Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dont demonise the Indian army in Kashmir

Much outrage is being expressed over a new book, The Meadow, authored by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark which puts the blame on a high profile kidnapping and killing of 5 foreign tourists in Kashmir in the late 90s on the Indian Army and security agencies. The first assumption of course, is that this is indeed true, since as an eminent journalist pointed out in his piece, this has never been spoken about at all - which is a rarity in a world that is notoriously known for "open secrets".

Let us leave that assumption aside and look at the realities.

The fact that Kashmir has been in the throes of a covert and many a time overt war funded and sponsored by Islamic interests abroad (notably our neighbour) is indisputable. This is a reality since the first attempt in 1947 and the last attempt at Kargil in 1999. (Read, India Pakistan and the Secret Jihad by Praveen Swami.) The nature of this overt war has kept pace with the realities of the world. It was open terror in the late 80s and early 90s which resulted in the brutal forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits – a sordid episode unprecedented in independent India. Over time thanks to the patience and persistence of Indian authorities, the relative decline of the neighbour into the abyss of a terrorist state and its occupation with its other border, the worldwide recognition of the terror threat have contributed to the decline of the violent movement. The movement has sought to sustain itself on the basis of other means of outrage as seen in the stone throwing episodes couple of years back, which were proved to have been funded by interests inimical to India. A significant part of this is how with the Fai episode, we have seen how the ISI has cultivated the high and mighty in Indian society for the throwaway price of a few junkets and sought to keep the so called freedom movement alive in the media by saying the right things.

What is clear is this. That the part of the entire J&K state afflicted by this Islamic insurgency is a very small one and is largely reflective of an Islamic movement than a movement based on real democratic freedom (where all religions thrive  and all people are equal etc. - which is my definition of freedom). The driving out of the Pandits has made this clear to everybody. This movement seeks to destroy (whatever little is left of it)  Kashmiriyat and replace it with some version of "Islamiyat". The fact that is one is conflated for the other is a failure of our discourse. The fact is also that there is a significant part of the erstwhile state that is under Pakistan and Chinas control where civil liberties practically do not exist.

There is a long story to be told on this, which many other notable people have pointed out better, but the fact of the matter is this. Counter terrorism is not pretty. Wars have to be fought. As we have seen from Indias own experience – in Punjab or in the Naxal movement earlier – we have had to use all tactics in order to win this war. (After all, the terrorists and their funders do much worse and it is in the governments interest to protect its citizens by whatever means.)

And the Narasimha Rao Government in a way did many things that irreversibly changed the direction of India. And this is perhaps one of them. I don’t know – books typically sensationalize stories a lot for a variety of reasons. But, here is the point, if it were true, it is a feather in the cap of Indian authorities to have carried it out with such precision.

However let us not use the book as an excuse to flog Indian agencies for the atrocities in Kashmir. Or believe that everything that happens there happens at the behest of Indian agencies. The truth is otherwise.

Do remember that until terrorism began, there were no soldiers in the state or the valley. And it would be just another of the many states in India that happen to have an international border.

(Published as an oped in The Pioneer Today with some edits)

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