Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Kashmir and India’s Muslims
By Firdaus Ahmed
Kashmiris as an Indian Muslim community differ in great many respects than other Muslim communities across India. They are territorially compact and constitute a majority in their state. They are also at odds with the Indian state and have been for close to a quarter century subject to its military attention. The Kashmir question also has an international dimension as a territorial dispute with Pakistan. Theirs is therefore a special case and has been treated as such in discussions on the Indian Muslim issues.
Consequently, Indian Muslims have been wary of commenting on Kashmiri issues, confining themselves largely to urging respect for human rights of their Kashmiri brethren. Even so, Kashmir has figured in the wider Indian Muslim predicament in more ways than meets the eye and on that count there is a case for a greater interest of Indian Muslims in the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
The primary principle that must inform any consideration of the Kashmir issue is ‘Do no harm.’ Kashmiris are in the midst of improving their security situation. This is true from the national security perspective also in that the situation has seldom been as calm. Therefore, nothing done and said south of the Pir Panjals must upset prospects of further improvement in any way. That said, are there ways in which Indian Muslims can engage productively with the Kashmir question?
It can be plausibly speculated that the Kashmir situation has contributed in part to the pall over security of India’s largest minority, its Muslims over the past three decades. Whereas most ‘mainland’ Indian Muslims security issues have a basis and origin in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin, such as say the Babri Masjid destruction and its aftermath, the Kashmir situation has impacted these to the extent it has negatively. Consequently, can it be inferred then that a resolution of the Kashmir question can help mitigate the minority’s security situation in some measure? If so then, engaging with and urging resolution in Kashmir is a valid exercise for Indian Muslims, if somewhat unprecedented thus far.
But first to ascertain if indeed the Kashmir question has contributed to insecurity of India’s Muslims. There was an unrelated coincidence in rise of Kashmiri militancy and the Babri Masjid issue. The Kashmir issue set the context for Pakistani meddling after the fall of the Masjid and the pogrom in Mumbai that accompanied it. In the later part of the decade Kashmir related bombings occurred in Delhi, a significant one being in Sarojini Nagar. Even as late as the Parliament attack most minority related terror attacks in appeared to have a Kashmir provenance. There were fleeting reports of the outfit SIMI flirting with the Pakistani intelligence establishment, leading to its ban as a terrorist organization in 2001. This indicated that while Pakistan was looking to exploit India’s vulnerabilities, it really did not gain a significant handle, other than in Kashmir where it already was long intrinsic. Despite the spike in violence in Kashmir over the turn of the century with the Kargil War and Pakistan’s induction of ‘fidayeen’ tactics, there was little spill over.
It was however with the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat that the security indices of India’s Muslims nosedived. The context was framed by the parliament attack and India’s military mobilization thereafter in Operation Parakram. It is at this juncture that the wider Indian Muslim security question connects with the Kashmiri question. The impunity of the Gujarat government and its police owed to the war atmosphere that prevailed and that in part stayed Vajpayee’s hands in progressing his rhetoric regards rajdharma. While questions persist over the parliament attack, it is quite clear that the burning of the bogie of the Sabarmati express was accidental. Nevertheless, that it could set off a pogrom suggests planning and direction that as has been pointed recently by Harsh Mander in his new book cannot have been without Mr. Modi playing Nero. The war atmosphere attributable to Kashmir related events enabled space for the pogrom to play out.
Whereas there were instance of Pakistani abetting a few revenge attacks, as is by now well established most such allegations were instance of ‘black operations’ intended to malign the minority. The aim was to ensure an extension of right wing governance at the Center. This explains the ‘encounters’ such as the Ishrat Jahan case. In the event the India Shining campaign failed spectacularly. Nevertheless, this only led to a greater reliance on the narrative of a nexus between extremist elements in the minority with Pakistan’s ISI. The subtext was that with the relative stability returning to Kashmir after the November 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control and talks between India and Pakistan 2004 onwards, ISI had shifted its cross hairs to the hinterland. Subverted elements in the security establishment and motivated scribes manufactured this, no doubt with the intention of once again using the ‘India in danger’ and ‘Muslims as fifth column’ bogeys. It was also useful to project the weakness of the UPA government and in contrast the strength of the emerging champion of the right, Mr. Modi. The direction of the international discourse post 9/11 proved handy. Islamophobic narratives were liberally deployed to push the minority into a corner. This persisted through the decade.
It is curious that the periodic terror attacks that were so readily attributed to the minority have suddenly been discontinued. It only strengthens the suspicion that these were ‘black operations’ being done covertly to malign the minority for political purpose of interested parties. In the event of the spectacular victory of the right wing, it does not take a genius to put two and two together.
What emerges is that India’s minority has proven largely immune to supposed Pakistani inroads, barring a handful high profile cases as the Bhatkal brothers and earlier, D Company. Even the spillover from the Kashmir conflict into the northern plains has been episodic. However, motivated elements, with a reach into the state and in the media, have used the Kashmir issue as yet another stick for minority bashing. This was to create a constituency within the majority based on fear and prejudice. That it succeeded is testimony to the nature of the current government and need for continued watchfulness on part of India’s Muslims, including Kashmiris. If in opposition, they could manufacture such a false narrative, in support of this government they can be credited with ability for a more ambitious, and flagrant, projects.
It follows that if the Kashmir events have had negative fallout on minority security, as depicted here, there is a case for mitigating security by urging a resolution to the Kashmir question. This is along two lines: one is an internal settlement between India and its Kashmiris; and, second, is a wider reconciliation with Pakistan. This is in keeping with the government’s policy plank in that its joining in government in Srinagar is indicative of a desire to end the troubled times there and its overall Pakistan policy, the tactical aspects of cutting off talks, firing on the LC, notwithstanding. Therefore, if India’s Muslims were to voice an opinion and lend their voice and shoulder to a resolution in Kashmir and with Pakistan it would not be out of place. It is firstly in their own interests, which as seen are aligned with that of India. Therefore, there is no cause for Muslims to tread softly on Kashmir as hitherto.
The possible agenda items are easy to arrive at. Kashmiris need being warned against flirting with violent extremists in light of the ill winds blowing from West Asia. Pakistan is proving to be dysfunctional and it is time that Kashmiris reconsider their political interests. This will incentivize the Indian state towards a peace with dignity. Clearly, Kashmiri Pandits cannot be left out of this. If this is the message for Kashmiris, so must pressure be applied on the government to be responsive. Getting past Kashmir is necessary since other ‘fights’ loom ahead, such as over the ‘Bangladeshi infiltrator’ question. Such constructive intervention will be useful precedent setting for Muslim political action in the national interest.