"After a winter’s gestation in its eggshell of ice, the valley had beaked its way out into the open, moist and yellow. The new grass bided its time underground; the mountains were retreating to their hill-stations for the warm season."
- Salman Rushdie, p 5, Midnight’s Children
In such a landscape, as Aadam Aziz set foot on the streets of Srinagar, he was fortunate not to observe any army camp on the lakeside. He was privileged not to exchange unfriendly stares with any khaki-clad soldier. The cacophonous resonance of the coercive jackboots was not omnipresent.
The times were different.
2011 marks a new decade. May be a new thought-process? Or will it? Stephen Cohen is not much enthusiastic about it though. His despondency is expressly manifest in his recent comment regarding the fate of Kashmir. Cohen, a celebrated India-analyst based at the prestigious Brookings Institute, lamented that Kashmir dispute shall last, perhaps, another 100 years. No doubt, his lexicon is naturally flooded with showdowns prevalent in European and American history. And 100 years’ war is a patent terminology in that regard.
What he obviously implied was the ad infinitum progress (or the lack of it) of resolving the imbroglio existing in the valley, and to nobody’s chagrin, one may infer that he meant “Kashmir” on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).
From an exclusively Indian perspective, the last few months have been ‘quite’ quiet in Kashmir: the valley. The ‘Kintifada’ has subsided. The frequency of Bandhs has depleted. The denizens somehow have bagged the mental musculature to sneak out of their wooden architecture and stroll in the parks.
However, is this temporary lull - a natural dip in a civilian-based insurrection? Or is it a forced milieu created by the supra-authorities through their gendarme and diplomatic ruse? Or is it the outcome of an intricate mélange of various conflicting parameters spanning from effective armed authority on one hand to focused administrative apparatus on the other?
Kashmir has remained a disjointed province from the Indian mainland; if not always, then at least for the last two decades. No statute is applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. For it, a special provision exists in the constitution. For the commoner, the province is ‘different’. Yet, it has always been a lucrative proposition to pay a visit to the paradise on earth.
Academician Esa Bose gleefully concurs with such an idea. Her brave sojourn to the valley in the second week of April this year bears anecdotal evidence to the fact that ‘normalcy’ has been restored in Kashmir, albeit may be on a temporary basis. The snow-capped serenity, reflection of the azure from the Dal lake, the strangely peaceful boulevards of Srinagar, the dome, those pigeons on the minarets and the column of erect pine trees flanking the otherwise treacherous terrain somehow effaces the red stains off the valley. The army and paramilitary, however; according to Bose, are cordially present – mostly visible in Srinagar at roughly ten feet spatial intervals and gradually fade away as one peregrinates to the countryside.
Indian National Congress’ (INC) sleek spokesperson Manish Tewari further assures the tourists [indirectly though]. In an interaction with the experts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) on 12 April 2011, Tewari spoke of concern regarding the “generation in Kashmir that has seen almost 20 years of internal strife”. He emphasised a “concrete need to reach out to this generation” of Kashmiris with “a certain amount of sensitivity, caution and prudence.”
And prudence it was; from the government of India. Its policymakers came out with a masterstroke, the moment when the INC-led government was literally cornered due to the ‘mass’ protests in tune with the Palestinian Intifada. The decision to ‘deploy’ a set of three interlocutors, in line with the British legacy of appointing committees to ‘resolve’ outstanding issues, worked remarkably well. The credibility of the interlocutors, a couple of them at least, that is of Radha Kumar’s and Dileep Padgaonkar’s was never under the scanner. Their infiltration into the hearts and minds of several sections of the populace has implemented the status quo at least. Their ‘penetration’ has stirred the ‘big-fish’ agitators. For instance, Hurriyat Conference suspended one of its important constituents - the Ittehad- ul- Muslimeen (IUM), led by Maulana Abbas Ansari just because the latter spoke to the interlocutors !
Whether Padgaonkar and others would succeed in eliminating the popular grievances or exterminating the cross-border encouraged militancy is not for sure. But what they have done and would continue to do for some time to come is the creation of a conducive atmosphere for the people-friendly army to take over and proceed with its Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM) - based counterinsurgency operations.
And Lt. General Ata Hasnain seems to be the fittest person for the job. “The first Muslim officer to command the Army in Kashmir in two decades, Hasnain is attempting to bridge the divide between the Army and the people with his ‘heart as weapon’ doctrine”; reported Muzamil Jaleel for the Indian Express on 16 April 2011. The General’s penchant for a WHAM - based approach reverberates when he utters: “Times have changed and the Army cannot limit its role to military operations. We have to look at security in much more comprehensive terms.”
A ‘pro-people’ Army under Hasnain’s command, compounded with the diplomatic agility of the interlocutors exhibit the capability to suppress the grotesque revelation, as articulated by Basharat Peer in Granta, that there might be mass graves in Kashmir; dug up by the Indian forces.
Peer wrote a gripping piece, travelling through the lanes and alleys of Srinagar, lined with walnut trees and turrets and then climactically watching the Kashmiri Intifada at the boulevard of the city. He has given graphic details of the history of the militant movement since 1989. The sad part of the whole piece was the title of the story. It read "Kashmir's Forever War".
Will the ‘war’ in Kashmir go on for one hundred years or more or for-ever?
Indeed, Peer terms it as a 'war', a war with the Indian state. Apparently, he presents an unbiased picture of the stone-pelting Kintifada in his article at Granta. However, at closer scrutiny it appears that he might have missed a couple of points. Like, he does not talk about the plight of the Kashmiri Pundits. He does not talk about any demographic cleansing. As a mainland Indian, it is disheartening to discover that Indian forces could be so brutal, so Nazi-like, as portrayed by Peer. Or may be, that is the very essence of Realpolitik, the very ingredients of counterinsurgency, which we as city-bred, potato-fleshed, chicken-hearted individuals are not able to fathom, let alone digest.
Can there not be any solution in Kashmir? Can there be a referendum in Kashmir? Or that the people can decide their fate, ever? Would that be detrimental to India’s [and Pakistan’s for that matter] prestige in the world fora? A believer of Realism in foreign policy would reply in the affirmative. On the other hand, a humanist may feel that a referendum is necessary; however, not before relocating the Pundits in Jammu.
Geopolitically, India may not afford the loss of Kashmir. But who would be held responsible for the reddening of the orchards in the times to come - the Indian [Pakistani] state, the Kashmiri separatist strand or the western importation of the concept of nation-state itself?
Did Mirwaiz Umer Farooq mean business as he urged the Pundits to return to the valley? Addressing a Friday gathering at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar on 10 June 2011, he said: “We have always maintained that Kashmiri Pandits are an inseparable part of society and their return should not be linked to the resolution of Kashmir issue. No one here says that they should return only when the Kashmir issue is resolved.”