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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 24, June 5, 2010

Happy but Insecure Kashmir

Thursday 10 June 2010, by Balraj Puri


This article was written before the latest wave of unrest in the Kashmir Valley sparked by the plenomena of fake encounters.

It was a pleasant diversion for the tension-ridden people of the Kashmir Valley when they celebrated the announcement that a Kashmiri boy, Shah Faesal, had topped the list of successful candidates of the Indian Administrative Service. There are already some IAS officers from Kashmir but this was the first time that a Kashmiri candidate had topped the list.

The large crowd that received their new hero at the airport, without any organisational support, and the groups of people from far-off places who came to offer their greetings to him would be the envy of any popular leader. Scores of the articles had been written on him in newspapers in Kashmir highlighting, inter alia, the potentialities of the Kashmiri youth, given proper opportunities.
Faesal came from a modest family background. His father was killed by militants and he had to struggle hard to get a medical degree. He joined a coaching institution in Delhi of Zakat, a religious Muslim organisation, for the IAS competition. His hard determination was his only asset.

On the whole Kashmir is going through a period when non-accession issues have become predominant. Two Hurriyats, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq respectively, supported the call off general strike against the government decision to bar inter district recruitment to government services, except the eight per cent reservation for the Scheduled Castes. The protest was on the ground that there were no Scheduled Castes in the Kashmir region and reservation for them had been extended to it in order to change its demography and reduce its Muslim majority, though there is no evidence that any non-Muslim employee from Jammu ever settled in Kashmir. Already, with mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmir is an overwhelmingly Muslim region.

But so sensitive is the issue of demography that similar doubts are being expressed by the separatist on the conduct of census which has just started in the State. Geelani has asked the people to remain mentally prepared for a “massive” protest against the “inclusion of non-State subject in census and eight per cent reservation for the Scheduled Castes in inter-district recruitment—both parts of an Indian conspiracy to undermine the Muslim majority character of Kashmir”.

According to rules, anybody who has lived in any place for more than six moths is included in the census. The bulk of such persons are Bihari labourers, as all outside labourers are called and do jobs that Kashmiris no longer like to do. Many of them are Muslims. However, mere inclusion in the census does not entitle anybody to State subject and the issue was never raised at the time of earlier census. He also gave a call to Kashmiris to register their languages as Urdu, “the religious language of Muslims” (not Kashmiri). Perhaps to allay popular fears, a column could be added for non-State subjects in the census.

One may recall that it was suspicion about demographic change that ignited massive agitation in Kashmir on the row over the land allotment to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008. Its secretary had said that the land allotted to it by the State Government would be used to construct prefabricated buildings for business houses to organise langars or offer some essential item for sale to the yatris. The suspicion was that this facility would be used to settle non-State subjects there which would affect the demographic ratio. Though it is hardly possible for a Kashmiri to settle at that height, not to speak of outsiders, it is an indication of the state of mind of the Kashmiris.

The point that is sought to be made here is that non-accession issues also matter in Kashmir which make people happy or unhappy. Exclusive concern about the solution of a Kashmir problem, on which many leaders of Kashmir and outside sympathisers are concentrating is only a part of the problem.

The current confusion in the separatist camp and distraction from “solution of the Kashmir problem” is partly due to the changing policies of Pakistan. When the PPP came to power in Pakistan, its President, Asaf Zardari, said that the Kashmir problem be left to future generations who might be wiser. And that Indo-Pak relations could not be held hostage to the Kashmir problem. As power shifted from the President to the Prime Minister and gradually to the Army, Kashmir became the core issue for Pakistan. Its Army Chief declared that the real threat to Pakistan was from its eastern border (India).

Within Kashmir the Pakistan Government recognised Geelani as the President of the Hurriyat. He was so far a persona non grata in Pakistan. Its Foreign Minister sent invitations to Geelani and other hardliners like Bar Association President Mian Qayum and Dukhtaran-e-Millat leader Ashiya Andrabi (also for the first time). There was confusion in the Mirwaiz camp as its leaders to be invited were selected by the Pakistan Foreign Minister. Mirwaiz’s call for a united front was rejected by Geelani who insisted on the right of self-determination as the only demand.

While other separatists started asserting themselves, the Jamat-e-Islami suspended Geelani from its membership for the derogatory remarks used against it in his recently released biography.

The USA, meanwhile, pressurised India and Pakistan to patch up their differences as for it the Taliban threat was of greater importance. That factor might have contributed to the agreement between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue. Neither did India insist on the threat of terrorism from Pakistan nor did it oppose the inclusive of dialogue on Kashmir in the agenda for dialogue. A positive indication from Pakistan was its announcement to move 1,00,000 men of its Army from the eastern to the western border.

The lesson for the Kashmiri leaders is obvious. All their problems cannot be resolved by Pakistan. Even after there is some final solution of Kashmir, all its problems would not auto-matically be solved. Its leaders and sympathisers need not wait for the final solution which nobody can predict when it would materialise. They must study the sensitivities and measures that can add to their happiness. How can more Faesals be created, for instance? How can the threat to their identity be reduced. And finally what is the constitutional and political system that can reduce Kashmir’s tension with Jammu and Ladakh and transfer power to the people in all the three regions?

Balraj Puri is the Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.

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