By Sanjay Jha

Prudent writing demands that you build a strong credible case before making your conclusive judgment; but as far as Kashmir is concerned, strangely enough, the reverse applies after several decades of flimsy, half-baked, wishy-washy failed endeavors. Let me be brutally honest, the only way we will actually move forward on the Kashmir problem after a gargantuan  63 years of wasted opportunities , mindless deaths, massive defense expenditure, three wars and a Kargil,  and continuous tensions, is if India has a Prime Minister who has the honesty of his innermost convictions to state the obvious publicly,  with an intrepid self-belief : “ There will be no Azaadi ; Kashmir is and will be under any and all circumstances a full and integral part of India. Now let us talk”. By choosing to postpone the inevitable over several years , the Indian government has actually cemented a false hope of nationhood amongst the Kashmiri people, which will inevitably lead to disastrous political consequences.  It is already happening.

I personally thought the much-hyped all-political party meet yesterday was a monumental flop, a colossal failure.  In tangible terms, what did it achieve? Absolutely nothing, other than  a feel-good synthetic appearance of frail-unity whose expiry date was till 9 pm IST September 15th 2010. This naïve, preposterous, nebulous hogwash about “ autonomy within the Indian constitutional frame work”  is such boring done-to-death cliché, its sounding hilarious. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was still raving and ranting , and one almost deciphered a mischievous arrogance in his demeanor, and of course, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is as consistently ambiguous as they come.  Frankly, who does PM Manmohan Singh want to talk to and what is his big magical prescription for a Kashmir “breakthrough”?  If despite having a legitimate elected presence in the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly and an apparently young-minded pragmatic member of the Abdullah family at the helm of affairs we have achieved a huge naught, other than a day of sunshine sight-seeing of the Dal Lake, what really is meeting the “ average Kashmiri in his own household” really going to achieve when the all-political party delegation descends on Srinagar ?

“ I have a huge double-storey mansion  in Srinagar. It houses over 12-15 rooms, which is no big deal. We have not lived in it for two decades now . What do we go back for? No, the cops, security forces and militants are not occupying it. It is lying idle, depreciating away into nothingness. I visited it sometime back, and all I came back was with memories. Of a family and a home that was once ours”. This is a statement of a Kashmiri Pandit  ( he spoke to me a few weeks ago ago) who fled the beautiful Valley when the restrained tolerance of once transformed into virulent hatred for the “minority community” . I write this because the divisive forces have since even threatened Sikhs into leaving their ancestral homes. And expectedly the acquisitive, two-faced Chinese are calculatedly adding fuel to fire. India largely through its extraordinarily unimaginative and uninspiring Kashmir policy and myopic reactionary attitude is creating a smoldering problem at its doorstep. It is time to act. Conflagration tends to spread rather rapidly, even to neighboring states.

Just why are we perennially prevaricating on Kashmir; is it really such an unmanageable  complex puzzle or are we plain incompetent in handling a delicate situation which requires judicious, astute thinking singularly missing in our political leadership? Was the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tactically thoughtless in succumbing to the good ole’ soft talk of “ limited autonomy under our constitutional framework  ? ” to assuage stone-pelters and an assortment of disgruntled militant groups? Just why can’t the Indian government ever learn from its mistakes?


The crucial difference between our difficult  neighbor and us is that the Pakistani establishment has an uncomplicated united stand on Kashmir; there are no fractured  internal differences of the kind we face. In India, we present an incoherent picture, pregnant with not just a confused stance, but worse, a politically divided fraternity. The opportunistic ultra-vocal “ Azad Kashmir “ proponents have been blatantly exploiting this wide crevasse over several decades. They know we have serious ideological conflicts within which provides them with sufficient fodder  for political manipulation. The way-out , honestly, is an all-India national consensus on the  practically obsolete yet strangely treated as a consecrated edifice; the Article 370. Our political leadership appears characteristically muddled, hence the insouciant ease with which multiple militant groups have dexterously incited  Kashmiri anger at will, parading their inflammatory cries before international TV crews and human rights groups,  exaggerating every minor incident , frequently faked, into a national calamity. There is an overt attempt to make Gulmarg into a Gaza , no matter how ridiculously stretched. When our house internally is not in order, we are highly susceptible to external incitement. And we have still done nothing.


