov 20, 2016 17:12 IST

Remember Jawaharlal Nehru for his contribution to democratic institutions and traditions

Jawaharlal Nehru has become unfashionable.

That is hardly surprising at a time when even Mahatma Gandhi is despised. After all, Nehru’s reputation is paying the price for the puppeteering and money-grubbing of some of those who claim his legacy — a stain that does not touch Gandhi.

On Nehru’s birth anniversary, though, it is worth remembering the awesome democrat who once ruled India — in fact, set the very democratic foundation that still stands firm.

File image of Jawaharlal Nehru. AFP

File image of Jawaharlal Nehru. AFP

My father used to describe a visit to Teen Murti House, the prime minister’s residence. He witnessed seeing Nehru sitting on the lawns in his immaculate white achkan and red rose, talking to some men who had come from a village. The prime minister was holding forth like a rabble-rousing demagogue. “We must struggle. We must fight for our rights. We have to fight this sarkar (government),” he told them.

According to my father, the village men sat mesmerised, watching the leader with adoring veneration, probably not registering what he was saying.

Despite such adulation, which was widespread, Nehru nurtured democratic institutions in a land where it would have been very easy to behave as another ‘mai-baapsarkar. When the new republic was still in its early days, perhaps a day or two before a Parliament session, the House proceedings needed to be sorted out. So Nehru sent a peon from his office in Parliament House to ask the Speaker to join him.

The Speaker sent back word that the Speaker does not go to the prime minister; the Leader of the House comes to meet the Speaker. It is said that Nehru went immediately to the Speaker’s office, acknowledged that he was right, and apologised.

Even from well before Independence, Nehru had been conscious of the need to guard constantly against dictatorial tendencies. While he was president of the Indian National Congress in 1937, he wrote an article under the pseudonym Chanakya, warning readers about not just the general possibility of such tendencies in public life but specifically about, yes, himself.

Here’s an excerpt of what the article that was published in Calcutta’s Modern Review, said about Nehru: “What is he aiming at with all his want of aim? What lies behind that mask of his, what will to power, what insatiate longings? His conceit is already formidable. It must be checked. We want no Caesars.”

By this time, many already considered him second only to Gandhi in the Congress (and the Mahatma’s favourite). But, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was arguably a greater mass-leader. Nehru could not take the top job in Independent India for granted. The public criticism in that article could have harmed his career.

Indeed, there was much speculation over which of his covert or overt opponents or wannabe rivals may have written that. It was many years later that the truth emerged.

There is much to be said about Nehru’s qualities, but one stands out in particular. He had the courage to publicly acknowledge that he was an agnostic and wanted no part in religious rituals whatsoever. It would have been far more politically expedient to have harnessed religion for politics in a country in which religion was so powerful, especially when his mentor, Gandhi, insisted that politics was just dirt without religion (which he conceptualised as the essence of all religions).

Rather, while inaugurating the Bhakra-Nangal dam in 1954, Nehru called the dams and factories of the public sector the temples of modern India. Deeply committed to rationalism and what he called a ‘scientific temper’, he could not stand superstition.

Nehru and his legacy must be interrogated and evaluated with the perspective of distance but, on his birth anniversary, it is well worth recognising his invaluable contribution to establishing democratic institutions and traditions, rationalism and modernity.

First Published On : Nov 14, 2016 15:34 IST

Demonetisation: ‘VIP’ privileges should count as corruption too

I watched a clip online over the weekend. It showed a young woman carrying an infant, venting her anger while standing in a serpentine queue outside a bank. In the course of her tirade, she spoke of not having enough cash to buy vegetables. She was really angry.

A thought crossed my mind: If she were a ‘VIP’ living in a bungalow built by Lutyens, the young woman would have vegetables growing in a part of the back or side garden. She would even have an efficient maali (gardener) paid by the taxpayer to tend to those vegetables and the flowers in the flower beds on the side of the house and the lawn in front.

Come to think of it, the young woman would also have had the finest fruit, not to speak of nuts and sweets and cakes, brought as gifts by less important persons.

If she were a member of Parliament, she might even have convenient access to nicely priced fruit juice, coffee beans and tea leaves, not to speak of extremely nicely priced meals. But for that, she would have had to have had the wherewithal to get to become a very important person. But then, she would quite likely have been the son or daughter of one.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Of course I am all for rooting out corruption. I just wish we could also have a little less of the sort of nice little conveniences that very important people take for granted, and we don’t generally think of as corruption.

Misuse of free air and rail travel, for example.

Easy reservations too. I was to travel by train recently but, when I got to the station with my luggage, I was amazed to find that my booking was still on the wait-list, and so was to be treated as cancelled. I had been second on the waiting list when the ticket was purchased a couple of weeks before, and so I had presumed that the booking would have been confirmed by the time it came time to travel.

I went to the ticket inspector’s office to see if I could be accommodated. The man said it couldn’t be done. The coach was already chockablock with RACs (I had forgotten the category — reservation against cancellation). As I looked deflated, he said sympathetically that I should get a ‘VIP’ to help out next time, in case I knew one.

While it may be very laudable to get people to transact online or by plastic, it would be so very nice if we could also level the playing field for all citizens, including ‘VIPs’ and the owners of online operations. Could ‘VIPs’ also get into line please and pay like everyone else, the same prices and overhead costs as everyone else? Please? I was with a ‘VIP’ friend one morning recently and saw some houses that were all furnished, carpeted and set up. Apparently, that’s the way they are handed over to ‘VIPs’ — in the most swanky, easy-to-live areas of our otherwise polluted, congested cities.

Very nice.

But if we’re serious about cleaning out corruption, shouldn’t we take a brief moment to ask how much the taxpayer pays for all this?
Don’t get me wrong. I am, as I said, all for rooting out corruption. Let’s just expand our focus on what constitutes corruption a tiny bit.

First Published On : Nov 14, 2016 13:20 IST

Kashmir unrest: Easing exam norms doesn’t help students, only encourages stone-pelters

At 16, Qasim (name changed) is quiet but very talented. He has a mind of his own. During the first few weeks of the agitations following militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing on 8 July, Qasim sometimes walked down to the main road, curious about the stone-pelting, tear-gas and other sorts of commotion.

It’s possible he threw a stone or two, to join the fun. Make no mistake, it was fun for many of the boys who paralysed Kashmir with their demonstrations of youth power. But his stern mother kept him indoors most of the time, with loud warnings against him getting hurt or getting into trouble.

Qasim has been studying in his room through most of the past four months of unrest. Daily, he says. He was often joined by one or two friends. They would study together before working out in the attic with weights, or play music or watch TV or the few films they had downloaded before internet was suspended.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Today, Qasim is studying harder than ever as the Jammu and Kashmir board exams are round the corner, and Qasim is in Class 10 — a ‘board year’. But he is frustrated and upset. Exams are basically a competition, he points out, and the advantage that he and others like him who studied hard had, is now lost.

The state government has announced that students will only have to attempt 50 percent of the questions in the exams. They can choose any half of the questions, not necessarily from each of the sections — pertaining to different portions of the syllabus.

The government’s argument apparently is that schools had only covered half the syllabus before they were closed.

For Qasim, the point is that, “even those who didn’t study, wasted their time and threw stones, will score 450. What’s the point?”

Wrong signals

This decision is indeed flawed. On the one hand, with this sort of thing Kashmir could end up with another generation that has degrees and certificates obtained by mass copying and promotions, a ‘zero year’ and days, months and years of not being able to attend regular classes, like in the 1990s.

On the other hand, this decision gives a message to young men like Qasim that throwing stones would not only have been more fun (not to speak of the joys of macho preening in the neighbourhood) than studying, his months of hard work was pretty much pointless in terms of competing for marks, future admissions or the job market.

The more insidious flaw is that this decision signals to stone-pelters and others who have held the population at large to ransom that the government can be depended upon to bail them out. Remember, most of those manning barricades with stones have been school students.

Given the coercive efficiency that those intent on disruption have shown this year, I expect that what passes for ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir will be elusive again next year. I fervently hope I am wrong but, in case that happens (next year or even in the more distant future), those who urge students to take to the streets will be able to credibly assure them that they will not risk much damage to their academic records. The government will make sure they are at no great competitive disadvantage.

More immediately, this has given an oblique stamp of governmental approval to those who instigated and participated in this year’s disruptions. After the first few days following Burhan’s death, most common people either sat on the fence or actually wanted to get back to what they call ‘normalcy’.

They could not, partly because the state government waited for more than two months to assert its authority in many parts of the valley. Agents provocateurs were well entrenched by then. If the government initially hoped that the agitations would lose steam on their own, that hope was obviously misplaced.

Governments can’t thrive on hope. This government owes Qasim an explanation.

Duplicity in Kashmir Police unmasked: War clouds force state to act

There’s good news from Kashmir.

No, the ‘Kashmir problem’ hasn’t been solved. None of the problems have been, actually.

But it’s good news anyway that the government has decided to wake up to one part of the stinking rot under its nose.

The rot has been around forever — at least 1,500 years if one goes by the historical poem, Rajtarangani — but governments of various sorts have either repressed the place or turned a blind eye in or to Kashmir. That tendency has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. The particular part of the rot that the government has just decided to acknowledge is that the state police has been compromised.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

On Saturday, 10 policemen were finally suspended.

They are accused of not having resisted when boys who were taking up militancy snatched their weapons. And it’s about time too. Enough blood has flowed down the fetid drains of Kashmir while the world at large has pretended that things are as the ‘narratives’ say they are. They are most certainly not and the mystery of the snatched rifles is a good illustration of that.

The accusation against the policemen might as well be that they colluded with the wannabe militants who took their weapons. That would mean that they wear uniforms with the President of India’s police medal but assist and abet those fighting the State. It’s a pretty neat bargain for them, for they get salaries, perks, pensions, facilities and the much-favoured delight of oppressing and extorting from those who are not part of the network of power.

So what exactly is the deal with these snatched rifles?

Apparently, the organisers and handlers of the new militancy — which has been gradually emerging in south Kashmir over the past five years or so — did not want to send weapons for the new boys without testing them. So boys who wanted to be militants had to prove their militant capabilities by snatching weapons from policemen or paramilitary soldiers. It would seem that would be easy in a place where collusion and the free flow of power and wealth across presumed dividing lines is commonplace.

The intriguing thing is how the powers that rule the state — and these powers include a variety of security agencies and forces — managed to not know what was going on. One is speaking here of the basic fact that guns were being snatched, not necessarily that those from whom they were being snatched could be colluding with the loot of their own weapons.

That is the amazing vitality of a conflict economy such as this one!

On both sides

That people of all sorts have been playing both sides simultaneously in this unbelievably vitiated place has been well-known to all but the blind, deaf and mute. Those who have been playing both sides include politicians, bureaucrats, militants and mediapersons, so why would the list not include policemen and others charged with fighting militancy?  The uncomfortable fact that stares us in the face is that the police force has been compromised, very deeply compromised, for years. But most of us have gone along with the pretence that lines dividing State and anti-State, ‘mainstream’ and ‘secessionist’, friend and enemy, ours and theirs exist.

It became clear around a year ago that information had been leaked to militants when one of the most effective operatives of the state police was killed when he went to try and nab one of the most important militants of recent years, and a bunch of highly-trained infiltrators.

The victim was a sub-inspector who was nicknamed ‘laptop’ for his immense skills at cyber tracking. He was said to be a walking-talking encyclopaedia of information on militants.

Not only did it become clear that that officer was working with a double (or triple) agent, but also that such a valuable officer whose talent was behind a computer was apparently persuaded to go to the site where he was ambushed and killed by those who he thought he was tracking. Did colleagues who saw him as competition engineer that?

Faced with a tongue-lashing from the highest authorities, and public outcry, the state police killed the militant who had ambushed and killed that operative — and they did it with amazing alacrity.

They did not, however, nab or kill the group of at least eight Pakistani militants who that operative’s killer had gone to receive soon after their infiltration. Those militants have wreaked havoc against the forces in several militant attacks since the beginning of the year.

Blood will continue to flow but this sort of duplicity must end.

Kashmir unrest: As war looms over Valley, NC-PDP agree to not use protests for political gains

A lot has changed in Kashmir over the last five weeks, and even more over the past week. Somebody in power — probably the National Security Advisor — seems to be finally trying to pull its act together. As our TV screens relentlessly show, it is too late to avoid a war-like situation, but at least several defensive moves are taking shape.

Farooq Abdullah and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti

Farooq Abdullah and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti

Changes have occurred at various levels — most visibly in the deployment of armed forces in the Kashmir Valley.

But there’s one more significant change taking place that is less visible: Judging by straws in the wind and the grapevine, the political class appears to have been persuaded to come together.

Soon after National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah returned from a long sojourn in London, he convened a meeting of various parties, including the Congress, in the state. There are signs that some of the most powerful in the land have got him and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to work together.

Conveniently, his son Omar Abdullah has gone abroad, instead. While his father was abroad and Omar held the reins, there was much talk of the agitations being an opportunity for the NC to get back on the People’s Democratic Party for the flames its cadres had fanned in 2010, when Omar was the chief minister. In several places, NC cadre are said to have been active in July, in the weeks following militant commander Burhan Wani’s death.

One of the more unhappy trends in the first couple of months, after Wani was killed on 8 July, was that activists of most political parties fanned the protests seeking local benefits. They got no local benefit, but they did damage the national cause — arguably, the local cause too — just as a war-like situation loomed.

It appears that the decision to sack government employees and policemen who were playing both sides was implemented only after the new political cohesion was achieved.

Although the National Conference has reacted, it has chosen to target a particular minister in the state government — one who the NC older generation leadership hate so much that he was shunted to inconsequential posts; in fact a disciplinary action was taken against him when Farooq Abdullah was the chief minister in the late 1990s.

The NC could have more sharply targeted the government overall and the leadership of the BJP (also the ruling party at the Centre) instead of attacking one long-hated minister.

Indeed, the targeting of particular leaders could reflect the inner dynamics of the new political churning. While the two top leaders of the Valley’s most important parties may have been persuaded to keep the larger picture in mind, there must be factions within both parties which are deeply upset. Surely, the most unhappy leaders would be those who have personally resented the other leadership the most over the years.

In this context, it is worth nothing that the only leading politician to have raised a shindig against the sacking of government employees was the volatile Rashid Ahmed, independent MLA from Langate. That has become predictable. (Rashid had taken on beef vigilantism most strongly in 2015 by hosting an illegal beef party in the Srinagar MLAs’ hostel. He was consequently slapped by BJP MLAs in the house. Ink was thrown at him at the Press Club of India. That is the sort of low-brow tamasha that set the stage for the mass youth anger across the Valley.)

Judging by what is available on Google, most of those who were photographed prominently with Farooq Abdullah at his recent press conference, have held their peace — even those who have made a career out of speeches on workers’ rights.

The political detente that portends out of this should be strongly appreciated. At a time when war clouds loom around J&K, this is the least that can be expected of any responsible politician.

Kashmir unrest: Sacking defiant officials was fine, but government must be consistent

The government has finally acted strongly against the crux of the problem in Kashmir. Nine government employees were sacked summarily on Thursday. That was followed up by the suspension of several policemen in the Valley, for not resisting the loot of their weapons by militants.

Recalcitrant government employees are in fact a much bigger problem than Hurriyat Conference and other separatist leaders who have little choice but to follow orders from Rawalpindi. Government employees take salaries to uphold the constitutional system — openly so, not covertly — but, by and large, they not only abuse their authority, they actively undermine the system.

