2. Kashmir : A Dead-End and a Solution
Nothing symbolizes better the absurdity of Partition than Kashmir. Nehru and Gandhi’s folly of accepting the division of the country on geographical-religion lines has come back to haunt India with a vengeance. For, Pakistan, apart from the fact that it was created and survives on its hatred of ‘Hindu’ India, has a point: if Nehru accepted that Muslim-dominated parts of India go to Pakistan, why not also the Valley of Kashmir, which is today in Muslim majority, thanks to decades of terror to induce the once strong Hindu community to flee ? Thus, Kashmir is a dead-end, because neither India nor Pakistan are going to let go, each for obvious reasons. Yet, the state of Kashmir can also be the springing-board for a trial run of a Confederation of South Asian Sates: there is no other solution for Pakistan and India than reuniting the two Kashmirs under a joint authority.
The Shadow of a Horse
Midnight, Manaspal Lake, North-West Kashmir. The powerful diesels of the 20 army lorries roar away, piercing the perfect silence of the night. Aboard, 400 men of the 22nd Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, one of India’s elite divisions, in full battle dress: helmets, an AK-47 rifle slung over the shoulder and two grenades tucked in the belt. Colonel Khanna, division commander, signals with his hand and the convoy starts ponderously into the night.
Earlier we had met Colonel Khanna’s officers, young, bright men, whose world centres around a field tent, the walls of which are adorned with pictures of wanted militants, and tallies of wounded and killed Hizbollah Mujahedins, a true soldier’s trophy. Over a glass of beer, Colonel Khanna had shown us a map of Kashmir and pointed to a village near Wular Lake, called Banyar. “This village, he said, is known to be a safe haven for militants, as it is on the route from Kupwara at the Pak border, to Sopore. It has the uniqueness of being surrounded by water. So we will have to take two boats with us to cross the river. We shall walk the whole night and by morning we will have surrounded the entire village.”
Half an hour after having started from the base, the lorries stopped suddenly, all lights out. Silently the 400 men of the regiment climbed down and melted into the night. Then the lorries started again. “They will serve as a decoy for the militants’ watchdogs, who seeing they are going in an opposite direction, will think that we are going to strike another village,” whispered Khanna. It was a pitch-dark monsoon night. No lights, no torches, one could barely discern the man in front and sometimes soldiers would hold each other’s shoulders not to get lost. The silence was total: not a murmur, not a sound of a rolling stone; only the hiss of the wind in the trees, carrying the smell of men to a faraway village, whose dogs started barking. But even their sounds slowly died away. Suddenly, a cantering horse, like a ghost appearing from nowhere, crossed us; and then it was gone, as in a dream.
At first, the going was smooth enough on a dirt road, but all of a sudden we had to slither down on all fours to reach the swamp, where one had now to walk on a high narrow causeway surrounded by water on both sides. It started raining and a frog, followed by another, then another, then a hundred, a thousand, began tearing the silence of the night with their “croaaroaaak”. From time to time the man in front would suddenly stop and the others behind would bump into him, as the soldiers carrying the heavy wooden boats were replaced by a new team. At 3.30 in the morning, the river we reached the village. The boats were lowered into the water without a ripple; and while exhausted men slept on the embankment, the tedious task of carrying a whole company in two boats went on smoothly. And as the first hint of a grey, dreary day, pointed at the horizon, the village of Banyar was totally surrounded.
At 5.15, Lieutenant Tikku and a platoon of soldiers entered the village from its eastern side. “Militants are usually caught at daylight, he murmured, it is then that they start shooting. If we don’t catch them at that moment, they go into hiding either in the houses or in the fields; and we have to flush them out.” Shoulders hunched in the expectation of a grenade thrown from the first floor of a house, or the bullet of an unseen sniper, eyes darting right and left, fingers on the triggers of their AK-47s, the soldiers advanced on the village. It was a dreadful hamlet on the banks of the Jhelum River: dirty, unkempt, whose wooden and cement houses had an air of never having been finished. By 6 AM, not a soul had stirred from the shuttered houses, and it became clear that if the militants were there, they were not going to come out with guns blazing. An officer went to the mosque and asked on its loudspeakers that all men between 16 and 60 assemble in the school compound just outside the village.