The two principal parties of India , in particular the Congress and BJP , need to do a serious assessment on Kashmir devoid of vote-bank politics; for heaven’s sake, we are talking national security and geographical transgression by inimical neighbors here, aren’t we? . In simple brasstacks,  we need to relook Article 370. The major political parties need to recognize that the need of the hour is Kashmir’s inevitable integration into India while simultaneously assuaging a natural resistance from a misled population, and not entertain impractical deliberations on a separate identity,

Article 370 has actually led to Kashmir’s isolation from mainland India and a creeping proximity to Pakistan on account of both contiguous borders and common religious faith. Frankly, this myopic policy ( hurriedly conceived ) engenders a perpetuation of the Kashmir problem.  63 years is ample testimony of a failed policy.


Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’ s rather farcical solicitude for Abdullah Ahad Jan ,  the celebrity shoe-thrower revealed the synthetic forces in command operation in Kashmir. Omar considered that televised forgiveness his project of public reconciliation, when he should have been fully aware that such token symbolism is only a momentary distraction for hard-boiled diabolical anti-national forces operating from behind dark veils and dishing hate speeches using modern technology.  A few hours later Ahad Jan was unabashedly  showcasing his immoral, deceptive charade before cheering crowds, as the intrepid inspiring face of Azad Kashmir. In recent times, one of the most repugnant double-faced about-turns that I have seen.

Some legacies are an insurmountable baggage perhaps and maybe  Farooq Abdullah’s motorcycle rides at Pahalgam with Bollywood heroines while Kashmir simmered is still etched deep in many minds. Farooq’s  mystifying underestimation of the common man’s grievances has been often articulated. Omar needs to realize he is battling an elephantine negative “ family” perception, but being hamstrung by one’s own inner demons does not help. A leader who does not take risks is like a swimmer who does not kick his legs in water; certain drowning can be forecasted.


All those over-excited Kashmir analysts who says a few body hugs, hospital visits, warm arm over- the- shoulder ex-pressions of compassion  and semi-circle meetings will solve the Kashmir problem, miss the core essence of people engagement.  Sure, one needs to show genuine concern, but a sympathy drive is a two-way street. Kashmir needs reciprocal ground-level understanding for both innocent victims and hapless security forces. We need to empathize with both our security personnel for their difficult day- to- day existence facing incessant treacherous attacks from well protected adversaries , and the ordinary  Kashmiri who feels the state has become an impersonal leviathan ,  a cold military establishment . Empathy , like charity, though begins from home.

We need to rotate the Kashmiri defense postings at a higher frequency to reduce fatigue and job  stress which can lead to serious lapses. The defense forces should also receive appropriate training to handle various forms of people-protest, after all every situation needs a different panacea. Can anyone guarantee peace if the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is even partially withdrawn? Are we perhaps playing into Pakistan’s hands, and those hard-line groups in the Valley?


A contemptible self-inflicted failure has been the alleged corruption in misusing local resources and government funds allocated for developmental and distributive purposes. I maintain that successive ruling formations have allowed their credibility to be eroded on account of disingenuous ham-handed governance. Kashmir needs a strong Lokayukta with wide-ranging powers for a pro-active intervention ; a trouble-shooter for attending to local grievances beyond the current administrative structure. Instilling confidence is an immediate and  long-term requirement.

The Chief Minister’s entire schedule must be spent on touring the Valley and holding both pre-organised and impromptu meetings with the common man; good intentions need to be effectively practiced, or else the middling vacuum is conveniently occupied by militants. The latter are the new power-brokers whose black Kalashnikovs could surface the moment AFSPA is withdrawn..