Generally, their greed, nepotism and systematic corruption, all in the name of ‘India’, alienates the rest of the people. They seem to face no moral crisis in taking Indian salaries to run a government in an Indian state. In fact, arguments in defence of duplicity from those who promote secession in word or deed can be amazing.

Srinagar: A Security jawan stands guard atop a vehicle during the 105th day of curfew and restrictions imposed to prevent post-Friday prayer protests in Srinagar on Friday. PTI Photo (PTI10_21_2016_000137B)Srinagar: A Security jawan stands guard atop a vehicle during the 105th day of curfew and restrictions imposed to prevent post-Friday prayer protests in Srinagar on Friday. PTI Photo (PTI10_21_2016_000137B)

Representational image. PTI

At times of rebellion, as over the past 15 weeks (indeed, the past three decades), Kashmiri government employees promote shutdowns. Its a win-win for them: they get their salaries (and the promise of pensions) to stay at home. Meanwhile, they and their children create an environment to ensure that daily-wagers and others dependent on working in order to eat, cannot.

On 11 July, the Monday after Burhan Wani was killed, large numbers of migrant labourers were standing at such central points of Srinagar as Rambagh bridge, waiting for contractors to give them work. But government employees from the top down did not go to work.

Their plea was insecurity, although the Indian taxpayer spends billions on their security, and several shopkeepers, who have no security at all, opened their shops that Monday. In the light of this, the threat of government employees to strike work following the sack orders is bizarre — not to say shameless.

Pendulum swings

Although it was right to act, the government deserves censure for inconsistency. Its stands — and lack of stands — have left many in the Valley confused, and many of them fuming.

Most people had a wait-and-watch attitude during those first few days after Burhan was killed, while bands of teenagers took charge of ensuring a shutdown, and a polarised media projected a two-dimensional reality that was at best partially true. Wait-and-watch means people were waiting for the government to take action, and watching out for which side would emerge with the upper hand.

For too long, the clueless government did nothing: they hoped during those crucial early weeks that things would ‘settle down’ without their having to show their hand. That gave the wrong signal to the vast number who were watchfully waiting.

At the end of August, the chief secretary even made a statement that the chief minister had been kind enough to release salaries to even those who had not worked, since she was aware that they had to celebrate Eid! That kind of statement is not only objectionable for presuming that government salaries are like a sultan’s beneficence. It also signals that playing truant from work is fine as long as the sultan is in a forgiving mood.

Swinging to the other extreme with orders to sack was a sudden jolt — not the way governance should be done. But then, it was similar to what happened with policing. After abandoning the streets and byways to stone-pelting mobs of boys in a place like Tral for too long, the police suddenly turned up with overwhelming numbers of paramilitary and army soldiers after Eid-ul Adha and rounded up hundreds of boys.

This sort of pendulum-like behaviour does not suit governments. As with all things, moderation is best.

Now that sack orders have been issued to a dozen employees, and several policemen have been suspended over the weekend, the government should stick to its stand, rather than use this order as a bargaining chip.

Kashmir unrest: 100 days after Burhan Wani, lies and mismanagement run rampant

A hundred days after Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani was killed, lies and mismanagement have seamlessly turned a mass uprising into large-scale cross-border militancy.

The lies are so blasé that they have even got the century mark wrong. Kashmir was awash with talk on Sunday that it was the 100th day of curfew. Of course, twisting facts is more or less normal in this ‘conflict zone,’ but this particular twist is bizarre. For, it is precisely because the government did not impose curfew on those fateful days, 8 and 9 July, that South Asia is now set on a terrible course.

Since the news of Burhan’s death only spread after 7 pm on the evening of 8 July, and there certainly was no night curfew, the first possibility of curfew would have been on 9 July, the day of Burhan’s funeral.
Especially those who have reported the many back-to-back funerals (eyewitnesses say half-a-dozen, interspersed with long rounds of speeches) should know how strict the curfew was imposed on that day. In fact, hysterical mobs attacked police stations and paramilitary camps across the valley. Some posts were set on fire. One police station was burned to the ground. Its armoury was looted.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Even after 9 July, curfew was not imposed on most of the last 100 days in significant parts of the Kashmir Valley. In Tral, from where Burhan hailed, there was no sign of police, army or paramilitary until a month ago – i.e., most of the first 70 days. That was excellent strategy. For, there was no death or injury there either.

Of course, the phase of repression and depraved police brutality that has followed will only cause more alienation, and insurgency.

But the ‘narrative’ is oblivious to these variations. It says in its blithe two-dimensional imbecility that the entire place has been locked down for hundred days.

Migrant work ethic

On the morning of 11 July, the Monday after Burhan was killed, I drove through large parts of Srinagar. In many places, I saw large numbers of migrant workers standing or squatting on the roadside — waiting for contractors who would hand out work for that day. No contractors were to be seen. Most of those whom the Indian taxpayer pays salaries were absent from work. A few shops were open, though their owners looked uneasy.

The government was invisible. It remained paralysed for several weeks, as those in power waited in vain hope for things to ‘settle down’ without their having to lose popularity. A very vain (pun intended) hope on both counts, as it predictably turned out. Things didn’t settle down. Their popularity plummeted.
But nobody apparently had the intelligence to figure out that the common pattern of attacks on security establishments across the valley could not have been a gigantic coincidence. A long war would unfold.

Restrictions versus narrative

During the first few weeks, the then divisional commissioner had said that ‘restrictions’ were in place. It was a suitable term. For, in fact, there have been only restrictions, at least in most parts of Srinagar through these 100 days. Security men have allowed one past their barricades, even in the often turbulent Downtown on a Friday afternoon in late July, so long as one was not agitating.

And yet, nobody in government challenged the ‘narrative’ of a total lockdown curfew in those crucial early weeks. I would love to be corrected here. Really, I would!

It is only over the last week or so that they have got a couple of news channels to portray what the stone-pelters have been doing. Coming so late, these bold reports risk being perceived as a less-credible counter-narrative. Nationwide, many viewers complain of being confused. Naturally!

Earlier this month, Education Minister Naeem Akhtar addressed a poignant open letter to the high profile secessionist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, highlighting the priority Islam gives to ensuring education. (Most educational institutions have been shut for three months.) The heart-touching letter would surely have moved Geelani.

The sad fact is that, by and large, the boys on the streets don’t acknowledge the Hurriyat leaders. And in any case, control over what is happening had passed across the Line of Control several weeks before.

In those crucial weeks of July, when the government was paralysed, some of its putative managers were actually trying to cozy up to ‘narrative’ walas on Facebook. It was the same old ‘we are with you, against them’ narratives that have been whispered in Delhi and Jammu and Srinagar far too often — ‘us’ and ‘them’ being as variable as convictions, morality and concern for the people. It happened from 1950-52, 1977, 1982 and 1987, but even those who should know better don’t seem to learn.

More recently, those managers have been trying to buy over  the ‘narrative’ walas. That’s another familiar story — raise the price and then squeeze. Such absolutely intolerable cynicism pervades this ‘conflict zone’ that some of those who kill militants have been known to do much the same with regard to the price on militants’ heads.

The problem with all this is not so much that the world at large is confused or misinformed as a result; the problem is the two-fold anger dividend on the ground. One, the ‘narrative’ raises the anger of the agitating youth, as it is calculated to do. In the bargain, it demoralises and frustrates those of the forces that have exercised restraint. Sooner or later, the resulting anger among soldiers will wreak havoc.

No wonder we are skidding headlong into the quagmire of a war-like situation.

Chinese flags in Baramulla should stir India’s ‘intelligence’ ostriches

As spring turned to summer this year, I spent an afternoon interacting with the residents of a village near Safapora in north-central Kashmir. Some of them spoke of the possibility of Chinese involvement in what might happen in the Kashmir Valley. They said their part of the valley had historical trade and other connections with China, through the valley of the Sindh-nallah, which leads from the main Kashmir Valley to the Zoji-La pass and then Ladakh.

That they brought up China interested me tremendously, but it was the sort of talk India’s intelligence establishment routinely ignore. One hopes the various intelligence honchos in Srinagar and New Delhi are doing a little introspection now that Chinese flags were waved at the old Idgah (next to an army camp) in
Baramulla after Friday’s prayers on 14 October.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Baramulla, the valley’s third biggest city, has been in ferment over the past few days, although traffic and a general sense of relaxation has led many to describe Srinagar as ‘normal’. Residents describe horrifying blasts of tear gas shells in Baramulla over the past couple of days.

Those Chinese flags appeared in a stronghold of the ‘hardline’ section of the Jamaat-e-Islami that is loyal to ranking separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It is ironical that a dyed-in-the-wool religious outfit should ally with a Communist State — but that only makes the flags more significant. The irony was that it was on the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s arrival in India for the Brics Summit.

Kashmiri discourse

That village interaction a few months ago was not the first time I had heard Kashmiris speak of Chinese involvement, and of its claims, since the 1990s. Former Hurriyat Conference chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat had observed several years ago: “Don’t forget the China factor.”

But intelligence walas have remained determinedly deaf to such talk. An insightful Kashmiri says he told a top intelligence officer in the Kashmir police that he would not be surprised if Chinese flags turned up along with Pakistani and Islamic State flags in Downtown Srinagar. He says that intelligence officer was incredulous. Not impressed.

The intelligence honchos have been doing a great job of mimicking ostriches regarding China. They are too busy buying over and selling out ‘leaders’ and organisations, and patting each other on the back, to bother with such things as a mass uprising or dangerous big powers getting involved with such an uprising.
They ought to be looking for chullu bhar paani (a handful of water in which to drown) at this point. It is not as if China’s anti-India moves regarding Jammu and Kashmir are new. They have just been studiously ignored.

Series of Chinese moves

For eight years now, starting a few weeks after the Beijing Olympics ended, China began to send troops into areas of Ladakh that are meant to be controlled by India. That has happened often over these eight years.

Soon after the trend of incursions began, China announced that the status of Jammu and Kashmir has not been finally decided and that China has a stake in the area.

One wonders what more than that statement India’s highly-paid, high-payout intelligence walas were waiting for to allow themselves to believe that China wants a much bigger presence in the state? After all, the statement was not limited to areas through which China’s ‘Karakoram highway’ passes. It was about the entire state.

Around that time, China refused to issue visas to residents of the state on Indian passports, but rather on stapled pieces of paper. It did so even with Lt Gen BS Jaswal, who was then Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command. One wonders how much more of a pointer the intelligence walas were waiting for, to believe that China wants India’s position in the state reduced?

In fact, one wonders what India’s intelligence officers, ‘experts’ and strategists are up to? I had suggested the day after Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July that Kashmir-based intelligence honchos should either be prosecuted for treason or sacked for incompetence. Perhaps those who occupy power in New Delhi also deserve the same. The country will pay a terrible price for employing such ostriches.

Lessons from Brics 2016: Old friends are good, but China is keen to contain India

If one cuts past the specific agreements, the Brics summit in Goa reveals three basic geo-strategic facts. The third is the most significant, but the first and second are more obvious.

Most obvious is the fact that the post-Cold War churning in geopolitics is still underway. In that light, the highlight of the summit was that India sought to restore its tried-and-tested relationship with Russia, from which it had moved decidedly away after the Soviet Union collapsed.

That was a mistake. It is all good that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is moving closer to President Vladimir Putin. It’s not just that they are arguably the two most identifiable strong men on the world stage. There are long-term strategic interests. The Soviet Union had supported India since its independence. And after China tested a nuclear weapon in 1964, it identified India as a lodestar of its foreign policy. In the more-than-half-century since then, these three countries and the US have emerged as the four most important in the world.

Benaulim: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping after a group photo at the start of the BRICS Summit in Benaulim, Goa on Sunday. PTI Photo by Subhav Shukla (STORY DEL 17, 26) (PTI10_16_2016_000030B) *** Local Caption ***Benaulim: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping after a group photo at the start of the BRICS Summit in Benaulim, Goa on Sunday. PTI Photo by Subhav Shukla (STORY DEL 17, 26) (PTI10_16_2016_000030B) *** Local Caption ***

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the start of the Brics Summit in Goa. PTI

Only Brazil, Japan, Indonesia and Pakistan compare in population size, but not in military might. Some had speculated soon after (and before) the Soviet Union collapsed that the European Union could emerge as a world power — an economic counterweight to the US. But the EU has teetered on the edge of collapse for some time now.

Hyphenation remains

The second fact about current geopolitics to emerge in the backdrop of the Brics summit is that south Asia is a major key to the relationship between the four big world powers. Despite India’s best efforts to ‘de-hyphenate’ India and Pakistan, the two countries’ relations have influenced the way India, Russia and China have warily circled each other, like hefty kabaddi players.

Indian strategists must get used to the fact that the Partition created platforms on India’s flanks that can be manipulated to destabilise the subcontinent — unless India goes the extra mile to strengthen subcontinental ties, as the visionary former Prime Minister Vajpayee sought to do at Saarc’s Islamabad summit in 2004.

The fact is that Russia’s recent military exercises with Pakistan were at least partly responsible for India reaching out to its old ally; ‘an old friend is worth two new ones’, Prime Minister Modi told his joint press conference with Putin in Goa.

To seek close strategic relationships with the US and Russia simultaneously at a time when something close to Cold War tensions have developed between them over Syria is, let us say, bold. But it is well worth doing. In fact, the face-off over Syria is all the more reason why neither would want to antagonise India.

Pakistan has become even more pivotal to Sino-Indian relations than to India-Russia or Indo-US ties. China’s blocking of India’s attempt to add Masood Azhar to the UN’s list of terrorists highlights the extent to which it backs Pakistan. Its blocking of India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group too stems from Pakistan’s desire to be included alongside.

Whatever satisfaction Indian strategists derive from Moscow and other world powers, it would be unwise to underestimate the threat potentially posed by Beijing

The future is here

The third geopolitical fact that has emerged is less obvious. In fact, some might dispute it. And that fact is that China already sees India as its chief rival. Most geopolitical analysts still see China and the US as the world’s main competitors. But most also agree that China and India are likely to be the world’s big powers in a few decades. China’s strategic moves make it clear that its chief objective is to hobble India.

It’s as if two catch-up races were being run in tandem — only the one in the lead in each race is trying to block the one running behind it with a sort of ring of fire. While US moves to hem in China (in the South China Sea, for example) have had limited success, China is moving even more vigorously to encircle India in south Asia. The fate of the Chinese economy in the near future will have an impact on India’s future.

Whether or not Saarc moves forward, and how potential alternatives to Saarc develop, is a major part of China’s game of encirclement. China has invested a range of resources in the subcontinent.

The big surprise of the Brics meet came a day before it began — when China committed a whopping $28 billion to Bangladesh during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit there on Friday, en route to Goa. Just a couple of weeks ago, Bangladesh had taken the lead to have the Saarc summit in Pakistan postponed, following the attack at Uri. The new Chinese alliance is likely to weaken Bangladesh’s coordination with India against Pakistan. We will have to wait and see how much more damage that Chinese investment might cause India.

Other than China’s attempt to throw a ring of fire around India, it is much harder to explain such massive investment in Bangladesh than it is to explain China’s $46 billion commitment to Pakistan. For, the latter investment is earmarked for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Likely to become China’s major trade route to the world, the CPEC is of great advantage to China. Surely Bangladesh’s gas reserves could not be worth that much.

Of course CPEC causes Sino-Indian conflict far more directly than China’s investments elsewhere: the trade corridor passes through parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistan’s control — which India claims juridically. Chinese troops have been in those parts of the state for some time for the security of the highway, railway and other CPEC projects.

Whatever satisfaction Indian strategists derive from Moscow and other world powers, it would be unwise to underestimate the threat potentially posed by Beijing.

