Thursday, October 20, 2011



(After Watching “The Big Fight” on NDTV 24X7)

                                By Brigadier Ajit Nair (Retired)     

The Nation has been keenly watching the ongoing hiatus in the Kashmir Valley. Those who understand the political stakes involved and the vested interests at play, trying to jockey themselves into favourable positions once sanity prevails –are sickened at the unnecessary violence and the loss of life. The vast majority – who don’t understand – fall into two camps. One thinks that Kashmiris are being brutally repressed and the other feels that they are being pampered and wonders what the fuss is all about. Both, of course are far from the truth.

I’d like to put down a fresh perspective on the issue, conceived from studying J & K for decades and my experience of having served there for five separate tenures – over eight years in all.

A word about myself. I’m a recently retired Army officer from the South. I’m completely apolitical and though a Hindu, have no love lost for fundamentalists – either Hindu or Muslim. I have no hatred for Kashmiris nor any prejudices against them. I’m taking a completely impartial view, though I sometimes may sound somewhat cold or emotionless – which the truth often is. We’re not going to solve the Kashmir issue through emotion – only a rational and logical solution will work.

First and foremost, we need to make it absolutely clear to the Kashmiri youth that Independence for J & K IS NOT AN OPTION – Autonomy is. Inexplicably, there seems to be hesitation on the part of the Govt or other players involved  in saying this unequivocally. Both India and Pakistan are Federal States with a diverse population. Independence for one State would lead to similar demands from many others, as has happened before and is still happening. Independence for J & K would negate our diversity and raison de etre and would be an unmitigated disaster for both Countries. This must be said often and repeated at every forum, because this is the absolute truth and though the separatists may not like it, even they know it is the reality. Otherwise, the misguided youth of Kashmir seem to think that even though Independence is not an immediately viable option – at least there is a glimmer of hope, something to fight for. There frankly isn’t a hope in hell that India or Pakistan will permit this to ever happen. There is just no use fighting with this Aim in mind and if the aim is unattainable, then the fight is futile.

If hypothetically, a Plebiscite or better still, an opinion poll is held, chances are that a vote for India will prevail. All minority communities (Hindus, Buddhists, Gujjars and Bakherwals, Shia Muslims and Sikhs) will vote against Pakistan and against an Independence with a majority Sunni Muslim population. Even rational Muslims will see the fragility of the new State surrounded by three large nuclear neighbours. Domination or exploitation by any one of them is a certainty. Only within a democratic India is the safety and prosperity of J & K assured.

The current violence in the Valley is inexplicable. In recent years, we have seen the conduct of two successful elections, success against terrorists, diminished support for secessionists and revival in tourism. Then what prompted the youth to suddenly become ‘stone pelters’ ? “Spontaneous”, or “by people not leaders” are unconvincing. Such large-scale and sustained agitations need organisation and leadership. In the absence of any provocation by the State, one can only agree with the hypothesis of the Govt that it is externally motivated and possibly controlled. Aided and abetted by the ‘separatists’. The killings (of over 100 Kashmiris) in the last three months or so cannot be the reason, as claimed. That was a fallout of the demonstrations and unprovoked violence against the State and not vice versa. At best, chicken and egg.  Any grievance that the youth had could have amicably been discussed and resolved with their own Kashmiri Muslim Chief Minister, recently elected by them in a 61% turnout election.

Apologists keep talking about “bullets against stones”. For heaven’s sake, do they expect the Police and Para-military to pick up the pelters stones and throw it back at them? Certainly not. Violence will beget violence and the Police will use the weapons at their disposal and upgrade their response as the violence continues. And that’s true of any Democracy in the world. India is, by all definitions, a “soft” State (poor intelligence, poorly armed and equipped Police, reactive and slow responses due to chronic indecisiveness, no political consensus even for national issues and constant back-pedaling in the face of political opposition and bickering). But the State response, while not trying to be deliberately repressive, can certainly be ham-handed and ill-thought out – and there will be collateral damage. Could this prolonged violent agitation have happened in any Western Democracy ? Would it have been permitted in any illiberal Muslim State – like Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia or Libya ? Certainly not. Or try it in Theocratic Nations like Saudi Arabia or Iran ! Or even in Communist China. It would have been crushed. Even in any other State in India, it would have received a much sterner response. Only J & K could have got away with it.

Kashmiris must understand that there is no genuine support whatsoever for Azadi from any quarters. The Lashkar-e-toiba and other Pakistani terrorist groups have their own pan-Islamic agenda and the ISI has its own – any help they may have rendered over the last two decades was incidental and probably retrograde for the Kashmiri cause. World powers (read US) are fed-up of Islamic terrorism and the line between terrorism and “freedom fighters” has blurred considerably. No support, no mediation there. The States of Pakistan and China may help – not through any love of Kashmir, but merely to keep India embroiled and “weak”. But they have their own Islamic worries and vulnerabilities too. Waziristan and Xinzhuang respectively. Can’t get too involved. If I was a separatist or an informed youth of Kashmir, I’d see the writing on the wall. No Independence. Cut my losses and see how I can lead a better life.