The Chief Minister  should not be seen earning frequent flier points en route to  Delhi ; this has been Kashmir’s  perpetual grouse. In fact, it should be the other way round. If the Abdullah’s are seen as “Delhi’s agents” , let us truly accord reverential status and instead strengthen the hands of young Omar; let the Prime Minister visit Kashmir at least twice in a year and  the Home Minister once every quarter. Delhi needs to strengthen Abdullah by being his guardian angel and not just a numbers-based political ally . Noted columnist Prem Shankar Jha’s suggestion to impose Governor’s Rule on Kashmir should teach us all a clear lesson; Kashmir is a tricky terrain and even veteran Kashmir experts are prone to a suicidal somersault over the precipice. I disagree with Jha: it  would make a mockery of the democratically held state elections and push India into the same turbulence of the mid-1980s. It would be like walking into a lion’s den with full fanfare announcing imminent arrival.


The media was once blamed for only reporting  government sponsored story. It has now ,unfortunately , swung to the other side of the pendulum. I think the security apparatus is continuously castigated for its occasional excesses, without fair trial.. Just because the BSF and CRPF  holds a gun does not necessarily make him a deliberate violator instigating trouble. Let us be honest, for every incident of alleged indiscretion aren’t there several cases of calculated  framed propaganda against the law enforcement personnel with damaging repercussions on their morale, like false rape claims? Are we presuming our defense teams guilty now by sheer default following an accusation ? To every supposed carnage, there are always two-sides, the provoked and the provocateur.

The Government  must engage the private media channels through frequent dialogue to ensure  transparent media dissemination to prevent disinformation and unwarranted panic.


What the government could do is to create  a strong Muslim Task Force from all fields  comprising of  teachers, scholars and intellectuals , media-professionals,  authors,  religious leaders, businessmen, social activists, student leaders, sports stars, even Bollywood actors and well-respected politicians. I think the best emissary of a secular India is someone like an  Aziz Premji, founder of Wipro, a shining manifestation of the country’s rising new graph.

This Task Force could embody assimilation through dialogue, discussion and debate and balance out the misguided message from militant’s wild  rhetoric. The average Kashmiri is much better off than this Muslim counterpart elsewhere in any state on per capita income basis; is he even aware of it?  Why are we so acutely defensive in promoting our secular qualifications ? .


The truth is that Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech talking of limited autonomy once again revealed our tactlessness in handling Kashmir. The PM on the contrary must repeatedly reiterate at every potential opportunity that Kashmir is non-negotiable and that Azadi is nothing but a hollow cry by disaffected elements seeking narrow parochial gains in the most pampered state of  our country. They are living in a fool’s paradise, needs to be unequivocally communicated. There is evident softness in our approach and thus multiple militant outfits outgun each other contemplating their own designs of a national flag at Srinagar one day.  Kashmir needs a strategic overview from the highest levels in India , not just short- term tactical reactionary ploys.


Kashmir will benefit more from a public-private partnership model than merely state investments; it will facilitate greater inclusion. The net accretion to Kashmir’s growth can be enhanced manifolds if it benefits from India’s giant strides in the economic/commercial sphere. It is preposterous to believe that mere tourism and local crafts can sustain an economy; its youth need multiple new vistas for livelihood.  I think the high-powered panel named to look into job creation is a correct step, but they must revert within defined timelines .

I asked my Kashmiri Pandit friend: Which Kashmiri restaurant do you recommend for a visit?

He scratched his head before saying: There is one. Just one, really, which is truly Kashmiri.

In the city of Mumbai, our great national melting pot there is just one Kashmiri restaurant in its crowded suburbs. In most parts of India, you will find none. And therein lies a tale.



    (Sabbah Haji is based in Doda City and works with schools in Jammu and Kashmir. This is her idea of what it is to be a young Kashmiri.)

