Tag Archives | Kashmiri

Actions have consequences

The Kashmiri stone-pelters of 2010

“My career is ruined. I cannot seek admission in any college. I cannot get a passport, and worse, I cannot get a government job,” said one young man, arrested for throwing stones at police, who did not want to be named.[BBC]

Dear unnamed young man from Kashmir, you should have known that before joining the gang to throw stones at policemen, indulging in arson or destroying public property. The petty cash paid by Pakistan-backed separatists for taking part in those organised protests was never going to compensate you for the losses you will incur. You were dispensable for these separatists. You have been used. The separatist leaders will find a new set of boys to do this a few years down the line again. That is the way they operate.

You made your choices in 2010. Your frustration is a consequence of the choices you made. But it should be directed against these separatist leaders who enticed you into their devious plan, and not against the government which was reacting to the events.

If you do get an amnesty from the state government, good luck to you. If not, hard luck mate. Such is life. Remember, actions have consequences.

PS – Hopefully, your own friends, cousins and community members will draw the right lessons from your example and stay away from participating in organised street violence in Kashmir in the future. Your tribulations would have served a great purpose if that happens.

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Ignorance is bliss (Kashmir version)

The political status of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan

A friend sent me this report, titled Perception Survey of Media Impact on the Kashmiri Youth, conducted by the Institute for Research in India and International Studies in January 2011. Two questions and their reply by the Kashmiri youth are particularly noteworthy.

Q. Do you know whether Azad Kashmir is a part of Pakistan or, is it an independent state?

Q. What do you think is the political status of Gilgit and Baltistan?

On such foundations of blissful ignorance is the edifice of so-called Azadi constructed among the youth in Kashmir.

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The Kashmir summer calm

The whole story. And how can we build on it?

Lydia Polgreen has a story in the New York Times from Srinagar highlighting the fact that Kashmir has had a peaceful summer this year. While the broader narrative of the story is right, it glosses over a few essential facts which brought about this change.

The most important factor in the change is the fatigue among the average Kashmiri with the shutdown-protest-stonepelting tactics of the separatist leadership. Like anywhere else, people in Kashmir too long for a normal social and economic life while finding effective ways to express their political grievances — ways which do not take away their opportunity to earn a livelihood. Syed Geelani’s calls for shutdowns in the Valley had stopped evoking any meaningful response by end-September last year when he surreptitiously stopped issuing those calls. His unequivocal call for the boycott of local body elections in Kashmir earlier this summer was met with a voter turnout of over 80% in the region, which included nearly 90% turn-out in some of the separatist strongholds. Those stunned by the Kashmiris’ response can debate whether the vote was in the favour of the Indian state or not but even they cannot deny that it exposed the claim of separatists being the true representatives of the Kashmiris.

Moreover, the state government has been able to get its act right this summer. It has been proactive by not only keeping the top mob-leaders like Massrat Alam and Asiya Andrabi behind bars but also monitoring, and in certain cases arresting, ring-leaders of stone-pelters in sensitive locations. Intelligence from the ground has been better and timely. The police have handled the situation proficiently, borne by the fact that the sporadic protests have not developed into any prolonged, major crises and no fatal casualty reported this summer. The central government has also lent a helping hand to the state by tracking the funding of the separatist leadership from Pakistan via Hawala channels. With the FBI filing a chargesheet against Mr Fai for being an ISI operative in the US, the international support for the Kashmiri separatists has also taken a beating.

Has Pakistan changed its ways over Kashmir? No. Indian Home Ministry informed the parliament yesterday it “is aware that the Pakistani Intelligence Agency ISI has re-activated terrorist training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). A number of training camps and launching pads are reportedly active in PoK/Pakistan. As per assessment, there are around 2500 terrorists in PoK/Pak.” In reply to another question, the home ministry stated that 52 persons have attempted infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) till June this year. With the summers drawing to an end, the number of attempts at infiltration from across the LoC have risen significantly in recent weeks. Furthermore, up to July this year, 19 ceasefire violations by Pakistan have been reported along the LoC.

The two measures on cross-LoC trade announced during Pakistan foreign minister’s visit to India last month have no bearing on the security situation in the Valley. Even during her visit, Ms Hina Khar reaffirmed the old Pakistani policy over Kashmir by publicly meeting the separatist Kashmiri leadership in Delhi. As an interesting aside, Mr Geelani is supposed to have told Ms Khar that Pakistan should focus on setting its own house right before it can help the Kashmiris. This is both an indicator of Pakistan’s reduced attractiveness in Kashmir and an attempt by Syed Geelani to boost his own credibility in Kashmir.

