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From Agenda of Alliance to Agenda of Split

What Next for Kashmir?

The upping of the anti-militancy operations following the break-up of the Peoples Democratic Party–Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Jammu and Kashmir is seen as being carried out with a view to win the general elections at the cost of Kashmiri lives and bodies scarred with pellets.

The upping of the anti-militancy operations following the break-up of the Peoples Democratic Party–Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Jammu and Kashmir is seen as being carried out with a view to win the general elections at the cost of Kashmiri lives and bodies scarred with pellets.

Mudasir Amin (mudasiramin90@gmail.com) and Samreen Mushtaq (samreen_mushtaq@ymail.com) are researchers working on Kashmir, currently pursuing PhD at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Their dissertations look into the aspects of politics of humanitarian aid, and gender-based violence and militarisation in Kashmir, respectively.

On 22 June 2018, as we started discussing how to go about writing this article, barely 2 km away from the home of one of us, an encounter between Indian forces and militants led to six killings—four militants, one civilian, and a policeman. The slain civilian was the owner of the house that was blown up in the process; his wife was hospitalised with bullet injuries while the son was detained. Dozens were injured in the clashes. While this is by no means new, it comes in the backdrop of a multitude of incidents in Kashmir making news in the preceding week. Shujaat Bukhari’s killing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) “split” and the subsequent Governor’s rule, all also combining to bury the first ever United Nations (UN) report on Kashmir down the deep hole of denial and wilful ignorance.

A day after the BJP decided to withdraw from the three-year long alliance with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on 19 June 2018, a statement from the PDP termed the incident as similar to what was witnessed on 9 August 1953, “when the people’s government was toppled by New Delhi” (Naqash 2018). The Government of India’s (GoI) dismissal and arrest of Sheikh Abdullah and “installing” of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad in his place as the Prime Minister of J&K saw a “systematic dismantling of all state political and administrative institutions” (Behera 2006: 41). The comparison of this “betrayal” to the BJP–PDP split is flawed, at best. While Abdullah was toppled for attempting to restore maximum autonomy and resisting the GoI’s attempts to fully integrate J&K into the union, over the years, the parties in the state—be it the National Conference (NC) or the PDP—have essentially been carrying out the writ of the Indian state in Kashmir, which explains Mehbooba Mufti facing the “deluge of dispiriting ridicule on social media” (Mir 2018). As it stands now, the coalition is the “newest addition to the overflowing dustbin of the Kashmir conflict’s 70-year history” (Bose 2018). With Governor N N Vohra taking charge of J&K for the fourth time during his tenure, the only shift for Kashmiris has been from an indirect rule by Delhi using its “local collaborators” (Kaul 2011: 66) to a formal direct rule.

No Action on Agenda

After allying with the BJP to form a government in J&K, in what was seen as an unholy alliance, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had remarked that it was “a historic opportunity with the government at the centre that has a clear mandate of people to deliver” (Donthi 2016). An “Agenda of Alliance” drafted between the two parties included a sustained dialogue with Hurriyat, profit-sharing of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) power projects with the state government, reversing of the royalty agreements, land occupied by the forces to be returned to its owners, safeguarding of Articles 370 and 35A, one-time settlement of West
Pakistan refugees, examining the need for continuing with Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) and Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) (DNA 2015). However, nothing was done on the ground to abide by the agenda. In fact, one more power project was handed over to NHPC, there were attempts of scrapping Articles 370 and 35A, and the AFSPA was declared more crucial for ensuring the writ of forces on the Kashmiri populace.

There is a definite pattern as to what led to the breakdown of the coalition. Despite the BJP’s national secretary and one of the main architects of the Agenda of Alliance, Ram Madhav citing terrorism, radicalisation and discrimination against Ladakh and Jammu as some of the reasons for the split, the BJP was as much “the government” as the PDP was. Therefore, the BJP’s withdrawal from the coalition needs to be analysed in the context of the past developments and future political gains. Though public speculation about a possible breakdown of the coalition was rife in many quarters, especially after the Kathua rape and murder, Tasaduq Mufti, Mehbooba Mufti’s brother and a minister in her government, gave the first official indication of a possible split when he termed the PDP as partners in crime “(for which) an entire generation of Kashmiris might have to pay with their blood” (Jaleel 2018c). The alliance, however, continued. This was followed by the much hyped Non-initiation of Combat Operations (NICO) or the Ramadan ceasefire with the PDP taking credit for persuading the BJP to give Kashmiris some moments of “peace” in the holy month of Ramadan. The NICO, however, did not stop the killings of civilian protestors as a 21-year-old was mowed down by a forces’ vehicle in Srinagar and a 13-year-old was shot dead in Pulwama.