    I am a child of the 80s. As if the horror of growing up with puffy hair, polka dots, padded shoulders, punk rock, Wham!, Madonna, Mithun-da and Bappi Lahiri was not enough, I had to deal with the additional burden of being a Kashmiri.

    But what does that even mean? ‘Let Us Understand,’ as my NCERT maths textbook used to say.

    We call ourselves Kashmiris because we can’t say ‘Jammu and Kashmiris’ without sounding silly. Also, we speak Kashmiri. So that’s our identity.

    I am now 28. Even today, each time I have to fill a form asking for my ‘nationality’, I hesitate before eventually writing ‘Indian’. That’s about 20 years of hesitating over the same point, because yes, even at 8, I knew something was rotten in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

    No one in Kashmir drills their children with ‘Azaadi’ mantras and anti-establishment behaviour. Somewhere between infancy and childhood, I had picked up unwittingly on what most of my family and people felt. Just like that it was part of me.

    I am from the Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir. Growing up I constantly felt the strong anti-India sentiment running throughout the region. India was personified in its heartless governance and its troops — far too many in civilian areas and in our daily lives for us to understand. I began to notice how my people were treated by the ‘outsiders’, the men in uniform, the army/CRPF/BSF/what-have-you. I saw family members, men especially, being picked on all the time. Women being subject to very unwelcome attention that we didn’t like. There was a dark, dark period of disappearances, crackdowns, curfews, torture, deaths and misery.

    In these years I also saw the havoc wreaked by violent militants, mostly non-Kashmiris, whose scare tactics terrified naïve villagers (already bullied by troops) across the region. My house was burned down, relatives killed by these bearded mercenaries desecrating Islam and undermining the Kashmiri struggle in one blow.

    And the Kashmiri Pandit exodus — what a shameful tragedy. India and Pakistan played a huge, unforgivable part in this horrific episode as did those Kashmiris (Muslims and Pandits) who supported communalising the movement, either actively or under threat or coercion. All in all, it was a miserable time. Simultaneous with the misery though, there was a building anger. And I am a net result of that generation of anger.

    I was born and brought up in Dubai. We had a lot of family there as well as other Kashmiris, so it was a very typical Kashmiri upbringing. After Kashmir and Dubai, I have spent a major part of my life in Bangalore, studying, working, growing up and becoming the person I am today. My friends are all Indians, some from army families. They all respect that I have a different opinion from theirs.

    And where do I stand? I love India for its amazing history, culture, languages, geographies, colours, festivals, music, movies and even its accents — but this is the lovable face of India that it shows to its own people, not the India we see in Kashmir. No one respects India’s freedom movement more than Kashmiris. What irks us is that while your Bhagat Singh is a ‘shaheed’ (martyr), while Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is a fierce nationalist, Kashmiris are to be typecast as violent troublemakers and written off for the same ideals and aspiration.

    Here’s the thing: I don’t think of myself as an Indian. Or a Pakistani. It’s as simple as that. You can’t make me feel Indian. Pakistan can’t make me feel Pakistani. It’s what we call the bottom line — most Kashmiris really believe we are not part of either India or Pakistan. That is what the ‘freedom movement’ in Kashmir is all about. Everyone has heard stories of how Indian tourists in Kashmir are often asked by the locals, “Aap Hindustan se hain?” (“You from India?”) Not in anger or anything, just a simple question, like they may ask foreign tourists, “Aap England se hain?” (“Are you from England?”)

    Unlike the previous generation which took to guns, which fell for the easiest trick in the book — religious divide — this generation is different. We are educated, we have seen more, read more and certainly learnt from the blunders of the past.

    The Kashmiri Muslim-Kashmiri Pandit animosity has to end. India has to pull out its troops and do away with AFSPA, DAA and other exploitative laws. The security forces have to be made accountable for the scale of human tragedy they have unleashed in J&K for all these years.

