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.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Diminishing Stature of Separatists

Khursheed does a post mortem on a movement reduced to mostly off-site leaders and part-time workers

(Mr. Khursheed Ahmad Wani, 36, was in Tral in South Kashmir. He graduated with a B.Sc. degree from Sri Partap College, Srinagar, and M.Sc. (Physics) from the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. He is the Srinagar Bureau chief of the Poineer, a major national daily, and is the Editor of the Etalaat group of newspapers in Srinagar that carried the following article.)

Separatists find no end to start anew

A handful of workers belonging to a constituent of Hurriyat Conference appeared on the Residency Road closer to the cluster of newspaper offices and began shouting azaadi slogans in front of some reluctant cameramen. A few cops from Kothibagh police station watched the slogan shouters from a distance. Unlike in the past, the policemen appeared less interested in flexing their muscles on the part-time protestors. There were no vehicles waiting to bundle them in after beating them ruthlessly. After ten minutes, the sloganeers dispersed returning the "press enclave" to normal.

A few months back, before the assembly elections were held in Kashmir, this was not the state of affairs. A mere presence of Hurriyat workers, or even a stray shout for azaadi in any corner of the Valley, particularly in the Srinagar city, was invitation to wrath of the cops. From pitilessly hitting the protestors with savage batons to firing tear smoke canisters and bullets, the police and paramilitary were omnipresent to quell any separatist exhibition.

The elections and their yield have not turned the cops humane. It is actually the proven ineffectiveness of the separatists that rendered them innocuous, at least for the time being. Their slogan shouting does not qualify for the headlines nor do the authorities feel the exigency to bundle them in vehicles for lodging in nearest police stations.

A plethora of reasons is cited for the diminishing stature of separatists in post-election Kashmir politics. The unusually high turnout in assembly polls made it clear to the separatist leadership that it failed to read the pulse of the people. This is a fact that the then Governor's Administration in consultation with pro-India political leadership of Kashmir took a harsh decision to put majority of the separatist leaders and their prominent followers behind bars to ensure hassle-free voting in strategically overstretched seven phases of the election. Consequently, the separatist leadership was unable to launch a massive anti-poll campaign.

But, the people voted and recorded the highest turnout, much to the chagrin of the separatist leaders. Observers say that the voter turnout was the watershed and resulted in humiliating defeat of the separatists. "The people may not have rejected the separatism but they definitely rejected the leaders spearheading this cause in the Valley", says Kashmir watcher Abdul Qayoom. "If people were definitely committed to these leaders, their boycott call would have been honoured. Grassroots level leaders rule the hearts and minds of people. It hardly matters whether they are behind bars or free at their homes", Qayoom says quoting examples of popular resistance leaders of past and present in the world history.

The separatist leaders have no option but to concede that their line of action was miscalculated. "We have to find out the reasons as to why a million people gathered at our call at Eidgah on August 22, 2008 but the same people voted in favour of pro-India politicians just after three months", says Javed Mir of Liberation Forum who is witness to the crests and troughs of separatist movement in Kashmir since 1988.

Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, leaders of the now-defunct Coordination Committee have admitted that the turnout in the elections was unexpected and morale sagging. However, a month after the elections and Omar Abdullah government in place, the two leaders have not met to ponder over the consequences of the elections. The compelled bonhomie, which the people witnessed during the peak of anti-India stir seems to be evaporating. Privately, the two leaders and their sidekicks admit that the chances of their "coordination" are minimal. The tone and tenor of their statements is an indication.

The disarray in separatist camp is visible in every constituent. Many of the jailed and house-arrested leaders were freed, days before the Governor NN Vohra passed the baton of power to Omar Abdullah. Understandably, Omar Abdullah chose to relax the restrictions on these leaders and their followers. However, they failed to gather at one floor to ponder over the consequences of the assembly elections and to chalk out the future strategy. Many of the leaders, who have their passports valid, chose to leave the Valley, on one pretext or the other. Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat overstretched his stay in Pakistan where he had gone before the announcement of polls in Kashmir. Yasin Malik, who chose to remain silent on the ticklish issue of election participation ever since he was released after two-month incarceration, found it proper to dash off to Delhi for treatment. The doctors advice to postpone the appendicitis operation for two months, directed him to Karachi rather than Srinagar, to solemnize nikah with a Pakistani artist. Sajjad Lone, leader of the People's Conference did come out with a suggestion to re-strategize the "ongoing movement" in tune with the local and international dynamics, but he also left the Valley without a follow-up on his suggestions. He is currently in Pakistan with his wife and twins whose return to Kashmir has become a diplomatic issue. Syed Ali Geelani, nursing a portion of lone malignant kidney finds it difficult to remain in Kashmir during the odd chilly days. He is also issuing statements from Delhi alone.

Barring Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, not a single recognizable separatist leader chose to stay put in Kashmir. The Government, on its part, adopted a strategy to keep the separatist camp in disarray without anyone trying to reestablish contacts of the separatist groups. This explains the continued detention of Shabir Ahmad Shah and Masarat Alam, who emerged as the prominent negotiators belonging to both factions of Hurriyat Conference.

Shabir Shah not only bridged the gap between separatist groups but also made a serious attempt to broad base the Hurriyat Conference in rural areas. It was his initiation that Mirwaiz led Hurriyat Conference opened district offices in mid 2008. however, with Shabir Shah jailed under Public Safety Act, Mirwaiz has announced to wind up the district offices. Observers say that the closure of district offices, for whatever reasons, demonstrates the contradiction in Hurriyat's future course of action. On Kashmir Solidarity Day, Mirwaiz conceded that one of the reasons for massive turnout in polls was that the separatist leadership failed to reach out to the rural masses. He suggested addressing this area more seriously and consistently. "But before this admission he had closed down Hurriyat's district offices. And also he has not ventured out of the city ever since his home detention ended", said a senior functionary of Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat, pleading anonymity.

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