While discussing Kashmir in 2011, a couple of other issues are worthy of a mention. The number of tourists visiting Kashmir has been an all-time high this year. However, these are mainly domestic tourists. With the revision of the German travel advisory, it can be expected that foreign tourist arrivals will soon reach the pre-1990 levels in Kashmir. The security forces can take credit for the absence of any major terror strike in the Valley since 2009 which has prompted this change in travel advisory by Germany. Meanwhile, central government has announced an employment generation scheme for the state which could see 40,000 educated Kashmiri youth being employed over the next five years.

But everything is not hunky-dory in Kashmir this year. The mainstream politics in the state continues to be badly fragmented between the two main political parties, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. The separatists continue to wait in the wings to incite public outrage at the flimsiest pretext of laxity by the state. Reports of custodial death in a police station, rape of a woman by soldiers (later proved false) and false encounter killing of an innocent civilian by the army provide the separatists with enough ammunition and place the state government on the defensive, in a damage-control mode. Infighting among the three interlocutors on J&K announced by the central government means that they are unlikely to produce any cohesive and acceptable roadmap for the future.

Are there ways in which this change in Kashmir can be made permanent? Yes. Simple, small and credible steps will help. The essential, but not a sufficient condition for any future initiative on Kashmir has to be maintenance of peace, order and security. Political power needs to be devolved to the local bodies elected in the recent Panchayat elections and additional money for development received from the centre spent under their supervision. The state government must keep its promise of holding the municipal polls in the state after Ramazan and back it up by devolving real financial and administrative powers to those urban bodies. The Union Cabinet must decide on the long-pending issue of the review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act while upholding its plans to reduce the central forces in the Valley at the end of this summer. Time has also perhaps come for the Army and the Rashtriya Rifles to review their deployment and work out a plan to handover, in phases, the security of relatively peaceful areas to the local police.

These are sensible ideas which should not be difficult to implement. Alas, the discourse on Kashmir is littered like an old attic with the junk of many such sensible ideas.

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottage princes’ palaces. ~Shakespeare

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A rotten Fai

Hurts the credibility of Kashmiri separatists and India’s left-liberal intellectuals

The filing of a criminal complaint by the FBI against Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmiri American Council, which is also known as the Kashmir Center, is being dismissed by many Indians because it is the outcome of a souring US-Pakistan relationship. Whatever be the cause of its timing, there are many unintended consequences of the episode; the collateral damage is hurting many others: the Kashmiri separatists, and the Indian Left-liberal intelligentsia which associated with Fai and his Kashmir Center in Washington DC.

Background Reading: ProPublica report on the episode; the Department of Justice Press Release; the Criminal Complaint and the Affidavit filed by the FBI; Praveen Swami profiles Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai; ProPublica profiles Fai’s co-accused, Dr. Zaheer Ahmad; Reactions of some Indian intelligentsia associated with Fai; and the reaction of the Kashmiri separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

First, the Kashmiri separatists. For the last 15 years, the Kashmiri separatist leadership — with different monikers of hardliner, moderate, Gandhian and pro-Azaadi — has thrived on a popular myth created about them being the true representative of the Kashmiris. Although mainstream political leaders like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have won popular elections which have seen more than 60% electoral participation, they have often been dismissed — and often by many well-meaning Indians — as not being representatives of the electorate but merely an outcome of Kashmiris’ yearning for an administrative machinery in the state. Of course, many continue to ignore the recent Panchayat elections in Kashmir where 80% Kashmiris turned up to vote in defiance of a public boycott call given by what Western magazines like The Economist call the tallest Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

With their support in the state being limited to parts of Srinagar and areas like Sopore, the separatists draw their credibility from the international support provided to them. This international support was not generated due to the “moral, diplomatic, and political support” provided by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan but an organised intelligence operation run across the globe by its military spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

Herein lies the bigger tragedy. Those claiming to speak for the Kashmiris have taken the Kashmiris for a ride. They are stooges and mouthpieces of the ISI, with their purses provided by their puppeteers at the ISI headquarters in Rawalpindi. It shouldn’t surprise us though because these self-styled Kashmiri leaders have never even spoken a word about the terrible situation in other parts of Kashmir — the one under Pakistani occupation: Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. This also perhaps explains why Mr Geelani continues to favour Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan even while trying to ride on the sentiment of Azaadi among a section of young Kashmiris.

The Geelanis and the Mirwaizs and the Yasin Maliks are not the representative of the Kashmiris. They are the stooges of the ISI. When they start pontificating about talking to India, India’s point-blank reply should be: Take us to your masters.