Pampore attack: Kashmir supercop Altaf ‘laptop’ was killed just when EDI attackers crossed LoC

Young men, even adolescents, lethally trained as killing machines that would make most commandoes blanche, ready to even die on command… that is the Pakistani attackers’ profile, according to some of those who played key roles to fight the EDI attackers from Monday to Wednesday.

That, in fact, is the typical profile of some of the militants who conducted some of the most daring and dramatic fidayeen attacks in Kashmir since the beginning of this year.

The ravaged Entrepreneurship Development Institute building in Pampore. PTIThe ravaged Entrepreneurship Development Institute building in Pampore. PTI

The ravaged Entrepreneurship Development Institute building in Pampore. PTI

It turns out that the two commandos who were killed in the EDI building were part of a group of eight (possibly nine) militants who infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley through the ranges above Bandipora last October.

The army has identified one of them as Maaz. The other was probably called Waleed, according to one of those involved in the identification. The investigators are not entirely sure about the younger second man. If he is Waleed, his adolescence has progressed from about a year ago. His face has filled out and he looks more like a grown man than the boy in the photograph the investigators have.

This particularly lethal group of eight or nine fidayeen are linked to some of the most high-profile militant encounters of the past year. These include the two attacks on the CRPF on the Anantnag-Srinagar highway and both the attacks on the EDI.

Dramatic welcome

Ironically, the group’s ingress into the Valley was connected with two of the most important men involved in militancy and counter-militancy respectively. One was Abu Qasim, the extraordinarily popular Pakistani militant who was based in south Kashmir until he was killed late last year. This group of eight or nine was so important that Qasim went to Bandipora in northeast Kashmir to receive them.

That’s where the key figure in counterinsurgency entered the picture: sub-inspector Altaf ‘laptop’ got wind of the fact that Qasim was going to Bandipora that day — 7 October last year. A double agent set up Altaf with that information. Qasim was ready for him with an ambush. He killed Altaf at a barricade on the road. Of course, Qasim too was killed a few weeks later, near Kulgam in south Kashmir.

However, the names and pictures of the eight boys who he had gone to receive were now with the police. For, Qasim had dropped his phone at the site of his encounter with Altaf. Passport-sized pictures and names of eight members of the group that crossed the LOC were in that phone.

As the police identified bodies after some of the major encounters of this past year, they discovered again and again that members of the group (which Qasim had gone to receive) had starred in each of those actions. The photographs in Qasim’s phone matched the faces of the fidayeen killed.

By the time the EDI encounter ended on Wednesday, seven of them had been killed. As in the EDI attack, two of those eight were killed in each of three earlier encounters. Only one fidayeen was killed in one encounter. So only one, possibly two, of that extraordinarily lethal group probably remains.

Intelligence reports

According to those involved in countering the EDI attack, the police had intelligence since about last Wednesday that a fidayeen attack was likely in that area. There was a talk of the boys being on a motorcycle. Even a registration number was circulated to the forces.

A top army officer said the men probably wanted to attack a convoy on the highway and then go into the EDI building, which is strategically located right by the highway. He speculated that they must have reversed that plan after a heavy army and paramilitary deployment on the highway prevented them from attacking a convoy on the highway.

The director of the EDI is said to have turned down a proposal that a police or CRPF picket be posted in a room on the ground floor of this second EDI building (a hostel) after the main EDI building was destroyed during an earlier militant encounter in January this year. Much of the equipment that survived that attack had been shifted to the hostel building. It had been used until hartals and stone-pelting demonstrations prevented normal movement after 8 July this year.

Most people in authority, within Kashmir and even more so in New Delhi’s corridors of power, have been clueless about what has been unfolding in Kashmir. No action was taken to secure the place even after the intelligence reports about fidayeen last week.

Smoke gave them away

By last weekend, the fidayeen boys were apparently under pressure from their handlers to act. They may have been ordered to enter the EDI building during the weekend so that they could use it as a base to initiate action. A senior officer said that a message from the fidayeen boys to their handlers across the Line of Control was intercepted early on Monday morning. Watch television, the message said: you will see something by 7.30 am.

Possibly, they planned to emerge from the EDI building to launch an attack on the highway.

However, at 6 am, a guard at the EDI gate noticed some smoke in one of the rooms of the EDI hostel building, which was meant to be vacant that Monday morning. He telephoned the EDI director, who told him to go and check. When he approached, the fidayeen fired.

Some soldiers who were on the road close by heard and reported the firing. That is when the encounter which lasted more than two-and-a-half days began.

The army laid one cordon, then a second. The fidayeen boys were well-prepared. They had set up piles of explosives on certain stairwells, ready to be blown up. And they had food and other stores with them. Early during the encounter, it was reported that three attackers were in the building.

Priority to avoid casualties

The army commanders were under pressure from political authorities, who were distressed that the stand-off dominated the media for such a long time. But the commanders’ had their priorities right: they were determined to avoid casualties, even if it took longer. What the brass feared most was the possibility that the men might slip away. That would have been a huge embarrassment.

A top officer went into the campus in a Caspar armoured vehicle. An IED mine was placed in the compound. Its deafening roar was calculated to disorient the militants.

The firing was stepped up at the windows of two bathrooms, one above the other, from where the militants seemed to be firing. Perhaps fearing that the forces were closing in on their location from within the building too when the barrage of fire on the building was stepped up, two boys jumped from an upper floor.

Evidently highly trained, they both survived the fall. One of them was killed in the fearsome barrage of fire that targeted them on the ground. But the other managed to roll back into the building.

Finally, the attack ended when he too was killed on Wednesday afternoon. It took till late at night, though, to comb the entire building for any remaining militants, explosives or booby-traps.

The big question is: how many of the very many groups that have infiltrated since the beginning of this year comprise such extraordinarily trained commandos as the eight that came when Hamza killed Altaf, almost exactly a year ago.

Pampore attackers trained like perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai terror attack

Original article:  Pampore attackers trained like perpetrators of 2008 Mumbai terror attack

Pampore attack: Has Kashmir’s EDI actually promoted any entrepreneurship?

Since militant encounters have destroyed Kashmir’s lavish Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) in Pampore twice during this year, one might have expected a lot of public dismay over the sudden collapse of what was presumably a vital support system for enterprise, economic stimulus and potential employment.

Fact is, there has been no public disappointment, leave alone dismay or outrage. Rather, people snicker at the mention of EDI.

Fire and smoke rises from the government building where suspected militants have taken refuge during a gun battle in Pampore, 16 kms from Srinagar on Tuesday. A group of ultras took shelter inside EDI building on Monday morning. PTIFire and smoke rises from the government building where suspected militants have taken refuge during a gun battle in Pampore, 16 kms from Srinagar on Tuesday. A group of ultras took shelter inside EDI building on Monday morning. PTI

Fire and smoke rises from the government building where suspected militants have taken refuge during a gun battle in Pampore, 16 kms from Srinagar on Tuesday. A group of ultras took shelter inside EDI building on Monday morning. PTI

So, perhaps one should ask questions about what this humungous institution had achieved. Since it ran training modules lasting a few weeks each, it ought to have significantly stimulated the state’s economy since the beginning of this decade.

It hasn’t.

So now, there should be a public probe into the extent to which the lavishly endowed Institute has promoted entrepreneurship, economic growth and employment – or whether, conversely, it was a massively visible metaphor for misdirected initiatives, sloth, unresponsiveness and mis-governance.

And please, we don’t need a committee to inquire. That could go on for years and yield nothing worthwhile. All we need are quick answers that the EDI staff can compile in a couple of days, if sufficiently pressed.

Let’s seek answers

Three categories of questions need to be asked. One category should pertain to the institute’s actual success in promoting enterprise. Second category should deal with its conceptualization. The third category could deal with its infrastructure.

Questions about its effectiveness in promoting enterprise could include: How many entrepreneurial ventures has the institute promoted? How many on paper? How many functioning? How much has each unit earned on average? What is their combined turnover? How many to they together employ?

A basic question in the second category could deal with how enterprising it was for the government to set up such huge infrastructure for this purpose in the first place. Could enterprise not be promoted, and far more widely, through an internet-based programme, a self-help kit, and a helpline?

The third category of questions should focus on infrastructure: How much public money has been spent on the institute? Why did the 60 rooms of the building each have a bathroom attached? What proportion of that investment for capital and running costs? How much on projects promoted? How much is the land on which it stands worth? How many staff were housed on campus? What is the market value of the river-facing apartments?

These questions are vital. For, at a much deeper strategic level, one could ask whether common people might have converged to protect the institution rather than to assist those battling the state from within it, if they had perceived it as a centre of economic hope rather than as a den of bureaucratic obstruction.

Ill-advised schemes

Several young Kashmiris who have sought to set up enterprises in recent years — some of them after returning home after a few years abroad — relate harrowing tales of bureaucratic obstruction, physical destruction and extortion.

The Centre promoted a slew of ill-advised high-spend initiatives to stimulate employment and so try and wean over Kashmiri youth after the ‘summer of stone-pelting’ in 2010. These included the ‘Udaan’ scheme to train Kashmiri youth so that they could get jobs elsewhere in India. Like the EDI, it has been a dead loss.

Meanwhile, the uprising over the past three months has clearly demonstrated the inefficacy of setting up more easy-to-squeeze institutions like EDI, and doling out more money — as if more than enough had not already been invested since the `50s. The teenagers and the boys in their pre-teens who have dominated the streets and byways of Kashmir these past three months are not focused in jobs or livelihoods.

Turning a sharp, critical spotlight on EDI now would be a good starting point for sorting out our priorities.

Post Uri, anger in the army’s ranks in Kashmir is a strategic challenge

It would be a great mistake to ignore anger in the ranks of the army posted in Kashmir while focusing on the mechanics of how — or even whether — strikes were carried out across the Line of Control on 29 September.

Indian Army in action. PTIIndian Army in action. PTI

Indian Army in action. PTI

The men and officers of the army must surely be livid in the wake of the terribly lethal attack on the army camp at Uri on 18 September. The hoo-ha over the who and how of that attack and the consequent ‘surgical strikes’ tends to ignore the fact that 19 soldiers were killed. A large number of them were charred. Six of those were
cookhouse workers — hired for their cooking skills more than their commando or sniping abilities.

One presumes that their deaths have scarred the psyche of their comrades-in-arms, the other soldiers, and officers in the field. There will be hell to pay if the restraint under which those soldiers and officers have operated in the Kashmir valley for the past three months were to snap.

The army is bound to come under increasing strain, given the surge in the infiltration of highly trained militants across the Line of Control over the past few months (to some extent, over the past couple of years). The level of the infiltrators’ training — similar to that of the 10 who attacked Mumbai in 2008 — became evident during an encounter on the outskirts of Srinagar since Monday. They held out for more than 24 hours until the army brought down the building in which they were.

To exercise restraint when one is being stoned and abused (as over the past three months) is one thing. But the effect of such encounters, and of the horrific deaths of one’s comrades, can charge up the nerves of men trained to fight and win.

To commit the army for policing over these months of great unrest has been a risky move. One gets the impression that the brass has not adequately factored in the strategic risk involved. In fact, over the past five weeks, Operation Calm Down stepped up the army’s involvement in civil pacification in south Kashmir – just a fortnight before the Uri attack dramatically highlighted other dimensions of the challenge the army faces in Kashmir.

Long-term mistake

The army’s institutional insistence on remaining deployed across the Valley after the militancy that began in 1988 ended about a decade ago has additionally complicated the challenge it is likely to face in the foreseeable future.

Based on the presumption that ‘the situation is under control’ in Kashmir, the army kept a very low profile through the second half of the previous decade, so that it would not be forced to draw back deployment to cantonments. After the uprising of 2010, that strategy switched. Recalibrating its high spend Operation Sadbhavana (goodwill), the army deliberately presented a friendly face to the people in the first half of this decade.

That strategy remains in place. Although it worked as long as the situation was actually under control — indeed, there was no militancy — it is coming unstuck now that the ‘situation’ has changed dramatically – and unexpectedly. The worst part is that, as in 1989, there was no intelligence information about that dramatic worsening, and so no strategy to cope with it.

If operations such as the one at Uri do raise the pitch of anger in the ranks, the ingenuity of the brass will be challenged. For, to allow army wrath to turn against the Kashmiri people at large could exacerbate the external challenge they face.

I have pointed out since 2010 that it is of vital importance for the survival of a robustly multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious India that the causes of youth anger in Kashmir be addressed. Not only was that important for its own sake, it was also strategically vital. For, angry Kashmiri youth could become a vital ally and resource for strategic planners of antagonistic powers such as Pakistan and China.

It is of course too late now (has been for more than a year) to wean over the mass of teenagers. But India’s strategic planners and hyper-nationalistic media hawks must recognize that adding to youth anger would not only be wrong for a host of ethical and legal reasons, it would also be costly on a purely strategic level.

Is the Raheel-Nawaz Sharif face off in Pakistan an echo of Musharraf’s 1999 coup?

The date was 12 October. The year, 1999. Kashmir’s Hurriyat Conference leaders were in Jodhpur jail that day when news came in that General Musharraf had taken power from Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Hard line leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was pleased that the prime minister who had welcomed India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore seven months earlier had been ousted, and the army chief who had not saluted Vajpayee when the latter crossed the border on a ‘goodwill’ bus was now the leader of Pakistan.

Seventeen years since then, almost to the day, the Hurriyat leaders are in jail again, but not in the same one. So, just in case there is another coup in Pakistan, they might not discuss the news immediately. There are several other similarities, though, between what happened in 1999 and what has occurred in the recent months.

Former Pak president Pervez Musharraf. ReutersFormer Pak president Pervez Musharraf. Reuters

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. Reuters

A dramatic rapprochement, led by the two prime ministers, had occurred when Vajpayee went to Lahore that February. It was followed a couple of months later by the discovery of Pakistani military incursions in the Kargil area. From May to July, there were fierce battles along the heights of Batalik, Tololing and Tiger Hill in the Kargil district.

Last 25 December, there was an almost equally dramatic (and even more sudden) show of warmth between the two countries’ prime ministers; Prime Minister Modi dropped in at Lahore on his way from Kabul to Delhi to attend Prime Minister Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding — on Sharif’s birthday.

The dampener on that detente turned up much faster than in 1999. Just a week after Modi’s visit came a shocking attack at an Indian Air Force facility at Pathankot. The attack at Uri on 18 September substantially worsened the two countries’ relations, albeit less so than the Kargil war did.

The reason that war ended within a couple of months was that the then US President Bill Clinton ticked off Prime Minister Sharif in Washington on 4 July, 1999. The resultant military pullback led to a face-off between Pakistan’s prime minister and chief of army staff, which made it evident that one of them would lose his job soon.

Sharif tried to replace Musharraf, while the latter was on an official visit to Sri Lanka. But Musharraf was ready with a backup plan: his key corps commanders ensured that Sharif was overthrown and the way was cleared for Musharraf’s takeover.

India’s strikes across the Line of Control on 29 September this year, in retaliation against the Uri attack, appear to have caused strains in the relationship between Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan’s current army chief, General Raheel Sharif. There were signs on Thursday that that unease might have become a face-off.

Three facts have given that potential face-off an edge — or rather, three edges. One, the Pakistan Army’s ‘clean up’ in the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) and against domestic terrorists made Raheel Sharif more popular than any Pakistani leader has been in several decades. Two, the general is about to retire in November; for him, the window of opportunity is closing. Three, Pakistani nationalism (which tends to centre on the army) has been consolidated following India’s high profile international campaign over Balochistan — and the way the situation in Kashmir and the Line of Control has been reported in Pakistan.

