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Opinion » Comment

Posted at: Jul 13, 2017, 12:54 AM; last updated: Jul 13, 2017, 1:13 AM (IST)

Change the Kashmir narrative

G Parthasarathy
Shift focus to education, economic development
Change the Kashmir narrative
REDIRECT: Help youth realise the T-shirt slogan. Take to books, success will follow.
BARELY two hours before PM Modi arrived in the White House on June 26, the State Department designated Mohammad Yusuf Shah, better known as Syed Salahuddin, head of the PoK-based Hizbul Mujahideen, as a “specially designated global terrorist” for “committing terrorist acts”  that “endangered the lives of American nationals”. The State Department added that Salahuddin had vowed in September 2016 to “block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict, threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers” and vowed to turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces”.

 Salahuddin was a member of the Muslim United Front (MUF) formed in the Valley to contest the Assembly elections in 1987. The emergence of the MUF was a response to the rampant corruption during the rule of the National Conference (NC). Interestingly, the NC was overly tolerant of the Pakistan-backed and fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Salahuddin participated in the elections which were blatantly rigged. He was defeated in a seat he was sure to win. 

 Disillusioned with electoral politics, Salahuddin crossed the LoC and was co-opted by the ISI. He soon became the head of the ISI-sponsored Hizbul Mujahideen and the 15-member United Jihad Council, including groups like the LeT and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Salahuddin linked separatist violence in Kashmir with war waged by international terrorist groups like the Al-Qaeda and Taliban. He proclaimed: “If the Al-Qaeda, Taliban or any other organisation or country extends a helping hand to the oppressed Kashmiris, we will welcome it.” Like other ageing leaders of armed groups, Salahuddin has yielded his place as a folk hero to newly emerging “social media jihadis” like Burhan Wani in Southern Kashmir.

 The Kashmir “jihad” of the 1990s witnessed its ebb and tides. With Kashmiris tiring of violence, it inevitably became a movement dominated by Pakistani jihadis from international terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the LeT. The security forces eliminated Burhan Wani last year. His successor Sabzar Ahmad Bhatt met the same fate a few weeks ago. It seems a matter of time before the South Kashmir jihad is weakened significantly and Pakistan is forced to again rely heavily on its Punjabi jihadis. Within the next two years, South Kashmir’s new young jihadis will likely become as marginalised as members of Kashmiri armed groups that emerged in the 1990s  became. 

 J&K is the only erstwhile princely state that has remained a hotbed of violence, tensions and intrigues after acceding to India. In his report of a meeting with then Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah in May 1950, US ambassador Loy Henderson noted: “Sheikh Abdullah, talking about the future of Kashmir, was vigorous in restating his opinion that it should be independent; that overwhelming majority population desired this independence, and he had reason to believe that some Azad Kashmir (PoK) ministers also desired independence”. There were suspicions that Sheikh Abdullah voiced similar sentiments to American politician Adlai Stevenson in 1953, resulting in his prolonged detention. 

Following Pakistan’s humiliating defeat in 1971 and the signing of the Simla Agreement, PM Indira Gandhi decided that given his stature, an effort should be made to restore and reintegrate Sheikh Abdullah in India’s national life. This happened after prolonged negotiations with the Sheikh’s representative, Mirza Afzal Beg. Sheikh Abdullah agreed that he would abide by Article 370 of the Constitution and all subsequent measures that had brought the state more into the national mainstream on issues like the powers of the Supreme Court and the Central Election Commission will remain in force. The agreement ensured that there would be no backsliding on the progressive integration of J&K with the Indian Union.

The Modi government has been under criticism domestically for its refusal to go by the advice of our “dialogue at all costs” advocates, who would like it to commence talks with the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference. There is no dearth of information that the leadership of the 14-party Hurriyat Conference has acted virtually as agents of Pakistan, with its two major factions, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, constantly fomenting unrest in the Valley. The Pakistani links of both these leaders are well known. A member of the Hizbul Mujahideen assassinated Mirwaiz Umar’s father, Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq, in 1994. Mirwaiz Umar, who incites mobs against India and the security forces after virtually every Friday prayer, has not raised his voice against those who killed his father. On the contrary, he is known to have received patronage and protection from across the LoC.

 The ageing Geelani makes no secret of his association with the army-backed Jamat-e-Islami in Pakistan. The NIA, CBI, intelligence agencies and the Enforcement Directorate have enough evidence to charge virtually the entire Hurriyat leadership for sedition and money laundering. It is conveniently forgotten that the autonomy granted to J&K far exceeds the powers exercised by governments in in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Moreover, the Pakistan army is not going to relent on its support for terrorism, unless the domestic and international costs for its sponsoring terrorism become unacceptable. This would require measures imposing increasing political and diplomatic costs on Pakistan, altering realities on the ground within Pakistan and across its borders with Afghanistan. 

What has been an immense source of encouragement for those genuinely desiring restoration of normalcy in Kashmir is the enterprise and talent of Kashmiri youth in performing brilliantly in competitive examinations, whether for recruitment to the armed forces and paramilitary, or in all-India competitive examinations. The priority of Pakistan-sponsored jihadis has been to eliminate such people physically. This has been accompanied by brutal killings of members of the J&K Police.  

Mainstream political parties in the Valley, like the NC and the PDP need to reach out to a wide cross-section of people, including concerned parents, to encourage Kashmiri students to seek business and employment opportunities across the country, with support from the Union Government. This will enhance prospects for peace, progress and economic development in the state. After acceding to the GST, people in Kashmir now have access to a fully integrated market of 1.3 billion people. The Mehbooba Mufti government has sought to focus on economic development in difficult conditions. It needs to be assisted in getting public support to shift the narrative and discourse in Kashmir, from stone throwing and violence, to education and economic development.

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