From the Haqqani network to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, more revelations tell us that the militancy in Kashmir was not started or stoked by Pakistan, but owned, controlled, funded and manned by the Pakistani military-jehadi complex. Kashmir was a handy battleground for Pakistan to hurt India and Kashmiris the unsuspecting victims of Pakistan’s malice. The militancy and violence in the state came down once India was able to put a mechanism in place that reduced the infiltration from across the Line of Control. The drop in violence was possible only because the indigenous Kashmiri component in the militancy is insignificant.

Many commentators have suggested that the stone-pelting incidents witnessed in certain urban areas of Kashmir Valley in the summer of 2010 were an expression of their popular anger against the Indian state, because the militancy had subsided. While there is an element of truth in this contention, reportage from the ground (last year by Samar Halarnkar and this year by Smita Prakash) has highlighted the role of Pakistani money in organising these stone-pelters. The state government did make mistakes in its handling of the situation (and it is a credit to the state government that they have prevented a encore this year) but if it were not for the financial and organisation support provided by the ISI and ISI-backed proxies in Kashmir, the stone-pelting protests would not have been of the magnitude witnessed last year.

It is to the credit of the ISI that it has done its job well. There are some unresolved issues in Kashmir, as they are in nearly half the districts of the country. But where the ISI has succeeded is in hyping the problem in Kashmir out of proportion. It has shaped the popular narrative about Kashmir, not only abroad but also in India.

This brings us to the question of the Left Liberal intelligentsia in India which has, wittingly or unwittingly, helped the ISI in furthering its aim. Despite the vocal pronouncements and actions by some of these people, it would be preposterous to conceive of them as being anti-India. They were, now that the ISI-Fai relationship is in the open, to use that popular Cold War term, “Useful Idiots”. They have been used by the ISI against India and Indians.

The argument that these intellectuals should not be criticised for attending the ISI-sponsored conference but for their views expressed there doesn’t hold much water. The Indian speakers lent credibility and respectability to these partisan events and biased the global narrative against India.

Furthermore, sections of the India media (notably Praveen Swami and Seema Sirohi) have flagged Fai and his events for nearly a decade now. It was evident to most other observers that Fai was an integral component of the Pakistani propaganda machinery on Kashmir. Attending these events raises serious question marks about the judgement and wisdom of these intellectuals and experts. Even if they were useful idiots, they were — and dare I say, are — idiots. It is in our interest to identify, acknowledge and treat them as idiots, whether it is on Kashmir or any other issue of national interest.

This holds a salutary lesson for many Indian media personalities, intellectuals, commentators and experts. They would be well-advised to seek wiser counsel before accepting free junkets in the garb of conferences and seminars, especially when it comes to issues related to Pakistan.

Finally, the Government of India. The FBI charge-sheet has been met with a stony silence by the GoI so far. Perhaps the MEA has been kept busy with the India-US Strategic Meeting this week and will soon take cognisance of this issue before the Pakistani delegation arrives in Delhi next week.

What else should GoI do? GoI must focus on the other two Kashmir Centers — in London and Brussels — and press upon the British government and the EU Parliament to probe them and shut them down. GoI must simultaneously bring to book those Kashmiri leaders who are proved to be on the payroll of the ISI.

The opportunity has presented itself to India to set the narrative about Kashmir right: locally, nationally and internationally. In football parlance, this is like an open goal available to the striker which India cannot afford to miss.

Alas, we in India are used to seeing such open chances being wasted often. One fears that this will be no different now.

Recommended Reading: ANI’s Smita Prakash on the Fai affair – Fait Accompli: Kashmir loses one junket genie.

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The Haqqanis of North Waziristan

A few extracts from a new CTC study on the Haqqanis.

Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has a new report on the Haqqani network, the jehadi group based in North Waziristan. Titled The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qa’ida, the deeply-researched study report is authored by Don Rassler and Vahid Brown. The report explores how the Haqqani network has historically functioned as a nexus organization and as a strategic enabler of local, regional and global forms of Islamist militancy.  Specific attention is placed on examining the Haqqani network’s support for al-Qa`ida and its global jihad, and more recently the Pakistani Taliban.