It is worth asking what various international powers including the US and China would want. Would they prefer multiple power centres so that the army remains domestically leashed, and the situation in Pakistan might remain relatively stable? Or would world powers prefer a single centre of power with which to interact in Pakistan?

India’s preferred answer to those questions might seem like a foregone conclusion. Undoubtedly, the continuation of a civilian government would restrain the army’s belligerence somewhat.

However, it is worth considering that the best possibility for the two countries to eventually come to an agreement over the intractable Kashmir issue would happen between leaders as strong and nationalist as Narendra Modi and a putative President-cum-General Raheel Sharif.

Of course, their personas as much as the kind of political and geopolitical positioning, on which the career of each has thrived — not to speak of the hyper-aggressiveness among many sections on both sides of the border — would seem to make that wishful thinking.

But surely one can wish?

Kashmir unrest: Three months after Burhan Wani’s death, protests in Valley far from over

In the three months since militant commander Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July, the youth uprising in Kashmir has been temporarily suppressed, but it would be a great mistake to consider it over. Indeed, the youth uprising is now only one dimension of the developing situation in and around Kashmir. India-Pakistan tension has flared, particularly over the past three weeks, and the Kashmir issue is back in the global spotlight.

Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. CNN-News18Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. CNN-News18

Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. CNN-News18

This is not just escalation. The fact is that the uprising was not taken seriously enough at the outset. It should be clear at least now that it was (and is) no more than the tip of an iceberg fit for the Titanic.

The government thought the agitation would die down if the forces showed sufficient restraint, and the home minister did enough sweet-talking. But it was already clear in July that the home ministry had failed miserably, and that the defence ministry ought to be gearing up. Sadly, it took several weeks for that to sink in with the powers that be.

Even eight weeks after Burhan was killed, the plethora of agencies that are meant to advise the government on such matters evidently thought that the agitation would be diffused if a parliamentary delegation were to hold talks with Hurriyat Conference ‘leaders.’ Those unintelligent ‘intelligence’ walas yet to figured out that this was not a repeat of 2010. One hopes those `intelligence’ clowns have figured at least that much by now.

Even when talks might have diffused matters – long before Burhan was killed – talking to the Hurriyat was already pointless: not just boys Burhan’s age (22 when he died) but teenagers and boys in their pre-teens were, and remain, at the forefront. They have been increasingly taken the lead more decisively since 2008 – more decisively since Burhan became their icon last year.

Young Rafqat Sonwaire, a political and social activist of the rural Sumbal area north of Srinagar, makes a pertinent point about the country’s political leadership: “They keep trying to talk to the secessionist leaders. They should go out into the field and talk to the youth.”

Fanning the flames

Of course, it is true that that very real youth anger has been smartly channeled, coordinated and sponsored – but not necessarily by Hurriyat activists. Activists of just about every political party other than Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference fanned the flames in various places, at least for the first couple of months. And activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami have been very active – although, as with Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (which declared itself Jamaat’s askari baazu or sword-arm) in the 1990s, the Jamaat’s Amir and Shoura council may not formally be behind it.

Three months into the mayhem that Burhan’s killing sparked, one hopes the powers that be have begun to comprehend that the unrest is not over. In fact, it may get far worse. Rafqat Sonwaire pointed out that, while returning home from Srinagar on Thursday evening, he found that mobs of boys had stoned cars on his route, although stone-pelting had been much reduced over the past few days.

One more youth died of pellet injuries in Srinagar on Friday, leading to more protest.

A harvest dip

No doubt one major reason for the temporary dip in ‘stone-pelting’ is the arrest and detention of thousands of boys across Kashmir over the past few weeks. But, another important reason is that all the very many rural families that own small or big orchards are busy harvesting apples and the saffron crop (around Pampore). This year’s walnut and almond crops have already been picked.

It is only when all the crops are in by the middle of this month will we know how much impact the arrests and detentions have actually had. According to the grapevine, the fruit industry got the separatist leadership to allow them to get their crops down and send to markets across the country by 12 October.

If that grapevine is credible, the ‘calendar’ through which the separatists dictate the nature and venues of protests will become much tougher after Wednesday.

Gas bags of hope

The hope-filled ‘analyses’ of the powers-that-be that things will simmer down once the state government moves to Jammu, and the cold sets in, could prove as ill-founded as their earlier series of hope spurred ‘analyses’ – that things would die down by the end of July, or by around Independence Day, or by around Eid-ul-Zuha (13 September in Kashmir), or once the UNGA session ended, … They have had several hope attacks in these three months!

In fact, oblivious to all that hope, the focus has expanded to the international arena, much more so since the lethal attack on an army brigade at Uri on 18 September.

The fact that security camps and police stations were attacked right across the Valley on 9 July, within hours after Burhan was killed, should have indicated that there was a pattern, and a certain level of coordination, behind the apparent mayhem. Further evidence has piled up since infiltration of trained militants from across the Line of Control has increased, grenades and guns have occasionally been used, and weapons are still being snatched from security personnel – as they have been over the past few years by new local recruits to the militant ranks.

Three months after Burhan was killed, the portents are not good. Not good at all.

Baramulla attack ground report: Sky over army camp during the battle lit up like it was Diwali

The file clips that television channels kept showing during Sunday night’s attack on armed forces camps in Baramulla did not begin to do justice to what was actually happening. Those who saw it at ground zero say that it was like Diwali.

The divisional headquarters is right across the river from the Rashtriya Rifles and Border Security Force camps that were attacked. Apparently, army men opened up with whatever they had, firing from all directions. Some of those who heard the gunfire from up close say they must have heard the sound of no less than 3,000 bullets, and perhaps a dozen much louder blasts — no doubt from mortar shells.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Firing began when the armed men were apparently spotted lurking in the dark on the river bank. Later, covering fire for the attackers also came from an adjacent house.

The army held back from trying to surround the attackers from behind during the two-hour encounter. One reason was to avoid collateral damage: residential houses have come up over the past few years almost right up to the perimeter of those camps, which are near the eastern end of Baramulla. The Old Town is down the river to the west. Over the past couple of decades, the city has spread in this direction and to new colonies south of the river such as Sangri.

The attackers apparently descended from the hills to the south of Baramulla Old Town. From that vantage, they could have either gone towards the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) camp at the stadium beside the highway from Baramulla to Handwara, or towards this RR camp at the eastern end of the city.

There has been speculation, probably unfounded, that the attackers crossed the river — possibly from the Khawaja Bagh locality, which is spread along the bank of the Jhelum a little upriver from the camps that were attacked.

The relatively upper crust southern portion of Khawaja Bagh, uphill from the national highway, contains huge mansions. Relatively more congested parts of Khawaja Bagh are spread along the river, below the highway. Some residents of the city speculate that militants might lurk in that area.

It is true that they could theoretically have crossed the river from there to the camps that were attacked. But that is a very unsettling thought. For, they could surely have attacked the Divisional Headquarters on the same side of the river even more easily. And the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police and the residence of the Deputy Commissioner are also a little further downriver along that bank of the Jhelum.

The reason Khawaja Bagh is in focus is that militants had attacked an army convoy on the national highway right at Khawaja Bagh exactly a month before the lethal attack on the Uri Brigade base. Some city residents are convinced that those militants had come out of some of the bungalows in Khawaja Bagh. They must have conducted recce operations from there over the previous few nights.

Army convoys used to move at night during those first few weeks of this year’s unrest in Kashmir, in order to steer clear of stone-pelting mobs. The army has been under strict instructions not to shoot in response.

On one occasion, a convoy commander (Major) ran up and down his long convoy to prevent his angry troops from firing back while they were being pelted further along that highway on the outskirts of Srinagar. On at least two occasions, convoys remained on the highway between Anantnag and Srinagar for several hours at night, facing angry demonstrations without firing back. Several CRPF convoys have reversed or turned away at high speed to avoid stone-pelters on arterial highways.

The August attack on the convoy at Baramulla had resulted in a 15-minute shoot-out on the highway in the dark. Several army personnel were casualties. The attackers got away, although a Quick Response Team jumped out of a vehicle just ahead of the vehicles that were directly under attack, and put up a brave fight.

The next day, the Corps Commander, Lt-Gen Satish Dua, ordered that convoys should move during the day and should shoot at the legs of any stone-pelters who tried to stop them.
As anger rises in the army’s ranks following the Uri attack, the brass are going to find it increasingly difficult to impose restraint.

India’s surgical strikes: Destroying terrorist camps is apt, govt must now be prepared

The army deserves high praise for the destruction of militant launch pads across the Line of Control on Wednesday night. That the soldiers who participated in the daring operation got back without casualty or even injury is admirable.

The disastrous US operation — also using helicopters and para-commandos — to rescue its diplomatic staff from Iran in 1980 highlighted the military and political risks of such operations in hostile territories (where the home government and army have not been persuaded to turn a blind eye).

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Equally commendable is the maturity with which India’s political and military leadership opted for this proportionate response to the Uri attack ten days earlier. Destroying those launch pads in a coordinated triple strike from three different army division headquarters was an adequate response, but not an overly belligerent one.

The government deserves even more praise for building consensus immediately after. It reached out to explain its actions not only to the media, the spectrum of political party leaders, and the international community, but also to the range of state governments. This last gesture, reminiscent of Jawaharlal Nehru’s federal inclusiveness, is laudable.

This operation has revived faith in the country’s intelligence-gathering abilities too. One hears the army had information of 300 trained militants at those launch pads, ready to infiltrate into the Indian side of the Line of Control. In light of the mayhem they would have caused, the strike was legitimate defence against aggression — even if one did not view it as a response to the Uri attack.

Getting past nuclear blackmail

By penetrating only a couple of kilometres across the Line of Control within the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India has finally worked out an appropriate response to the nuclear blackmail which Pakistan has used for 30 years.

It was in 1986 that General Zia-ul-Haq indicated to India’s interlocutors such as former foreign secretary MK Rasgotra that Pakistan too had a nuclear weapon. True, the two countries only announced to the world that they had nukes in 1998, but India had tested one in 1974 and Pakistan had developed one (with Chinese help) by the mid-1980s.

It was only with that weapon-shield in place that Pakistan propped up Kashmir’s militant insurgency from 1988. Of course, the Indian government committed enough mistakes between 1984 and 1987 to put things in place for Pakistan. It split the National Conference and dislodged Farooq Abdullah. The replacement government, known as ‘curfew raj’, was replaced with Governor’s rule and then a shotgun Congress-NC alliance. Then came the rigging of the 1987 elections and violence against candidates and election agents who then became militants assuming names such as Syed Salahuddin and Yasin Malik.

Successive Indian governments considered going to war against Pakistan over the Kashmir militancy at least thrice during the 1990s, but were deterred by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. So jittery had the US become in May 1990 that Deputy National Security Advisor Robert Gates was told to fly from Moscow, where he was on a visit, directly to Islamabad and New Delhi. He met both prime ministers, but it is said that neither of them knew of the Pakistan Army’s suspicious (probably nuclear weapons-related) moves over the past couple of days — of which Gates showed both premiers satellite pictures.

In that context, the news that Secretary of State Kerry called External Affairs Minister Swaraj twice in the previous two days, and that the current US National Security Advisor too called her Indian counterpart on the eve of the Indian strike, is interesting. It would seem that the US was once again well-informed about what was afoot.

Preparedness and balance

The US’s will not be the only intelligence set-up that will now be keenly watching what will ensue.

No doubt there will be militant strikes within the Kashmir Valley, sooner or later. For, though the strike prevented the crossing of a large number of potential infiltrators, a larger number has already entered the Valley over the past couple of years.

Battles between militants and forces within the Valley are not new. But now that the government has so successfully taken the battle to the opponent’s half of the field, it must be ready to face more aggressive responses without losing the moral upper hand by coming across as irresponsible.

The government has already announced that it is ready for ‘anything’. The question is whether Pakistan will opt for other sorts of responses than militancy within Kashmir and, if so, whether these will be on the borders or within India.

Another key question is whether Pakistan’s chief benefactor, China, will now urge it against escalation or back further belligerence against India.

An apocryphal Chinese curse says: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ We surely do.

Kashmir unrest: Mass arrests of youth will cost India as much as ignoring their rage did last year

A country that ignores the rage of a very important section of its youth should expect an insurrection. A country whose security managers are oblivious to a dangerous external threat is in for a battering. A country whose rulers mess up on social, political and military fronts all at once condemns itself to a bleak future.

Such a future looms before India. The most tragic aspect of this situation is that at least the youth rage in Kashmir could have been handled before it became a full-blown uprising. When it did, it was not handled. The harsh suppression now underway will build up tinder for more trouble.

Over the past two years, our rulers ignored the rage among Kashmiri youth, as it built to fever pitch. Indeed, the state apparatus presided over the coalescence of that rage like an emperor fiddling while his citadel burnt. Since it happened at a time when an extremely serious external threat was building, one might even compare it with Muhammad Shah carousing while a Nadir Shah approached.

It was obvious over the past year that youth rage had coalesced visibly, particularly in south Kashmir. Some of the proximate causes: no flood rescue or relief, beef vigilantism, perceived threats to identity, the perception of a national anti-Muslim bias, and disgust at the PDP’s coalition with, and perceived humiliation by, the BJP.

The PDP, which won a number of assembly seats in 2014, is based largely in south Kashmir. But even after youth rage began to visibly boil in Pulwama, Kulgam and other parts of south Kashmir last autumn, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to snub former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed at a public meeting in Srinagar — and then starve the state of promised funds.

So oblivious did the state apparatus remain even by this summer that it had no idea that rage would explode forcefully over the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani. Either the powers-that-be were taken totally by surprise, or some of them calculated that letting it explode would help them consolidate an anti-Muslim ‘nationalist’ vote elsewhere in the country. If indeed that sort of cynical calculation was at play, it is unforgivable.

Kashmiri youths protest against the killing of civilians, at Barzulla in Srinagar last week. PTI

Kashmiri youths protest against the killing of civilians, at Barzulla in Srinagar last week. PTI

The state apparatus gave the explosion of youth rage space for several weeks after Burhan’s death. Leave alone the police, even army convoys turned away from stone-pelting mobs in some places. That was a sensible tactic for the first few days, especially in light of the unpreparedness and miscalculations that resulted in a huge toll of deaths and eye injuries in the very first couple of days after Burhan’s death. But thereafter, restraint became increasingly costly.

For, three trends unfolded simultaneously: one, agents provocateurs took increasing control of teenaged mobs. Some of them were from political parties and organisations. Many of them disbursed money. Two, narratives about what was happening became polarised, uni-dimensional and provocative. Three, more and more common people became restive, eager for ‘normalcy.’

For two months, the state apparatus failed to handle the first two, or build upon the third. Political workers were largely invisible, particularly in the crucial first month. Over the past couple of weeks, the state apparatus has swung to the other extreme, opting for ham-fisted suppression.

Thousands of boys have been picked up. The state’s draconian Public Safety Act has been liberally applied. Adolescents have been locked up and brutalised. There is talk of desperate parents paying large sums to get them released. This may well succeed in imposing surface calm. But in terms of easing youth rage, it is even worse than ignoring it cynically over the past year and more. It will initiate a fresh cycle of fury, alienation and revolt.

In fact, the youth rage before which the state has been so helpless for two months has been building since the state employed exactly the same sort of repressive tactics in the wake of the stone-pelting uprising of 2010. Then, the issues were specific: the killing of innocents by counterinsurgency forces. The names of Wamiq Farooq, Tufail Mattoo and Machil reverberated through that summer and beyond.

