Much closer to schedule than might be expected, Shah marches in with a few dozen placard-waving, slogan-shouting supporters. Almost instantly the procession turns into a melee: riot police with helmets and shields stream out of an armored van, beat the protester's back with heavy bamboo canes, and flood the square with willowy white clouds of tear gas. The rally is over in a matter of moments. The demonstrators are dragged, choking and retching, off to jail; the bystanders are left to gag, sputter, and dash blindly for water to wash the burning, blistering pain from their eyes and throats. Within 15 minutes the shopkeepers have returned to their stools, the police to their posts, and the porters to their handicrafts - all still looking forward to their midday meal.
Almost exactly half a century ago in Lal Chowk, aging locals recall, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru renewed his promise that Kashmiris would decide their own future.
The Kargil infiltrators were driven from their icy series by Indian arms and world pressure, but even in defeat they accomplished their goal: to put Kashmir squarely in the international spotlight. India refuses to accept outside involvement and the West has so far been happy to oblige, but the prospect of nuclear exchange makes Kashmir too dangerous to ignore. That this fact - repeated like a drum beat by local separatists and Pakistani diplomats alike - conveniently fits the agenda of those who oppose India's rule does not make it any less true. Conjure a nuclear djinn fervently enough, and sooner or later it is likely to appear.
But Kargil may also, paradoxically, have laid the groundwork for a stable peace. Demonstrating the dangers of the status quo may jolt New Delhi and Islamabad out of their complacency. Politicians in both capitals see only Kashmir they wish to see: for Pakistanis, a Muslim land pinning to join its Islamic neighbor and welcoming the intervention of mujahideen; for Indians, a state ravaged by terrorism and sedition but now largely brought under control. Both visions are clouded by self-delusion. In the Valley of Kashmir (the main area under contention) the population remains profoundly alienated from the Indian government and the radical Islamist guerrillas alike.
Defeat is a better teacher than victory. Pakistan presumably has learned that military adventurism backed by nuclear bluff is not the best way to salvage its failing economy - and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will use its $5.5 billion bailout package to make sure the message gets through. But what lesson will India take from Kargil? If the Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) reelected in October use their new mandate merely to strengthen defense, they will miss a rare opportunity to regain the trust, rather than the cowed compliance, of Kashmir's people. By defeating Pakistan's Kargil incursion and showing the self-restraint not to launch a counterattack, India bought itself both military and diplomatic breathing space.
It is not too late for Indian Kashmir to regain the basic (if uneasy) calm it enjoyed for almost 40 years. the example of another war-torn province is instructive. For nearly a decade following the 1984 desecration of the Golden Temple, the Sikhs of Indian Punjab were just as alienated as the Muslims of the Valley, and the Khalistani rebels given arms and sanctuary by Pakistan had at least as much popular support as do current Kashmiri militants. Today, after government efforts have mitigated the human-rights abuses, political harm-fistedness, and rampant humiliations that stoked separatist furor, Punjab is peacefully ensconced in the Indian union again. If it can happen in Amritsar, it can happen in Srinagar.
But it will not happen simply though government-to-government negotiations, let alone the sort of domineering, high-handed policies that spawned the insurgency in the first place. India has consistently rebuffed offers of mediation, whether by the United Nations, the United States, or any other third party, arguing that solutions must arise locally, without the meddling of foreign powers - no matter how well-intentioned. Quite so. Valley Muslims feel exactly the same way about fiats imposed by Delhi. Answers will have to be found in Kashmir itself - and after 25,000 details in one decade, the Kashmiris' patience is wearing thin.
None of it ever happened. About a third of the contested area was absorbed into Pakistan as Azad ("Free") Kashmir and the tribal Northern Territories. The fabled Valley of Kashmir - the heartland commonly used as shorthand for the whole region, a place rightly described as an earthly paradise by Mughals, maharajas, and mujahideen alike - remained in India's constitution, all of Hari Singh's domains under Indian control were incorporated as the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Although Jammu is predominantly Hindu, and Ladakh (culturally and ethnically linked to Tibet) is largely Buddhist, the overwhelming numbers of Muslims in the Valley make the combined territory the only Muslim-majority state in India.