A few noteworthy extracts from the study, especially some pertaining to Kashmir:

  • At the regional level, many of the Pakistanis who fought with Haqqani would later shift their attention and employ the fighting skills and training they had acquired in Loya Paktia against Indian forces in Kashmir. Some would even go on to create their own jihadist organizations and become legendary commanders, a dynamic perhaps best exemplified by Fazlur Rahman Khalil and Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, who were respectively central to the formation of Harakat ul Mujahidin (HuM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
  • Jalaluddin Haqqani was not bashful about his influence or impact upon the Kashmir jihad, and his assistance would pay dividends to the Pakistani state and its covert war against India. During a meeting in Karachi attended by some of Pakistan’s religious elite, including the General Secretary of Jamiat Ulema?e?Islam, Haqqani boasted, “We have trained thousands of Kashmiri mujahidin, and have made them ready for jihad.” Farooq Kashmiri, the Deputy Head of HuM, directed students at the madrassa where this gathering was held to spend their summer in Afghanistan so they could train under Jalaluddin. These and other Pakistani madrassa students likely formed the rank and file at HuM/Harakat-ul-Ansar (HUA) training camps throughout the 1990s, all of which were based in Loya Paktia and supported by the ISI.
  • The Haqqani network’s direct support for various Kashmiri training camps are revealed in a 1998 communication from the Pakistani government to the Taliban, contained in the Harmony database. This document includes a list in Pashto and English of nine wanted Pakistani “terrorists,” with photographs and names, aliases and last known sightings.
  • The most striking element of the Haqqani network’s evolution post 9/11 is the persistence of its cross?dimensional nexus. During this decade, surprisingly little changed in terms of the Haqqani network’s relations, strategy and outlook. The war in Afghanistan has reinforced and strengthened the Haqqani network’s central role, with the group still being located at the nexus between local, regional and global forms of militancy. Similar to the 1990s, areas in which the Haqqani network exerts the most influence continue to be used as a platform to enable other actors, most notably al Qa’ida and more recently elements of the TTP. The Haqqani network has been able to maintain close ties with these actors while also remaining a key proxy for Islamabad, highlighting the paradox underlying Pakistan’s security policy. Perhaps most importantly, this nexus has also survived a generational change in leadership from father Jalaluddin to son Sirajuddin, as well as a ten year campaign against al Qa’ida conducted by the United States and its partner Pakistan.
  • The actions and outlook of Haqqani network leaders are not confined to the Afghan theater today, and they have not been since the late 1970s. In addition to operating as a distinct organization, the Haqqani network has historically functioned as a nexus and key enabler for local, regional and global groups. Al?Qa’ida’s global jihad and elements of Kashmir’s regional jihad have been shaped by the safe haven, training, combat experience, propaganda support, resource mobilization, and networking opportunities facilitated by the Haqqani network. By serving as the local to al?Qa’ida’s global over multiple decades, the Haqqani network has directly contributed to the development and endurance of global jihad.
  • The nature of Haqqani support for international jihadism, however, is best evaluated through the context of the group’s consistent support for al Qa’ida and the Haqqani network’s unwillingness to meaningfully disengage from the group since it formally declared war on the United States in 1998. This makes the Haqqani network a willing ideological partner and an active participant in al Qa’ida’s global jihad, as Haqqani network leaders have consistently provided the local context and space for al Qa’ida to sustain itself and continue its fight. By shedding new light on the history of al Qa’ida, this report also tells us that al Qa’ida and the Haqqani network, and not the Quetta Shura Taliban, became the United States’ primary enemies on 11 September 2001.
  • Pakistan’s favored Afghan proxy is also the very same actor that has served as al Qa’ida’s primary local enabler for over two decades. Given the ISI’s historical sponsorship of the Haqqani network, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan has not been aware of this history. Although less clear, there is also some evidence that the ISI helped, and continues to a lesser degree, to facilitate these ties, suggesting that Pakistan could have played a more influential role in the development of al Qa’ida than has thus far been recognized. More tangible is Pakistan’s reluctance to conduct a military operation against the Haqqani network and the milieu of jihadist actors sheltered in North Waziristan. Pakistan’s inaction is fueling the Afghan insurgency and it is also providing space for the Haqqani network to sustain itself and for anti?Pakistan militants and global jihadists to further coalesce. Left unchecked, North Waziristan will continue to function as the epicenter of international terrorism.
  • In the wake of Usama bin Ladin’s death, the al Qa’ida organization may face an uncertain future, but the nexus of resources and relationships that the Haqqani network carefully assembled over the course of three decades and which helped to foster al Qa’ida’s rise remains firmly in place. Positioned between two unstable states, and operating beyond their effective sovereignty, the Haqqani network has long been mistaken for a local actor with largely local concerns. It is vital that the policy community correct the course that has taken this erroneous assessment for granted and recognize the Haqqani network’s region of refuge for what it has always been – the fountainhead of jihad.[CTC]

A quick conclusion. The contents of this report confirms what this blogger has long suspected about US demands from Pakistan. Forget the intelligence cooperation and the NATO supply lines, the US pressure on Pakistan, including the pause in military aid, is driven only by one goal — to press the Pakistan Army to undertake military operations in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network.