    As to the Pakistan angle, my knowledge of Pakistan is merely bookish, with the exception of what I know of it from Pakistani friends growing up, or watching PTV and their excellent telly dramas. I have never been to Pakistan though I’d love to visit. I love their cricket team, which, looking at their form today is laughable. But really, that’s about it. That’s the extent of our attachment to Pakistan.

    One last point: The only place most Kashmiris can naturally come out to for studying or working is mainland India. So please don’t make us justify that if we are so against India why do we come here. It’s the same as asking me why I have an Indian passport. If there was an alternative I would probably take it. There isn’t.

    Let it be understood that Kashmir’s anti-India stance is not an automatic alignment with Pakistan. Please don’t broadside the Kashmiri movement by throwing the accusation, “Pakistani!” in our faces. We do not accept it. A few might, but a few don’t matter. And majority wins. This is where a referendum comes in. Give us our plebiscite, the one we were promised under the ruling of the United Nations. It’s got something to do with the idea of ‘democracy’, an idea Indians are very proud of. Self-determination is what we want. Then let the chips fall where they may.

    (This article appeared in Hindustan Times )

  2. Here’s the some important issues that the author has missed while parroting the BJP ‘solutions’:

    1. This is a localized protest. It is not the whole of Kashmir erupting in flames. (This does not undermine the seriousness of the issue, but should not be ignored).

    2. The areas where most of these protests is happening is not a stronghold of any of the political parties. That is one of the major reasons why they aren’t able to exert any influence and their pleas fall on deaf ears.

    3. The current congress policy on internal security is simple – law and order is a state subject and should be dealt with by the police. NOT THE ARMY. That is why in many naxal and terrorist prone areas, a new attempt is being made to upgrade the police force to deal with these threats. They are also augmented by the central police forces, with the understanding that all operations will be under the command of the state government. It might take a decade or so for the police force to become capable of handling these kinds of responsibility.

    4. Again, let me repeat – law and order is a state subject. The congress policy is that the states should become adept at handling these issues themselves. That is why the UPA is giving so much latitude to the J&K government and the state governments of the naxal infested areas. In the short term, this might seem like a poor idea because mistakes, serious mistakes, will happen. But once we learn from these, this could be a long term solution that will go a long way to enhance our internal security concerns.

    5. A lot of things are being done behind the scenes.

    6. It is easy to say – lets deal firmly and aggressively with all these protesters and send a ‘message’. This is a perception shared by by many politically illiterate indians too – whenever there is a protest, especially violent, and they don’t relate to the issue they advocate aggression to suppress it. But only a politician truly understands how difficult it is organize a group of people to participate in some kind of political actions, like a protest. We indians are good at shooting our mouth, but ask anyone to take some action – like vote or join a protest – and you’ll get a stream of excuses! When people take actions, the politicians do take notice. If you don’t try to understand the under lying reasons behind why so many people were motivated to participate in this, and just be aggressive towards them, the situation becomes worse.

    That is why the Manmohan Singh government is taking so much pain to let these protesters know that their voice is being heard and something is being done to address their concern.
    (And remember, there are legitimate concerns – people are dying. And however much we would like to blame the protesters alone for this, perhaps they need not have died if the police / CRPF were better trained to handle an angry crowd. Why haven’t any of the local political parties been unable to make in roads and gain the people’s trust in those areas? All these are serious open facts that we just can’t ignore).

    To us common people who are not experiencing the kind of things that these people are feeling and undergoing, it will be hard for us to understand the symbolism of the CM / PM making public statements and organizing all party meets. But for those whom it matter, it DOES mean a lot. Ask the indian muslims how much it meant to them when the Congress mobilized all the other parties and forced the BJP to elect a muslim as the President after the BJP sponsored Gujarat riots and you’ll know what I mean – It was a balm that restored some of their faith in the indian democracy, and gave them hope.

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