The actual reason for the ceasefire, many believe, was the findings of a confidential report by the intelligence agencies examining the patterns of militant recruitment in Kashmir suggesting that the killing of local militants in encounters “is part of a circle” that “acts as a catalyst to push further recruitment” (Jaleel 2018b). In a two-day security review visit to Kashmir on 8–9 June, the Indian home minister sanctioning deployment of nine more paramilitary battalions to J&K asserted that his government would change the “face and fate” of the state (Economic Times 2018). Finally, after a meeting between National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and BJP chief Amit Shah, the announcement of the BJP’s pulling out of the coalition was made (Telegraph 2018), apparently catching the PDP off-guard.

In the run-up to the 2019 elections, the BJP will, as it already has, use this decision to withdraw from the alliance to present a picture in India of its tough stance against Kashmiri “terrorists” and their sympathisers—in essence, an entire population, which also helps the party fortify its turf in Jammu. It has spoken of more killings in Kashmir in the last three and a half years with a sense of achievement in comparison to previous governments (Firstpost 2018), announcing a 4D (defend, destroy, defeat and deny) strategy (Sharma 2018) for restoring peace aimed at political dividends. The party has nothing at stake in the Kashmir Valley. In the previous assembly elections in the state, all its fielded candidates in the Valley lost their deposits. Therefore, it is by no means surprising that it is attempting to rake up the issue of “discrimination” against Jammu and Ladakh regions to secure its vote bank even as Jammu continues to be communally charged, especially after the Kathua incident.

That a tough Kashmir policy is a short-term electoral gain for a majoritarian agenda is symbolic of the crisis in Kashmir and the legitimacy of the Indian state therein. Nothing unites the nation like a threat to its security. When Kashmiris are presented as a danger to Indian democracy and the integrity of the nation, there are widespread calls—both in sociopolitical circles as well as amplified by the media—for them to be taught a lesson. This lesson, meted out especially since 1989, has resulted in widespread violence that has continued unabated over the decades.

A Farcical ‘Cushion’

For the PDP, which had to do away with its soft separatism guise when it allied with BJP, this could be a homecoming of sorts, among its cadre at least. Mufti and the PDP, in a bid to restore some lost ground in their cadre in Kashmir, immediately played the victim card. Calling it a betrayal by New Delhi, PDP legislators have gone on to argue that the party “stood as a cushion between the centre’s muscular policy and Kashmir” (Jaleel 2018a) and did not succumb to pressure making the BJP withdraw from the alliance. From presiding over an “epidemic of dead eyes” (Barry 2016) to pitching for the continuation of the AFSPA, the farce of the PDP being a cushion has never been clearer. It treaded a long path for power “from its earlier green, ‘soft separatism’ stance—with promises of a healing touch and demand for self-rule, to forging an alliance with the ‘saffron’ brigade that they used to despise, in public at least” (Amin 2018: 14). The BJP-led Indian government went on an offensive against the rebellious Kashmiri population as killings continued; more than a thousand Kashmiris were slapped with the Public Safety Act (PSA); the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was used against “separatists,” media professionals, and human rights defenders. In all this, the PDP played a loyal “partner in crime,” justifying the forces’ actions by labelling the protestors and the Hurriyat leadership as “misguided youth” and Pakistan proxies, respectively.

After analysing the statements of both the parties post split, we argue that in all probability, it was a well-thought-out “agenda of split” to make a win-win situation for both. The position taken by both the BJP and the PDP is antithetical to what they have been claiming for three and a half years of their rule. In Delhi, the BJP is all out with the uncompromising national security rhetoric and in Srinagar, the PDP is playing a victim. As the PDP claimed to be taken aback by the BJP’s announcement, the former Chief Minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, took to Twitter to call it a “brilliant fixed match ... scripted to perfection” (Times of India 2018). While Omar Abdullah, during his tenure as the Chief Minister, continued to muzzle Kashmiris’ voices, presiding over the killings of over a hundred young men in 2010, no different from the PDP–BJP alliance, there is a strong possibility that this is indeed the case.