Perhaps there is good reason why the US has avoided highlighting this issue publicly. It is to save Pakistani Army chief General Kayani the embarrassment of being seen as sending his troops into North Waziristan under direct US pressure, if he agrees to send them there. But that is a big If — if General Kayani is able to convince his corps commanders that Pakistan army should actually be taking on its long-term strategic asset, the Haqqani network.

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LeT is NOT a Kashmiri group

Countering Ignatius’ deceitful notions about the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

In his latest Washington Post column, David Ignatius casually mentions that the Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT) is “a Kashmiri group”. Like this blogger, many other readers would have noticed the absence of the word terror while mentioning the “group”. A learned columnist like Mr Ignatius is expected to be familiar with the authoritative work of Stephen Tankel on the LeT. In case he isn’t familiar or has forgotten the facts, here is an extract about LeT’s origins from Tankel’s paper:

In 1984, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, currently on trial in Pakistan for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, formed a small group of Ahl-e-Hadith Muslims from Pakistan to wage jihad against Soviets forces in Afghanistan. The Ahle-Hadith are Salafist in orientation, meaning they believe Muslims must return to a pure form of Islam and advocate emulating the Prophet Muhammad and his companions in all areas of life. A year later, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and Zafar Iqbal, two teachers at the University of Engineering and Technology (Lahore) Pakistan, formed the Jamaat-ul- Dawa (Organization for Preaching, or JuD). This was a small missionary group primarily dedicated to preaching the tenets of Ahl-e-Hadith Islam. In 1986, Lakhvi merged his outfit with JuD to form LeT’s parent organization, the Markaz al-Dawa-wal-Irshad (Center for Preaching and Guidance, or MDI). The group had 17 original founders, Abdullah Azzam being the most famous of them. Azzam was Osama bin Laden’s first mentor and the man most responsible for the influx of foreign fighters into Afghanistan during the 1980s. He headed the Maktab al-Khidmat (Services Bureau), the primary conduit for foreign volunteers and typically considered a precursor to al-Qaeda.

MDI had three functions: “Jihad in the way of Allah, preaching the true religion, and the training of [a] new generation on Islamic lines.” LeT was launched as its military wing around 1990, after which the former was technically responsible for dawa and the latter for jihad. However, as a former member explained, “If you know their philosophy, then you cannot differentiate between MDI and Lashkar.” Hafiz Saeed, the emir of MDI and LeT, encapsulated this philosophy when he said: “Islam propounds both dawa and jihad. Both are equally important and inseparable. Since our life revolves around Islam, therefore both dawa and jihad are essential; we cannot prefer one over the other.” The group outlined eight reasons for waging violent jihad, and asserts all Muslims are required to wage or support violent jihad until these objectives are met: eliminating Muslim persecution; achieving the dominance of Islam as a way of life throughout the entire world; forcing disbelievers to pay jizya (a tax on non-Muslims); fighting those who oppress the weak and feeble; exacting revenge for the killing of any Muslim; punishing enemies for violating their oaths or treaties; defending Muslim states anywhere in the world; and recapturing occupied Muslim territory. Further, LeT considers any state that has ever experienced Muslim rule to be Islamic territory. In short, it embraces a pan-Islamist rationale for military action. Although the group views the ruling powers in Pakistan as hypocrites, the group does not support revolutionary jihad at home because the struggle in Pakistan “is not a struggle between Islam and disbelief.” According to the LeT tract Why We Do Jihad, “if we declare war against those who have professed Faith, we cannot do war with those who haven’t.” Instead, the group seeks gradual reform through dawa. The aim is to bring the people of Pakistan to LeT’s interpretation of Ahl-e-Hadith Islam and, by doing so, to transform the society in which they live.[Link]

More from Tankel’s testimony to the US Congress House Committee on Homeland Security:

