India is losing Kashmir

Top LeT Commander Abu Qasim Killed In Kashmir
SRINAGAR, – OCTOBER 29: Kashmiri villagers carry the body of top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Abu Qasim during his funeral procession on October 29, 2015 in Bugam district Kulgam some 75 km from Srinagar, Kashmir. Police on Thursday claimed that the most wanted LeT Commander Abu Qasim was killed during an encounter in Khandaypora area of Kulgam district, south Kashmir. (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Kashmir has been simmering in decades of conflict since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The violence reached its peak in the 1980s and ‘90s, when the Pakistan-backed Kashmiri insurgency was at its strongest. By the early 2000s, however, the violence seemed to have abated, and there was hope for a peaceful settlement of the issue. But now, optimism for such a peaceful settlement is dwindling. As Kashmir has seen a resurgence in violence, public support for the insurgency also seems to be increasing. India is losing whatever support it had among the general Kashmiri public, and this trend will continue unless it brings about a radical change in its Kashmir policy.

Following the 1947 partition, the political status of the formerly independent princely state of Kashmir was left largely contested by both Pakistan and India, which led to the establishment of the Line of Control (LoC), dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan after a U.N.-backed ceasefire. However, there were aspirations for political independence among some Kashmiris. By the late 1980s, such aspirations had taken the shape of an armed revolt, backed by Pakistan, against Indian rule in Kashmir. India responded with a massive crackdown on the militants, deploying over half a million soldiers in Kashmir, often leading to grave human rights violations.

The violence of the late 1980s and 1990s, which claimed thousands of lives, began to recede at the beginning of the new millennium, as people gained faith in the dialogue process. In the following decade, militancy-related causalities decreased significantly from 4,507 in 2001 to 377 in 2009. A major factor that contributed to the decline in the violence was the endorsement of the dialogue process by India’s then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which led to the historic Lahore Declaration in 1999, in which both India and Pakistan committed to the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. The repeated efforts of the Vajpayee government to bring the pro-separatist Hurriyat political party and even the Hizbul Mijahideen militant group to the table for talks led to a ceasefire. The option of autonomy within the ambit of the Indian constitution offered by Vajpayee further fed the optimism for a peaceful settlement with India. This political shift resulted in a relative calm over the ensuing years, with tourism and business in Kashmir flourishing.

However, a civilian uprising in 2010 and India’s brutal response signaled a shift in the political climate. In the subsequent years, there has been a new surge in Kashmiri youth taking up arms against the Indian establishment. Most of these young people are educated and come from well-off families in Kashmir. These youths – who are mostly joining Hizbul Mujahideen – are garnering huge support from the general population, and are increasingly attracting more and more peers to join their ranks. The face of this new insurgency has been Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a young, social media-savvy militant who openly poses for pictures with automatic assault rifles in hand and shares them on Facebook, drawing a huge number of sympathetic comments. He has since released audio and video messages inviting other young Kashmiris to join the insurgency and fight the Indian establishment. During a 2011 gunfight in Pulwama in southern Kashmir, locals threw stones and bricks at Indian soldiers in a bid to help a trapped militant escape the cordon. This has become commonplace to the point where security forces have sought to implement Section 144 of India’s criminal procedure code, which prohibits the gathering of people around an “encounter site” within a radius of 1.2 miles. On Feb. 21, local civilians were seen defying these restrictions when they marched towards such an encounter site in the southern town of Pampore, again hurling stones at the security personnel.

In October of last year, Abu Qasim, a top commander of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba – believed to be responsible for several attacks on the Indian Army including the 2013 Hyderpora ambush – was killed. A sea of people attended his funeral procession. Authorities confirmed that militants also attended the funeral and fired a three-volley salute to honor his death. As if this were not enough, people from the villages of Khandaypora and Bugam clashed with each other over “the honor” of burying his body in their respective villages. Then, in November, an armed conflict between militants and the Indian Army broke out in the Manigah forests of Kupwara in Indian-administered Kashmir, lasting 27 days, killing two Indian soldiers, and leaving six others injured. The General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Indian Army’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps stated that the militants were getting supplies from the locals in the area. In yet another incident, nearly 25,000 people attended the funeral procession of Shariq Ahmad Bhat, a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, who was killed in Pulwama district on Jan. 20 of this year. Militants were seen firing their AK-47 rifles in salute. The growing participation of locals in insurgency-related events suggests resurgent support for militancy in Kashmir, which has set alarm bells ringing in the Indian security establishment. The renewed support is so strong that even the president of the Kashmir High Court Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom, recently indicated his support for the insurgency, saying, “We can also use [the] gun as a last resort, and it is no offence under [the] U.N. Charter.”

