Kashmir: A Fiery Vale

I do not claim to know all about Kashmir and its problems. I do, however, have a decent bit of an understanding of the issue, which is why I felt this piece, at this time, would be appropriate.

The Kashmir Conflict – or at least the situation today – has been on for close to thirty years now. Cordon-and-searches, weapons, the Pandits, innocent people, the Army and the CAPF, the wily politicians, the militants and their bosses and of course, the violence-prone protesters.

A couple of days back, a video of a man tied to the bonnet of a jeep in a Quick Reaction Team moving out of an area in Beerwah went viral. It had a polarising effect. Some felt that it was wrong of the Army to use a human shield while moving through an area whereas others felt that this will serve as a deterrent to other stone pelters. I belong in the latter camp.

This nonsense has been going on for too long. Games have been played by all four sides who are party to the issue: the Islamic Republic (de facto Military State) of Pakistan has pumped in weapons and has misguided and trained large numbers of Kashmiri boys in the art Pakistan itself has mastered over the years: terrorism; the Separatists, funded by two governments, have taken pride in inciting people to pick up weapons. They have bribed youngsters and taught them how to throw stones into vehicles. That senile old codger Syed Ali Shah Geelani (who draws pension as a former MLA) has been at the forefront of this, ably assisted by the likes of Asiya Andrabi, surrendered militant/murderer and JKLF honcho Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, whose father the late Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq was perhaps the last prominent Moderate leader in the Valley; the Kashmiri politicians, beginning with Farooq Abdullah, who betrayed his own people by resigning at the very beginning of the militancy due to personal differences with then newly appointed Governor Jagmohan Malhotra, with whom he had had a tiff in the latter’s previous tenure as Governor, and who notoriously rigged the ’87 elections, which are seen as the cause of the situation today. That election was followed Syed Mohammed Yusuf Shah’s imprisonment. Shah crossed over into PoK after being released, adopted the name Sayeed Salahuddeen, and became a part of the Hizbul Mujahideen, which he is the head of today. Abdullah is a chameleon who has switched sides so many times that it is tough to keep track. He panders to the Militants, the Separatists and the Congress in equal measure but has never managed to be a people’s leader. The man is a traitor. He has betrayed his people, left them high and dry when they most needed him. He even got Salahuddeen’s son a seat in a medical college in Kashmir! The Muftis, who have been unable to deal with the militancy but know how to talk. Omar Abdullah, sometimes smart, sometimes silly; and lastly, the Indian Political Leadership. I’m not getting into Congress or BJP here. Everyone has made mistakes, beginning with Nehru, who dragged Kashmir to the UN instead of solving the problem internally. The United Nations Resolution 47 pertaining to Kashmir ordered a plebiscite, which has not been held till date. This is because the plebiscite was subject to Pakistan’s withdrawal from the parts of Kashmir that it occupied, following which India would have to call back majority of the Army and other forces, leaving a skeletal force to control law & order, after which the plebiscite would be held. Nehru, at least where Kashmir was concerned, was indecisive and imprisoned Kashmir’s most-loved leader Sheikh Abdullah when he became vocal about Kashmir’s independence (while the move mayn’t have been incorrect, it put paid to Nehru’s popularity in Kashmir), his inability to work with his Cabinet colleagues (eg: Sardar Patel) and his inability to take decisions in time proved fatal. His daughter Indira Gandhi threw away huge political and military advantages gained in the ’71 war in Simla. She and her political chums gave up thirteen thousand square kilometres of territory and at least 93, 000 PsW (Prisoners of War). At least 54 of our own soldiers were not returned by Pakistan and subsequent governments took no overt action to try and bring them back. Morarji Desai told Zia about the R&AW’s intelligence network in Pakistan and that we knew they were developing weapons of mass destruction in Kahuta. Rajiv Gandhi turned a blind eye towards Kashmir and aided Farooq Abdullah in his mischief of rigging elections. V.P. Singh, one of our more respected PMs was helpless due to the fragility of his government but did his best, given that Rajiv had already conducted his Waterloo by then. It was in his first two months as PM that the Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of there homes in the Valley by the radicals. That was where the major flaw in V.P. Singh’s government lay: the Army and the CAPF were given orders against taking action, and the exodus happened just the way the radicals wanted it. P.V. Narsimha Rao’s tenure saw the recently deceased Gary (G.C.) Saxena, former Secretary of Research (Chief of R&AW) take charge as Governor, which he was till 1993, and again from ’98 to ’03, which is when he reactivated the State Police’s intelligence network. The militancy hit its peak in the mid-90s, transforming into the monster nobody foresaw. The 1996 elections saw Farooq Abdullah return to power. He stayed in the hot seat for the full term of six years. The early years of the twenty-first century brought a new dawn for the state, with militancy having been reduced significantly.  In 2002, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed took charge as CM after the PDP won the elections. Sayeed turned out to be the man who got the Centre to sanction pensions for the families of militants killed in encounters! What a preposterous suggestion! He also interfered with the positive steps taken by the Governor, Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha (Retd), to improve the Amarnath Yatra. In fact, Sayeed and Gen. Sinha were at constant loggerheads because of Sayeed’s pandering to extremists. In 2005, Sayeed was ousted and Ghulam Nabi Azad became CM. Five years of relative peace followed. In 2010, there was a violent uprising, caused by the notorious Machil fake encounter, which would result, in 2015, in the court-martial and life imprisonment of the six Army officers, NCOs and ORs involved in the murder of three young Kashmiri men. The 2010 unrest resulted in 120 civilian deaths. There was a hue-and-cry over the fact that violent protesters had been fired upon. The fire died out in a few months, only to be reignited by the killing of Hizbul militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016. Protests again. Violence again. The use of pellet guns by the security forces was criticised widely. But who called out the violent agitators? Who called out their flinging of petrol bombs and their sheer audacity of disrupting public order? The Army today is being accused of using a human shield by tying that idiot to the bonnet of a jeep, what about the people who brought five year-old Zohra Zahoor to a protest, which resulted in her getting injured! Of course, one will say that the forces should be disciplined, but they too are human. They have taken shit from boys not old enough to drive a car. And they have had enough, just like the innocent Kashmiris who are stuck in limbo, thanks to politicians and militants.