In keeping with LeT’s pan-Islamist ideology some of its militants joined the jihadi caravan after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and fought on multiple open fronts during the 1990s, including in Tajikistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and possibly Chechnya. Its militants have fought in Afghanistan during this decade, and a handful also ventured to Iraq. Most importantly for LeT, is has also been fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1990. The ISI began providing support for the group not long after it entered the Kashmir front, and this assistance was escalating significantly by roughly 1995. Although state support contributed to the group’s devotion to the Kashmir cause, LeT’s leaders have historically viewed Kashmir as the most legitimate open front. They argued Indian-administered Kashmir was the closest occupied land, and observed that the ratio of occupying forces to the population there was one of the highest in the world, meaning this was among the most substantial occupations of Muslim land. Thus, LeT cadres could volunteer to fight on other fronts, but were obligated to fight in Indian-administered Kashmir. However, it would be a mistake to suggest the group’s leaders viewed this simply as a territorial struggle. Rather, they asserted that Hindus were the worst of the polytheists and that the Kashmir conflict is the latest chapter in a Hindu-Muslim struggle that has existed for hundreds of years. Once Kashmir was liberated, they argued, it would serve as a base of operations to conquer India and restore Muslim rule to the Indian subcontinent.[Link]

Unlike the Hizbul Mujahideen, which still retains some Kashmiri component among its militant ranks and is based in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the LeT has no Kashmiri leadership. It is a Punjabi group, based in Pakistani Punjab. Not only has it carried out terror strikes outside Kashmir on the Indian soil — most horrendous being the one in Mumbai in November 2008 — even within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the LeT has been more focused on the non-Kashmir region of Rajauri-Poonch. This focus on the Jammu region of the state is due to the close proximity of Rajauri-Poonch areas to Pakistani Punjab.

The description of LeT as a Kashmiri group is neither borne out of ignorance nor is it a result of laziness. This portrayal is a deliberate ploy by the Pakistan army — and its mouthpieces in the Western media — for two reasons. Firstly, it is to suggest to the West that it should leave the “Kashmiri group” LeT alone as it is not going to target them. This is part of a well-thought out strategy by the Pakistan army to protect its biggest, the most loyal, and the most valuable jehadi asset from the spotlight in the West.

Secondly, bringing  Kashmir into any discussion on terror tends to draw in India into the scheme of things, which many Pakistanis think is a valid justification for supporting terror. This also leads to the hackneyed Pakistani argument that for the Pakistan army to withdraw its active support to terror, India must bow down to this blackmail and make significant concessions to Pakistan: on Kashmir, water, and myriad other bilateral issues.

This casual description of LeT is one of a pack of lies that we have often heard — and ignored — in the Western media and from Western analysts. As Pakistani army comes under greater pressure after the US military operation to eliminate bin Laden in Abbottabad, time has perhaps come to nail these manufactured lies and set the distorted narrative right.

Well tried, dear ISI — i.e., “Inter Services” Ignatius (as my colleague Nitin Pai has christened him). Hope you can do better than this deceitful chicanery next time around.

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Sopore girls: Children of a lesser God?

Guest post by Raheel Khursheed

Sometimes home is best experienced by way of detachment…through picture perfect postcards that don’t capture people’s hypocrisy and your subsequent disappointment by it. Particularly so when your home is Kashmir!  The abduction and murder of two teenaged sisters in Sopore, Akhtara & Arifa, for ‘Moral Turpitude’ as reported by Mail Today News paper by alleged Lashkar terrorists is medieval in its exhibition and impact.

What’s more heart-wrenching is that there have been no protests over the two murders, as say happened over the Shopian alleged rapes & murderers. Not like people are scared of protests! If 15 year old boys can face off a police van and tear it to bits with bricks and stones, they surely can let out a few slogans against what is obviously a grave crime against the very fabric of Kashmiri society by brutal gun-totting terrorists.

If two young Kashmiri women being dragged out of their home and shot dead in cold blood doesn’t shake the conscience of people and evoke condemnation with a wide spread anger, what will?  And yet it’s this collective inability of the Kashmiri people to see, recognise and raise their voice against cutting-across-lines-brutality that this incident has highlighted & underlined. If the cry for justice for the victims of the Shopian alleged double rape & murder rang across Kashmir, why not a similar cry for justice for these two sisters? Or has Kashmir decided that it’s okay for terrorists to abduct and murder its daughters & sisters as long as there’s a convenient label to attach to the heinous crime?

On the contrary, there’s an argument that the murder of these girls is justifiable in the larger ‘Azadi’ narrative. As if ‘Azadi’ is blood thirsty demon that needs the two young sisters sacrificed at it’s altar to quench its sacrificial thirst.

Even as condemnation from separatists has been muted, even main stream political leaders – the notable exception being CM Omar Abdullah – have been apologetic in their reactions to the incident! PDP Chairperson Mehbooba Mufti who visited Shopian at the peak of the protests in the 2008, hasn’t deemed it fit to even issue a strongly worded statement condemning the murders unequivocally, let alone visit the family.