While the government had announced a Ramadan ceasefire, it was the killing of journalist Shujaat Bukhari on 14 June which Ram Madhav cited as reason enough to not suspend anti-terror operations in Kashmir. The state must be “handed over to the Governor for a few months,” Madhav noted, and the political process can be taken forward once normalcy is restored (Economic Times 2018). A major part of the debate since has been with regard to the “muscular policy” to deal with the situation in J&K. The PDP notes it has never been in support of such a policy for the Valley, while the BJP has always called for a tough stance against anti-national elements in J&K, noting though that this is not muscular or hardliner but simply the most natural way to deal with terrorism (Economic Times 2018). Analysing the working of the alliance, as Mir (2018) notes, over a thousand civilians were rendered completely or partially blind due to the use of pellet shotguns, around 200
civilian protestors were killed, dozens of structures razed to the ground during anti-militancy operations, even as more local youth continued to join militant ranks. There has been a hardened counter-insurgency approach led by the army resulting in sustained popular support for the militants as a backlash (Bukhari 2018). More civilians have been killed trying to help militants escape during cordons. One is left to wonder as to what is “less muscular” about this approach that has been in place over the years and decades of political turmoil in Kashmir.

Killing of Shujaat Bukhari

When unidentified gunmen shot dead Bukhari, the editor of the daily Rising Kashmir, along with two of his personal security officers outside the busy Press Enclave in Srinagar, it evoked widespread outrage. From pro-India parties like the NC and PDP to the pro-freedom Hurriyat to the militant leadership of the United Jihad Council (UJC), condemnation poured in from all quarters. Both the BJP and the PDP have, of course, stopped short of acknowledging that such a killing in broad daylight is a failure of the government itself.

Bukhari is not the first journalist in the history of the conflict to have fallen prey to bullets. Earlier, 18 journalists were reported to have been killed, “six by security forces, five each by militants and unknown gunmen, and two in blasts” (Mohammad 2018). With no one having owned the killing, and the mysterious unknown gunmen being evoked again, it only goes on to reflect how in a conflict zone, the varied challenges that journalists face make them suspect for all quarters, for the known and the unknown groups, for the state and the non-state and one can only keep guessing as to who pulled the trigger and who got it pulled. However, on 23 June, when senior BJP leader from Jammu, Lal Singh, asked Kashmiri journalists “to draw a line and take care of themselves if they do not want to meet the fate of Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari” (Indian Express 2018), the statement only went on to cement the feeling that the state, which is known to muzzle Kashmiris’ voices, is a major threat to Kashmiri journalists as well, as it has previously banned newspapers, arrested and targeted media personnel.

The killing of rifleman Aurangzeb by militants in southern Kashmir’s Pulwama district saw the Army Chief, Bipin Rawat, as well as the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visiting the slain soldier’s home in Mendhar area of Rajouri. Speaking to the media, Sitharaman said, “The message I am carrying back is that the martyred soldier stands out as an inspiration for the entire country” (Hindustan Times 2018). This sending out a message of a “patriotic” subject from J&K as against the misguided stone-pelting youth has often been used by the state as its victory over separatist elements in Kashmir. This subject is portrayed to be the norm, the mass uprisings as exceptions of a few anti-national elements sponsored by Pakistan. The elephant in the room is conveniently overlooked.

UN Report and India’s Response

The day Bukhari was killed was also the day when the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) came out with its first ever report on Kashmir that also questioned the Indian state’s reprisals against human rights defenders and obstructing some journalists attempting to bring international attention to the situation in J&K. The report titled Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, has used “remote monitoring” and publicly available information to assess the human rights situation in the region since it was denied access to Kashmir on either sides of the Line of Control (LoC). The report highlights the violations committed by Indian forces in Kashmir in dealing with civilian uprisings, as well as the use of pellet guns, the widespread impunity available to the armed forces accused of crimes, the frequent ceasefire violations across the LoC, as well as governance issues in Pakistan-administered areas. The report has not only questioned the political detentions and the impeding of justice by the very state, but also violations by the non-state actors in terms of the attacks against civilians or armed forces not on active combat duty. The report recommends the UN Human Rights Council to establish a “commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir” (OHCHR 2018: 48).