During a November 2014 visit to Kashmir, discussions with locals revealed that Kashmiris point to the Indian government’s policies for the resurgence in violence. Many were of the opinion that India has not been honest in resolving the political problem of Kashmir. “India asked us to give up arms and come to the table, and we did it. What happened next? Nothing,” said one Kashmiri. “When the situation in Kashmir was bad during the ‘90s, India repeatedly said that dialogue is the way forward to the Kashmir problem and not violence. And now that India has strengthened its hold here, they say there is no political problem at all,” said another.

People usually point to civilian uprisings in 2008, 2009, and 2010 as the major turning points. Local disgruntlement towards India intensified among the general public after hundreds of civilian youths were killed during these protests. India could have done some damage control by punishing the cops involved in shooting at the unarmed protesters and by following the recommendations of a government-appointed panel. Instead, the government chose to disregard the recommendations and continued to insist that Kashmir was an “internal issue.” India’s policies of curbing political space for Kashmiris by keeping the massively popular Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Shabir Shah and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq under constant and repeated detention has further  damaged its reputation with the local population. In September 2015, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had invited Geelani to its annual meeting of foreign ministers in New York – India responded by suspending his passport for four weeks out of concerns that he would have raised the Kashmir issue.

India has repeatedly used the Public Safety Act (PSA) – deemed “a lawless law” by Amnesty International – to detain Kashmiri political leaders like Masrat Alam, who, on Dec. 31, 2015, was arrested for the 31st  time under the law. The detention came immediately after Alam’s release from jail following a High Court order overturning his earlier detention under the same law. In 2015 alone, 634 people, of whom 231 were students and 17 were minors, were arrested for anti-India demonstrations in Kashmir. The demolition of the offices of the Kashmir University Students Union, the imposition of a ban on student politics, and the repeated clampdown on internet and mobile SMS services have alienated Kashmiri youths in particular.

While the Vajpayee government welcomed any opportunities for dialogue – even allowing separatist Hurriyat leaders to hold talks with Pakistan – the current Modi government has taken a different approach. Modi has prohibited the Hurriyat leaders from meeting with Pakistani officials, citing the prohibition as a pre-condition for talks with Pakistan. This resulted in the cancellation of a meeting between the national security advisers of the two countries after Pakistan rejected the pre-condition. To many Kashmiris, India’s insistence on this pre-condition seemed to embody an effort to deny them a voice in the dispute. The repeated calls by various civil society and human rights groups for the repeal of draconian laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) – which gives sweeping impunity to the armed forces of India operating in Kashmir – have been met with a cold shoulder, as the Indian army has staunchly opposed any attempts to repeal it.

These kinds of reprehensible policies that the Indian establishment says are important to maintain peace in Kashmir have produced a disaffected Kashmiri population. And although it may appear to have strengthened its hold, India is losing popular support in Kashmir by sticking to its policy of focusing solely on economic development while maintaining the security status quo. In a vivid illustration of the problem, just a day after Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Kashmir last November and unveiled a $12 billion economic development package for the state, a 22-year-old Kashmiri man, Gowhar Nazir Dar, was killed by the Central Reserve Police Force. The resulting demonstrations carried on for days, with protesters across Kashmir combining to outnumber the attendees of the rally where Modi spoke.

At a time when the Islamic State is threatening to expand into Kashmir ­– even though it has found no buyers there for its message, thus far – there still remains a chance that the angry and agitated people who turn out in huge numbers at militant funerals could fall prey to its propaganda in order to fight the Indian establishment. For India to end this long quagmire of armed conflict with Kashmiris, it must shift away from its current policy and allow political space for Kashmiris. It should repeal its draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Public Safety Act and punish soldiers involved in human rights violations. And, finally, India should work with Kashmiris and Pakistan alike to reach a viable solution so that peace may prevail. But until India realizes the damage it has done, the streets of Kashmir will reverberate with chants in support of its supposed martyrs, much like they did during the funeral procession of Abu Qasim.

This article was Published in Foreign Policy on May 5, 2016

India is Losing Kashmir


And thus shall You be Satisfied

Afzal Guru taken by Police
Afzal Guru taken by Police

December 13th, 2001 , a white Ambassador car breaks through into the Indian Parliament compound in New Delhi . It was not an ordinary or plush ambassador belonging to any of the Ministers in the Parliament, it was rather laden with explosives of huge magnitude, so much so that according to news reports it could have blown the entire Parliament Building and on that were five men inside it, heavily armed with automatic assault rifles and again according to the news sources so much so that they could have engaged a whole battalion of forces. The car slams into the car of Indian Vice President Krishan Kant and soon the five gunmen barge out of the vehicle and start indiscriminate firing. At the end of firing all the gunmen are dead along with seven security personnel and an unfortunate Gardner. The Indian Nation mourns in oblivion, the police and highly frenzied Indian Media comes with apt reflex and charges LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed with LK Advani pronouncing that ” the dead gunmen looked like Pakistanis “. The Nation across the border is intimidated and provoked and the two nuclear arms come close to a war with thousands of troops relocated on the line of control.

