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Scepticism in India over claim of Pakistan hand in Kashmir

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    Scepticism in India over claim of Pakistan hand in Kashmir
    By Cyril Almeida

    NEW DELHI: As the latest spell of violence in Indian-administered Kashmir enters a second month and shows no sign of abating, the Indian government’s claim that the violence is being orchestrated by Pakistan and separatist elements in Kashmir is increasingly being met with scepticism inside India.

    Countering the state-driven narrative is a tale of anger, hopelessness and frustration among a generation of Valley Muslim teenagers and young men and women barely in their 20s, a post-1990 generation that has been raised amidst the violence of the first Kashmir ‘intifida’, has few economic prospects and that does not identify with any of the political parties in Kashmir.

    The idea of a poorly organised, youth-driven, apolitical struggle rooted in the bleak possibilities life has to offer for a certain segment of the Muslim population in Indian-administered Kashmir is at sharp variance with the claims of Indian officials that Pakistan or Pakistani-sponsored militants may be behind the latest round of violence.

    The Indian Home Ministry has been particularly hawkish on the Pakistan connection, with senior officials, including Home Minister P. Chidambaram, regularly raising the issue of cross-LoC infiltration, militant training camps, and the possible role of the Lashkar-i-Taiba in the violence.

    On Wednesday, Congress spokesperson, Jayanthi Natarajan, also waded into the issue, telling reporters, “Elements from across the border and the separatists inimical to the unity of our country are trying to create tension and violence in the Valley.”

    A former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, G. Parthasarathy, was even more direct in a conversation with Dawn: “(APHC separatist leader) Geelani has the backing of the (Jamaat-i-Islami) guns, the Hizbul Mujahideen. Unlike Musharraf, Kayani and co are comfortable with the JI, so they’ve activated that link again.”


    But that theory is largely dismissed outside official circles.

    “Utter nonsense,” said Praveen Swami, a respected analyst on security issues and Kashmir.

    “The protests have been going on since 2005. They are happening in very specific areas. Nine out of 10 incidents are in three cities (Sopore, Baramullah and Srinagar) and even within those cities, the violence is predominantly in the old parts of the cities.”

    According to Swami, “Mr Geelani’s party may be handing out 100 rupee notes” but the real reasons for the violence is a generation of Valley youth who have “no leadership, no prospects”, “kids who are completely cut off from the economy and have a number of secular grievances.”

    The rise of a new peasant elite dislodged the traders and artisans, predominantly Muslims, from their traditional position atop the social and economic pyramid, creating a vacuum that has been filled with anger and despair, Swami explained.


    That view was echoed by Srinagar-based journalist Shamim Meraj, “Look at their (the protesters) footwear: they’re wearing slippers. They aren’t very well-to-do. There’s clearly frustration in the valley.”

    With plenty of blame to go around, the young chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, grandson of Sheikh Abdullah, has come in for some stick.

    “The vote (in state elections in 2008) was for bijli, pani and sarak (electricity, water and roads),” according to Sandeep Dixit, an editor with The Hindu, “but not much has changed.”

    Abdullah is particularly criticised for his aloofness during the present crisis: “Omar should have gone to the trouble spots, been more visible, seen the dead and injured,” according to Shamim Meraj.

    “As far as Delhi is concerned, Omar’s a great guy. He is married to a sardarni, his mother is British. He represents what Delhi would like a Muslim leader to be,” Shamim added. “But religious identity matters in the Valley. He can’t even speak the language.”


    The religious angle is a tricky question, especially with the Indian state seemingly equating all forms of Islamist support with militancy/jihad.

    Swami explained, “The areas in which violence has occurred have political Islam traditions… Islamist strength is undeniably growing… But the youth rage is unconnected to the Hurriyat and the (National Conference).”

    What really makes the Valley a tinderbox, though, is perhaps the heavy-handed tactics of the local police and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, which are responsible for maintaining law and order in the state.

    According to Saeed Naqvi, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, “There are right-wing elements in the police” that are comfortable with, and even urging the use of, violent tactics for dealing with the stone-throwing protesters. Meraj, the Srinagar-based journalist, observed: “Twenty years ago it was a gun (that protesters were using), now it is a stone. And yet the response (of the state) has not changed.”

    Swami lays most of the blame on the lack of any meaningful debate on autonomy or reform of the police: “The bulk of the killing is because of indiscipline and stupidity. (The police) aren’t trained and overreact.”

    Important as it may be to rein in an under-trained, trigger-happy police force, there is a consensus that an end to the troubles in the Valley lies in a political solution.

    Even the hawkish G. Parthasarathy, the former high commissioner to Pakistan, agrees: “The problem can’t be dealt with only by law and order means. There has to be a political approach.”

    Iftikhar Gilani, a well-known Kashmiri journalist, urged that there is no time to be lost: “The problem is growing. We haven’t seen curfew in the north before, in places like Kapuwara. Almost the entire Valley, not just three districts is in trouble.”

    For Gilani, the violence was “embedded in the political problem of Kashmir”. “If you give them (the protesters) political, democratic space, they can vent their anger.”

    That space would include giving the Hurriyat, and even other hardliners outside the Hurriyat, the right to hold political meetings instead of placing the leaders under house arrest, according to Gilani.

    “Look at Kashmir University. No professor is allowed to participate in politics there. But in Jammu University, professors are allowed to participate and the BJP hands out tickets,” Gilani observed.

    In reality, though, with the army now being called in to patrol in parts of Srinagar, the already distant hopes for a political settlement anytime soon seem to be receding even further.

    The speculation that Delhi is unhappy with Omar Abdullah and wants his administration to take a more proactive role to restore peace in the Kashmir Valley using local resources raises an equally vexing question: how can the discredited and controversial local police and CRPF be relied upon now to establish order when they helped disrupt order in the first place?

    For G. Parthasarathy the answer is simple: “We’ll handle it. We’ve handled worse before.”

    Praveen Swami was more circumspect: “None of the kids protesting are over 20. For the sake of the kids, J&K politicians need to unite. They’re just kids. Let’s not lose them.”

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