Has The Nation Forgotten Kashmir?

Between the multiplying rainbows of Shaheen Baghs all over the country and new waves of mass non-violent protests, the resounding defeat of hate politics and the victory of AAP’s s welfare agenda of health, education, bijli and paani in Delhi, and new videos of unprecedented police brutality on students in Jamia right inside the reading rooms the library, has the nation forgotten Kashmir, under a military and communication lockdown since August 5, 2019?

Has the world too chosen to allow the BJP regime get away with the total violation of the Indian Constitution in Kashmir, the denial of fundamental rights, and the continued detention under draconian laws of three former chief ministers, and scores of others, on flimsy and bizzare grounds?

Surely, all indications are there that in the frozen white expanse of the Valley, with the snow still refusing to melt, the simmering angst and anger at the grave injustice done to its 8 million people remain etched like a dark and relentless memory in infinite bad faith. And this memory moves in a circle of tragedy, outrage and despair, beyond the ruling regime’s rhetoric of ‘national security and terrorism’, troubling the democratic conscience of the nation and the world. The undiplomatic behavior of the current regime has not helped matters.

This has been starkly reflected in the rejection of visa to British Labour Party MP Debbie Abrahams. She was allegedly denied entry into India and was “deported” at the Delhi airport on Monday after landing there. Her e-visa, surprisingly, was rejected. Chairperson of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Kashmir, the British MP has alleged that she was indeed “treated like a criminal”. She said the immigration officer was rude and aggressive, and shouted at her — “come with me”.

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She had apparently written a letter as a chair of the British group on Kashmir, to the Indian envoy, expressing serious concern on the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. If that be the reason for her ‘deportation’ in such humiliating conditions, then it only reflects, yet again, the insecure foreign policy initiatives marking this government.

Earlier, New Delhi had botched up badly by inviting a group of Rightwing and Far-Right politicians from abroad, organised by an unknown and shadowy organization, for a sponsored sojourn to Kashmir, with doctored meetings with planted pro-BJP loyalists, and officials. The entire exercise turned out to be a big disaster.

Besides, despite the best efforts of the external affairs ministry, Kashmir did become ‘internationalised’ even while top media organisations in the West, like the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, The Guardian etc., blasted the Delhi government for human rights violations in Kashmir. The media trend seemed to have continued in the recent past, despite the best efforts in lobbying by the external affairs ministry.

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Recently, 25 foreign envoys were taken to Jammu and Kashmir for yet another diplomatic foray to mark a paradigm shift in global opinion.  The French Ambassador, Emmaneul Lenain, made a loaded but crypic statement. He said that while the government was making “significant efforts” to “normalise the situation”, the remaining restrictions should be removed “as soon as possible”. 

One day earlier, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Virginie Battu-Henriksson had categorically stated: “Some restrictions remain, notably on Internet access and mobile services, and some political leaders are still in detention. While we recognise the serious security concerns, it is important that the remaining restrictions are lifted swiftly,” she said.

The fact is that India’s relation with a big chunk of the powerful EU has been marked with a certain pronounced bad faith since August 5, which has only been aggravated by the massive protests all over the country against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. In January last, as many as 626 of the 751 members of the EU Parliament took up six resolutions concerning  Kashmir and discriminatory laws for discussion creating much concern in the Indian ruling establishment. It has postponed a vote on the resolution, but the discomfort is for the whole world to see.  Indeed, most top university campuses in the West have stood up in support of the protests against the CAA/NRC in India.

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Earlier, despite Donald Trump’s big brotherly affection for the Indian prime minister, several top leaders in American politics, especially among the democrats, have taken up the issue of Kashmir and the willful discrimination against the minorities in India under the current regime.  With the United Nations taking it up after more than 70 years, and China upping the ante, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, brought back bad memories of fascism under Adolf Hitler in Europe while talking about the Indian situation vis-à-vis Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the imposition of the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) on two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, without an iota of evidence to prove the charges, has been widely criticised in India. The allegations in the dossier against them are bizarre and smacks of mindless vendetta, and does not really add up to the moral high ground around the prime minister or his best buddy, the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, who also led the botched-up Delhi elections with a daily cacophony of lies, crude hate politics and muscle flexing.

