Seeing the new normal in Kashmir

Passing the buck: “According to the dominant narrative, Islamabad is to blame for everything in Kashmir.” A masked Kashmiri protester in Srinagar.  

Mehbooba Mufti, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, faces a terrible identity crisis. She has begun blaming Pakistan for encouraging >young Kashmiris to take up arms and accused the country of pushing infiltration. Her lexicon of blame now echoes that of New Delhi, >where it is fashionable to reflexively drag all blame to Islamabad. >Home Minister Rajnath Singh has done it; Minister of Information and Broadcasting Venkaiah Naidu has done it; so also has Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj.

A surreal situation

All that is to be expected. But Ms. Mufti? She declared that those who have been killed in the current phase of unrest “will not have died in vain”. It is the kind of sentiment that she might have expressed if she were paying a victim’s family a house visit and laying a sound-bite wreath while she was in the Opposition — but she isn’t. And this is where it gets surreal, as if she were Kashmir’s Lady Macbeth lamenting the inability of perfumes to “sweeten” her metaphorically bloodied hand: that she believes had the security forces known that Burhan Wani was there in that house in Kokernag where he had been shot, he would have been given a chance to redeem himself. And the punchline: wasn’t the situation in the State “improving fast”? If that were true, why press the Prime Minister for a healing touch, for an all-party delegation? The Prime Minister has humoured her with what seems to be, unbelievable as it might seem, >an intention to walk the same path Atal Bihari Vajpayee trod on Kashmir. He will have to prove it.

Ms. Mufti’s supporters, who have been brought up on an assiduous diet of self-rule and demilitarisation, must already be wondering what she is going to get in return from New Delhi for giving so much away. Already there are apprehensions that the bugle has been sounded for demographic change, that colonies for jawans, retired military people and talk of Article 370 are surely part of it.

According to the dominant narrative, Islamabad is fully to blame for everything in Kashmir, > for all the 3,000 people being injured, the over 50 deaths, and the over 100 boys and girls who have been either partially or fully blinded by pellets fired by the security forces, pellets that were really aimed politically at Islamabad. Many of those who have lost sight are likely to abuse Delhi for the rest of their lives. Should they or those around them take to the gun, they will find shelter and succour more easily than their predecessors, wherever they seek it.

The truth is, both New Delhi and Srinagar have gift-wrapped the situation and handed it to Pakistan. Even Islamabad couldn’t have choreographed it better. Now Pakistan doesn’t have much to do except let the momentum take things along, mention UN resolution and plebiscite now and then. And wait for Kashmiri boys to try to cross the Line of Control. And when they do, Islamabad will remind them of a long list of jihadis who went mainstream in vain after they were shown a chimera by a one-trick pony — New Delhi. It is only a matter of time. And Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken to pointing out that Kashmir is Pakistan’s unfinished agenda more often than a Delhi in denial would like to be reminded. Delhi, Srinagar, and Islamabad are all part of a three-ring circus. You cannot have one without the other.

And yet, right now it is less about Pakistan and more about Kashmiris; more than 3,000 people injured, and still counting after more than a month. More people have immersed themselves in the ferment as opposed to merely being caught up in it. Not only individuals who can be called militants or misguided youth or some similar convenient label name. Entire villages are participating wholeheartedly in it. Worse, it does not seem to have leaders. From all assessments, the uprising looks frighteningly spontaneous. Whenever there is an encounter underway, Kashmiris rush towards the occurrence instead of away from it. Where Ms. Mufti sees a situation “improving fast”, many see a sort of do-or-die slideback to the early ’90s.

Maintaining status quo

The truth is the status quo as it obtains in Jammu and Kashmir suits Pakistan more than it suits India. It always has. And will continue to remain so as long as New Delhi doesn’t move to alter the status quo the way Vajpayee had begun to in 2003-04. He opened a window that both India and Pakistan could see Kashmir through, one through which one day in the future they wouldn’t see the multitude of stereotypes that block the twisting, narrow mountainous path forward. Former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram was only holding up a mirror when he repeated that Kashmir is a unique problem that requires a unique solution. We will have to see if he or Karan Singh, who said in Parliament on Wednesday that “to say that Kashmir is an internal issue is an oversimplication”, are finally able to bring heft to bear at least now. The Home Minister has made partial amends for threatening to talk to Kashmiris only when “things return to normal”. If it is going to take two months to merely come up with a finding on the use of pellet guns, it is going to take a lot longer for things to come to any kind of normal. The bigger problem is New Delhi still isn’t seeing the new normal in Kashmir. You can probably bet that once the intensity of the stone throwing comes down, it will be time for New Delhi, the real somnambulist, to go back to sleep all over again.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 8:42:15 AM |

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