SK Sharma and Ashish Shukla
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a statement on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and expressed his concerns about the state of human rights there. The government as well as the establishment in Pakistan has issued statements about the turmoil in the Kashmir Valley. The people on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) have demanded undivided attention from their respective governments during the past few months. Against this backdrop developments on both sides of the LoC require critical study and analysis. An attempt is being made here to understand these developments and suggest some policy alternatives.
The recent elections in PoK or Western Jammu and Kashmir, consisting of both Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and the so-called “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”, which is under the occupation of Pakistan, resulted in the overthrow of incumbent governments led by the local chapters of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and their replacement by governments led by local units of the party ruling in Islamabad – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
By now, familiar charges of rigging have been made and protests have ensued in both regions of PoK. Although the PPP was, in a way, reconciled to its defeat in G-B, it is crying hoarse about the results in so-called ‘AJK’. The ballot took place under strict supervision of the Pakistan Army and, therefore, the allegations reflect the familiar trend in Pakistan- that the party or parties losing the electoral battle have always been bad losers. The election in ‘AJK’ took place under the shadow of turmoil in Srinagar Valley over the death of a Kashmiri youth who had started advocating armed struggle.
Before this incident as well as after it, the opposition parties had started raising the ante on ‘Kashmir’ and a lot of anti-India sentiments was stirred especially by the young and inexperienced PPP leader, Bilawal Bhutto. He had started raising the temperature on the ‘Kashmir’ issue by levelling allegations that Nawaz Sharif’s government is pandering to India and especially Prime Minister Modi, The slogan that PPP supporters raised in ‘AJK’ was-“Modi ka yaar, gaddar, gaddar” (“He who is Modi’s friend is a traitor”).
The PML-N leadership was quiet until the turmoil gathered momentum in the Valley, but joined the anti-India campaign closer to the day of the elections. The India factor did not cut much ice and PML-N won a handsome mandate, bagging 31 out of the 41 seats contested by 427 candidates. Raja Farooq Haider Khan, of Kashmiri origin, and one time member of the AJK Muslim Conference party, led the local branch of the PML-N to this spectacular win.
Agitations are not new to the Kashmir Valley. Nor even phases of violent outbursts. These street-shows reflect what pundits regularly pontificate as the political alienation of Kashmiris from India. Paradoxically, however, the turn-out in the Assembly elections even when held in the face of boycott calls by the separatists have been impressive.
The 1996 election took place amid ferocious agitations and bloodshed. Yet, it recorded 53 percentage of voting. People simply ignored the threats held out by terrorists and came to the polling booths to exercise their franchise. The following elections in 2002, 2008 and 2014 also saw high percentages of popular participation.
Like in the past, during the latest election as well, Pakistan worked full throttle to prime its case on ‘Kashmir’. But its demand for the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions on ‘Kashmir’ went largely unheeded, apart from a ritual expression of interest in the issue.
Even as demonstrations have taken place in a routine manner in the Valley over the last few weeks and there has been a minor show of Pakistani flags and talk of nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamic rule) in the air, it is suspected in the rest of India that more sinister forces are out to exploit what is basically a political struggle in Kashmir.
While it is, of course, tempting to see the IS hand behind the current wave of agitation in the Valley, there is no direct evidence to back such an alarmist hypothesis.
Graffiti in downtown Srinagar and Harvan, a Srinagar suburb, or Islamic State (IS) flags seen fluttering atop some buildings in the Valley do not mean that the IS has set its foot in Kashmir. Nor does it mean that the IS has started actively supporting the agitation. But the perception persists so much that the possibility of India stumbling into a self-full-filling prophecy remains. Many outside neutral observers of the situation in Kashmir, such as Michael Kugelman, also argue that “The notion of IS expanding into South Asia is a bit of exaggeration.” Kugelman’s views have ironically been echoed by separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani as well. For him, the actions of the IS, Tehreek-e-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) and Boko Haram are un-Islamic.
India has found it difficult to adapt to such a revisionist stance by the Pakistani establishment. Under constant provocation from Pakistan and the continuous flow of funds and materials, the separatists have been girding up their loins.
The killing of Burhan Wani only acted as a trigger. Be that as it may, in a situation like this, the Indian government has rightly asked the security forces to exercise utmost restraint.
But on the ground, in situations such as those prevailing now, the degree and kind of reaction from security forces the world over, even when they are practising restraint, will depend on the intensity of the protests. Unfortunately, the intensity of the protests in the Valley have been unusually severe, may be because the failure of the local leadership is also being laid on the doors of the government in New Delhi.
SK Sharma and Ashish Shukla