The suppression that followed over the next year shaped a new wave of local militants — boys like Burhan Wani, who went underground aged 15 in October 2010 after he was brutalised by policemen of the Special Task Force.

The country’s top security managers refused to take this new militancy, and the youth rage that fed it, seriously until last year, when public anger over militant attacks against security forces became politically costly. Then, they ordered the armed forces to kill militants.

That they allowed the rage to build until then makes one wonder whether they glimpsed political benefit in framing developments in Kashmir as Muslims at war with India.

Either way, the state has damaged the nation both in the lead-up to Burhan’s killing as well as in the weeks since. One has a sinking feeling about just how high a price the country will yet pay for its rulers’ mistakes.

Uri terror attack: Prepare for more such strikes, but don’t treat Kashmiris as the enemy

The Uri attack dramatically drove home the fact that a very lethal sort of militancy will be a facet of the unrest that is unfolding now in Kashmir. Let us make no mistake: It is just beginning to unfold. The worst is yet to come.

The training of the Uri attackers may have been similar to that of the 10 who attacked Mumbai in November 2008. If so, the facilities that produced them will surely produce more. This is not the sort of militant that was active during the 90s, not even in the very lethal phase of fidayeen attacks from 1999 to 2001. Those were easy by comparison. As for the sort of militants that Burhan Wani led, the Uri-type militants are as different from them as the global ring of nuclear device smugglers are from a neighbourhood gang of chain-snatchers.

The government has done well to take the diplomatic offensive against Pakistan to a new level. But that will not stop Pakistan. Indeed, it might even spur it on. Far more important is policy-making on the ground — in Kashmir. Two kinds of action are very urgent:

Soldiers guard outside the army base in Uri. PTI

Soldiers guard outside the army base in Uri. PTI

Prepare on multiple fronts

One, the army must pull up its socks. The Northern Command could soon face what smart strategists are calling ‘a two-and-a-half front conflict’ — the militants and stone-pelters on the ground together constituting just the half. This could very quickly transform into the biggest challenge any major army has faced since the Soviets were in Afghanistan. Uri gave a glimpse of just how quickly.

The army’s smartest officers should immediately get involved in ops room war games, through which they might sort out which bridges and other vital infrastructure and installations need to be protected, what roads, railways and other lines need to be urgently upgraded, which supply lines need to be girded, and which fresh lines established.

All three corps of the Northern Command should engage in this sort of brainstorming. Not only that, they should be prepared for the most unexpected possibilities on both the west and the east. We can only forget at our national peril how the Indian Army was taken by surprise in Kargil in 1999.

Kashmir, not Pakistan

Two, the government and the various organs of the State such as the army, must be very cautious now not to conflate the infiltrators of Uri with common Kashmiris. Sure, the infiltrators will get a huge and vital support from Kashmiri militants, and from stone-pelters too. But most of the latter will view the infiltrators as foreigners, never as their own.

At least two strains of discourse have been common across Kashmir since the Uri attack. On the one hand, people are cynical about the whodunit. That is hardly surprising given the game of smoke and mirrors that the agencies have played in Kashmir for decades. But on the other hand, people are uneasy about this high voltage India-Pakistan action.

For most Kashmiris, it was not part of the script. Azadi, autonomy, negotiations — these have all been part of the discourse in recent weeks. Kashmir becoming a part of Pakistan has not. It is not a generally preferred option.

It may only be a coincidence that traffic has been relatively heavier in Srinagar since the Uri attack than over the past couple of months of continual hartal. Then again, it may not be a coincidence.

In most parts of the valley, the forces have been relatively restrained over the past several weeks, noticeably more so than in 2010. In many cases, the forces have turned away from stone-pelting mobs, treating discretion as the better part of valour.

It is imperative that the government keep a firm rein on the forces. They must not give up the gains of the policy of restraint.

Srinagar: Security jawans stop people to enter Lal Chowk area where movement of people was restricted by authorities to foil sepratists march in Srinagar on Monday. PTI Photo by S Irfan(PTI9_19_2016_000191B) *** Local Caption ***

Jawans stop people from entering Lal Chowk area in Srinagar. PTI

In for the long haul

It is time the government and its organs woke up to the fact that we are in for a long haul. This unrest may dip for a while but there is going to be hell to pay over the next couple of years. It will be extremely tough to maintain restraint in place.

Yet, the worst thing would be to treat the Kashmiri people by and large as enemy, even when a large number of them will support and sustain lethal infiltrators. That is the mistake the Indian Army made in the late 1990s. Although that policy changed radically after Kargil, that mistake of the late 90s is one of the major reasons why we are witnessing a new insurgency. It must not be repeated.

The last thing we need at this stage is stuff like Operation Calm Down, which was launched by no less than the army chief just about 10 days before the gentleman rushed back to the valley after the Uri attack. That’s not the sort of to-ing and fro-ing the army chief should be doing at such a challenging time.

What is Operation Calm Down? It has put the army into play along with the police and the paramilitary to, um… yes, calm down stone-pelters. Bad idea. It stems from gross underestimation of the challenge that faces India.

The urgency of getting our estimates of what we require from our army a little closer to right cannot be overemphasised.

Lessons of India’s NSG entry: China-Pak axis is now a fact of life

In order to sensibly analyse what is happening over India’s possible admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), one must take account of how the global political scene has changed over the past eight years, since India was given a waiver in 2008.

The most obvious change is China’s emergence as a superpower. It does not yet project power across the globe as much as the US, but it is less chary of arrogating global power to itself than it was eight years ago. Its influence over other countries has increased significantly; willy-nilly, that has dented the ‘globo-cop’ role which the US was able to take on after the collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. That Russia has made a strong comeback on the world stage in the new century has further decreased the reach of the US’s power. So has the failure of its ‘shock-and-awe’ invasion of Iraq.

A related change is that China has adopted Pakistan as a key economic, political, and military ally. Indeed, Pakistan is now arguably China’s most trusted strategic ally. Chinese troops are deployed in parts of the Jammu and Kashmir state controlled by Pakistan, and an extraordinary economic corridor is coming up through that state all the way to the Arabian Sea. It is slated to be China’s most important neo-‘silk route.’

Representational image. Getty ImagesRepresentational image. Getty Images

Representational image. Getty Images

Since at least the 1970s, the two countries’ cooperation has focused most sharply on nuclear power; China has either given, or helped Pakistan to develop, technologies and hardware for nuclear weapons, fissile material and missiles. Even beyond the nuclear field, the two countries’ military cooperation has increased tremendously over the years.

One must therefore understand that China’s resistance to India’s admission to the NSG is to a large extent an integrated Sino-Pakistani resistance. Pakistan has been antagonistic towards India since its birth. India needs to get used to the fact that China too is not positively disposed.

It has become clear since 2008 that China wants to keep India uncertain and under pressure. Since the end of that year, its troops have made periodic forays into territories of Jammu and Kashmir that India considers to be under its control. China had also stopped issuing visas on the Indian passports of citizens from that state. And it has, during this period, made it clear that it considers the state to be disputed, and that it sees a role for itself at the negotiating table for a resolution.

When India was given a waiver in 2008, US President George W Bush had gone out of his way to exert his country’s considerable pressure on a range of member countries. Since then, sections of the US establishment may have been disappointed in their expectations of nuclear-related sales to India — which has rightly demonstrated that it will decide each purchase on merits according to its interests.

On the other hand, Pakistan and China have obviously done a lot of spadework in the world’s chanceries this time round. According to reports, Brazil, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Turkey raised objections. Most objections have centred, either explicitly or implicitly, on the need to establish norms for admission that would allow the Group to deal with a Pakistani application. The behaviour of Brazil, which is in the throes of a messy political transition, is particularly intriguing.

On the other hand, India’s case was brought up by Japan, which occupies the high moral ground on the issue of nuclear proliferation — as the only country to have suffered nuclear weapon strikes. India also had strong support from France – a leading seller in the nuclear market.

India can take comfort from the fact that its diplomacy succeeded to a large success. Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well to ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to consider the issue of India’s admission objectively on its merits. In diplomacy, what is left unsaid is as important as what is said. At this juncture, it would have been counterproductive to acknowledge that India sees that China is closely aligned to Pakistan.

Catch-22: Targeted attacks on cops in Srinagar could be part of larger strategy

The attacks against three policemen in Srinagar need to be carefully analyzed. There are tell-tale signs that a carrot and stick strategy might be subtly coming into play to weaken the morale of the Jammu and Kashmir police force — if not a large-scale gameplan to try and neutralize the force.

If the killings constitute a hard-knuckled warning, a recent ground-level discourse in the Valley about ‘our’ policemen could comprise the carrot part of the strategy. Such talk might have been deliberately spread to try and pose a choice for policemen to stand for or against Kashmiris. The discourse held that, ‘in their hearts, Kashmiri policemen feel the pain of common Kashmiris.’

Special Operation Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police Personnel. PTI

Special Operation Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police Personnel. PTI

It is pointed out as part of that discourse, most members of the counter-insurgency Special Operations Groups (SOG) are ethnic Gujjars or Pahadis – although this preponderance has gradually been less true over the past decade and more – and that ethnic Kashmiris are sympathetic to the freedom movement.

Pertinently, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen statement that claimed responsibility for the recent killings stated that the policemen who were on traffic detail had earlier been part of the SOG.

Perhaps no less pertinent is the fact that this was hotly contested by the deceased policemen’s families – a tacit acknowledgement that killing SOG members might be defensible in their eyes. Indeed, the SOG has been in the forefront of the counter-insurgent war, and their methods have often been unpalatable.

To lower the morale of a local police force can be a key strategy near the start of a new, high-intensity phase of militancy. The local police was barely functional for three or four years from 1990, when the previous phase of high-intensity militancy got going. There was even a police revolt, during which the JKP was disarmed. It was only after 1995 that the police force came back into its own. The SOG modules were at the cutting edge.

A militant campaign to target serving and retired police men and officers now could take a heavy toll on morale. There is a danger that this could cause a spiraling cycle of revenge killings, which could cause panic after a point.

Another danger is that continued targeting of policemen would lead to far heavier arming of the police force, including those on traffic duty. This too could lead to problems, in light of the experience of uncoordinated, badly aimed firing on an almost daily basis during the summer of 2010 – often in contravention of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). Already, we have seen a sad breach of SOPs by even some (arguably much better trained) Army personnel during April.

The high-profile controversies over differentiation between local and ‘outsider’ students at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar (last month) and over proposals to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits and to settle retired Army personnel in the Valley could give opportunities to increase insider-outsider stress in the ranks of the police force – and thus contribute to lowering morale.

It was widespread public anger over the perception that land transfer to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008 was meant to allow ‘outsiders’ to own land in the Valley that set off the unsavoury events that have snowballed into a new militancy. It would be foolhardy to ignore the deeply-felt sentiments, which border on paranoia, around Kashmir’s sense of ethnic exclusivity.

Not only the members of the police force, a wide range of officials and politicians in the Valley shared the anger and distress that animated the 2008 agitations. Not the least among these were leaders and cadres of the now-ruling People’s Democratic Party. Resettlement of retired Army personnel has similar potential. It could become a Catch-22 even for those in the establishment.

On the other hand, it could energize anti-state activists more than most issues – particularly if it is presented as an assault on Islamic identity. Already, almost simultaneously with the killing of the three policemen, the three main rival leaders of Kashmir’s separatist struggle – Mirwaiz Umar, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and Yasin Malik – agreed to work together to counter such ‘anti-Kashmir’ moves. It is worth noting that Pakistan has been trying for some time to bring them together but its efforts have hitherto faltered.

It would be important for its own sake to take steps to ease the insider-outsider animosities that have been increasing in the Valley. It is even more critically urgent in light of the rising tide of militancy.

Cop-killing in the heart of Srinagar shows security establishment’s cluelessness

It is about time the officers and retired professionals of India’s security establishment pulled up their socks.

The cold-blooded killing of three policemen in Downtown Srinagar is ample indication that the various sections of this security establishment have been quite wrong, yet again. For a long time now, they have confidently insisted that there are no militants in Srinagar.

Special Operation Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police Personnel inspecting the spot where militants killed a policeman at Tengpora Batamallo in Srinagar on Monday. PTI

Jammu and Kashmir Police Personnel inspecting the spot where militants killed a policeman in Srinagar on Monday. PTI

According to their wisdom, there are many militants in south Kashmir, but they insist with equal vigour that they have the situation under control.

Until the sudden bursts of fire that killed those policemen, this blasé confidence about the city passed for the wisdom of the Army, the police, and the various intelligence agencies. The same institutions also had little knowledge about what had been afoot between January 1988 and December 1989. (The first batch of militants crossed the Line of Control in January ’88 to train in Pakistan, and Dr Rubaiya Sayeed was kidnapped in December ’89.)

Much public money has been spent on firming up the intelligence and other apparatus of these institutions. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s offices generally have little access to their workings, but it is time for Parliament to call them to account. This country can not afford to sustain such ridiculous levels of continuous incompetence.

Not only did none of these institutions of the state have an idea of the militancy when it emerged in ’88 and ’89, none of them could predict the explosion of anger in 2008 or in 2010. They have consistently underestimated the challenge of this new militancy over the past six years. And let’s not speak for the moment of the think-tanks in Delhi. They are generally far removed.

I had been convinced since at least the winter of 2012-13 that some of the new crop of young militants must be lurking in the inner city of Srinagar – which is locally called Downtown. I had no specific information about this but, based on my reporting of Kashmir for a quarter-century, trends that had become visible elsewhere in the Valley made it obvious.

The slaughter of policemen – they were unarmed, directing traffic – indicates that those militants who might have been lurking (‘sleepers’ in the jargon of security wonks) in the city are getting ready to show their hand. Rather, it indicates that their masters (‘handlers’ in the security wonks’ jargon) might be ready to ‘launch’ them.

I told several analysts in Kashmir last summer that it seemed as if we were being shown Burhan Wani, the iconic young militant – as if some of his ‘handlers’ wanted the focus to be on him and his activities in south Kashmir. Security strategists should be trained to suspect that field action might be a side-tracking attempt, a feint, or even a trap. But apparently, those in the security establishment could only see what they were being shown.

Over the past month or so, the propaganda machinery of the security establishment has publicly patted itself on the back – for having knocked off most of Burhan’s comrades in south Kashmir. They have indeed had many ‘encounter’ successes in south Kashmir – although it is worth noting that many Kashmiris suspect that some of those ‘encounters’ were staged after the militants had been captured elsewhere and killed.

However, they still seem to have as little idea of the dimensions of the new militancy as their predecessors had towards the end of the ’80s. Only when they begin to understand what they face can they start the urgent task of preparing strategies to face it. Tragically, it appears that, like the government of the state in September 2014, they will only wake up to what is happening when the flood is upon them.

Integrationist historians caught between Hindutva activists and non-nationalist academia

Bhagat Singh became one of my heroes when I was a teenager. Bipan Chandra introduced me to him – as a nationalist, an intellectual, a courageous hero of India’s freedom struggle.

In fact, Professor Bipan Chandra’s modern history textbook, which I studied in Class VIII, gave me a fascinating sense of how the Republic of India and its ideals came about. He introduced me to Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, as well as to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Henry Derozio.

Bipan Chandra wrote a history of inclusiveness, of integration, of social reform, of the formation of modern India. Subtly, in the corners of the minds and hearts of young people, that history shaped patriotism, a commitment to an India that nourished, cherished and embraced.

It is perhaps only natural that historians of an integrating, inclusive India are getting short shrift in a time when the divisive politics of Hindutva is on the ascendant. But this is extremely sad, for the recent attacks on Bipan Chandra and other integrationist historians could grievously injure the Indian republic.

