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19 July, 2016

New flare-up in Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Ten days of violence touched off by the killing of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander, by security personnel have thrown Kashmir valley into another phase of turmoil.

At least 40 persons were killed and about 3,000 injured during the protests. Police pellets hit more than 100 persons in the eye, resulting in blindness.

As I write, many areas are still under curfew and internet services remain suspended. Newspaper offices have been raided in an action reminiscent of the days of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule.

Security forces eliminated Wani in a planned operation. His home-town was cordoned off ahead of the funeral but about 40,000 people gathered to pay him homage and his comrades gave him a 21-gun salute.

Wani’s seven-year career in terrorism was not too bloody. He is said to have picked up the gun after humiliation by the police who stopped and abused him and his brother while on a joyride on a friend’s new motor bike. The brother, who was working for his Ph.D. degree, was killed last year.

Wani was wanted in four cases of shooting, none of which was fatal. Although Hizbul named him its commander, he was a home-grown militant. He did not go to Pakistan for training and he did not show signs of religious indoctrination.

The sense of outrage the valley witnessed on his death was of a kind not seen for a long time. The police response was so grossly disproportionate to the situation that the victims drew sympathy even from Kashmiri Pandits who had fled the state after terrorists targeted its members in an earlier phase of militancy.

In a statement, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti condemned the killings and the use of pellets as a means of crowd control. It said the attacks on property left behind by Pandits were not what the Muslim majority wanted but were the work of miscreants seeking to take advantage of the situation.

Pradeep Magazine, a journalist belonging to the community, wrote: “Today, when I see that horrifying image of the young girl blinded by the violent response from the security forces, I want to respond with love, warmth and compassion to all those who have suffered in this long-drawn conflict that does no credit to either side.”

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been subjected to contrary pulls and pressures from the dawn of Independence. Its Hindu maharaja toyed with the idea of an independent state while Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference, which led the movement against his rule, favoured accession to India. Pakistan claimed it in the name of its Muslim majority. A raid by tribesmen equipped by Pakistan, forced the maharaja to accede to India and the people rallied behind Sheikh Abdullah who took charge of the administration.

India raised the issue of Pakistani aggression in the United Nations but the West frustrated its hope of justice by equating the aggressor and the victim. Sheikh Abdullah went to the UN to defend accession to India. Pakistan produced PN Bazaz, leader of the Pandits organisation, to endorse its view that a Muslim majority state should go to it.

Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest and removal in 1953 following reports that he was seeking independence for the state with US support pitted his followers against India. They kept the plebiscite demand alive until Indira Gandhi reinstated him as Chief Minister in 1975.

A 1965 Pakistani bid to engineer an uprising using infiltrators failed due to lack of local support. Under the Shimla Pact, signed after the 1971 war which had resulted in Bangladesh’s emergence as an independent nation, India and Pakistan undertook to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, through bilateral talks.

The 1990s witnessed a rash of terrorism directed from across the border and calls for “azaadi” resounded in the valley. Prime Minister AB Vajpayee began a healing process which continued for a while under Manmohan Singh before things went out of control again.

India has deployed a large number of troops in the state and the army has invited charges of excesses. However, in this month’s events the central and state police forces appear to have played a major role.

Wani belonged to the fourth generation of post-Independence youth. According to veteran journalist Prem Shankar Jha, who is the author of two books on Kashmir’s recent history, his killing was a self-defeating exercise. He believes Wani could have been weaned away from the path of violence and used to communicate with the angry youth.

Communal elements on both sides of the India-Pakistan border tend to view J and K as a piece of real estate. Enlightened administrations must recognise that the problem is one involving hapless victims of history. In the final analysis a lasting solution can arise only through a political process, not through clash of arms. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 19, 2016.

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