I am personally not a fan of generalisation. I do not subscribe to the idea at all. Which is why I do not believe that all Kashmiris are violent protestors, just like I don’t believe that all Army and CAPF personnel in the Valley are perpetrators of torture and brutality. There are cases. These are not, by any standard, few in number. There are Kashmiris who believe that kangris and stones and the like are the way of protesting. In the same way, there are personnel who are guilty of excesses, whether it is Machil, or the Kunan Poshpora mass rape, the detention centres which were playgrounds for torture, the massacres at Gawakadal, Bijbehara, Sopore, instances of rape, instances of extra-judicial murder. Have such incidents taken place, perpetrated by certain personnel of the forces? YES! However, and this is a large however, there is the flip side too. One that stone pelters, human rights activists and politicians who have the universe to gain from blaming forces refuse to see. Or don’t know about. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. A whole community disappeared, but not overnight. Threatened by radical and extremist groups for quite some time, things reached a head on Jan 19th, 1990. Slogans like “People’s League ka kya hai paigham? Fateh, Azadi aur Islam!”, “Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, Allah-ho-Akbar kehna hai!”, “Dil mein rakho Khuda ka khauf, Haath mein Kalashnikov!” were being chanted. Muslims were threatened to make sure they didn’t shelter Pandits. Men were told to either leave or convert to Islam by the radicals. Those who chose the former were told to leave their wives and other women who were a part of the family behind. Houses of Pandits were marked systematically. People fled to Jammu and subsequently, to cities like Delhi and Bombay. Those who didn’t leave underwent a traumatic experience. Women and children were raped by those monstrous militants, people were gunned down without mercy. Was this not a violation of human rights? Sangrampora, Wandhama, Chapnari, Prankote, the Amarnath Pilgrimage massacre in 2000, Kishtwar, Chalwalkote, Qasim Nagar, Kaluchak, Nadimarg, Teli Katha, Doda……recorded instances of militants having killed innocents. And not surprisingly, these militants not only killed Hindus and Sikhs but also Muslims, the very people they claimed to be protecting. What about the human rights of these people, and of those personnel killed by stone pelters and those tortured by militants?! Militancy has no religion. It understands only one language: the bullet.