Within 2 days of the incident, on 15th December, 2001 the Delhi Police comes with the statement that “it had cracked the case” and declared Afzal Guru, SAR Geelani (Delhi University Lecturer), Shaukat Guru and his wife Afshan Guru as the prime accused. Afzal Guru & Shaukat Guru are arrested in Srinagar and brought to Delhi while the others are arrested in Delhi . During this time the main conspirator according to the Delhi Police Special cell is SAR Geelani who is being accused of teaching the   terrorism after the college classes   and in his free time. (Don Lectured Terror in Free time, Hindustan Times, Dec 17, 2001 ). In the subsequent years of investigation we saw SAR Geelani and Afshan Guru being acquitted of all the charges by the court while Shaukat Guru was handed a 10 year imprisonment and Afzal Guru a Double Capital punishment on August 4, 2005 . The judgment stating that “though there is no direct evidence linking Afzal Guru to any terrorist organization or to the incident, however, based on the cumulative weight-age of circumstantial evidence he is central to the conspiracy and hence his life should become extinct so that the public conscience of people of India be satisfied”.

Curfew implemented in Kashmir
Curfew implemented in Kashmir

Shaukat Guru is released from the prison 9 months prior to the completion of his term and Afzal Guru is executed on Feb 09, 2013 .The case is closed with colorful appreciation and welcomed in different parts of India , people distributing sweets and chanting slogans of victory, claiming of a blessed satisfaction of their conscience! At the same time curfew is imposed in Kashmir (Afzal Guru’s residence), mobile, internet and cable services are snapped off, armored vehicles buzzing in the wee hours of morning, advising people to stay in-doors or face dire consequences if they came out to protest.

Now the question is why would the Kashmiri population protest against his execution when he is convicted of a heinous crime and the answer lies in a 2006   interview   of Afzal Guru with   Vinod K. Jose   in the Tihar Jail where upon being asked what he would want to be remembered as? Afzal answered “As Afzal, as Mohammad Afzal, I am Afzal for Kashmiris and I am Afzal for Indians as-well but the two groups have an entirely conflicting perception of my being. I would naturally trust the judgment of Kashmiri people, not only because I am one among them, but also because they are well aware of the reality I have been through and,  they cannot be misled into believing any distorted version of either a history or an incident “.

What had Afzal been through?

This question is unanimously being ignored by the Indian public who is celebrating his death, and never tried to seek answers to the flaws in the investigation, the contradiction in the Police versions & evidence and never tried to hear the other side of the story. They are usually ignorant of the fact that Afzal Guru was a Medical (MBBS) student at Jhelum Valley Medical College, Srinagar before he dropped out to join JKLF (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) and cross into Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) for arms training in the backdrop of the political upheaval after the execution of JKLF founder Maqbool Butt in Tihar Jail in 1984. Embittered by the political environment of Pakistan he returned back and surrendered before the Magistrate and even got a certificate of clearance from the Army. From now onward like many other surrendered militants Afzal was supposed to present himself before the Army every Sunday and he did so and this is when his ordeal begins. He was forced to work for S.T.F. (State Task Force a branch of Police) by Raja Mohan Rai (JK Policeman) which involved groups of surrendered militants who would give important information about the hideouts of militants to the Army. Afzal would sometimes give small information after threats from Army but never really joined them properly as a member and involved himself in Surgical instrument business with which he started to earn some fortune and thus began the infamous extortion saga that S.T.F. are openly accused of in Kashmir.

At one point Afzal is detained by the S.T.F. personnel for more than 20 days and tortured to pulp, eventually, releasing him after a bribe of 1 Lakh Rupees which his family paid by selling his wife’s jewelry and his newly bought scooter. Afzal is also made a Special Police Officer for a period of 6 months. However, during the custody under S.T.F. Afzal is introduced to another S.T.F. personnel named Tariq who later brings a man called Mohammad to him in Srinagar and asks Afzal to accompany Mohammad to Delhi . (Mohammad is one among the five killed in the incident). Tariq vanishes and Delhi Police Special Cell and courts admit that this important person Tariq has vanished and cannot be tracked down! In his deposition in court Afzal said that Tariq forced me with severe consequences to accompany Mohammad to Delhi saying he has to leave out of India and Tariq was a member of JK Police’s S.T.F. group. Afzal Guru after returning to Srinagar from Delhi was about to board a bus towards his town Sopore when he was arrested and the person who signed his seizure memo was Head constable of Parimpora Police Station, Srinagar, Mohammad Akbar, to whom Afzal had paid a bribe of Five thousand Rupees a year earlier as he had raided his Surgical Instrument shop and claimed the instruments to be fake. Mohammad Akbar later testified about the seizure memo in Delhi court and their in court in his native language Kashmiri he threatened Afzal Guru indirectly saying “that his family was in safe hands” ( at that time it is known that Afzal Guru’s younger brother Hilal Guru was under the illegal detention of SOG (Special Operations Group).