For instance, Omar Abdullah, who has also been part of the BJP-led NDA regime in Delhi under Atal Behari Vajpayee, has been accused of subversive activities. “The capacity of the subject to influence people for any cause can be gauged from the fact that he was able to convince his electorate to come out and vote in huge numbers even during peak of militancy and poll boycotts,” reads the alleged government dossier, accessed by NDTV.

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Apparently, his last tweet hours before the imposition of the communication and military lockdown, while being arrested, said: “Violence will only play into the hands of those who do not have the best interests of the state in mind. This wasn’t the India Jammu and Kashmir acceded to, but I’m not quite ready to give up hope yet. Let calm heads prevail. God be with you all.”

Journalists in Kashmir are up in arms against the hounding and harassment of mediapersons by the authorities. Some journalists were asked to disclose their sources, even as the internet lockdown and the military clampdown restricted freedom of press to a minimal in the Valley. Journalists say that theirs is overt and tacit censorship at all levels.

Locals say tourism in the Valley has touched an all-time low, unemployment is at an unprecedented high while all educational institutions are closed. And with regards to detention, the focus has become concentrated on the politicians. There is little mention of scores of others, including youngsters, who are lodged in jails outside the state (now Union Territory)! There is a widespread belief in the valley that several youngsters and other innocents are still imprisoned in various jails, especially in UP, with mothers and relatives just not able to track them.

The Supreme Court has given notice to the Centre and the J&K administration, on a petition filed by Omar’s sister, Sara Abdullah Pilot who had petitioned that the exercise of powers by authorities under the CrPC to detain individuals, including political leaders, was “clearly mala fide to ensure that the opposition to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution is silenced”.

The petition said that “similar orders of detention have been issued by respondents (authorities of the union territory of J&K) over the last seven months in a wholly mechanical manner to other detinues, which suggest that there has been a consistent and concerted effort to muzzle all political rivals”.

Her petition pointed out there is no new evidence or material available available to detain a person who has already been under detention for six months and the “grounds for the detention order are wholly lacking any material facts or particulars which are imperative for an order of detention.”

In the same manner, the dossier against Mehbooba Mufti, who was the last chief minister in the state in an alliance with the BJP, is full of absurd allegations.  “In new India, dossier on an ex-chief minister slapped with draconian PSA mentions insidious machinations & being a ‘Daddy’s girl’ as charges,” her daughter Iltija Mufti had tweeted.

“Not unusual that she adored, respected & loved her father. They had an unshakeable bond & were each other’s closest confidante. Which is why she honoured Mufti sahab’s commitment after his sudden death in 2016. Didn’t know loving your parent constitutes a crime,” she wrote. This is a question that needs to be answered if current regime wishes to honour the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who spoke about insaniyat (humanity), jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat.

Will A Terror Tag On Masood Azhar Help India Cause?

For over a decade now India has been focused in getting Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, declared a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council. What will this achieve? What difference will it make on the ground? Will the JeM’s anti-India operations end? 

The truth is little will change. Designating a person a global terrorist will ensure that his movements are restricted. It will mean a travel ban, freezing of his assets and an embargo on the sale of weapons to him or his organisation. Earlier, Azhar had travelled extensively to Kashmir, Somalia, Britain, Afghanistan, Yemen and Kenya, to promote jihad, recruit fighters and collect money for the cause. In the last few years, however, his travel abroad has stopped. According to none other than Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Azhar is in poor health. There have been rumours that he is dead. But even if he is alive, getting him marked a global terrorist makes little difference.

Hafiz Saeed, the man India accuses as the brains behind the terror strikes in Mumbai that killed nearly 160 people, is a declared terrorist. The co-founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba and chief of Jamaat-u-Dawa has a $10 million reward on his head, yet he continues to operate from Pakistan.

