Kashmir — Hell of Internal Colonialism

When it comes to Kashmir, official mendacity in India seems to cross all bounds.  So even a prominent member of the Indian Establishment felt that the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent (May 22) open advocacy of “kaante-se-kaanta-nikaalte-hein” (a-thorn-to-remove-a-thorn) counterinsurgency tactics was “terrible” and that he should withdraw his out-of-line statement forthwith.  “You have to neutralise terrorist through terrorist only”, Parrikar had insisted, but the Establishment, which knows only too well that this has been the norm in Kashmir since 1994, obviously doesn’t consider it prudent to admit to it openly.  The Establishment’s propaganda is all too familiar, though it is very hard to effectively counter it, what with big media on its side.  Be that as it may, one should never forget the past — memory has to be kept alive.

Here, of course, memory takes one on a passage to hell.  You cannot but encounter the demons of violence, the devils of rapacity.  But as one goes through the horror, the grotesque and the macabre, one should never lose one’s capacity to reflect, one’s faculty to be in empathy with the feelings of the Kashmiri people.  In a way, the truth about the Indian Establishment is revealed in Kashmir — cruel, destructive and malicious; the lie of Indian democracy is evident in Kashmir.

Take the “terrible” terror-for-terror counterinsurgency tactics that have been practiced with a vengeance in Kashmir since 1994.  Of course, you’d have to go back to what happened in 1953 and the period until 1975 when Kashmir was governed by the Delhi-centred Establishment’s chosen ones from Srinagar; to 1984 (the hanging of Maqbool Butt); and then to the manipulation of the 1987 state assembly elections that denied the Muslim United Front (MUF) the democratic representation that was its due, culminating in the insurgency.  The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front’s (JKLF) leadership of the insurgency didn’t last long, indeed, 1990-92 marked its high points, and then it lost out, but the mass appeal of its goal of independence (neither Pakistan nor India) is still alive and well.

With the decline of the JKLF, another organisation, whose social-political roots were indigenous, came to lead the insurgency — the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM).  Its social and political base came from the Jammu Kashmir Jamaat-e-Islami, which was an important constituent of the MUF that was the victim of the rigging of the 1987 elections.  The HM held on, and together, much better than the JKLF in the face of the brutal counterinsurgency (even today, there are 600,000+ Indian troops, including the paramilitaries and the J&K armed police, in Kashmir).  But when defectors from the insurgents were adopted by the Indian state — they came to be known as “Ikhwanis” — to join the counterinsurgency in large numbers, former militants who knew much more about the militants and their families and sympathisers, and assumed a crucial role, including that of local intelligence, in targeting the latter, the Jamaat had to move away from supporting the HM.  By the beginning of the new millennium, the Indian security forces and the Ikhwanis forced the HM to retreat.  As a WikiLeaks cable of 4 June 2007 puts it: “Ikhwan has a reputation in the Valley for committing brutal human rights abuses — including extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists [insurgents], and their family members, as well as torturing, killing, raping, and extorting Kashmiri civilians suspected of harboring or facilitating terrorists [insurgents].”

The broader testimony of what is one of the world’s most militarised zones is, of course, more grotesque and macabre.  For the period from 1989 onwards, the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons estimate that 8,000 to 10,000 Kashmiris — the earlier Omar Abdullah-headed state government is said to have admitted to a figure of 3,744 in the J&K legislative assembly — were subjected to enforced disappearance and subsequently killed in fake encounters.  But the Indian state and the Establishment are in denial of the enforced disappearances and Indian society is not willing to listen to any of these findings.  The Establishment successfully gets across the idea that “Indian democracy” could never have done such things; indeed, the very victims of the violence are blamed for the violence.  They happen to be Muslims and there are deep prejudices against Muslims; moreover, Pakistan supports them, and the Pakistani state stands discredited for its role in the insurgency.  That many Kashmiris do not want to integrate with Pakistan is never mentioned.  Nevertheless, Pakistan is a legitimate party to the dispute over Kashmir, even as the Kashmiris have the right to decide for themselves.

As part of the Indian state’s propaganda, the mistreatment of the Kashmiri Pandits invariably comes up.  Kashmiri Muslims however believe that the Kashmiri Pandits were not forced to leave; it’s just that they became a political minority because of their support for India, and when the insurgency erupted, they naturally felt insecure and apprehensive, and left.  Of course, the collaborators of the Indian state among them were targeted, not because they were Kashmiri Pandits but because they were Indian-state collaborators, just like the many, many more Kashmiri Muslims who also collaborated with the Indian state and were also targeted by the insurgency.  Nevertheless, non-combatant political collaborators should not have been killed.  And, more generally, the predicament of the Pandits needs to be resolved by the Kashmir national liberation movement.  Opposing sections of the Indian Establishment have been treating the Pandits as pawns in the dirty games of one-upmanship they are constantly engaged in, and right now, the section calling the shots in the union government has floated the idea of Israeli-style, separate Pandit settlements in the Kashmir valley!

Where then does one go from here?  If the Indian Establishment has any respect for democracy and international humanitarian law, the Occupation of Kashmir must end and the perpetrators of the crimes committed, including those who led the institutions responsible for those offences, must be punished.  But with India’s defence minister endorsing “terrorists-to-eliminate-terrorists” counterinsurgency tactics, the home minister backing him, and the chief minister of J&K choosing to remain silent at this crucial moment — the Indian Army is under the defence ministry, the paramilitaries involved report to the union home ministry, and the J&K armed police takes orders from the state government — Kashmir is likely to be more of the hell of internal colonialism than what it already is.

Already, following the Defence Minister’s kaante statement, and emboldened by such official backing, Rashid Billa, an Ikhwan commander and the main culprit in the 5 October 1996 killing of seven members of three families in Sadrakoot Bala in Bandipora district of Kashmir, has, according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, stepped up his intimidation, including life threats, of the petitioners in the case against him in the J&K High Court.  Also, it is significant that all sections of the Kashmir national liberation movement, including the United Jihad Council, have condemned the 25 May attack on the office of BSNL, a state-owned telecom company, in Sopore town in Kashmir in which one civilian was killed and two were injured.  They have also denounced “Lashkar-e-Islam”, the terrorist outfit claiming to have carried out the attack.  Such terrorist groups must be seen in the context of the proliferation of terrorist groups that have been set up to counter and discredit the Kashmir national liberation movement.  Indeed, in the light of incidents like the above, Indian Defence Minister Parrikar’s ominous kaante statement is pregnant with sinister indications.

Bernard D’Mello (bernard@epw.in) is Deputy Editor, Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai.