Only if Kashmiris unite

20 Aug 2019


The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

KASHMIRIS are a fractious lot, not unlike anyone from Balochistan or Uttar Pradesh. And it’s not just about Hindus and Muslims.

I once invited Syed Ali Shah Geelani for a TV discussion in Delhi. Geelani is a respected veteran of Kashmir’s struggle against Indian rule but his doctrinaire Jamaat-i-Islami worldview sets him apart from other members of the Hurriyat Conference, most of who are closer to the Valley’s mystical Muslim traditions imbibed from the Sufi hub of Bukhara in today’s Uzbekistan.

One of my favourite Hurriyat leaders in three decades of reporting on Kashmir from close and afar is Prof Abdul Ghani Bhatt, a Persian scholar with a wizened face and darting red eyes. (To paraphrase Keats, as though of hemlock he had drunk.) You couldn’t have a conversation with Bhatt without him diving into a deep stream of consciousness and surfacing with a brilliant haul of Persian verses from Hafiz and Rumi to embellish the argument.

And there was the self-proclaimed guerrilla turned Gandhian — Yasin Malik. In his ‘reformed’ avatar, he would carry trunk loads of signed petitions to Delhi and elsewhere but exactly how he planned to press for democracy in his militarily occupied state was hard to divine.

When Geelani showed up at the TV studio I informed him that Bilal Lone, the son of his assassinated Hurriyat colleague would be a discussant. He put his foot down. Bilal was like his son but he would never want to be seen with him in a public discussion. If I remember right, there were arrangements to seat the angry octogenarian separately from other Hurriyat leaders at the Pakistan High Commission’s receptions.

There are stories of betrayal too, searing ones, by those that were trusted as anchors of support.

The Kashmiri media, counting from one end of their Residency Road colony in Srinagar to the other end, were utterly professional, brave and clued in at the height of turmoil in the 1990s. Several have been killed in the line of duty. Others live with bullet wounds. It was distressing to observe deep divisions among them.

And we know all too well about the opportunism of the Abdullah and Mufti clans, both having flirted with the Bharatiya Janata Party, to bring us to this crisis. They are well-meaning people but like others of their flock, prone to selfishness and political subterfuge.

For all my links with different sides of the Kashmir story, one common theme baffled me. Everyone was fixated on Pakistan-India ‘muzaakraat’ about ‘masla-i-Kashmir’ for a ‘paaedaar hal’ but seldom if ever did they offer a view on what a mutually agreed solution might look like. And they all uniformly believed that the Kashmir dispute was a potential nuclear flashpoint.

In other words, if the dispute were not resolved according to their vague and varying wishes, there would be a nuclear exchange. Some Kashmiris believed in Pakistan, others looked to steadily eroding Indian democracy for succour.

As for the nuclear boast, I remember telling the Mirwaiz, the genial Hurriyat leader with an easy laugh, about the day an Indian friend who returned from America with a vacuum cleaner and other superior devices for home use.

At a housewarming party, a guest spilled her drink on the bed. Our friend went scurrying to the loft to retrieve the hoover, which took a few crucial minutes more to assemble. By then, someone with the presence of mind had thrown the morning’s newspaper on the spill, which substantially soaked up the messy liquid and solved the problem in the quickest possible way.

Abdul Rahim Khanekhana had a doha for the occasion. “Rahiman dekh badein ko laghu na dijiye daar/Jahaan kaam avai sui, kahaan kari tarvaar. (Don’t discard the small in the quest of the big, O Rahim/ Respect the needle for its ready help where the sword is useless.) There are memorable instances of asymmetrical victories for the right cause from Vietnam to South Africa.

And of course there are stories of betrayal too, searing ones, by those that were trusted as anchors of support, as in the Palestinian tragedy. In any case, if the Palestinians do win, and win they must, it would not be because someone had a nuclear missile to shore up their cause.

And which nuclear power should Indians approach to get justice for the sacrilege in Ayodhya, the mass murders of Sikhs or Muslims by state-sponsored bigots, of rapes of caring nuns and lynching of helpless cowherds, of the predatory takeover of tribal forests by state-backed corporates and the rigging of elections by recourse to communal violence?

Suffice it to say there’s a 90 per cent crippled Indian man enduring an ordeal in solitary confinement who counts Kashmiris as his comrades. There’s a woman lawyer who gave up her American citizenship to work with the exploited tribal women of India and she cares for Kashmir in more ways than Kashmiris may know. She is currently in prison accused of being an “urban Naxal” together with a dozen other colleagues. The fight is on.

It was Belgian-born Indian economist-activist Jean Dreze who exposed the lie in Narendra Modi’s claim that he wants to remove poverty in Kashmir. Dreze pulled out his factsheet to show how Jammu and Kashmir was actually better off than Modi’s Gujarat in relevant human development indices.

A little away from the prison that Kashmir has become, a window has opened in Argentina. And, come September, and Benjamin Netanyahu could face eviction and be put on trial for corruption. Victory is often a slow coach to justice, but history is witness to the truth too that a fractious polity makes an easy prey to injustice.

Only recently in May, Indians paid a heavy toll for petty ambitions and crass selfishness of their leaders. What has happened to Kashmir is at least partly a consequence of that let-down, but it also goes back to its own history of self-defeating mistrust — between Kashmiri Muslims and between Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus among others. That needs to heal.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019