One can’t even begin to imagine the magnitude of protests that would’ve hit Kashmir if there was even a slight hint or indication that the security forces were involved in the incident in any way and the political opportunism that would’ve been on display subsequently.

You can follow @raheelk on Twitter.

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Eight sensible steps on Kashmir

Short but sure strides from the government. A problem for the separatists but an opportunity for Omar Abdullah.

After the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting earlier today, the Government of India announced the eight decisions taken [official press release] by the CCS regarding Jammu & Kashmir. At the outset, one has to commend the government for not getting distracted by the brouhaha surrounding Commonwealth Games fiasco and the impending Ayodhya verdict. It has thus prevented the dissipation of momentum created in its favour by the visit of All Party Delegation (APD) to Kashmir.

These decisions are in no way a solution to the 63-year old Kashmir problem. The APD had got a foot in the door and the CCS has managed to push the door open further by this announcement. The government has made its move; the onus has now shifted on to the separatists to respond to these announcements. Their first reaction shows that it will not be easy for them to craft a response to these measures. The continued obduracy of the separatists — such as sticking to Geelani’s Five-point plan — will rob them of their recently acquired legitimacy outside Kashmir as leaders of Kashmiri youth. Meanwhile, the pressing desire of the average Kashmiri for a return to normalcy will also push the separatists to reconsider their current modus operandi of strikes and shutdowns.

The really astute political move by the government here is its emphasis on the education sector. It has asked the state government to open the schools, conduct extra classes and get the exams conducted on time so that the students do not suffer. Moreover, it has announced a central grant of Rs 100 crore “to schools and colleges for improvements and additions to the existing infrastructure such as class rooms, auditorium, laboratory, library, play ground, toilet complex etc.” Anyone who claims to speak for the Kashmiris, whether it be Geelani or Mirwaiz, cannot afford to denounce this without losing his popularity among the average Kashmiri. It would tantamount to the separatists telling the Kashmiris that they want the Kashmiri youth to remain uneducated and illiterate. But the announcement is the first step. Vikram Sood has rightly warned that the major concern is still about the instruments of delivery and the destination. This is a challenge which Omar Abdullah will have to personally step up to. If he fails now, he is unlikely to get any more chances like this again and thus he must grab this opportunity with both hands.

As for the other announcements, the appointment of two task forces on Jammu and Ladakh is pro forma — to balance out the sensitivities of these two regions of the state. An ex-gratia relief of Rs 5 lakhs for deceased civilians during mob violence is to display the magnanimity of the Indian state — an attempt at creating a more favourable image for itself among Kashmiris. In this regard, Omar Abdullah must put the data about payments made to the NoK of victims on an official website, with images of their receipts, for everyone to see the transparency and speed in making the payments.

As far as the nomination of interlocutors is concerned, one will have to wait for the actual appointments to be made before commenting on the efficacy of the proposal. However, irresepective of the personalities, it will be essential to keep the interlocutions away from media limelight. Serious back-channel negotiations must be conducted with the stakeholders before announcing any public events in full media glare. As the negotiations with the Naga separatists have shown — and with Kashmir having a more complicated history as a intractable politico-religious problem — this is likely to be a long drawn process. The government must dispel any impressions being created in the media of an early resolution to the problem.

The other three steps announced by the government are security measures where the state government will arrive at a final decision in consultation with the Unified Command. Security inputs will be critical here and caution, rather than boldness, must be the watchword here. The security forces — the state police, the central paramilitary forces and the army — have not only borne a brunt of the mob violence in recent months, but have also been instrumental in defeating the armed insurgency in the state in the last few years. They must not get a feeling of being let down, wherein the pressure on the state government to act bold politically or look-good leads to undoing of all the good work done by them over the years. All security responses herein must be calibrated, scalable and reversible — contingent on incidents of mob violence, terror or specific intelligence reports.

Finally, these announcements are a good move by the government. They present a delicate conundrum for the separatists. But even more importantly, they present an opportunity to Omar Abdullah — to re-establish his authority and credibility as a duly-elected leader of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. This perhaps will be the last chance for him politically. He has nothing to lose now.

Now or never, Mr Abdullah! Let us see you pulling it off from here now. Good luck to you, Mr Chief Minister.

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Catch the drift in Kashmir

Amidst the noise over Commonwealth games and Ayodhya verdict, the government must stay focused on Kashmir.