New Delhi’s own logic goes against this move. India has always pointed out the anti-India terror outfits like Jem and LeT are used by the Pakistan Army and its spy agency ISI to bleed India. If that is the case, even after Azhar is declared a global terrorist, he will continue to be used by Pakistan whenever they wish to. Global terrorist does not mean he will be arrested and put away in a prison outside Pakistan. He can be in prison or under house arrest, but can still be used by the ISI whenever necessary. After all he does not go out and bomb targets, he has a network to do all that.

The UN is not monitoring his every move. So if we go by the government of India’s belief then Azhar is funded and used by the ISI and the army, freezing of assets or embargo on arms sale to his organization is meaningless as the ISI can finance operations in Kashmir or wherever else in India it wants JeM to strike.

Maulana Masood Azhar, a radical Islamic cleric, was arrested by the Indian authorities in 1994 and imprisoned. The first attempt to free him was In July 1995, when six foreigners were kidnapped in Kashmir by a group called Al Faran. One of the demands of the group was to free Azhar. He was later freed by the NDA government in 1999 as a tradeoff for freeing the passengers of a hijacked Indian airlines plane from Kathmandu. He went back to Pakistan and founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed in a year later.

Experts believe that the Jaish has close operational links with the Taliban, as the hijacked plane was flown to Kandahar at a time when the Taliban was ruling in Afghanistan. There was close coordination between the hijackers and the Taliban government. All Islamist Jihadi outfits often work with each other, as their ultimate goal is the same. The Jaish also had links with Al Qaeda, the LeT as well as anti-Shia groups in Pakistan, notably the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as well as the Sipah-e-Sahaba. The sectarian violence against Shias is also a common theme promoted by the Sunni terror groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Azhar’s public appearances over the years and his addresses to large gatherings make his position on a radicalized regime clear to one and all. Getting the UNSC to support New Delhi’s move would at best be a symbolic victory. Indians will rejoice, and the government will be praised for getting China fall in line. It will be a political victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team. India’s own logic and accusations against Pakistan make the global terrorist tag for Azhar redundant.

But India is using all its diplomatic clout with the US, Russia, UK, France and China to get Masood Azhar the tag of global terrorist. New Delhi believes that the time is ripe for another attempt, considering the worldwide condemnation of the terror act in Pulwama last month. There is hope that this time around, after three failed attempts, China would change its mind. Considering India’s outrage in the aftermath of Pulwama suicide attack and the international backing New Delhi was able to garner, China may not want to go against world opinion this time.

China had made all the right noises after Pulwama. At the Russia, India and China meeting in Wuzhen, soon after the suicide attack, the three countries  issued a strong  a statement about “eradicating the breeding grounds of terrorism” in an obvious reference to Pakistan, though no country was named. Last week, France, US and UK moved a fresh proposal in the United Nations Security Council to do so. The issue will come up for discussion later this month. If China decides not to shoot down next week’s proposal at the UNSC, Masood Azhar will be declared a global terrorist.

Jaish e Mohammed, Azhar’s organization, was designated by the UN sanctions committee as a global terror outfit in October 2001. Did that affect its ability to strike India? Certainly not. Despite the sanctions, the Jaish was able to carry out the attack at India’s frontline airbase in Pathankot in 2016 and now the Pulwama suicide strike.

There is chatter in the social media from Pakistan that the Imran Khan government may also not object to the move. This could be for two reasons. First to win brownie points in the international stage. Imran Khan’s decision to free the captured Indian pilot has won him credit. The other reason could be that China has indicated that it will not veto the move. The cost to Pakistan is minimal even if he is given the tag of global terrorist. Merely domestic hardliners and jihadi supporters would be angry with the government.  

And what happens if the “very unwell” Masood Azhar dies. Well, in such case, the second line of leadership will be ready to take over. Unless the Pakistan Army changes its attitude and India works at talking to its people in Kashmir, Jaish will continue to recruit and spread terrorism in the Valley and elsewhere.