Within days Afzal Guru comes in front of the media at the Tihar Jail and confesses, the interview is broadcast throughout the nation and thus an opinion in the general public is set. The court dismissed the confession stating that it could have been drawn under torture and coercion but at that time the general public had already accepted it as final accord without even questioning the fact that it was given inside jail premises. The Triall court had set the proceedings and the lawyer appointed for him(as Afzal had no money to hire his lawyers) on her own signed certain important documents without consulting Afzal which would later indict him on certain charges before she demanded that she be released as she was hired to be on the team representing SAR Geelani. Triall Court appointed her subordinate as amicus curiae in the case to represent Afzal’s story. However, he never met with Afzal and never really cross-examined the witnesses due to which Afzal protested and demanded to be given any of the four Lawyers that he had enlisted. The broadcast of the confession interview and the media propaganda against him had such influence that no lawyer agreed to represent him and finally court allowed him to cross-examine the witnesses himself at times.

A man with no legal expertise and his in-efficient Lawyer had his case under-represented in the trial court where the charges are stemmed. This had a big impact on Afzal Guru’s fate as he could not counter the Police versions all by himself and eventually got him a Capital Punishment. The Court observed the phone call details as the main evidence which showed that the accused and the slain where in contact before the incident. However, these call details were uncertified computer printouts that could have been manipulated. For instance, the details showed that two calls were being made at exactly the same time from the same SIM from two different mobile phones with different IMEI numbers. Is that possible, well no, not in practical, however, in paper after indoctrination.

Even the mobile phone number 9811489429 that Police claimed to be owned by Afzal and sold to him by another witness named Kamal Kishore on Dec 4, 2001 . This Phone number had been active by Nov 6 even before it was sold to Afzal, a Paradox. The court judgment says that necessarily the SIM card would have been sold before Dec 4 to Afzal contradicting the statement of the witness.

Furthermore, the important arrest memos that are signed while someone is arrested by the witnesses during arrests are highly contradictory. According to police version Afzal and Shaukat were arrested in Srinagar , however, their arrest memos are signed by Bismillah, SAR Geelani’s younger brother who was detained in Delhi at the time. Fishy, the seizure memos (specifying what was seized from a person while being arrested) are signed by Mohammad Akbar in Srinagar while arrest memos are signed in Delhi , another paradox.

According to Police version, the Gurus’ (Afzal & Shaukat) were arrested by the tip-off given by SAR Geelani after Geelani was arrested. However, police records show that Guru cousins were arrested at 5;45 am on Dec.15 while SAR Geelani was arrested at 10Am . A paradox again.

There are many such disturbing contradictions in the Police versions which are vehemently ignored by the Courts and the general public and have been put forth in a book called 13 th December: A Reader (a collection of Articles by different respected Journalists, Writers and Human Rights Activists who were following the case closely and attending the Court hearings). The Delhi Police was found concocting the charges against SAR Geelani and Afshan Guru, however, no body questioned the integrity and credibility of Delhi Police. It is important to remember that this incidence had occurred in the backdrop of 9/11. There was pressure from all direction on the Police to arrest the suspects and produce the charges. Besides, the Indian general Public had feared the worst after such dreadful attack and wanted the perpetrators to be punished as soon as possible. However, that pressure lead to gallows a man who was indirectly related to the incident and if acted, only did so in the periphery while the real directors seem to have escaped the noose. This case left those questions unanswered for everybody to ponder over. The smooth carpet that we see now after 12 years seems to cover the rot underneath and unless the carpet is not turned upside down, I believe the general conscience will wake us in the midst of nights, for a man’s life has been put to gallows for the surface to appear smooth.

Kashmiri Girl Protesters detained in Delhi
Kashmiri Girl Protesters detained in Delhi

On Feb 9, 2013 the Indian Public rejoiced the event and called it a day of Justice. On the same day Afzal Guru’s family and entire Kashmiri population mourned the politically motivated execution and wondered whether Justice will ever be delivered even after his death, at least by returning his remains (Indian government decided to bury Afzal Guru’s body inside the Tihar Jail). Kashmiri students here in Delhi protested at Jantar Mantar, shouting at the peak of their voices that “Justice had been murdered”. The Bajrang Dal (Right Wing Hindu Activists) took cognizance of the protests and attacked the Protestors demanding bullets for them. As the Police came and acted, strangely though, detaining away all the protestors whisking them in a bus while their cries for Justice could be still heard.

Published By Counter Currents on 15th, February, 2013