Arguably one of India’s more controversial pieces of legislation, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, came into being in 1958. It was enforced in Kashmir in 1990. It is enforced in an area that has been declared ‘disturbed’. Basically, it is to be enforced in an area where local police and civil authorities have failed to control law and order or where menaces are too large in number and impact for the authorities to control. A commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the Armed Forces may fire upon an assembly of people after having given due warning as he may deem necessary if he feels that they are acting against the law and are disrupting the environment of the area. A house can be searched and seized; a person can be stopped, searched and arrested and a vehicle can be stopped, searched and seized; all without a warrant. Supplies and arms from a dump can be seized or destroyed without a warrant. Any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made present over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest. Service personnel have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review. In 2016, the Supreme Court revoked the protection personnel enjoy from prosecution and said that FIRs need to be filed for every encounter killing. The Centre has taken the issue up with the SC, with AG Mukul Rohatgi stating that the Army has to, in given circumstances, take quick decisions which cannot be dissected later on like an ordinary murder appeal. In other words, the scope of judicial review against active military operations cannot be on the same parameters as in other situations. Therefore, action taken by Army during operations cannot be put to judicial scrutiny. The Centre’s curative petition said, “If an Army personnel remained apprehensive about using force fearing a militant’s death as that could lead to registration of FIR against him, it would be difficult to win the battle against insurgents and militants, who aim to secede territories from India.” While I agree with the AG and the Centre, it has to be made sure that cases of excesses are dealt with as severely as possible, as was the case with Machil. This is a democracy and there has to be accountability. After close to three decades of disappearances, this is the least that is owed to the innocent locals: an explanation from the Centre and the State as to where their loved ones are and as to whether they were militants or not. Excesses need to be evaluated individually and investigated thoroughly. At the same time, stats tell a very different story, one that’ll be hard to swallow for those against the Army in regards to the AFSPA. As of 2010, close to 97% of the cases filed against the Army were found to be false or baseless. All the cases which were found to be true were dealt with by the Army, resulting in the punishment of 104 personnel, including 48 officers.

Coming to the video of that dude tied to the jeep bonnet, a lot of people have lashed out at the Army for using a human shield without knowing the full story. So here it is. Apr 9th, 2017. Personnel of the J&K Police and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were guarding a polling booth for the by-elections in Beerwah when the booth was attacked by some nine hundred people, armed with not only stones but also with much larger, rock-like objects. Nine versus nine hundred. I’d love to see Omar and all those echoing his sentiments in such a situation. Those protesters had one intention: to prevent polling. The personnel sent out an SOS to a nearby Rashtriya Rifles battalion. A seventeen member-QRT was sent. Three vehicles. The QRT commander decided that opening fire on nine hundred people would trigger violence. Hence, one of the protesters was tied to the front of a jeep and the QRT passed through the area without any untoward incident. So, the question is what would the opposers of this technique have preferred: bullets sprayed through 900 protesters or the lynching of those nine personnel? Only an idiot would think they’d pick the former. As a lot of Indians have proved time and again, personnel of the Services and the security forces are disposable assets until something hurts the butts of those nitwits.

Another point for those who criticise the retaliation by the Army in the Valley: have you heard of Operation Sadbhavna? It is a ‘WHAM’ doctrine. ‘WHAM’ stands for Winning Hearts and Minds. The Army, in 1998, took a call to try and build a rapport with the locals and to bring the insurgency-stricken Valley back on its feet. Let me enlighten those of you who are unaware of this particular goodwill program.