For the better part of four decades this compromise - autonomy but not azadi ("independence"), political freedom but only within certain bounds - proved tolerable. The only genuinely popular Kashmiri leader of the time, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, spent much of this period shuttling between a jail cell and the chief minister's office, depending on whether he was advocating independence or cooperating with Indian authorities. To the chagrin of many Kashmiris in years to come, India and Pakistan agreed in 1972 to settle the Kashmir question through bilateral talks.
Despite clashes between the Pakistani and Indian armies on Kashmiri soil during the 1965 and 1971 wars, a grassroots insurgency did not arise until 1989, seven years after the death of Sheikh Abdullah. The popular uprising stemmed from a series of rigged elections, culminating in what was seen as back room sellout between Nehru's grandson, then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and Sheikh Abdullah's son, the current chief minister Farooq Abdullah. The group at the center of the rebellion was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), and the man who led it was Yasin Malik.
A large poster of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, takes up most of the wall above Malik's head. The JKLF leader is an observant Muslim but has always argued for an independent, multi religious state based on Kashmiriyat - unique cultural sensibility shared by the region's Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and even some Buddhists. Kashmiri Muslims practice Sufi Islam, a mystical, undogmatic form of the faith that fundamentalists generally dismiss as barely distinguishable from Hinduism. The pull of Kashmiriyat, an attitude seeped in Sufism, was stronger before civil strife drove a bloody' wedge between the communities. But most observers agree that if a plebiscite were held today, residents of the Valley (if not Jammu and Ladakh) would still opt for independence from both India and Pakistan.
This is the goal for which the JKLF ambushed soldiers and killed government employees, the goal for which Yasin Malik spend seven years under lock and key. He was released in 1994 when his organisation unilaterally renounced armed struggle. (A JKLF splinter group that rejected the decision was wiped out by security forces.) Malik has continued to advocate independence, but his words have less impact than did his bullets. The U.N. mandate plebiscite would have let Kashmiris choose only between union with India or Pakistan. Both countries categorically reject the option of azadi. With potential breakaway provinces from Nagaland and Assam to Baluchistan Sind, neither country can afford to set a precedent.
Perhaps the hope for independence of Yasin Malik, Sheikh Abdullah, and Maharajah Hari Singh will always remain a pipe dream. Abdul Gani Bhat, an opposition leader who was once a professor of Persian poetry, sees independence as a fine-sounding impossibly: "Bigger fish", he says, "swallow smaller fish quite comfortably." His very metaphor is an example of Kashmiriyat: it comes not from any Islamic source but from Hindu texts as ancient as the Ramayana.
For five years now, the rebels with clout have been cut from the same cloth: based in Pakistan, trained in Afghanistan, and motivated by pan-Islamic fundamentalism rather than Kashmiri nationalism. Their ranks filled with Punjabis and Pushtuns, Afghans and Arabs, many of the fighters wage war on behalf of a people whose language they do not even speak. According to Western military analysts, all four of the main rebel groups work closely with the Pakistani intelligence services, over which civilian authorities, including the prime minister, had only tenuous control. Pakistan claims to provide the rebels only "moral and diplomatic" support, but even on the streets of Lahore few believe it.
The solidly pro-Pakistan chair of the All Parties Hurriyat ("Freedom") Conference, an umbrella organisation composed of two dozen Kashmiri opposition groups, is less than wholly enchanted with this patrons. "The diplomats in Islamabad and Delhi shake hards, take lunch, snap photos, and then announce that they have made no progress," says Sayed Ali Shah Geelani, a genial, white-bearded cleric. In his book-linked Srinagar study, he beckons a visitor to join him beside the ancient wood-burning stove. "Why is America concerned about the rights of Kuwaits, but not of Kashmiris?" he asks. "Unfortunately, we have no oil. Only human blood."
Syed Geelani is reluctant to criticize the fundamentalist groups fighting
his battles, but he cannot wholly hide his concerns. If the insurgents
liberate Sufi Kashmir from India, I ask, doesn't he worry they'll impose
the Taliban-style theocracy that their leaders (like Lashkar-e-Toiba founder
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed) have been promising? "There is no compulsion
in religion," Geelani replies, after some thought. But his quotation of
the Quranic verse sounds less like an assurance than a prayer.