          All talk shows have shown that the Kashmiris leadership focuses on the over 100 deaths in 100 odd days. That, I’m afraid is neither here nor there. Admittedly, deaths of innocent young people is sad and deserves our heartfelt sympathy, but to make it a political issue is fishing in troubled waters. In India death is cheap – witness the 100 odd deaths in a week in a train accident and floods in UP and Uttaranchal. The number of Kashmiris dying is not relevant – the manner of their deaths is. Most have died not in surreptitious or suspicious actions, but in a legitimate open manner in Police action to quell dangerous and violent mobs. There can be no prosecution of policemen doing their job at peril to their own life – or are policemen’s lives cheap ? The risk is of the Police refusing to face mobs or running away – as we saw in the Gujjar agitation. An invitation to lawlessness across the Country. Where there has been prima facie malafide intentions or deliberate use of unnecessary force, the demand for an investigation is legitimate. The separatists focus on these deaths tends to divert attention from real issues. What do the agitators want ? What action does the Govt need to take ? Where do we go from here ? Instead all talk is – did the CM visit the hospitals or the victims’ families ? Is there a failure of governance ? Of course not. Probably because nobody in the media knows the right question to ask.

In a televised show on the recent events in Kashmir, on NDTV 24X7, the cacophony of dissonance was astounding. Only the Anchor – Vikram Chandra seemed to speak any sense – everyone else just stuck to extreme positions and shouted each other down ! The show was “The Big Fight” and there certainly was one ! Vikram, who very optimistically wanted a consensus at the end, was forced to admit failure. Very similar to the national discourse on the subject.

To the Kashmiris, I say, look at the immense positives of Kashmir and of India and of Kashmir in India. You are one of the most prosperous States in India. You have a rich and fertile land and culture, with unmatched natural beauty. You are a gentle and peace-loving people. You have tremendous potential to grow and prosper even more and achieve the highest per capita level of happiness in India. You must march in sync with a confident and forward looking Country, respected within the comity of Nations. And where does Geelani and his separatists want to take you ? To Pakistan ? Because, as I said, Independence is just not an option. Compare the two Countries and make an informed and rational choice.  I am not saying that Pakistan is a terrible Country – but in a comparison with India, it definitely comes out second best, by a long margin.

India – like Shashi Tharoor said in a TED lecture – is a country which is 81 percent Hindu and in 2004, a Roman Catholic woman, head of the UPA Coalition, makes way for a Sikh Prime Minister to be sworn in by a Muslim President! And he in turn was succeeded by a woman as President with a Muslim Vice President. An ancient people and culture who have never invaded another Country. But has been invaded and colonized numerous times and absorbed the religion and culture of its invaders, without losing its own. As Atal Behari Vajpayee said of India, in Chennai, on 13 Sep 2003, “….a country with 4,635 communities, 325 languages and 24 scripts. It is the birthplace of four major religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism - not to mention the animistic cults of tribals and is home to Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism”. A vibrant Democracy, the largest in the World and unbroken since 1947, where every type of Freedom flourishes. A liberalized economy where opportunities abound. Where the Army obeys the Govt without political interference, and respects and defends the Constitution and where every caste, creed, community and religion is represented in Governance. Some call it anarchic, but it functions well nevertheless. Of course, like any fledgling democracy and developing nation, we have problems galore – but at least the problems are known, and solutions being either deliberated upon, being formulated or implemented, albeit inefficiently (Democracies unlike Autocracies tend to be chaotic – preps for CWG vs Beijing Olympics ?!!). And Pakistan – I won’t specifically categorise it, but suffice it to say – mostly the opposite.

Kashmiris – your future lies in your hands. You can always elect your Govt and your CM, as you have done recently. You don’t want the CRPF in your urban areas ? Or the Army in your rural ? Throw them out. You don’t like the AFSPA ? Repeal it. You don’t like curfews ? Lift it. You want jobs ? Create them. You think the Centre is not responsive enough ? Make them listen to your genuine grievances. Or too interfering ? Tell them to lay off – we Kashmiris can look after ourselves. You want communal and religious harmony ? Harmonise them yourself – and as a start point, call the Pandits back to their homes, from where the terrorists chased them out. Do you think all of this is too hard to accomplish ? Not at all. All you have to do is be forward looking and positive. Forget your turbulent History or at least keep it in cold storage, and for the time being maintain peace and calm. Stop listening to divisive leaders, who are relics of the past and want to foment trouble just to stay relevant. Say “enough is enough” to terrorists and infiltrators from across. Trust your mainstream political leaders like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti who genuinely want the best for you. Just do these few things and voila! You will be on a fast track to peace, prosperity and well-being which the young of Kashmir have always craved for and never seen. The AFSPA will melt away with the morning mist. The Central Armed Forces will become unemployed and rumble away in their trucks (except for the minimum numbers required to be deployed on the Line of Control – and they will be looking outwards.) You will be free to pursue your dreams and the dreams of your children;  that is the legacy you owe them – not of bitterness, hatred and violence. And all of that is in your hands, to be done by your own volition. Start today.