  • Regular health check-ups are conducted in remote areas where civil doctors are not present or small in number, by the Army Medical Corps.
  • Army Goodwill Schools, catering to Kashmiri children, are in place all over the Valley. Attendance of teachers is closely monitored, laboratories are in place, as are playgrounds.
  • Kashmiri kids are offered a chance to visit places and cities around the rest of the country.
  • Bridges have also been constructed and damaged roads been repaired by the Corps of Engineers.
  • Senior citizens too are offered to opportunity of witnessing life outside Kashmir through visits.
  • Schools destroyed by militants have been brought back to normalcy.
  • Vocational courses are offered to citizens so as to train them to be able to work.
  • Community Development Centres have been established in order to improve the living standards of economically backward people and to focus on their immediate well-being. 
  • Rural entrepreneurship is encouraged and unskilled people are provided with jobs in local projects wherever possible.
  • Orphanages have been opened for those children who have lost their parents to the insurgency. Hostels have also been opened to accommodate children from rural areas so that they have access to the closest AGS.
  • Livestock are important to the locals, hence veterinary camps are conducted by the Remount Veterinary Corps. 
  • Computer centres have been started to give people a view of the world outside and to train them in using the machines professionally.
  • Civic amenities have been provided where local authorities have been unable to do the same.
  • Crop management and harvesting techniques have been taught.

There you have it. Understand what the Army (at large) is trying to do for the local population. Understand that they try their best and perform ten times that. Before lashing out, remember how many bids to cut off the Valley from India have been crushed by the men in uniform. Some of them laid down their lives to keep our country safe, so let’s not say that tying an idiotic stone pelter to a jeep is wrong. It is a drastic measure which was needed. And more of it may come. The State Police live under fear that radical locals will harm their families. Think of those families, for they too have human rights. If you still feel the Army and the CAPF and the JKP are in the wrong, I suggest you try doing their job.

The next thing I’d like to say is that not all Kashmiri Muslims are militants or violent protesters or even azaadi demanders. A large number, which our TRP-hungry media will never interview, just want peaceful lives. They know the horrors that people in PoK have been subject to and would rather stay in India. I have seen children running after soldiers to greet them, locals being friendly towards personnel. I know an officer who always had a packet of toffees when out in his vehicle. He’d give the toffees to kids he saw. Understand, before labelling the entire population, that not all of them are funded by Pakistan. They have lost loved ones to this battle. They are extremely grateful for whatever has been done for their benefit. They too have lived under threat from militants. They have braved it all. One lady, a teacher, paid no heed to threats that she stop teaching. She continued to do her job, perhaps fearing what may happen but holding her head high all the same. There are loads of people in the Valley who have shown courage in the face of Kalashnikovs. And none of us sitting from Pathankot to Kanyakumari will ever be able to understand that in its entirety. We cannot even imagine their lives. So let’s not call them all names because of some lunatics.