The Indian government has really got its hands full these days. The media is full of stories about how the Commonwealth Games are a national disaster in the making and the Prime Minister has had to now himself take charge of the situation. Then, there is the much-awaited court verdict on the Ayodhya Ram temple-Babri mosque issue which is expected next week now. The Union home ministry has been gearing up for the verdict to prevent any flare-up in communal tension, post-verdict. As the government hops from managing or preventing one crisis from another, it is also confronted with the small matter of preparing for the much-hyped visit to India by President Obama. And then there are the assembly elections in Bihar where the Congress party is trying to seek its revival in the state. Even by India’s standards, this is an unusually packed schedule of events which will attract a lot of — warranted and unwarranted — media attention.

Amidst all this, there is a real danger that there is one situation which will again be allowed to drift due to government’s preoccupation with other things — and that is Kashmir. The recent visit of the All Party Delegation to Kashmir, with its unilateral initiative to reach out to and engage the separatist leadership has evened out the distorted anti-India narrative about Kashmir in the national media. Notwithstanding the public display of bravado by the separatists, their intransigence has placed them under greater public pressure from the Kashmiri awam which wants an early return to normalcy. This quest for normalcy can be gauged by the reported movement of Kashmiri Muslims to Jammu to seek a normal life. Meanwhile, the state government has also stepped-up to the plate by refusing to adhere to, and actively countering, Hurriyat’s calendar of protests and shutdowns in the Valley. This has, for the first time in three months, led Syed Ali Shah Geelani to announce a suspension of his shutdown calendar for two days.

Evidently, the government has finally got its act in place in Kashmir. While this is welcome news, it is merely a good beginning, a foot in the door so to speak. It can not afford to rest over its laurels of winning a small, but significant battle when there is a whole war to be won. The government has to follow it up — continuously and consistently — with more simultaneous action on both the fronts: political and security. The process of political engagement must continue in the Valley as the security forces try to restore law and order in the affected districts.  It must also control the media narrative of building up expectations about some major announcements on Kashmir after every CCS meeting by a better public diplomacy campaign.  They unnecessarily raise hopes and thus create a sense of disappointment in Kashmir, which the separatists then exploit to their advantage.

In the last five years, India has repeatedly failed to avail of the opportunities presented to it in Kashmir by allowing the situation to drift. A similar opportunity has again presented itself in Kashmir now. The cacophony of sounds over Commonwealth games and Ayodhya verdict must not distract the government from staying focused on the challenge in Kashmir. Rather than allow the situation to drift, it better catch the drift…the drift of turning a tricky situation around in Kashmir.

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The wages of stone-pelting

Time to get real about the business of Kashmiri protesters.

In February this year, this blog had spoken about the challenge posed by evolving tactics of stone-pelting in Kashmir to the security forces.

The most critical  aspect of this response is the speed at which the security forces adapt to changing tactics of the protesters. That is the key from preventing this stone-pelting business to turn into a scourge and dominate the narrative in the local media.[link]

Samar Halarnkar, whom no one can ever allege of being biased against the Kashmiri separatists, has a piece on Kashmir in the Hindustan Times. The money-quote — about the stone-pelters — from his piece is here:

Do they do what they do because they believe or does, as the police often allege, money play a part?

“We earned Rs 200 to Rs 300 as daily wage labourers,” says one of a group of masked young stone throwers. “Now we get between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500.” Who pays them?  “The separatists,” one offers. In a quiet, two-room home with open drains outside, 20-year-old street icon, Owais Ahmed ‘Mandela’, freely admits to receiving money. Where does it come from? He shrugs.[Hindustan Times]

Of course, it is not some new earth-shattering discovery that money plays the most important part in this business of stone-pelting in Kashmir. And it was noted by this blog six months ago as well:

Unlike the usual incidents of stone-pelting which are an expression of spontaneous outburst by the protesters, there is substantive evidence to prove that the latest rounds of stone-pelting in Kashmir valley are a well organised racket, a lucrative business being run at the behest of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed separatists.[link]

It is also partly a failure of the Indian government to highlight the realities of these so-called Kashmiri freedom-fighters that has allowed the separatists to portray themselves as victims of the Indian state, whereas they are the real perpetrators of organised violence against the average Kashmiri and the Indian state. Natwar Singh has rightly pointed out:

A word about the media. It is perhaps the most powerful instrumentality available. It can alter perception, provide hope, remove hopelessness. On February 27, 1950 (long before TV arrived), Jawaharlal Nehru, in a letter to the chief ministers, wrote: “I would suggest to you especially to keep in touch with editors of newspapers in your state. It is always a good thing to send for them and have informal off-the-record talks with them. Give them such real news as you possess.”[Business Standard]

A government that professes to uphold the legacy of Nehru could do no better than act on his words. And get the truth out on Kashmir. Fast.

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