Bhagat Singh. PTIBhagat Singh. PTI

Bhagat Singh. PTI

Chandra has been accused of describing Bhagat Singh as a terrorist. This is plainly mala fide. In fact, Chandra contributed hugely to valorising Bhagat Singh. In his later work (2006), Chandra wrote that `Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues.’

Even when he and his co-authors used the term `revolutionary terrorist’ in an earlier work, they made it clear that they used it without any pejorative intent, and only because there was no obvious alternative to adequately describe Bhagat Singh’s methods.

In October 2007, Chandra gave a clarion call for the word `terrorist’ to be changed. `It was a word of praise then and was used to distinguish Bhagat Singh from the other streams of freedom struggle. But the word terrorism has assumed a very different meaning now. I would not like it to be used now,’ he told The Times of India.

The fact that, despite all this being on the public record, his provisional use of the word in 1988 has nevertheless been used to attack Chandra and his co-authors suggests that the intent is malicious. The most dangerous aspect of this in the long term is that, in attacking integrationist nationalist historians, Hindutva communalists could undermine the integration that has been achieved since the 19th century across the axes of language, caste, sect and religion.

Perhaps the saddest part of the intellectual war that is going on is that the attack against integrative nationalism by the Hindutva-based alternative is drawing its power and ammunition from intellectual streams that question nationalism entirely. The attack against Professor Chandra surely stems from the crisis that enveloped JNU after anti-India slogans were raised there on 9 February.

Chandra is closely identified with JNU, for he was one of the University’s founding professors. He retired as professor emeritus – and was also designated a national professor.

It is tragic that integrationist historians such as Chandra’s successors are caught in a cleft stick. On the one hand, Hindutva ideologues are determined to wrest the narrative of Indian nationalism from them. On the other, non-nationalist streams of scholarship often disparage them even more. The latter have greater salience, if only because streams of scholarship associated with post-modernism have been enthusiastically cheered in the academically dominant West. By contrast, academia generally considers Hindutva communal and xenophobic – and disparages nationalism as statist and passé.

Driven most often by altruism, schools of historiography such as subaltern studies have done valuable work to research the histories of tribal, caste and other groups that may otherwise have been ignored or subsumed in larger narratives. In so doing, some of them have at times supported, either openly or tangentially, movements that critique India’s unity as oppressive for subaltern groups.

They must respect the thin line between highlighting oppressive policies and undermining the constitutionally established system. Recent events in several countries have demonstrated the terrible consequences of weakening a system, even a flawed one.

On the other hand, those who are uneasy about such academic work should see that it adds vital layers and dimensions to our understanding of our country. It presents perspectives from which the project of nation-building can usefully be questioned, analyzed and corrected. It can help us to focus on and validate dimensions of society within the constitutionally established republic in order to minimize threats to the vision of the constitution.

Even though such schools of scholarship have often disparaged what I have called integrationist historiography the most, integrationist historians who worked closely with Chandra took the forefront in defence of those who gave space to Kashmiri agitators at JNU on 9 February – on the ground that, even if the slogans raised were objectionable, it was a University matter that ought to have been dealt with within the University rather than by police, politics and a high-pitched media trial.

It is for that courage to defend principles that they are paying a price – and Professor Chandra is being posthumously attacked. The ruling establishment has seized the opportunity to set upon them with vigour since they have in the past criticized the RSS sharply – not only for communal thrusts that undermine the integrationist project, but over RSS leaders’ timidity during the freedom struggle.

This is a sad and sorry spectacle. For it weakens the country. Nation-building is a constant, relentless process. It is a journey – a difficult one. In the Indian context, it is a journey of a vast and variegated caravan. To carry along all those who participate in this caravan is a tough task. Fellow-feeling and sensitivity are vital.

Attacking and pulling down sections of the caravan slows down and unsettles the entire caravan, and leaves it vulnerable to attack and to dissipation. National leaders must ensure that this does not happen, not try to make it happen.

Discrimination, disillusionment: What drives Kashmir youths to militancy?

The 12-year old child looks angelic as he stands at the back of the classroom in his bright uniform. The room seems cramped, with the rows of neatly turned out students. Gradually gathering confidence, the child relates a litany of complaints. His theme is discrimination. The army kills Kashmiris, he says. Kashmir students are beaten and badly treated in states across India while outsiders are safe in Kashmir.

Water cannons are used in other states, live bullets in Kashmir.

They fire shells at schools, he adds, his eyes dilating a bit. A teargas shell was apparently fired outside a nearby school during an exam a few days ago, when common people gathered to protest and throw stones during an armed encounter between militants and forces. The students view it as an unjustifiable tactic; it rankles terribly. So do memories of teargas and the blast from ‘sound bombs’ that they have experienced.

These do not repress.

They incite.

Representational image. Getty Images

Representational image. Getty Images

Beef is accepted in ‘our religion’, says another student, but Kashmiris have been oppressed over beef. Dadri is in their minds… and Udhampur.

This room full of students ranging from 12 to 18 years of age has been summoned from the playing field by their principal to talk to me. But they are not upset at being kept away from sport. They are eager to share their angst. Even when school gives over, it is only when staff come to say that a particular bus is about to leave, that students who have to take that bus leave the room. The rest say their homes are walking distances away; they want to continue this discussion. They will sit till evening if I will, even talk through the night, they say.

Their litany of complaints is one that has become common across Kashmir. It is the discourse that now undergirds the new militancy. The passion with which it is voiced is a little more intense in this school. For, this school is in a hamlet at the pulsing heart of the rebellion that has overtaken Pulwama district in the south district. The militant commander Abu Qasim, who was killed in an encounter last winter, spent three years living here. A number of militants have emerged from this belt northeast of Pulwama town.

More are ready.

Those in this classroom — including the girls sitting in the right half of the room — announce that they would all turn ‘mujahid’ if arms were available. That is echoed by students with whom I interact in different parts of south Kashmir during a four-day visit that takes me through Awantipora, Bijbehara, Aishmuqam, Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama.

One hears the same complaints everywhere.

Comparisons are drawn with state action against the Jat agitation in Haryana and the Patel agitation in Gujarat: Water cannons there, bullets here. Further, students complain that their ‘mothers and sisters’ can’t go into the fields for fear of humiliation. Among students, this discourse is new.

Talk of Islamic identity, jihad, Islamic rule, and discrimination against Muslims too is common. In one room full of students, the only response to ‘Who is your hero?’ is the prophet. ‘Who in the contemporary world?’ is greeted with silence. Not (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani sahib, I ask, or the Mirwaiz (Umar Farooq)? None of them, the students respond.

Not only is there great disappointment with the PDP-BJP coalition, many young people disparage democracy as a system. The Islamic State has no organisational presence here, but minds and hearts are full of notions that would suit it. Many more students talk of Pakistan than did five years ago when I toured the Valley’s educational institutions extensively. Islam is their connection, they say. Some also talk of Islamic rule unbounded by nation states.

There are variations in opinions, to be sure. But some of the alternative voices tend to take a little time to emerge during conversations — anti-India voices being more ready at hand, and louder. Towards the end of my discussion with students at the Pulwama Degree College, a student speaks of corruption and doublespeak in his society. Another said, “The fault is not only with India or the army; we too are at fault.”

Some residents of Pulwama and of Shopian speculate on whether the high levels of anti-State sentiment in the belt where Abu Qasim lived could also be related to the area’s relative economic backwardness and the poor quality of local soil. An extraordinarily high proportion of students in that school classroom say their family earnings are from agriculture.

Five years ago, youths from such backgrounds — with family incomes less than Rs 5,000 a month — tended to prefer peace and opportunities for prosperity. They were against agitations and instability. That this has changed indicates that hope has been extinguished. Exclusivist and political ideas about religion have increased alongside.

Generally speaking, the youngest seem to be the most radical — in religious and political terms. One of the most vocal of the teenaged students in that school classroom speaks of corruption in society, but seems to equate corruption with participation in the establishment. He speaks of all those who work for the government as ‘mukhbir‘ (informers).

An erudite phiran-clad friend in Shopian rues the extraordinary radicalisation among the young. Over steaming salt tea, my grey-haired friend dates the Islamic civilisation’s intellectual decline from Ghazali’s criticism of philosophy (Imam Ghazali died in 1111 CE). He speaks glowingly of India’s spiritual traditions, Mahatma Gandhi, and Kashmir’s Communist traditions. Although anger and a greatly increased sense of religion-based exclusivity are the dominant sentiments, they are not comprehensive. One student comes up after my lecture at a college in south Kashmir to say with a smile that he could not say it in the conference hall but, “I am an Indian”.

He is certainly not the only one in south Kashmir who feels committed to India, but those who talk of Pakistan do so openly, vigorously. The numbers of those who do has jumped over the past five years. Over the past couple of decades, ‘separatism’ generally meant independence from both India and Pakistan.

“No wonder,” observes freelance journalist Sheikh Hilal Ahmad of Shopian, “RSS activists talk of sending everyone they don’t like to Pakistan so often that they have made Kashmiris think Pakistan is the place anyone uneasy with ‘Hindutva’ must go.” Behind the jest is a valid point. The rhetoric and violence of RSS activists has indeed alienated Kashmiris. On the other hand, the kid-gloves the government used for Kashmiris who shouted slogans at JNU has not helped.

That Pakistan is back in focus is no cause for liberal Pakistanis to celebrate, however.

Generally, those Kashmiri youth who talk of Pakistan are extraordinarily radicalised and conservative.

Force against fury: Using troops to quell student rage in Handwara is a bad idea

Additional troops have been dispatched to Kashmir in the wake of the enraged demonstrations that shook Kupwara district last week. This is a depressing repeat of what happened in 2010, the last time stone-pelting demonstrations by young Kashmiris put the state on the back foot. Additional troops are likely to be as ineffective – indeed, counterproductive – as they were that year.

The tragic fact is that troop deployment seems to be the state’s reflexive response. When lathicharges do not work, they fire teargas shells. When that does not work, and those new troops provoke more anger, they try a water cannon. Then, they fire bullets. To the communities on which these tactics are used, these can come across as a killing spree animated by hatred and repression of that community – as it does to many Kashmiris.

The essential theme of these state responses is ‘law and order’. In fact, they have little to do with the law in terms of the Constitution’s objectives, only with the aim of imposing perceivable order – that is, lack of public disturbance. These responses were developed by the British, who set up India’s modern policing system. They set it up for colonial objectives. That is how Kashmiris now perceive and project them – as attempts to maintain colonisation.

A policeman uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Kashmiri demonstrators during a protest in Srinagar in February. ReutersA policeman uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Kashmiri demonstrators during a protest in Srinagar in February. Reuters

A policeman uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Kashmiri demonstrators during a protest in Srinagar in February. Reuters

Handling this sort of eruption of rebellion effectively requires responsiveness before the eruption. But that is something the state does not seem equipped, or willing, to engage in. Riot control is what it does. So, things must reach riot point before the state responds.

I am reminded of a telephone call in the late summer of 2008. There were almost daily demonstrations by irate youth in Srinagar. I was taking a walk in a Srinagar park when my mobile phone rang. It was a senior officer at the Centre whose job it was to handle Kashmir. I had met him during a discussion of my book on Kashmir, when he had said it had given him several important new perspectives. ‘What is happening,’ he asked plaintively over the phone. ‘What do we do?’

I replied that I could offer no advice while the place was burning. ‘Call me in the winter,’ I said, ‘and we can talk in detail about what needs to be done.’ I actually expected him to call in winter. He did not.

He did call again in the summer of 2010, when the place was burning again. Youth were being killed in police and CRPF firing on an almost daily basis as the state struggled to control the situation and restore order. I realised with a sinking feeling that policymakers don’t actually make policy. Nobody does. There is no policy, only those terms: ‘control’, ‘situation’ and ‘order’.

If someone were trying to formulate policy, the key point to understand would be that young Kashmiris view themselves as innocent victims. They resent being viewed as ‘terrorists’ more than almost anything. It does not help that the state sees Kashmir as ‘terrorism-affected’ and so kept the apparatus of counterinsurgency, and repressive special laws, in place even after the previous militancy ended around 2006.

Young people who had nothing to do with that militancy resent being treated with suspicion and not being given the rights which they think Indians beyond Kashmir have. The fact to keep in mind is that the majority of Kashmir’s population was born in a time of violence. Throughout their lives, they have only known violence and instability. There is a great deal of trauma and stress among them.

Given the skewed child sex ratio (CSR) in the new century, a significant majority of today’s traumatised young are male. The 2011 census indicates a greater increase in the CSR in Jammu and Kashmir than in any other state. By and large, violence has inured these young men to fear – including of death. Also, this generation has been bombarded with exclusionary ideas regarding religion and society.

Since they resent the apparatus of counterinsurgency, which has given them a siege mentality since their childhood, deploying additional troops is a bad idea. It will increase their anger.

Of course, while the place is bubbling with rebellion, troop deployment appears like the only appropriate emergency response. As in 2008 and 2010, this is not the moment to engage in more appropriate ways. Those opportunities have gone. Hopefully, they will come again. That will be the time to engage, to sort out bottlenecks, ease resentment.

NIT Srinagar row: Don’t deepen the divide; encourage students there to feel they’re a single community

The need of the hour is to bridge the divide between different kinds of students at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar. The way it is being mishandled is likely to increase the divide between those who think of themselves as ranged against each other on Kashmiri versus non-Kashmiri lines.

This could have very negative consequences, not only at this NIT but at educational institutions across the state and the country. Every effort must be made to encourage students to talk to each other and to think of themselves as students of an institution in which they collectively have a stake.

Although there was nothing wrong in principle with a delegation from the Union Human Resources Development ministry going to NIT, the way they conducted themselves is objectionable. They have only deepened the divide.

Protests in NIT Srinagar. PTIProtests in NIT Srinagar. PTI

Protests in NIT Srinagar. PTI

The team ought to have interacted with all kinds of students, informally at first. Instead, they set themselves up as a sort of appeals board to which non-Kashmiri students could address themselves. According to reports, they expelled Kashmiris from the tent under which they set themselves up on a rostrum. Using security to do the expelling was a particularly distressing way to go about it.

This is as mindless as the various high-spend but counterproductive initiatives of the Home Ministry over the past few years to divide Kashmiri students in various institutions where the government makes arrangements for their admission. At several colleges, Kashmiri Muslims are housed in separate hostels.

The government even proposed a separate hostel at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. That sort of ghettoisation leads to the sort of destructive sloganeering that occurred at JNU on 9 February. Instead, the effort should be to encourage various kinds of students to live and learn together.

In the process, minds could be opened to ‘other’ cultures, to acceptance and mutual respect, if not to imbibing and so constructing new and more inclusive cultures. That is what Farid, Kabir, Khusro, Lalla Ded, Noorudin Wali, Nanak, Gandhi and Gautam did through this subcontinent’s history.

None of those exemplars would have used the sort of VIP court of appeals manner of the Union ministry’s team to deal with the crisis at NIT. That team was flanked by an inordinate number of security men in battle fatigues, as if they had come to preside over a war.

Divide and rule mindset

This sort of behaviour smacks of the British divide and rule policy, which helped to reconstruct ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ as mutually exclusive and antagonistic categories in the subcontinent during the late 19th century.

In 1931, similar mishandling turned an ego-based rivalry between Pandit and Muslim landlords of Kashmir into a violent rebellion by Muslim Kashmiris against the Dogra regime. In March that year, it was only a rivalry over how prominently Muslim and Pandit landlords would be represented at a reception for the maharaja. By July, it was a rebellion that reverberated in Lahore, Shimla (the Empire’s summer capital). By September, it echoed in Westminster.