Already soldiers had encircled the meadow where a little windowless house which served as school stood. Machine guns were posted, even a mortar was set up. Slowly the villagers started filing out of the village. The older men were put on the right where they sat stoically on their haunches; and the younger ones grouped on the left. After some time two men, whose faces were hooded by black cloth and their hand tied to a soldier, came in and were made to sit in the school, facing the glassless window. They were “cats” - militants who had been caught and who had agreed to inform on their brothers, in exchange for some future leniency.
They were now at least 2,000 Kashmiris in the meadow. On a signal from the Colonel, young villagers were made to form a file. First they were searched by a soldier, then one by one they were presented by another soldier to the cats. One of the informers seemed unwilling or maybe indifferent; but the other had extraordinary eyes, which were constantly darting, from the face of the soldier, to the villager. The Kashmiris, some proud, looking spitefully towards the informers, others humble, eyes cast down in fear, filed past the cats. When the second informer would nod negatively the soldier would tap the shoulder of the villager, who relieved, would go back to sit on his haunches. But suddenly, as a mullah, well-dressed, apparently educated, looking boldly ahead, was brought forward, the cat raised his finger and whispered something in the ear of his watcher. The mullah was then led, protesting, to one corner and made to cover his face with his shawl. Four men were thus “recognised” by the second cat and kept apart.
Suddenly a shot was heard, followed by a burst of fire. Everybody rushed towards the place where the sound came from. There, in a field of mature maze, there was a path of crushed stalks, which led straight to two cowering militants, one of whom was wounded, surrounded by triumphant soldiers. Basir Ahmed Pare and Zakir Hussein had just crossed over, from Pakistan where they had gone for training and had halted overnight in the village thinking they were safe. But when they realised that the army had surrounded the village, they hid in the field with their two Kalashnikov and four grenades. Along with their weapons, coupons were also recovered from them, which they sold to the villagers to extort money, as well as the photo of their area commander. The men were then handed over to the military intelligence for what would probably be a long spell of rough interrogation.
Exhausted, after a whole night walk, plus a full day in the heat. we wearily started for the base. On the trip back, a rider-less galloping horse (the same as in the night?) cast his shadow on our convoy. Was it the shadow of Kashmir?
The Kashmiri “Freedom” Fighters
Western correspondents (and unfortunately sometimes Indian journalists) keep lionizing the Kashmiri “freedom fighters” and demonising the “brutal” Indian army. But nobody bothers to remember Kashmiris were almost entirely Hindus or Buddhists, before they were converted by the invading Muslims six centuries ago. True, today these Muslims in Kashmir have not only accepted as their own a religion which their ancestors had rejected, but they have also often taken-up the strident cry of Islam. Does any one remember too, that at the beginning of the century, there still were 25% Hindus in the Kashmir valley and that today the last 350.000 Kashmiri Pandits are refugees in their own land, they who originally inhabited the valley, at least 5000 years ago, a much bigger ethnic cleansing than the one of the Bosnian Muslims or the Albanians in Yugoslavia ?
It’s a common refrain today in most newspapers to say that since Independence, India alienated Kashmiris through years of wrong policies. But those who have been in close contact with Kashmir, even in its heydays of tourism, know for a fact that as a general rule, Kashmiris never liked India. There was only one thing that attached them to India, it was the marvellous financial gains and state bounties that they made out of tourism. Even those Kashmiris who are now settled in India make no bones about where their loyalty lies. Talk to them, specially if you are a Westerner, and after some time, they’ll open their hearts to you; whether it is the owner of this Kashmir emporium in a five star hotel in Madras, or the proprietor of that famous travel agency in Delhi: suddenly, after all the polite talk, they burst out with their loathing of India and their hope to be attached to Pakistan.
The Government of India has also often the illusion that ordinary Kashmiris are fed up with the militants after years of fighting, militants’ abuses and the complete dry-up of tourism revenues. The army might come-up with some disgruntled girl, who has been raped by the militants and whom they parade to the Indian press; or some family, whose father and sons have been killed by the Hizbullah because they’re informers, might be willing to mouth their pro-Indian stance; but these are individual cases. Indeed, if you meet the Kashmiris of today, from the lowly unemployed sikara boatman, to the retired High Court judge, you will find that they are all unanimous in their hatred of the Indian army and their support of the militants. Kashmiris will stick together - and their family system ensures that they will support each other in need.
Nowadays Farook Abdullah wants us to believe that with a certain degree of autonomy, Kashmiris will be appeased. This may be true in most Indian states, who are often rightly fed-up with Centre’s constant interference in their internal affairs, but basically, there is only one thing which Kashmiris are craving for and that is a plebiscite on whether they want to stay with India or secede…The answer in the Kashmir valley, would be a massive “no” to India (98%?). And as for Farook Abdullah, he would be quickly eliminated by the militants, who would immediately seize control of Kashmir and attach it to Pakistan.
The Indian security forces in Kashmir are accused of all kind of atrocities. But this is war, not a tea party! If India decides to keep Kashmir, it has to do so according to the rules set by the militants: violence, death and treachery are the order of the day. And men are men: after having been ambushed repeatedly, after having seen their comrades die, after weeks and weeks of waiting in fear, one day, they just explode in a burst of outrage and excesses. Amnesty International chooses to highlight “the Indian atrocities” in Kashmir. But Amnesty which does otherwise wonderful work to keep track of political atrocities world-wide, can sometimes become a moralistic, somewhat pompous organisation, which in its comfortable offices in London, judges on governments and people, the majority of whom happen to be belonging to the Third World. Its insistence on being granted unlimited access to Kashmir is a one-sided affair. Did Amnesty bother at all about the support given by the CIA to the most fundamentalists Mujahidins group in Afghanistan and Pakistan, support which led to the bleeding of Afghanistan today and the Pakistani sponsoring of terrorism in India? (Without mentioning the fact that most of the Western countries which today sit in judgement of India, raped and colonised the Third World in the most shameless manner; and after all it happened not so long ago).
And this leads to the next question: should then India surrender to international pressure and let Kashmiris decide their own fate ? Well it all depends on the Indian people’s determination. Each nation has, or has had in the past, a separatist problem. Today, the Spanish have the Basques, the French the Corsicans, or the Turkish, the Kurds. Amnesty International will continue to lambaste India in its reports about human rights violations. But has Amnesty the right to decide what is right or wrong for each nation ? Sometimes double standards are adapted by the West. Yesterday it colonised the entire Third World. Today; the United States, under the guise of human rights, is constantly interfering in other’s people’s affairs, often by force. It uses the United Nations, as it does in Iraq, in Somalia and Yugoslavia and is getting away with it. Can Amnesty International, the United States and the United Nations decide today what is democratic and what they deem anti-democratic and use their military might to enforce their views? But this is the trend today and it is a very dangerous and fascistic trend. Will tomorrow the United Nations send troops to Kashmir to enforce Pakistan’s dreams? Furthermore, there is today another very dangerous habit, which is to fragment the world into small bits and parts, thus reverting to a kind of Middle Age status, whereas small nations were always warring each other on ethnic grounds. It is the West and particularly the United States’ insistence to dismantle Communism at all costs, thus encouraging covertly and overtly the breaking up of Russia and Eastern Europe, which started this fashion. But this is a dangerous game and tomorrow Europe and indirectly the USA will pay the price for it: wars will bring instability and refugees to Europe and the United States might have to get involved militarily.
Can India get herself dragged into this mire? Why should India which took so long to unite herself and saw at the departure of the British one third of its land given away to Pakistan, surrender Kashmir? The evolution of our earth tends towards UNITY, oneness, towards the breaking up of our terrible borders, the abolishing of passports, bureaucracies, no man’s lands; not towards the building up of new borders, new customs barriers, new smaller nations. India cannot let herself be broken up in bits and parts just to satisfy the West’s moralistic concerns, although it does have to improve upon its Human Rights record, particularly the police atrocities and the corruption. To preserve her Dharma, India has to remain united, ONE, and even conquer again whether by force or by peaceful means, what once was part of her South Asian body . For this she should not surrender Kashmir, it could be the beginning of the breaking up of India.
Kashmir and the Foreign Journalists
SRINAGAR, May 30_, Election Day. It’s a small Hindu temple on the banks of the river Jhelum, lost amongst the hundred and one mosques of Srinagar. Its entrance is heavily guarded by BSF forces and it is protected by sandbags on all sides, as it has been hit recently by a rocket fired by militants. Inside, a handful of Kashmiri Pandits are still trying to preserve this sacred place, where a natural lingam is said to have emerged 3000 years ago and where their forefathers have worshipped for 20 generations. “We were once 30,000 in this district of Srinagar,” remembers Shyam, a Hindu priest, “but today we are only two hundred. All our brothers and sisters had to flee. Our houses were burnt, our women raped, our sons killed”. Shyam and his friends offer us a cup of tea and some biscuits and we leave this temple which seems to be doomed, wondering why nobody ever reports about it.
For we are the only western journalists to have visited this place today, as all our friends are busy elsewhere. The day before, the Government has had all the separatist leaders put under house arrest, as a precautionary measure. But one of them, Yasin Malik, managed to slip away. His aides called the local stringers to warn them that he would surface on Election Day, near the Jamma Masjid. Thus, on May 30, a caravan of about 35 cars with eager, impatient, news-hungry journalists on board, blasts its way towards the mosque. And there, sure enough, at 10 a.m. Yasin Malik, looking more sickly than ever, appears with about three to four hundred Kashmiris. The loudspeakers of the mosque begin blaring slogans and as the BBC team arrives, the Kashmiris get hysterical, women wail, the men shout and gesticulate. Journalists are in ecstasy. The BBC cameraman zooms onto the crowd and the foreign photographers push each other to get a shot of Yasin Malik, who says something like: “This election will happen only over our dead bodies”. Suddenly, the crowd, which up to now has kept within the mosque’s compound, pours out through the gates and starts throwing stones at the BSF, which in turn has to lob tear gas and shoots in the air. Immediately, as if by magic, everyone vanishes. An Indian cameraman working for a foreign network, is obviously getting scared, and screams: “I have the BSFon film, shooting. I have them shooting; let’s get out of here”. And the 35 cars wind back full speed to the hotels, the journalists to file their story, the photographers to print their photos and the cameramen to edit their story. Everybody is happy, because as one European photographer puts it, “That was good, exciting stuff”.
The same night and the next day, BBC, CNN and other networks beamed world-wide stories of “widespread violence in Kashmir” and of “intimidation of voters” (which nobody actually saw on that day.) The BBC footage, which cleverly zoomed right all the time on the gesticulating Kashmiris makes it appear as if a few thousand demonstrators were there, when actually they were only a couple of hundred; and great use is made of the police firing their guns in the air
Ultimately, the truth must be said : we foreign journalists come to Kashmir to get our pound of flesh. Our stories cannot be good and complete unless we can harp on human rights in Kashmir, speak of torture, rape, custody killings and generally berate the bad Indian army, because this is what our Editors expect of us. Thus, most of us have already, at least subconsciously, decide in our mind to what we are going to say, even before setting foot in Kashmir. And the same can be said of most of the western diplomats who come to Kashmir on fact-finding missions for their government. Often, before they get down to write their reports, they have already decided what they are going to say. And even if they haven’t, they ultimately will. The reason is simple, both journalists and diplomats depend on two sources for their reporting in Kashmir-the first are the stringers of Indian newspapers, who happen to be mostly Kashmiris. Publicly and in their writings, these Kashmiri stringers have to be careful about what they say, but privately, specially in the presence of western journalists, whom they expect to share their feelings, they usually vent their hatred of India. And the second source are the taxi drivers of Srinagar, who are controlled by a handful of operators, who book hotels, get airline tickets confirmed, arrange meetings with separatist leaders, even with militants, or bring foreigners to houses where Kashmiri women have been supposedly raped and generally shape the mind of their proteges. Needless to say -and that is only fair - they have only one goal: to show the great sufferings of the Kashmiri people at the hands of the Indian “imperialists”.
Recently, the Number Two of a very important European Embassy based in Delhi, was in the house of one of these operators, and although he was a little embarrassed, upon being seen by two foreign correspondents, there was no doubt that his mind had already been made on what he was going to report.
But the question is: are Indian journalists better? Well, sometimes they seem to want to outdo westerners in sensationalism, maybe to show that they are truly “secular”. There is the case of this Indian newspaperman, whom we shall call ‘N’, working for a famous Human Rights agency based in Delhi, which is sponsored by German money. Like a little puppy, everyday during the elections in Srinagar, he would proudly show us, his ‘home work’, thinking it would please us: “BSF broke into a house of two Kashmiris and beat father and son,” before faxing it to his office in Delhi. Good work. But why do none of these human rights organisations ever bother to meet these Pandits who courageously are staying behind to guard one of the rare Hindu temples still standing in Kashmir?
True the Kashmiri Muslims have genuine grievances, the Congress once rigged elections in their State, toppled their elected government, bought their leaders. But the story is the same everywhere in India. In fact, Kashmir is and has always been a privileged and pampered place. Indians are not allowed to buy land in Kashmir, but Kashmiris, who are very good businessmen, have had no qualms about investing in India and setting up flourishing business all over the country. The Indian Government keeps pouring crores of rupees into Kashmir. But if these people really want their independence, shouldn’t they be straightforward about it and stop using Indian money and utilising the Government of India’s services to export their carpets? it is also true that the 36 per cent participation in elections does not seem quite realistic. But the situation in Kashmir has become very complex: you have the renegades who voted, the Kashmiri Pandits who voted by mail; then there are also those Kashmiris who genuinely wanted to vote, and others who voted out of fear either of the army, or of the renegades. And after all, this high percentage of voters might be a sign that some of the people are getting fed-up with militancy. While India should definitely work on its human rights record in Kashmir and elsewhere, it should also ignore the moralising discourse of the West, which stinks of hypocrisy.
Why should India feel guilty about retaining what has been hers for 5000 years? Kashmiris have only themselves to blame for their misery: you do not fight a counter insurgency movement with flowers and polite talk. It is hoped that these elections, however flawed they were, will herald a new reign of peace in the beautiful Valley and that Indian politicians will not repeat the same mistakes they committed earlier in Kashmir.
PAKISTAN AND KASHMIR
When it comes to Kashmir, Pakistan is not fighting, as all Pakistani politicians claim, “to help grant Kashmiris their right to self-determination”, but to unite with a Muslim kin against the Hindu infidel. It is a common front against India. Yet, contrary to what many think, including the BJP, Kashmir may hold the key to India’s reunification with Pakistan, whether by force or by mutual consent. For that is the crux of the problem: as long as Pakistan and India are divided there will be other Kashmirs, other Ayodhyas, other wars with Pakistan - nuclear maybe - and India will ‘never be at peace with its own ‘Muslim community, which is a permanent danger to herself. FOR INDIA AND PAKISTAN .ARE ONE. YET THEY ARE TWO DIFFERENT ENTITIES, EACH ONE WITH ITS OWN PERSONALITY Remember Sri Aurobindo’s words in 1947, “The old communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent division of the country. It is hoped that the Congress and the nation will not accept the settled fact as for ever settled, or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible; possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. THE PARTITION OF THE COUNTRY MUST GO.”
But unfortunately, neither today’s Congress, nor even the other political parties of India, without speaking of those of Pakistan, look upon this division as something that has to go. And Kashmir seems to have become the focus point for this hatred, a symbol of this division. And the situation in Kashmir is indeed hopeless; neither do the Kashmiris want to stay with India, nor does India want to surrender Kashmir, nor does Pakistan want to let go of its claim upon Kashmir. What then?
Let Pakistan and India sit down and work out a compromise which would start with a reunification of both Kashmirs, under a joint Indo-Pak control. This in turn would pave the way for an eventual reunification of India and Pakistan under a loose confederation, where each would keep its freedom, its religion and its own identities and culture. This is the way to evolution of the 21st century, this is the path India should tread.
Then Ayodhya will only be a word in history books; then there will be no need to construct a mosque alongside a temple, or devise complicated and flimsy compromises that satisfy nobody in the end. Then there will be no more the Great Divide between Muslims and Hindus. Then even the Kashmir problem will get solved by itself. Then India will once again be the Greater India, Mother India, spiritual leader of the whole world. **”THE PARTITION OF THE COUNTRY MUST GO”…