In the five years since the uprising's apex, security precautions in the Valley have gone from tight-as-a-a-noose tight-as-a-straight jacket. On my most recent pass through Srinagar's airport, I was subjected to only six full-body searches, whereas in 1995 I'd endured ten.
Men in olive-drab flak jackets with ceramic breastplates are still ferried from one part of town to another in armored personnel carriers. Cinder-block bunkers still don downtown street corners, draped in layers of camouflage netting to ward off the old hand-grenade. But the houseboats on Dal Lake, long empty of tourists, now not out their anachronistic Anglophilia: boats with names like HMS Pinafore, Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Castle float alongside the no-less-optimistic New Life.
"From Here Begins the Happy Valley Where the World Ends and Paradise Begins." So says a sign on the road from Srinagar to Uri, a garrison town sitting right on the Line of Control. The "Happy Valley" is Gulmarg, once a tourist magnet, then a hotbed of sedition, now not much of either. Every morning Indian sappers prepare the Srinagar-Uri highway for the daily deployment of troops. With metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs, they painstakingly sweep every foot of the 70-mile road, day after day, from dawn to eight a.m., and dig up any land mines planted during the night.
Members of the security forces - overwhelmingly Hindu, many from distant parts of the subcontinent - generally have little contact with the local populace apart from searches and interrogations. In causal conversation they often use the words "Muslim" and "terrorist" interchangeably. There is a sense that they are in the Valley not to protect Kashmiris, but to keep them in line. It is a sense the Kashmiris feel keenly.
Human-rights organisations say that beatings, tortures, and custodial killings have ebbed and flowed with insurgency, diminishing in the Valley as they escalate in Jammu. But brute force has given way to routine intimidation. Nearly all the Valley's Muslims tell tales of petty insults, the sort of treatment that produces seething resentment rather than explosive outrage. Almost every motorist, for example, has been detained on charges that boil down to Driving While Kashmiri.
Outside the town of Pattan I pass a car that has been stopped at a police
checkpoint. In front of his whole family - wife, children and mortified
aunt or mother - the driver is squatting down and hoping place. "Like
a rabbit!" the policeman shouts at him. "Jump like a rabbit!"
"Hospital" is somewhat of a misnomer: the ramshackle building has no medical equipment to speak of, and none of its three doctors is a surgeon. The admitting room looks more like a railway ticket counter, with an unruly pack of patients trying to argue or elbow their way to the front, a sort of triage in reverse where the strongest and most vociferous are the first to be seen. The hospital, Ahmad says, is the only medical facility available for 100,000 villagers.
The Indian government could resettle the villages, but it does not want to see more Kashmiris pulling up stakes. The Valley has suffered one mass exodus already.
"I used to be a bus driver," says Manohar Lal, a gray-haired man in a pink wool vest. "I drove routes all over the state. Now I can't walk 50 meters from my house." Lal's family is one of 200 Hindu households sheltered at the Indian army's Third Battalion headquarters, about 10 miles from the front lines. The Hindus of the Valley, most of them Brahmins belonging to the Pandit caste, had lived at peace with their Muslim neighbors for generations. "We used to be bhai-bhai (like brothers)," Lal says. "Now there are no Hindu passengers, and if I drive to a Muslim village I'll never drive back."
In the early 1990s, Islamist militant groups began terrorising the Pandits into flight. Unable to defend such a widely spread community against guerrillas who could easily melt into the general populace, the government set up camps in Jammu and Delhi for Pandits and tried to maintain the fiction that 135,000 refugees - virtually the entire Hindu population of the Valley - would one day go back home.
The prospect of Hindus being expelled from the Valley en masse would
have seemed far-fetched only a dozen years ago. Kashmir had been a showcase
for the ability of Hindus and Muslims to live in harmony, and even for
the viability of India as a secular, multireligious nation. The architect
of such an India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was himself a Kashmiri Pandit.
"The militants are fewer than in the Valley ," says Muneer Ahmed Khan, superintendent of police for Doda," but they are better armed, better equipped, and more ruthless than ever." Khan, a Valley Muslim himself, should know: while serving in his native territory, he had a bounty of one million rupees (about $25,000) on his head.