We reach the conclusion: this sentence will get me into trouble, or at least earn me some grief but I think the situation has worsened under the new regime at the Centre and more importantly, under the PDP-BJP combine in Srinagar (and Jammu). There has been a lot of blusterous talk but apart from the surgical strike in September last year, there has been little overt action. It’s time the Separatists are put in their place. Their funding should be cut off. Their passports should be revoked and in case they seek citizenship abroad, they should be deported. Security must not be given to them. Whatever money is being spent on such Enemies of the State should be diverted towards greater ‘WHAM’ efforts, which should involve the State Police as well. The Hurriyat is not a people’s representative. You cut them, you cut out a lot of crap and get to the actual victims of this madness. Lock the Valley down. Catch and kill. Kill each and every militant who is hiding. Imprison sympathisers. Impose curfew in Srinagar. Get the CAPF and JKP to look after the roads and get the Army to comb through the city. After Srinagar, search Sopore, Baramulla, Kupwara, Shopian…..every major hub. There should be a system in place for all violent protesters. Pick them up and push them off to prisons like Yerawada and Puzhal. Give them everything a regular prisoner is entitled to, just ensure that there are no fellow Kashmiris or Urdu speakers in contact with the guy. Dismiss the State Government, for it is inactive. Governor’s Rule should be imposed. Replace the current incumbent with an apolitical (preferably), recently retired Army officer who has sufficient experience in the Valley and who will take action against mischief. Declare Pakistan a Terror State. Attend a couple of days of Parliament, dear MPs, and just clear the damn bill! Even if it’s just the ruling party which turns up with all its members, the bill will get passage. To hell with talks and summits and handshakes and smiles! Enough is enough. A cat won’t cease to mew unless it has been struck dumb (or is dumb, which Pakistan is not). No MFN status, no art, no mixing at all! Shut down the HC in Islamabad, bring everyone there home. Ask Abdul Basit and his staff to leave. Article 370 should either go or should be amended to permit non-Kashmiris to buy property. Let there be more mixing of cultures and people in the state. We have been offering the other cheek so many times. This Gandhian ideology needs to get lost. We need to attack. We need to fuel the fire in Balochistan, feed much more than we currently are. We’ve given the Dalai Lama a home, surely we can do that for the Baluchis. And if the time comes, if push comes to shove, we need to be ready to hit Pakistan where it hurts. We need to be ruthless enough to shred that country to pieces. All you need is a government with might which is willing to shut up the Reds, the Lutyens’ media (sorry, Mr Goswami, had to) and those Human Rights groups. This is the time. We want to be on the UNSC, we need to show the Americans, the Chinese, our allies Russia, those Frenchpeople and our former rulers that we are more than capable of solving our problems and don’t need a bloody UN resolution. The question we, as a nation, need to ask ourselves is whether we truly believe in our ability to be a superpower. No country ever became one without doing some damage. We can withstand criticism, but we need to act!

Kashmir is a part of India. We will not allow our sovereignty to be questioned. This is the land of Netaji, of Bhagat Singh, of Field Marshal Manekshaw, of Dr. Kalam. We will not let Pakistan wage a war on our territory. Let’s grow some balls (and vaginas) and get cracking.

The purpose of this piece was three-fold: one, to give those who are unaware a bit of a peek into what the Valley has been through; two, to say my bit for two parties: the Army, the CAPF and the JKP, and innocent Kashmiris; and three, to air my views – albeit a little rough and in need of elaboration – on how we resolve the issue.

Varun Bhakay

for

VARUN BHAKAY’S WRITER’S BLOCK

on

17th April, 2017

P.S.: Some of you may have noticed similarities in part of the solution offered by me here with that offered by Maj. Gaurav Arya (Retd) in his piece ‘The Iron In Our Soul‘. This is a coincidence, though I did read Maj. Arya’s article, among quite a few others, before polishing my own.

P.P.S.: I have received all kinds of feedback, mostly through the WhatsApp inboxes of Mamma and Papa. If you can, please leave your views in the ‘Comments’ box below.

 

 

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9 comments

  1. Varun. Nicely covered.A srong nation nation need strong Army. No doubt IA is strong but not getting free hand to tackle J&K problem which has become bad to worst and likely to persist unless Govt stance is changrd.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a “must share” article. Varun, every sensible, thinking citizen of our country and this includes Kashmiris, want peaceful lives, relatively free of corruption and opportunities to grow & prosper. As you rightly point out, unfortunately politicians, bureaucrats and militants have deprived the common man of this. The time has come for more & more like minded people to compel the govt to take the right action against any anti national element in order to allow our defence & security personnel to do their jobs.
    Loved your objective of writing this piece. We need more voices to speak up for our Armed Forces!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A well researched and balanced article. The absence of jingoism and overt partiotism was indeed refreshing. A good read….opinions well laid out. Kudos Varun!

    Liked by 1 person

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