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.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Can There be Durable Peace in Kashmir Without Sanction of the ISI?

Rekha describes the three changing phases of alienation and insurgency in Kashmir without acknowledging permanency of the core link between Mr. Ali Shah Geelani and radical state actors in Pakistan

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

Present political unrest in Kashmir

Kashmir has been on the boil once again. This time it is the case of rape and murder of two women in Shopian. There is a sense of outrage and people have been out on the streets to show their resentment and anger. But this is not the first time that situation has evolved like that. For more than two years now, there is a pattern of the popular outburst which establishes in reality the zero tolerance to any kind of indignity and abuses of the basic rights. It is of course not the zero tolerance that Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of the country had committed to, but the zero tolerance of the people towards any kind of Human Rights abuse in the Valley. Since the beginning of 2007 there have been numerous cases of public protests, not necessarily in the streets of Srinagar but in small and big towns, in villages. At times these protests have remained confined to the places where they have originated while many other times it has engulfed the whole of the Valley.

For anyone keenly observing the situation in Kashmir, this moment can be captured to understand the changing context of the political realities in Kashmir. It is certainly reflective not only of the changing mood of people of Kashmir but also of the changed context of the political conflict. One can say that it is the third stage of the conflict since it manifested itself in its present form in 1989. While the first stage lasted from 1989 till the middle of nineties, the second phase lasted till the middle of the current decade.

The conflict at the internal level has entered its new phase now. What is so specific about the present phase of conflict and how is it different from earlier two phases? To answer that it is important to understand as to how conflict manifested itself in the first two phases.

The first phase of conflict was defined by four factors: first the onset of armed militancy and the beginning of a violent struggle; secondly, the immense popular response against the state as demonstrated by the massive protest marches (a peculiarity of the year of 1990), thirdly not only the explicit public support for armed militancy but also its legitimacy by the society (it was the period of indigenous militancy and the young militants were treated as heroes, 'our boys') and fourthly the de-legitimisation of the mainstream political processes including the process of governance and the electoral politics (the 1989 Parliamentary election of reflective of this mood when people completely boycotted the elections and did not enter the polling booths and there were not many candidates willing to come forward to contest elections)

It was by the middle of the decade of nineties that the conflict had entered the second stage. This was the period when militant violence had impacted the social fabric of Kashmir and people had started developing a sense of fatigue with the continued state of violence and abnormality. It was in this context that 1996 Parliamentary elections (followed by the Assembly elections) had taken place. However, despite the mainstream and electoral process being restored after a gap of six years, the legitimacy to this process was not attained. Though an 'elected' government was put in place, its legitimacy was clearly contested. What defined this phase however was not the restoration of the electoral process but the internal response of the Kashmiri society towards violence and armed militancy, particularly the jehadi factor. Without abandoning their separatist sentiment, the people had started distancing themselves from the armed militancy. By the end of the decade of nineties, the Kashmiri society had clearly de-legitimised it. Much before 9/11 had de-legitimised terrorism as an instrument of political struggle at the international level, it was clearly disowned at the internal level. A G Lone's declaration at the turn of the last decade that armed militancy had served its purpose of internationalising the Kashmir issue and that the jehadi or the guest militants were no more needed in Kashmir - was a reflection of the mood of the society. It was in this background that one could see the manifestation of the huge support to the peace process initiated by A B Vajpayee. The demands of people from the separatist leadership were also changing. The 'movement forward' was demanded and the politics of hardcore and rigid separatism was rejected. In sync with the popular mood, the separatist leaders, especially in the moderate camp, saw 'dialogue' as a positive step and expected their 'flexible' approach to deliver and bring around a solution to the intricate problem.

It is the failure of the moderate voices and the 'flexibility' of political approach that has ushered in the third stage of the present phase of conflict. The stalling of the peace process both at the external as well as at the internal level has brought about a general sense of disappointment in Kashmir. This sense of disappointment is aggravated by the changed international environment (wherein the focus on Kashmir has receded) on the one hand and the continued crisis in Pakistan, on the other. People in Kashmir feel that they are almost on their own and their sense of responsibility to their own 'cause' has increased. Fearing that in the given circumstances when there is not much international attention on Kashmir and even Pakistan may be pressurized to putting Kashmir at the back-burner (as Zardari had stated), the movement might wane and the 'sacrifices' made during the prolonged years of conflict may go waste - the people have become all the more aggressive in their response. The renewed commitment by the common Kashmiris to their 'cause' is one of the most important features of the present stage of the conflict. (Reference can be made here to the massive participation of people in the demonstrations like during the Amarnath agitation reminding one of the early 1990 scenario and the frequent protest demonstrations during last two years!) The urgency to exhibit their support for the movement is not only related to the emerging international scenario but also due to the changing internal situation, especially the expansion of the mainstream political space.

Interestingly, the expansion of the electoral and mainstream politics in Kashmir is at the behest of people themselves. It is here that the peculiarity of the present phase of conflict lies. Unlike the first (and even the second) phase when electoral and mainstream politics was de-legitimised, in the present phase it has gained sufficient legitimacy due to the willing participation of the people. Over the period, people have themselves responded to the need of 'governance' based on democratic principles. However, rather than substituting governance to their separatist sentiment, people have worked out a clear cut approach in which they can deal with the issues of governance without abandoning their separatist orientations. But this poses a constant challenge to people - lest their participation in the politics of governance be seen as a step towards 'normalcy' or a retreat from their 'cause' - they need to assert their separatist sentiments and exhibit them in forceful manner.

The peculiarity of the present stage is the assertion of the political means. The role of the armed militancy as an instrument of the movement politics seems to have been exhausted and its place is taken over by the protest politics. It is also the stage that reflects a reversal of relationship between the leaders and the people. Rather than the Hurriyat or other separatist leaders leading the movement and giving it a direction, it is the people who are taking the initiative and the leaders are finding their relevance in the process of the movement. That the separatist leaders are merely reflecting the ground level situation and are not playing autonomous role - became clear during the 2008 Assembly elections when the Hurriyat leadership had called for boycott but people took the decision to defy this call.

It is in this context where political initiative is lying in the people that one can locate the present unrest. In their response one can see a sense of disappointment, skepticism, fear and urgency. And the issues related to the basic rights of people, like the one in the present case not only enhance these feelings but give a sense of urgency to them for pursuing their cause.

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