Since the terrain is all but indefensible by standard means, local inhabitants have been organised into government-sponsored Village Defense Committees. Although Doda's 800 units together contain about 6,500 members, each hamlet has only a dozen or so defenders. And these few villagers are thoroughly out-gunned. Their standard weapon is the Lee-Enfield 303, a World War II-vintage rifle that holds six bullets. Guerrillas usually carry fully automatic AK-47s or AK-56s with 20-round banana clips, often accompanied by rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.
Outside the Doda police station, a man drops his salwar trousers and asks me to examine his buttocks. I decline, so he presents his evidence without visual aids. "This is what the terrorists do," says Ghulam Haider, leader of his hamlet's militia. "These scars are from a grenade. They threw it while my back was turned." Haider knew the guerrillas were radical Islamists from Pakistan: he'd spoken with them a few days before the raid. Join us, they said, or die. A Muslim who had protested the Gulf War by naming his son Saddam Hussein, Haider refused to be intimidated. When the militants returned, they killed Haider's brother, his daughter and six-year-old boy named after an Iraqi who had committed more than a few murders himself.
A dozen other militia members, all waiting to petition the superintendent for better arms, nod their heads and add their own stories. Like the people in their hamlets, they are a cross-section of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The guerrillas target Hindus in an attempt to stoke communal hatred, but are equally willing to kill any Muslims they deem insufficiently supportive. So far, however, the violence here has not led to religious polarization: in most of Doda's villages,one sees signs for tea-stalls and provisions shops in both the Perso-Arabic script of Urdu and the Devanagari of Hindi. Neighbors of different faiths still seem to live as brothers, bhai-bhai. But a decade ago the same was true in the Valley.
In Kashmir, no one's hands are clean. The Village Defense Committees, locals and outside activists say, are victimizers as often as victims. If militias suspect a person or providing aid to the rebels, action can be swift and pitiless. Patricia Gossman of Human Rights Watch has been chronicling the abuses of guerrillas and government agents for a decade. Indian security and paramilitary forces are responsible for hundreds of custodial killings, tortures and rapes every year, Gossman says and since 1998 the bulk of these have been perpetrated by army units - and village militias - in Jammu.
Local inhabitants often acknowledge as much. When authority figures are safely out of earshot, Doda residents tell stories of defense committees acting as unchecked vigilante squads, of massacres stemming from unrelated property disputes and clan rivalries, all hushed up or categorized as casualties of war.
When I ask to interview guerrillas held in the Doda jail, Police Superintendent
Khan says that he has none in custody. Any confrontation, he explains,
generally ends in a firefight to the death.
The most powerful of these former rebels is Jawaid Hussein Shah, an immaculately tailored warlord who has his own business card. Wearing gold-rimmed glasses, a gold pen in the pocket of his elegant pinstriped suit, a gold ring on his finger,and a diamond-studded gold watch on his wrist, Shah radiates authority and confidence. With good reason: apart from the Indian government itself, he had more fighters under his control than any other group in Kashmir. For four years, the dapper Shah had led three pro-Pakistan militias. But after his first visit to Pakistan (he tells me, over tea at his heavily guarded compound in the heart of Srinagar) he became disillusioned with his patrons. At a training camp near Gilgit, his fighters were used as manual laborers, treated like hired hands rather than brothers in arms. "We took up the gun for jihad," Shah says, "but we found were just tools."
Now the former renegade leader serves as the eyes and ears of the Indian state. His 1,827 armed followers all have the status of special police officers (SPOs) and receive government salaries in addition to the retainers he pays them. "We act as bridge, to help the militants surrender," he tells me. And some militants require more "help" than others. Shah's private cadre is armed purely for defense, he says. "But if somebody throws a bullet at you, you can't just toss back a flower."
Although Shah and his followers have done well for themselves, not all renegades are so lucky. When the insurgency began collapsing, many footsoldiers found themselves trapped in the rubble. Kashmir is full of such ronin, masterless warriors reduced to the rank of mercenaries. Most SPOs fall into this category: once-proud mujahideen now eking out a miserable existence on the payroll of their former enemy. Kashmir is full of angry, alienated, answerless young men like Mahmud Altaf Khan.