One of the key mistakes of that summer, was the invitation from GC Wakefield, who functioned as the maharaja’s prime minister, to the Muslim and Hindu elites of Kashmir to present their grievances to the maharaja, separately. It was a divisive tactic, the price for which is still being paid.

Later that year, the maharaja sacked Wafefield, suspecting him by then of having covertly forced the crisis to suit British interests. Sheikh Abdullah, who was catapulted to leadership by the agitations of that summer, told his biographer many decades later that he too suspected Wakefield’s role.

If Wakefield had meant well, it would have been much better for him or his colleagues to have visited the disgruntled feudal elites of Kashmir and brought them together peaceably.

So also would it be much more conducive to peace and long-term harmony for those in authority – in the NIT administration, the state government, the Union Ministry, and in civil society – to bring together the divided student community at NIT, and to make peace among them.

It is a thoroughly counter-productive strategy that civil society peacemakers who want to do just that are being prevented from even entering the NIT campus. The place has been locked down with an extraordinarily heavy deployment of troops.

Using the police is bound to deepen the divide. Since the police, more so in Kashmir than elsewhere in the country, is used to violent repression, their actions are likely to be seen in them versus us terms by either group of students.

PDP leaders should take a leaf out of Mufti Sayeed’s book and rein in police excesses

It is a tragic insult to the memory of the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, that the People’s Democratic Party’s youth leaders appear to have been emotionally carried away in defence of the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s (JKP) recent excesses over the past few days.

Mufti Sayeed is remembered with great regard by many Kashmiris for his ‘healing touch’ policy in Kashmir when he was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir between 2002 and 2005, but most of all for reining in the excesses of the state police force.

Representational image. IBNLive

Representational image. IBNLive

The Special Operations Groups of the force quite often behaved with impunity in the years from about 2007 till about the turn of the century, trampling the rights of common people with derision, while going about their counterinsurgency operations. Mufti Sayeed put a stop to that. That led to a great reduction of public support for militancy during the middle of the previous decade.

Militancy is on the rise again, partly owing to the excesses of the state police force in 2010 (the summer of ‘stone-pelting’), and 2011. Since Wednesday night, youth leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have gone about defending the police atrocities at the NIT campus. Their strategy is to pretend that it is the ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’ of the JKP that is under attack.

This is plain ridiculous. If the patriotism and dedication to the Indian nation of a force, of which each member wears a uniform with the President’s Police medal badge on his or her sleeve, and joins the force only after taking an oath of patriotic allegiance and duty, is even open to question, then the entire force might as well be wound up and sent home.

The fact is that the violent excesses of this police force are being questioned, not its patriotism. But the putative youth leaders of the PDP – who have, perhaps inadvertently, cast a dark shadow on the memory of Mufti Sayeed – seem to equate patriotism with torture and intimidation.

On Thursday, a social media post from one of them suggested that an infamously brutal police station in Srinagar was proof of the force’s patriotism. To common Kashmiris, the name of that station has denoted horror, particularly during the 1990s.

One of the events that kicked off the militancy which began in 1988 was the beating of young Hamid Sheikh in that police station by the National Conference’s late general secretary, who was the party’s candidate in the rigged 1987 elections. On polling day, he beat Sheikh with his slipper, shouting casteist invectives, while police personnel held the young man so that he could not retaliate.

In early 1988, Sheikh was among the first five Kashmiris who crossed the Line of Control for arms training. By 1989, he had become a commander of the JKLF. He was beaten at that police station for having been a polling agent for Yousuf Shah, who was the candidate for Amira Kadal constituency (in which ‘Cargo’ is located). In 1990, Shah became the Hizb-ul Mujahideen chief, taking the nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin.

Almost 30 years on, the rigging of the 1987 elections is universally acknowledged by Indian strategic thinkers to be a huge folly. Surely activists of the party in power in Kashmir can project a different face of India among a new generation in Kashmir than that police station?

On Wednesday, another of the party’s youth leaders defended the police’s brutality against NIT students by pointing out that the Mirwaiz’s house is 100 metres from the institute’s gate. The point was apparently calculated to conjure horrific images in the minds of people across India who might confuse the Mirwaiz’s politics with terrorist activity.

The fact is that the young Mirwaiz lives in a mansion in an upper crust neighbourhood near the Nagin lake with his widowed mother and young, US-educated wife. The youth propagandist could not possibly have thought that Mirwaiz, his wife and mother, personal secretary and gardener were likely to emerge on the road with brooms and dusters to assault the NIT’s non-Kashmiri students. So could he possibly have meant that they might be aided in riotous acts by the police and CRPF guards at their gates? One would think not.

Cut to the nub, the main point to consider is that there is a fine line between containing terrorism and fueling fresh militancy. Police atrocities have too often crossed that fine line, generating more militancy than it has suppressed. The recent spate of encounters in south Kashmir is an indicator of that.

The excessive action at the NIT campus on Tuesday evening was only a glimpse of what common Kashmiris have experienced for years. Particularly during 2010 and in February 2011, police excesses were decidedly counterproductive. The country and its security infrastructure are paying a heavy price for it.

The resultant challenge to national security could become much worse in the near future. The sooner we acknowledge that, and act to change things, the more likely we are to prevent an escalation in militancy.

While so doing, one must of course strike a balance between maintaining the morale of a force and restraining its excesses. Mufti Sayeed struck that balance effectively, as the Home Minister of India in 1990 and as Chief Minister of the state from 2002 to 2005. We should all take a lesson from his example.

NIT Srinagar lathicharge: When dangerous militancy is on the rise, history’s mistakes must not be repeated

So how did the brutal lathicharge in the hostels of the NIT campus take place? Who ordered it?

There are several possibilities.

One, the new Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti may have ordered it. She is also the state’s home minister. If that were true, it would have marked her as a foolhardy leader who did not have the political sense to see where it would lead. But, according to generally well-informed friends, she did not order it.

Two, it is possible that someone near the top of the police hierarchy ordered it. That would point to the possibility that the force as an institution does not want the new coalition to remain stable. It is certainly true that the police has generally been much happier with governments run by the National Conference than with the PDP.

Mufti Mohammed Sayeed of the PDP had reined in the Special Operations Groups of the Jammu and Kashmir Police when he was chief minister between 2002 and 2005. Senior officers of the police and other forces were unhappy with him at that stage; the power, influence, unaccountable funds, budgetary support, medals and quick promotions of counterinsurgency had been alluring for many of them.

Students of Jammu University shout slogans during a protest rally against the police action on non-Kashmiri students in NIT Srinagar, in Jammu on Wednesday. PTIStudents of Jammu University shout slogans during a protest rally against the police action on non-Kashmiri students in NIT Srinagar, in Jammu on Wednesday. PTI

Students of Jammu University shout slogans during a protest rally against the police action on non-Kashmiri students in NIT Srinagar, in Jammu on Wednesday. PTI

A third possibility is that those who are on the back foot within the PDP after the foiled palace coup against Mehbooba Mufti over the past few weeks may have played a role. That seems far-fetched, though, for it raises a question over how those who tried but failed to get power could influence the police to this extent.

The fourth possibility is that police officers at the local level went overboard while trying to control a potentially explosive situation. This fourth possibility seems to be the most likely scenario. The police have claimed that they were trying to stop non-Kashmiri students from coming out on the roads holding aloft the Indian tricolour, shouting slogans that might have provoked a reaction.

If so, the police officers and men on the spot did right to stop the students from taking to the streets, but went overboard while doing so. Instead of simply holding firm at the gate to stop a procession from emerging onto the roads, they beat the students and chased them all the way to their hostel, and then down the corridors and in their rooms. These excesses are evident on video recordings.

That the policemen were wearing helmets indicates that they came prepared for a riotous altercation. They were apparently prepared to face brickbats and were determined to teach the students a lesson, to force them to stop their agitations. The agitations had begun after an unruly face-off with some Kashmiri students following India’s cricketing defeat by the West Indies last Saturday.

During Tuesday’s police action, some of the students suffered terrible injuries, and required surgery. Many Kashmiris have argued that they commonly suffer such things, and worse. This is true, but it is no defence or excuse. Rather, it is an argument to stop such atrocities against all students, and others, whatever their origins.

In trying to repress the NIT agitations with such vigour, the police displayed an appalling lack of political savvy, with no sense of the likely results on public opinion both across India, in Jammu, and within Kashmir. The alternative is much more disturbing: a cynical willingness to stir a dangerous hornet’s nest of political reactions in order to destabilize the new coalition.

Since that alternative is appalling to accept as likely, we must presume that it was indeed a lack of political savvy. Particularly in a police force in a perennially explosive and internationally high-profile place like Kashmir, this sort of political naivety is unacceptable.

It was obvious from the moment that information about the barbarous police attack started filtering out of the sealed-off campus on Tuesday evening that it would have a terribly damaging impact on the new and delicately poised coalition that had taken office in Jammu only the previous day.

Thankfully, leaders of both major coalition parties have shown maturity. Yet, the fracas has taken a toll on both, since there have been strong reactions from hard-line activists on both sides. And, amid reactions in Jammu and elsewhere, the issue continues to spiral.

The police action at NIT was almost as flawed as the extremely ill-advised cordon-and-search operation (the first in Jammu and Kashmir) which took place at Srinagar’s Chota Bazar area on 18 January 1990. That set the stage for some very damaging events over the next couple of days – in terms of brutal excesses, mass alienation, anti-Pandit animosity, and the exodus of Pandits from the Valley.

Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had resigned the previous evening, Governor KV Krishna Rao had been replaced, and the new governor, Jagmohan, had not yet taken over in Kashmir. The Director-General of Police and the IG of the CRPF, the force which conducted the Chota Bazar operation, were both at Jammu for the investiture of the new governor.

It is imperative that the Jammu and Kashmir Police, and those in the state government and the Home Ministry who manage the forces maintain a responsive institutional memory of what went wrong over the past three decades, of things that set the stage for militancy and for a communal divide in the state and beyond. The last thing we need at this stage, when a most dangerous militancy is on the rise, is to repeat the mistakes of history.

The match report they didn’t print: Football Club Indoctrin Nationala vs Jay Anew, a tale of self-goals

If one were watching a football match, Football Club Indoctri Nationala (FCIN) would be in the running for a record number of self-goals.

The opposing side would be approaching half-time – yes, this game would still have a long way to go – in better spirits. Audiences would have applauded the surprise goals it had slipped in, seemingly out of nowhere, amid otherwise extraordinarily effective defensive play.

Audiences would be growing by the minute, and the match would be the talk of town. Among the hottest topics of discussion: when would this wonder team now taking on FCIN with such zest and nerve reveal the name and banner under which its players would play the big championship match?

For the moment, it wasn’t even clear who all were playing on the amazing team opposing FCIN – except that they were cool, unflappable and better coordinated than FCIN. Calmly, they dribbled and slipped the ball to each other, playing with the amazing coordination of a dream team.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Let’s imagine some highlights: FCIN’s first self-goal came when the team went after Jay Anew in a coordinated side tackle by Mantry, Santry, Bussy, Abe Weepy and others – after the grey-masked bandana-ed Kash Mearly tried to slip a loose ball past Abe Weepy.

Already off-side, Kash Mearly slipped off the field while team FCIN swooped in on Jay Anew. Nobody missed Kash Mearly. He had seemed dodgy anyway. No one was sure who had invited him as a guest player.

FCIN had a reason for letting Kash Mearly slip away. And the entire FCIN team was really excited at the chance to swoop on to Jay Anew. They all hated Jay Anew, who had spent earlier seasons flashing a red card at all FCIN’s players, as if he was a referee.

The second self-goal came when FCIN tried to run down the spindly Tired Comred, who was playing left of centre, with a flying tackle in the early minutes of the game. As Polly Tickle Dogmatix at left back ran to Tired Comred’s side, FCIN tackled both together. The duo bounced back, ably helped by a deft pass from Dilly Sarkar and surprise backing from Raul, the hitherto ineffective centre-forward.

Team Opposition had come together like a dream – a nightmare for FCIN.

The third self-goal came off a penalty after a foul by FCIN team members standing off-field near the bench. That’s when the audience started growing. It was now clear that this was no benefit friendly. It was going to be a crucial match for the next championship.

The game slowed down for a while, while the opposing team engaged in brilliant defensive play. Then came the big goal of the match, under floodlights. The ball soared in with a piercing yell from the new striker – ‘waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaz doh! It happened as soon as FCIN allowed striker Kanya Prez back on the field after forcing him off over a disputed foul and following up with injuries off the field.

As soon as he got back, Kanya Prez got the ball under his left foot at the very edge of the field. Playing expertly barefoot, he struck the ball with a light but firm touch – unerring. The ball arced across the field straight into FCIN’s goal, starkly lit by the floodlights.

Kanya Prez’s injuries seemed to have worked like an elixir. The audience on the left of the field and on either side was on its feet in a thunderous wave of applause. FCIN was on the back foot. The loud fans who had been sitting behind the FCIN goal went quiet. Some showed their thumbs down.

SFX Mirror

A mirror called fudge-tape had been laid across the centre line. Players could pass through it but the audience behind FCIN’s goal couldn’t see past it. To them, the opposite goal seemed to be near that centre line. The entire game seemed to be only on their side of the field. Whenever FCIN kicked the ball to the centre line, their fans cheered wildly – sure that they had scored a goal. To them, the penalty area seemed like centre-field.

Fudge-tape was very effective. It amplified the booming commentaries from behind the FCIN goal line. Through most of the first half, those commentaries spoke repeatedly of Kash Mearly’s early move, calling it a foul the like of which could not be tolerated on anyone’s home ground.

The referee – having sworn never to use a red card – kept flashing what looked like a saffron card at the opposing team. They didn’t like it. Some of them flashed blue cards back at him. A few in the audience held up `boo’ cards.

The booming commentators in the box behind the FCIN goal line yelled shrilly that blue looked green. Either way, it upset them. Authority could do no wrong, they yelled, so it was a green light for the referee to force the opposing team to like him.

The referee, who was called Patri Arki, agreed. He sent some of the opposing team into the barred and bolted dressing-down room, and threatened to send other team members there. But they still did not like him.

So, having taken a green signal from their blue cards, he would not award penalties to the opposing team, even when they and their fans appealed that FCIN had played foul. The linesmen too turned a blind eye when FCIN kicked the ball – and members of the opposing team – off the field.

Many Kashmiris who espouse ‘azadi’ are as conservative and anti-‘Communist’ as right-wing ‘nationalists’

Here’s a great irony: JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar’s 11 February slogans about `azadi’ from hunger, exploitation, `Manuwad,’ etc. appears to have upset some Kashmiri `azadistas’ almost as much as it has upset right-wing conservative `nationalists’ – in some cases, perhaps even more.

Some Kashmiris have spoken quite worriedly since then about the `appropriation’ of their favouite word – `azadi.’ For, Kanhaiya’s speech channeled it into a discourse that represents a Leftist conceptualization of nationalist aspiration – within the framework of India. This `dilution’ of the word – as some of them call this creative usage of the word they commonly use to represent anti-India sentiment – makes many `azadistas’ uneasy.

The fact is that most azadi-walas see the world in two-dimensional black-and-white terms just as much as most right-wing `nationalists’ do. The latter want rigid conformity to the status quo. They see the world as a struggle between good `nationalists’ and evil anti-nationals. Azadistas cling to a victim-Kashmir versus oppressor-India binary even more tenaciously.

Focusing on inequalities and injustices within India undermines the ogre-like monstrous image of India which they have nurtured. Their narratives depend on a tight focus on human rights abuses – which, to be sure, have been horrific.

Tragically, one reason abuses have continued for the past quarter-century is that the two sorts of blinkered extremists feed off each other. Each has gained political mileage, and talking (or rather, yelling and sloganeering) points, by fulminating against the other.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

While doing so, neither side focuses on peace. The militaristic right-wing is intent on supporting more armed forces deployment, more special powers for them, the suspension of citizens’ rights, and enhanced budgetary allocations for counter-insurgency wherewithal.

On the other hand, those who want to reserve the word `azadi’ for an anti-India assertion of Kashmiri identity are sometimes even more belligerent. That antagonism is the fount of slogans such as the more extremist ones that resounded in JNU on 9 February. Rights abuses and counter-insurgency excesses, mainly by the state police force during the past decade, give this hatred salience.

In Kashmir, discourses based on an exclusivist Kashmiri identity often extend seamlessly across the political leadership in both the so-called `mainstream’ and `separatist’ camps. Spin-offs from the now gigantic counter-insurgency economy accrue to a vast network of politicians and officials – and others with one sort of power or another. Some of the most vigorous proponents of Kashmiri `azadi’ are sons and other close relatives of ministers, MLAs, officials and even police officers and men.

Those who propagate the `azadi’ discourse most vigorously are often part of the social establishment within Jammu and Kashmir, even if they feel that their aspirations are stifled – a little like the irate `nationalists’ who beat Kanhaiya at the courts and those who fulminate on certain national television news shows also feel that `Leftists’ threaten their aspirations for a strong, proud India.

So, a nuanced view of Kashmiri society suits them even less than pro-Dalit, pro-tribal or pro-minority voices suit right-wing `nationalists.’ Like `azadistas,’ `nationalists’ have two-dimensional perspectives regarding their respective social milieus.

`Azadistas’ are generally most likely to deny the existence of caste differences within Kashmir – and paper over ethnic differences. But many of them blithely treat those whom they consider their social inferiors with terrible contempt. Many use terms like `gojar,’ `gamuk,’ `gruhus,’ `hanz,’ `khoda’ and `watal’ with barely imaginable disdain. And this is all concerning persons or communities among Muslims in the Valley. The antagonism between communities in other geographical portions of the state is another story.

The last census showed a higher concentration of manual scavenging there than anywhere else in the country – and an extremely worrying gender ratio in the youngest age bracket.

Most of these azadistas hate Communists as much as do right-wing `nationalist’ conservatives – if not more. The fact is that most of those in both camps are (sometimes closeted) religious zealots. A Kashmiri student in Delhi remarked about the `azadistas’ among other Delhi-based Kashmiri students that they project themselves as Leftist to cozy up to those who patronize and support them out of reflexive ideological convictions, but actually hate godless Communists with a vengeance.

Low-key support

This helps to explain why support for Kanhaiya Kumar has been at a relatively low pitch in Kashmir, even though the CPI-affiliated Kanhaiya has gone through horrendous trauma owing to slogans that were raised at his campus, reportedly by Kashmiris from outside JNU.

A fortnight after Kanhaiya’s arrest on 12 February, there were protests in parts of Kashmir on Friday (relatively anodyne by Kashmir’s standards) and a shutdown has been called today.

During this fortnight, JNUSU Vice-president Shehla Rashid has been the public face of the strong stand JNU students have taken. But, although she hails from Kashmir, there has been little sign of public support for her from there.

The sporadic public support that has been evident from Kashmir has tended to focus on JNU as an institution, or on the relatively radical Umar Khalid. A few days ago, a bright young JNU student from Kashmir wrote an open letter thanking Umar for giving Kashmiris a platform. The letter made no mention of Kanhaiya, although he was in jail at the time it was written, and Umar had not yet been arrested. Several Kashmiri `azadistas’ shared the letter on social media.

On the plane of political optics, the low key responses from Kashmir – which generally has the tendency to erupt in highly charged and demonstrative outbursts – is all to the good. High-decibel responses would have given right-wing `nationalists’ another handle to berate JNU `Leftists’ as `anti-nationals’ allied with secessionists.

That said, Kashmiri responses to Kanhaiya and Shehla (thundering silence), to Umar (rare, muted support) and to JNU (low-key backing) are instructive regarding attitudes and values in Kashmir. Apart from the right-wing leanings of many azadi activists, one must understand the extraordinary self-obsession of many Kashmiris. Generally, they expect one to accept all in the entire monolithic category of Kashmiri as undifferentiated victims.

One must also acknowledge the hate-filled destructiveness of many of their responses – such as the most objectionable slogans that were raised at JNU on 9 February.

Putting Left parties on the defensive by calling them anti-national in JNU has had an unintended fallout: Opposition unity

In the din of shrill accusations and nationalistic homilies on television, the political currents that have swirled beneath the dramatic events at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) last week have gone largely unnoticed.

In a nutshell, this is the story at a purely political level: the ruling party tried to divide the Left by having the JNU Students Union President arrested over anti-India slogans raised by more radical students who were probably not of his party. In the bargain, it tried to paint Left student organizations in general as anti-national. However, rather than divide the Left, the arrest has brought about broad opposition unity – not just among that University’s student bodies, but at a national level.

Representational image. Solaris Images

Representational image. Solaris Images

On Saturday evening, top Left leaders, including Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, shared the mike with Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a huge public meeting at JNU. That is not all. Even though some of the academics and others who spoke at that public meeting pointed a finger at the UPA government’s record, the Left leaders did not. There appeared to be very positive vibes between the three parties’ leaders.

The currents of opposition unity did not stop with that. The Left leaders reported in their speeches that they had asked Delhi’s state government to institute a magisterial inquiry into the authenticity of the evidence produced against the arrested JNU student leaders. It was announced a little later during the meeting that such an inquiry has been instituted. Thus, the issue had brought another current, that of the Aam Aadmi Party, into the unity swirl.

That is bad news for the ruling party, on the eve of the budget session – particularly when economic indicators call for urgent revival. Nor does it augur well for the series of important elections that are coming up over the next year-and-a-half.

At a political level, that public meeting was significant for one more reason. Rahul Gandhi spoke so well that he won over an audience that was no more than marginally pro-Congress. I for one have never been an admirer, but I was impressed.

He struck a chord by saying at the outset that we welcome even those who are shouting slogans in the corner. They have a right to speak their minds. He spoke of the inclusive spirit of India, in which every voice has space – especially that of the poor and deprived. What frightens `them,’ he said to thunderous applause, is that more and more Indians are getting a voice.

Bol raha hai,’ a student next to me exclaimed, slightly wide-eyed. (‘He’s speaking quite well,’ seemed to be the import.) Another student said a couple of minutes later: ‘Improve ho gaya hai, yaar’ – slightly incredulous. While the Left leaders had been at the mike, some students had speculated on whether Gandhi would speak at all, or just sit there and leave.

In some senses, it was the toughest audience Indira Gandhi’s grandson could have hoped to impress. More significant, it was an audience from which some of the movers and shapers of tomorrow’s India will emerge. Currently, it is an audience with mobile phones that will reach various corners of the country.

Apart from a score of protestors who waved black ribbons and incessantly chanted slogans against Gandhi, the thousands of others there seemed to have open minds. They were there to listen, willing to be persuaded, but also wanting to know, even question. Walking around the campus later that evening, one passed many students discussing the pros and cons of what had happened.

One fact was absolutely clear: they cared deeply about their University, its ethos and traditions. The chant of `J, N, U’ was strident during that public meeting.

I had got to the University just as that public meeting outside the Vice-chancellor’s office was getting going. I did not know there was to be a public meeting. I had hoped to find out more about what had happened earlier in the week. When I waded into the throng and asked what was happening, I was told Rahul Gandhi had just arrived.

There were thousands of students there. `They are only twenty,’ one student standing near me remarked to another soon after I arrived. I realized she was talking of the group waving black ribbons and yelling slogans lustily in one corner. They were indeed no more than a score, but their purpose was clearly to disrupt through the ceaseless noise of sloganeering.

They were assured of disproportionate projection, for a lot of media cameras crowded behind and before them. As soon as Rahul Gandhi had finished speaking, those who had been shouting slogans against him went to his cavalcade of vehicles. The media cameras scampered after them, eager to capture the fracas that might ensue when he got into his car. Apparently, he left another way.

The Congress has never had a strong presence in this University’s student politics. The Left has been strong, but divided. The student wings of the CPI(M), the CPI, the CPI(ML) and other groups have contested each other. However, traditional Marxism has become less salient, even as Dalit politics has gained prominence in recent years, in universities across the country.

So, student leaders of Left parties have felt challenged to give political space to Dalit and extreme Left groups, including Maoists. They have also responded to demands for self-determination raised by some students from places like Kashmir – who now study at universities across the country in larger numbers than before.

In giving space to mark the anniversary of Afzal Guroo’s hanging, the student leaders opened themselves to conservative wrath. The government took the opportunity to attack the Left-oriented politics of the JNU community in general – by arresting JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar on Friday, although he had just the previous day clearly dissociated himself from the objectionable slogans, and declared the students’ commitment to the unity and integrity of India.

Right or wrong, it was a political decision. The calculations must have been complex. On the one hand, they did not want to target Kashmiris at a time of great political suspense over forming a state government in Kashmir. On the other, they were eager to present the broad range of student groups whom they categorize as `Leftist’ as anti-national and illegitimate.

Political calculations would have been influenced by the extremely negative optics for the ruling party of Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad. The BJP urgently needed to rebrand student dissidence as anti-national, seditious and anti-Hindu rather than as protesting the oppression of Dalits and the poor.

The most important political advantage of this sort of rebranding would be to make mainstream Left parties, mainly the CPI and the CPI(M), wary of getting involved with movements of more radical Left groups – which could, in elections, enhance their vote share in alliance.

JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar belongs to the CPI-affiliated AISF. By having him arrested and charged with sedition, the ruling party might have hoped to put the relatively centrist CPI on the back-foot, and get it (and the CPIM) to keep away from more radical groups.

Instead, it has brought these Left parties closer to the Congress on the one hand, and the AAP on the other. The arrests have certainly earned the government great popularity among its core Hindutva nationalist supporters. But in the minefield of political alignments, the ruling party may have shot itself in the foot.

Gen Krishna Rao: The tough-talking governor’s legacy in Kashmir and how it must be carried forward

KV Krishna Rao: July 16, 1923 – January 30, 2016

A huge bomb exploded during the Republic Day celebrations in Jammu in 1995. The gathered crowd and dignitaries ran helter-skelter as smoke billowed, shrapnel flew and the blast echoed. Governor KV Krishna Rao, who had been giving his speech, carried right on speaking. He stood erect and unflinching until his wife instructed his Aide-De-Camp to pull him off the rostrum.

The no-nonsense, straight-talking General Krishna Rao, who died on 30 January aged 92, was first appointed governor of Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, when armed militancy was first picking up. He tried to boost Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s morale, for the latter had lost heart. But things went to pieces after militants abducted the daughter of the new Home Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed on 8 December.

Rao was forced to resign on 18 January, when he was informed that Jagmohan was being appointed in his place. That did not work out, and GC Saxena was brought in on 26 May 1990. With a steady and firm hand, Saxena gradually brought the situation under control over the next couple of years.

Twitter @MissionOROPTwitter @MissionOROP

Krishna Rao. Twitter @MissionOROP

However, Minister of State for Internal Security Rajesh Pilot was uneasy with the catch-and-kill methods that had been adopted to deal with militants. When the BSF men deployed in Sopore burnt the town down after a rifle was snatched from a bunker at the beginning of 1993, Pilot manouevered to have Krishna Rao replace Saxena.

If Pilot or anyone else thought Rao would do their bidding, they were in for a shock. While the entire government was under him during governor’s rule, until October 1996, his aides used to whisper that the governor only speaks to two people – God and the prime minister.

Krishna Rao took over at a critical juncture. One, the forces, led by the BSF under Deputy Director General Ashok Patel, had by then crushed most of the militant groups other than the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. Hizb had three advantages: it was largely rural-based, it had a vital network of over-ground support from Jamaat-e-Islami adherents, and it had been Pakistan’s prime favourite since that country had more or less dumped the JKLF in early 1990.

The second important factor was that Pakistan had just begun to send foreign militants – mainly the Afghan-dominated Harkat-ul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba – from December 1992 on. This substantially pushed up the lethality of militant attacks over the next few years.

Rao’s response was to induct battalion upon battalion of military forces. Patel had infiltrated Kashmiri militant outfits and gathered cutting edge information. Plus, he (and later AS Dulat of IB) made deals with some JKLF and other commanders, often while they were prisoners. Rao preferred to flood the Valley with troops.

As Rashtriya Rifles and BSF camps sprang up all over the Valley from 1994, entire villages were rounded up in cordon and search operations. And, the rumps of militant outfits, which had been scattered by Patel and targeted by Hizb, worked as mercenary extensions of these forces.

The result was that the state re-established physical control over the Valley but lost the hearts and minds of the people afresh. Since Kashmir’s militancy is too often viewed as a continuous blur, the great untold story of 1993 is that many Kashmiris had become alienated from the militancy, and Pakistan.

Not only had they realized that it was futile, they missed the basic services and security which the state apparatus used to provide. For, although Srinagar had been brought under control by the winter of 1990, vast rural swathes remained under militant control.

Some of these areas suffered at the hands of Jamaat and Ahle-Hadith activists who set themselves up as kangaroo courts. Backed by Hizb guns, those Taliban-like ‘judges’ sometimes had women stripped and beaten and men hung from electric poles.

No wonder, many rural Kashmiris complained of being crushed from both sides. ‘The forces come by day, militants by night. Both have guns. What can we do,’ was a common refrain. That was a major factor that led to 20 to 30 per cent of rural voters defying death threats to vote in 1996.

Between ’97 and ’99, however, their complaints became one-sided. As the state gained more control, the forces’ cruelty alienated people more than ever before – with the Special Operations Groups of the state police at the forefront.

By the turn of the century, it had become clear that, although Rao had inducted too many troops, the forces were far more cruel under the post-1996 civilian government. A relatively free hand to corruption, in the civil administration and the forces, may have been the key difference. It caused those in authority to view common people as objects to squeeze rather than citizens to serve.

Soon, it also became clear that increasing deployment on the ground did not win the proxy war, for Pakistan kept stepping up militant tactics. Militant attacks peaked in 2001. It was only after the Indian Army was deployed along the border in December 2001 that Pakistan brought down militancy in Kashmir.

It also became clear that the attitudes of common Kashmiris made the key difference. Krishna Rao introduced the policy of crushing `anti-nationals’ and winning over good citizens with development. This neat good-bad division does not work. Nor are development and functioning services enough – though these are vital.

Hope for a stable future affects the overall mood of the people. Once the forces’ excesses were reined in from 2000, and Atal Behari Vajpayee pushed forward peace processes, Kashmiris became distinctly less hospitably disposed towards militants.

It is good that the government has not responded to the current increase in militancy by deploying more troops. Intelligence gathering is being used again for successful encounters. However, this will prove inadequate until common Kashmiris are convinced enough about the prospects of a peace process to stop supporting militants. The government must work purposefully towards this, on the ground.

Masood Azhar’s ‘detention’: Talks with Pakistan can continue, but India has to prepare for more proxy war

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A democrat at heart, nationalist to the core, and titan of modern J&K, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passes away

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Don’t blame the training: At fault for the Pathankot attack is India’s entire anti-terror response

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Controversy over separate state flag for Jammu and Kashmir goes to the root of its autonomous status

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Pathankot terror attack: Those who want the peace process to fail must not be allowed to succeed

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