Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Between the Devil (Hurriyat) and the Deep Sea (New Delhi)

Riyaz provides an assessment of the first polling day in the Valley

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Bandipora Verdict

On November 17, driving through the awfully deployed columns of army men, paramilitary troops and a desolate marketplace of Bandipora was enough to manifest an overwhelming mood for boycott. But that was not to be. Few paces down the street people jostled each other in long queues; some political workers exchanged blows; at some places rowdy activists resorted to rigging.

But, as compared to elections held in 1996 and 2002, the people registered a calculated response to both New Delhi and Hurriyat Conference. While a complete strike reflected their latent aspirations for Azadi an almost festive mood at polling booths showed how stale the idea of boycotting the elections had grown, especially at a time when neither the voter nor the vote-seeker was confined to the slogan of development. No body sought public support for accession to India; no body voted against Hurriyat Conference per se.

Here lies a crucial lesson for both New Delhi as well as Hurriyat.

Ever since the most flawed elections of 1952 New Delhi has been insisting that the Accession Treaty concluded between the fleeing Maharaja and the Union of India in 1947 had been “endorsed” by Kashmir assembly hence no need to hold a plebiscite as prescribed by the UN resolutions.

Although much water had flown down the Jhelum, India recently appeared stuck to the same belief when the country’s representative in UN equated Kashmir elections with right of self-determination. This stagnant and politically incorrect policy has always induced suspicion among masses about the mainstream of governance and need to strengthen democratic institutions. Sizeable voter turnout and the subsequent shutdown in Bandipora is, therefore, a popular verdict against New Delhi’s dicey approach toward Kashmir governance.

When you enforce change rather than waiting for the spadework to produce the change you are bound to end up in disaster. New Delhi was always nervy about Kashmir and it always attempted to force a change rather than creating conditions for a favorable change.

Notwithstanding an unhealthy stance the Indian representative took in the UN, J&K Governor N N Vohra sounded not just positive but also pragmatic when he responded to the voter turnout in Bandipora. His statement was interesting as well as amazing when viewed in the backdrop of India’s stance about elections in the UN. The Governor’s message did not mention the term right of self-determination or Hurriyat nor did it sound provocative against the people’s aspirations.

Lauding the people for cooperating with the state for the peaceful conduct of the polls the governor said, “The participation of people in large numbers, despite cold weather particularly in the valley and Ladakh region, reflects their deep faith in democracy. The electorate confidently sustained their commitment and trust in the power of ballot."

If judged in light of Mr Vohra’s response Hurriyat’s boycott call appears an act of stupidity. But when compared with New Delhi’s latest assertion in the UN, it seems any electoral exercise in Kashmir is ultimately used as a foreign policy chip to bog down Pakistan. Does Pakistan still matter? Is it not an opportune time to solemnize a true and unbiased relationship between J&K and New Delhi? What is New Delhi waiting for?

If the Hurriyat needs to move beyond boycott politics New Delhi requires more than that. It needs to de-link the electoral exercises in J&K from its foreign policy ambit. Let things change by themselves, let we not force change because forcing change evokes unfavorable reactions. Why do we forget the fiasco caused by erroneous judgment of Mr Vohra’s predecessor? And for that matter, has New Delhi’s sticking to the Atoot Ang policy and equating elections in J&K with plebiscite delivered any way for these past 61 years? Had it been so, Mr Obama might not have mentioned Kahsmir four times during his recent campaign and he would not have suggested a special envoy on Kashmir; European Union would not term Kashmir as a “beautiful prison” and the military observers posted in Srinagar would have long been removed.

This is the time that New Delhi made Kashmir the battle ground for true democracy. On the contrary it is giving enough moral space to separatists. When you require putting at least a dozen top leaders and scores of their supporters in jail and seal almost the entire Valley on the day of polling, however rosy the polling may look it would certainly lack the credibility. Let the dissent galore and the democracy will flourish. If New Delhi really wants a democratic consolidation in J&K it will have to dissociate Kashmir elections from its foreign policy agenda or any anti-Pakistan diplomatic offensive.

Hurriyat Conference and its affiliates such as JKLF and Peoples Conference also need some course correction. The leaders spearheading the separatism in J&K should understand the ideological import of the boycott. When the mainstream groups and their leaders, some of them having held top positions in Indian government, have de-linked the elections from their political beliefs Hurriyat has no sound reason to hold on to the belief that if people vote India will gain. Had they ever employed even a shred of common sense they would understand the finer fact of democracy. The fact is that even if 1% electorate turns out to vote the elections are considered valid. Given that conceptual strength coupled with a tighter grip over the ground, would it be ever difficult for Delhi to conduct polls?

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