`The politicians admit that we won their war," Khan complains, "but what thanks do we get?" An SPO assigned to escort me from one military checkpoint to the next, he began venting his frustrations as soon as the car door had shut. "We're paid only 1,500 rupees (about $35) per month - when our salaries are paid at all."
It's only in a place like a car, with the door shut, that men such as Mahmud Khan can speak freely. Their revolutionary comrades put them on a hit list as soon as they defect. Their neighbors treat them like turncoats. And the government, their new employer, often does not even trust them with rifles. After four years as an SPO, Khan still has not been issues a gun. The only time he has been permitted to handle a weapon was during his few weeks of training. Even then, instructors saved ammunition by allowing each renegade to fire only five rounds.
"We would like to join the army, the regular police, anybody," Khan
laments. He became an SPO, he says, for the same reason he became a guerrilla:
he needed a job.
Kashmir's greatest resource is its natural beauty. Prior to the uprising, the economy relied heavily on tourism - an industry that can be shut down at any time by the type of periodic terrorist acts that are virtually impossible to eliminate. So a vicious cycle became a cycle of viciousness: guerrilla attacks shut down tourism, creating a generation of young men employable only as guerrillas.
"If I cannot safeguard human life," Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah says grandly, "I have no right to be the government." But Farooq Abdullah is the government, and human life is not safeguarded. The chief minister passionately defends the suppression of the Lal Chowk rally a week earlier, and is unabashedly pleased that several journalists tasted the tear gas and felt the batons. "This [protest] is all stage-managed," he says, a play put on by the separatists for the benefit of the media.
In that respect he is absolutely right: it's no coincidence that the Lal Chowk rally took place right beneath the one-person office of Agence France-Press. But there was never any pretense of spontaneity, no question but that this march would be shut down with harsh efficiency, like hundreds before and since. The procession's very futility was its statement: We have no faith in the state, no faith in elections, no faith in any solution from above.
The Indian government has bought off or fought off any true grassroots leaders, and now finds itself with not credible negotiating partner. The Hurriyat boycotted this fall's national elections (since the beginning of the insurgency they have argued that participation would only ratify the existing order) so the chief minister won a meaningless victory. India has latched onto the opposition's refusal to field candidates as proof of its weakness, and the Hurriyat is certainly too chaotic to present any unified front. But the view expressed to me by Yasin Malik is widely held throughout Kashmir: "Farooq Abdullah," the separatist said dismissively, as if stating a truth too plain to merit debate, "is a little puppet of Delhi."
What can India do to regain the trust of the Kashmiris? A sweeping reform of human-rights abuses, a willingness to discuss solutions rather than to impose them, and a significant infusion of money to build industry and create jobs - these will not guarantee success, but they would go a very long way. "We rule nothing out - all we ask is to be included," says Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a Sufi cleric and former Hurriyat chair. "We must be parties at the table, for no solution can work without the support of the people," India has a choice: turn moderates like the Mirwaiz into allies, or let Pakistan-based radicals serve as the Kashmiris' only effective advocates.
Building peace can cost as much money as waging war. An open wallet would be a clear expression of the "personal interest" President Clinton has promised to take in the region. How much cash will the United States, the IMF and other orgnaisations provide? How much is the outside world willing to pay to defuse a nuclear time-bomb?
Neither India nor Pakistan can afford to "lose" Kashmir. This territory, home to fewer than one percent of the subcontinent's inhabitants, is central to both nations' identities. Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Pakistan's founder argued that Muslims could not be secure in a Hindu-dominated India, that two communities defined by religion could not share one stretch of land. Mohandas K. Gandhi and Nehru strenuously disagreed: the nation they envisioned would be a secular state, a college of many religious, many languages, many cultures. After India helped East Pakistan gain independence as Bangladesh in 1971, the waters of identity grew muddier and more poisonous.