In response to the report, the Indian state instead of a substantive response went into denial as it used sharp words to rebut the report as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated,” violating “India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” (GoI 2018). The state also took offence to the use of the term “armed groups” for otherwise designated terrorist groups; however, under the law of the armed conflict, combatants are referred to as armed groups. Picking the report on its linguistic merits, rather than considering the kinds of excesses the report has listed, clearly brings forth how the state is not uncomfortable in being the hegemon committing violence against people, but finds discomfort if that is brought out at the larger level. Can the commitments to certain safeguards under international law, then, be overlooked using the sovereignty and integrity discourse? Instead of responding to the report’s demand for an investigation, the state’s response to the need for a check has been mere rhetoric regarding the “integral part,” bringing in the oft-used terrorism argument to justify the conduct of its forces. A report that should have allowed for at least a start into accountability has been dismissed as propagating a false narrative. Why, then, Kashmir continues to be on the boil, is a question that will continue to be raised for as long as the Indian state continues to stay in denial. As Krishnan (2018) notes, the report could have been a “historic opportunity for India’s people to reorient and reassess the conversation around Kashmir”; however, this “unemotional appeal to reason and sanity” that acknowledges Kashmir as a political issue, with Kashmiris as key stakeholders to its solution, was rejected in haste which only goes on to show a general contempt for human rights concerns.

Conclusions

“The Centre will try to go for another Operation All Out for the 2019 elections,” a police officer was quoted as saying in a report with regard to the state upping the anti-militancy operations following the break-up of the PDP–BJP alliance (Naqash 2018). That elections in India are sought be won at the cost of Kashmiris’ lives, that Kashmiris need to be killed, their bodies scarred with pellets, their houses razed to the ground to consolidate a vote bank in the country, bespeaks of the continuing crisis of India’s rule over Kashmir.

On 9 July, it will be two years since 22-year-old Hizb-ul-Mujahideen “Commander” Burhan Muzzafar Wani was killed in an encounter in Kokernag area, leading to a massive uprising across Kashmir, dozens killed, scores blinded, amidst a communication blockade. While a lot has changed since—a stronger anti-militancy operation bringing forth more involvement of the youth in the militant movement—Wani’s graffiti continues to be seen on Kashmir’s streets even as the state responds with counter graffiti (Amin and Majid 2018). As if the Operation All Out of the Indian forces was not enough, with rising civilian casualties in the recent times, now the “elite” National Security Guard commandos have headed to join the anti-militancy operations in the Valley. There are reports suggesting government’s plans to “make rules” against handing over of militant bodies to the families (Tripathi 2018). There is nothing new to this “new muscular” approach of the BJP-led Indian government. Kashmiris are witness to how different Indian regimes have hanged Kashmiri bodies to satisfy the “collective conscience” while the Kashmiri nation awaits the return of the mortal remains.

And while this happens, the PDP will, perhaps, again take to “soft separatism” and talk of healing touch; the NC while out of power will continue to demand a political solution to the Kashmir issue, and be complicit in violence and brutal repression when in power. The Indian right-wing would be seeking to build on Jammu’s 1947 legacy as is evident from the recent campaigning against the Muslim Rohingya refugees and the attempts at driving out the Muslim nomadic communities from the region. The “secular” Congress has already started experimenting on the Kashmiri aspirations with the party planning to take disciplinary action against its senior leaders for their Kashmir remarks (Times of India 2018). Further, the demand for autonomy in Ladakh and regional bias will be politicised and cashed upon by these parties.

All this while Kashmiris will battle for their “right to have rights” (Arendt 1951: 294–95)—the right to live, and the right to heal, among others, as they continue to be dispensable for the Indian state’s control over the territory.

References

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— “Kashmir Remark: Soz May Face Disciplinary Action in Congress,” 24 June, https://times
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Updated On : 12th Jul, 2018

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