          The tragedy of Abdullah Wahdem’s home is a poignant and sad story. But, putting aside the deep and heartrending emotions the story evokes, can we just look at the issue dispassionately? Why does Wahdem’s Village receive Israeli shelling ? Because the Israelis are retaliating. Why ? Because the Hamas fires rockets randomly at Israeli villages – in this case, at Sderot. Why does the Hamas fire rockets randomly and without provocation ? Because they know that Israel WILL retaliate and cause innocent casualties. Then why do they do continue this seemingly senseless shelling against a much more powerful neighbour ? Because they want international outrage. Are they succeeding ? To some extent, but their own shelling causes equal if not more outrage.  Then, will they stop, to end the suffering to their own people and to try and usher in peace ? Unlikely. Why not ? Because, if there is peace, they will become IRRELEVANT.

          And this is the same story with every quasi-political, militant organisation. They know how to fight, they know how to gain the support of people who are impatient with long-drawn out peace processes. But once they achieve a position of numerical strength or political authority, they haven’t a clue of how to govern or to bring peace or stability. They consist of rabble rousers and religious fundamentalists, whose raison-de-etre is fighting, terrorising  and spreading canards to maintain dis-harmony. And they are voted into power by the Abdullah Wahdems – the common people who do not know how to differentiate between a militant group and a political party. This is the real tragedy in the Middle East, especially for the Palestinians.

          Its easy to blame the Israelis, but spare a thought for their predicament. Surrounded by hostile neighbours, sworn to destroy them – their fight for survival started with their Independence – in 1948. And who were they before they became Israelis ? Jews, persecuted in Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. In their short history, they’ve fought three Wars, faced terrorism, rocket attacks and implacable enmity from all around – except for the Camp David enforced peace accord with Egypt. With the slow but sure rise of the Islamists in Egypt (witness the recent persecution of the Copts (Christians) by the ultra conservative elements, supported by the Army), this Peace Accord too is faltering. It is only the unstinted US support, coupled with their own tenaciousness, which has kept this fragile Country surviving and even thriving in the little oasis they have created in this harsh and desolate land. This is a Country in which every man and woman serves in the Army and the whole country, especially their border kibbutzes remain in a permanent state of readiness for offensive defence (remember Entebbe ?) This is a Country, which has never seen Peace. In this context, Binyamin Netanyahu’s words ring true “ If the Arabs put down their weapons, there will be no War, if the Israelis put down their weapons, there will be no Israel”.        

          While the whole World, especially India, has heartfelt sympathy for the tragic plight of the Palestinians, displaced from their Homeland and refugees in it – the solution cannot be at the cost of the destruction of Israel, which is the preferred option of the Arabs. Whether the 1947 United Nations decision to partition Palestine and settle displaced Jews and create the State of Israel was right or not can be argued ad nauseam, but that’s History and a fail accompli. The fact of the matter is that Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948, a day before the British Mandate was to end and is today, well entrenched. The only Democracy in the region, the most powerful militarily and technologically well ahead of all its neighbours – what Israel wants , it will get (courtesy staunch US support). The Arabs and the Palestinians will be well advised to keep this reality in mind, while formulating a plan for the State of Palestine.

          On 24 Sept 2011, in a speech in the UN General Assembly, interrupted by regular applause, the Palestinian President, Mahmud Abbas vowed that Palestinians were ready to return to peace talks if Israel stopped building settlements. There was loud applause when he held aloft the official request for statehood that he'd presented earlier to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Abbas said “ I do not believe that anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application.” He was right, but of course the US will veto it, once it comes up for a vote. At any rate, this was a bold and positive move and the Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu agreed immediately and said that “lets stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let's just get on with it. Let's negotiate peace”. The condition that Abbas placed – that of stopping the construction of settlements by Israel, is probably acceptable to them. It suits both men to have peace in the region. There is a new air of hope in the Middle East. Now it only remains for Abbas to make the Hamas see some sense, to convince them that peace could actually suit them too.

          There is too much at stake for the entire world, to lose this golden opportunity to negotiate a peaceful settlement of one of the root causes of animosity between Islam and the West. All Countries, including India, who have a stake must pitch in.