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, December 20, 2009

A Bridge Too Far?

What is a trip to the valley without some fireworks? An informal discussion with students and faculty at the University of Kashmir's school of journalism triggers a point and counterpoint as reported in the Greater Kashmir

Comment by Dr. Stephen P. Cohen, South Asia Specialist at the Brookings: "Good response, even if the exchange was depressing. Steve"

The commentary by Mr. Ajaz-ul-Haque, followed by the response from the author


`Expert’ speaks

Ignorance or intent? Sazawal knows it better


An interaction with Dr. Vijay Sazawal, a Kashmiri, US-based policy analyst, with students and faculty of Media department of Kashmir University, was a good experience. Good, because it dispelled some sweet illusions we have about many such `Kashmir Experts’ overseas.

`Kashmiri reporters face a credibility crisis for being homogenous in their approach’. Sazawal sounded quite sarcastic about the vernacular press which to his mind is no longer taken seriously outside Kashmir. Had that sarcasm been based on some empirical assessment or some well-thought out analysis, it could have added a profound dimension to the whole Kashmir discourse. But tragically, it more spoke of his own ignorance. When asked as to how credible is the reporting done by journalists in India, Dr. Sazawal `honestly’ pleaded ignorance. Well, as `Kashmir Expert’ one must have an adequate knowledge as to how Indian media responds to the situation in Kashmir. Just three instances will do. When the whole valley was boiling in rage against the rapists and life came to a literal halt in Kashmir, it couldn’t catch much time and space. When a large ammunition depot was burning in South Kashmir, the sky high flames could not attract Indian media for it could have raised huge concerns in New Delhi about the national security. When Amarnath tumult engulfed the whole valley, it could not receive much. Sazawal sadly does not know all this, (as he says he does not).

Second, to him Kashmiri journalists must step out of this `political obsession’ and focus more on environment, wildlife and other `more important’ issues. Good point. But once again moored in plain ignorance about Kashmiri journalism. He now sees Kashmiris `beginning’ to open out to issues like environment and wildlife. Sazawal hosts a website on Kashmir, is `in touch’ with the latest and above all seems to be `concerned’ about us. But all this has made him so dangerously prejudiced that poor man does not even know that such issues have formed a considerable part of Kashmir journalism over the years. Even in the middle of crisis when everything in Kashmir was thrown out of the hinge, journalism was not wholly focussed on politics. It had all the ingredients which the profession demands. Yes, it was predominantly political and the reasons are well known. After all security of human lives will always take a lead on the extinction of hangul.

Sazawal is pleasantly surprised to see an editorial against Hartal in Greater Kashmir. Does it really happen in Kashmir? It’s not a change, work a little harder and see how has the school of opinion based journalism emerged in Kashmir all these years. It’s not to please you, but to inform you. One must know the facts before doing violence to them.

The most disappointing aspect of his whole speech was the statement which not only speaks of Sazawal’s naiveté but of his shallowness. `Writing about politics is a non-intellectual endeavour. That is cheap and demeaning’. This statement must easily go as an epigraph on any treatise produced in Social Sciences. One can’t imagine of anything more atrocious and to say the very least, more ridiculous than this. It will invite more laughters than comments. Applying this statement, the whole body of literature written on contemporary and classical politics will be at once consigned to the dust. From Plato down to Howard Zinn, we will have to paste Sazawal’s rejection on all. Perhaps the point he wanted to make he missed (or may be let it miss). It’s not writing politics that is cheap, it’s making politics which is cheaper than any other act of deception and perfidy. That needs courage, this guile. Cheap is to choose pieces that fit you and invent a `truth’ which squares with your own opinion. Demeaning is not to speak or write about political issues, demeaning is to suppress them and that is the most malicious and dangerously disguised political act which is not only non-intellectual, but propagandistic.

The only sane point in the entire dialogue was his pointing towards American indifference towards an issue called Kashmir and Kashmiris’ euphoria in response to a mere Obama statement. Besides that, the whole exercise was, in Sazawal’s own words, `cheap’ and `non-intellectual’.


I am pleasantly surprised to see the mention of an informal and what I thought to be an off-the-record discussion that I held recently with students and faculty of the MERC/EMMRC at the University of Kashmir. Now that Mr. Haque has expressed his views by selectively picking and choosing sound bites for his critique, I see a consistency in his response that reinforce the core arguments that I made at the meeting.

I am not a journalist, nor do I claim to be. The question that journalists from the valley have posed to me from time to time is why Kashmir's plight has little or no takers in the world. As a policy analyst, I know that most of the grievances are serious and well founded. I tried to answer this question during the University meeting. It is obvious that Mr. Haque did not like my answers, but that is his personal prerogative. His condemnation and ridicule will not change the situation. He may know his trees well, but he is missing the forest. The world is full of injustice, hate and violence. Journalists can make the difference and have the desired impact. But some Kashmiri journalists, like our politicians, do not like to hear that they are less than perfect.

What I said was that some journalists tend to be emotional, subjective and one-sided in their reporting. This directly affects the credibility of their writing. I have the empirical data on two of the three events that he has selected in his reply, namely, the Shopian Tragedy and the Amarnath controversy. If he wants to be objective, he should critique my specific commentary on those two subjects, rather than dismiss my arguments with sarcasm. And yet he expects me to comment on journalistic reporting in India, when I have already admitted that I do not have empirical data on that subject.

My data related to the two incidents noted above shows that many of the unproven and unfounded rumors were taken as unblemished truths by journalists and commentators in the valley. Not a single local writer, let me repeat, not a single local writer ever challenged the version of the events promoted by political and vested interests. The "universal truth" has taken a whole new meaning in Kashmir.

Also, I did not say that political commentators should stop writing about politics and turn to new endeavors. What I said is that we need more commentaries on non-political subjects to strengthen the civil society in other pressing issues of the day. Similarly, political writing is an intellectual endeavor, but political writing that is subjective and does not meet the pluralistic test is, in my view, the low hanging fruit that anyone can grab with ease. There is a big difference between well written political commentaries and ordinary writing. The former requires examining "all sides of the story" whereas the latter can be done without much thought.

My point is that students and staff in journalism need to put a lot of emphasis on objectivity and fairness. The exercise should begin from within. Unless and until we can objectively discuss our own shortcomings and weaknesses, it will be nearly impossible to make improvements. Mr. Haque did not like either my analysis or recommendations. That is fine. But the problem has not gone away. I saw many in the conference room reacting positively to my lecture. If I can make some see the bigger picture then they will realize that Kashmir is not the center of attention, and its journalists have to set a higher bar to meet basic norms of objective and fair reporting.

Finally, let us again highlight the empirical data that Mr. Haque would like me to discuss. I have in front of me the Saturday (5th December) issue of the GK. Turning it from end-to-end I have noted the state of the world according to this journal: nearly 60 or 70 political/news stories and commentaries, 95% of which deal with Kashmir, 3% deal with Pakistan and 2% emanate from India, including yet another "cheap shocker" to prove RSS folks have no brains. If that is the world according to GK, then indeed I have made my point.


Vijay Sazawal

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