The ability of India to bring true peace to the Valley - there is no serious talk of Jammu or Ladakh breaking away, or of Azad Kashmir and the Northern Territories being wrested from Pakistan - is a crucial test of the principles on which both nations were founded. To prove the viability of Nehru's ideas, India must win the loyalty (and not merely the sullen submission) of Nehru's homeland. This is not on the agenda of the governing BJP, which has never been a fan of Nehruvian secularism. But if Hindu nationalists have little love for the memory Nehru's Congress Party saw Partition as tragedy, but the BJP's ideological forerunners saw it as a betrayal.
The longer Kashmir is held by brute force, the more convincing the rationable
of Partition will see. For this reason, Pakistan cannot sever its ties
to the insurgents. And for this reason, India cannot simply crush the insurgency
by military means. Farooq Abdullah may not be the man to craft a stable
peace, but he probably right about the rough shape that peace will take.
"Neither is India going to leave this part, not is Pakistan going to leave
that part," he says. "Whether we have a hundred wars or a thousand wars,
it is just not going to happen. We are going to bleed each other dry."
Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan's Azad Kashmir, has only one real hotel, and the sign at reception lists the rules all guests must obey. "Please deposit weapons at front desk" ranks only a matter-of-fact fifth place - more important than "Checkout 12p.m." but not as pressing as "Personal cheques not accepted."
In the Kamser refugee camp, up a twisty mountain road from Muzaffarabad, Raja Izhar Khan shows a visitor around the tin-roofed stone-and-mortar settlement. His whole village crossed over from the Kashmir Valley in 1990, he says, after several years of killings, beatings, and gang-rapes by Indian security forces. "We Kashmiris used to get along fine," the old man says. His only tooth is brown and rotten, but he smiles a lot just the same. "Any religion, side by side, no problems." He looks east toward the high mountains, the other side of which used to be his home. "Now," he says, "a Muslim cannot live there." When the villagers slipped across the border, all the government employees who were Muslim - including the local constables - decided to come with them.
For the first four years in the Kamser camp, the refugees lived in tents. When charitable groups supplied construction materials, the villagers sadly built themselves permanent housing. The settlement is clean, airy, comfortable, and gets electricity and water free from the state government. Back in the Valley the villagers had supported the pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahedden militia, but since fleeing to Pakistan none of them has applied for citizenship in their new host country. It is the land that they cherish, not the passport. "We are only waiting here," says Raja Khan. "We want to go home."
Jammu City, winter capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, has more gun shops than Wild West frontier town. In the Purkhoo camp, a miserable slum several miles outside the city center, Bushan Lal and some fellow Pandits give a visitor the shame-faced tour. They left home the same year as the refugees across the border in Kamser, and after four years they too moved from tents to more permanent dwellings. But the unpaved alleys are rutted bogs, slippery from the trickling of sludgy gray sewage.
"Most of us have skin diseases from the poor drainage," Bhusan Lal says. A native of Qazri, a village in the south of the Valley, he moved his family out when fundamentalist guerrillas gave them the choice of conversion of flight. Prior to that, he recalls, Hindus and Muslims used to be bhai-bhai. The government now gives each refugee a monthly stipend d slightly higher than what it pays renegade militants, plus free rations. The camps has two newly built schools, a provisions shop and a temple, but all of the men here are furious.
"Rajiv Gandhi let this happen," says one of the Pandits. "Nehru's grandson betrayed us all." Mention the BJP and the chorus of contempt becomes even bitter." All they give us is khali batchit (empty chatter)," a man says. "They why not make the best of their lives here, dig drainage trenches, burn the towering piles of garbage - or just move to Delhi and build a new life? The men's indignation melts to muttered half-answers. "No Pandit will move back to Kashmir," one finally says, "but that is still our home."
Perhaps the worst thing about Jammu, all the men of Purkhoo agree, is the hot weather. In June, Bushan Lal says, he dreams about the cool mountains every night.
About 250 miles away, Raja Izhar Khan has the same complaint about Muzaffarabad:
"The winter is tolerable, but after so many years we still cannot live with the heat."
This, perhaps, is all that is left of Kashmiriyat today. Pandit and Sufi, both pining for the crisp, alpine air of the Valley, both longing for a place they may never see, and a time that may never return.Courtesy: Foreign Affairs, November-December 1999
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