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Sense from Srinagar

Time, circumstances and even the post-pandemic desperation have led to an unprecedented portent of ‘normalcy’ with a flood of tourists stampeding the Kashmiri tourist sites.


I write directly from Srinagar with a deep sense of anger, unvanquished pain and oddly enough, even hope. 

Having served in a garrison township near Jammu in the early 1990s, one personally witnessed droves of fleeing Kashmiris Pandits making a hapless dash to safer confines and setting up their first encampments in close proximity. The insurgent movement in the Valley had then recently got weaponised and bloody terrorism had been unleashed ~ one flagship terror group was all-pervasive then, the so-called Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), back-ended by its Pakistan-based ideologue Amanullah Khan, and front-ended by the likes of Yasin Malik. 

The trigger for the full-on armed insurgency was the kidnapping of Rubiya Sayeed (sister of Mehbooba Sayeed), and this too was undertaken by the JKLF besides other terror activities, most personally for all service-men, the murder of four Indian Air Force brothers-in-arm, at Rawalpora. 

By the mid-nineties, I returned to command troops in the Valley at the peak of violence, mayhem, and brazen support from Pakistan. The valley was in the throes of violent protests, attacks and civic unrest that tested the resilience of the ‘Idea of India’ ~ we caught Pakistani terrorists, weaponry and locally trained militants trained in camps just across the LOC. 

Benazir Bhutto was then into her second term and had by then realised that political one-upmanship over Nawaz Sharif could not be through pacifist moorings but by reverting to the ‘Zia-esque’ tactic of exporting pernicious religious extremism. In her Interior Minister, Naseerullah Babar (retired Major General), Benazir had incubated the idea of the ‘Taliban’, even though the infamous Lt Gen Hamid Gul preferred to own the title of ‘father of the Taliban’. Later, like her father, Benazir too would succumb to self-created forces -Zia-ul-Haq in the case of Zulfiqar Bhutto, and the religious extremists in the case of Benazir. Importantly, Pakistan had also started steering the narrative of insurgent movement in the Valley from the ‘liberation’ stand of JKLF towards decidedly pro-Pakistan groups like Hizbul Mujaheddin that sought integration with Pakistan. 

Almost immediately, JKLF was de-prioritised by the shadowy ISI in favour of hardline Islamist groups which led to intra-group intrigues and breakaways of cadres. Sufistic Kashmiriyat in the Valley seceded space to alien strains of Salafism. Incredulously, after having initiated the bloodbath in the Valley, an out-of-favour Yasin Malik, supposedly ‘renounced’ violence and took up a ‘democratic approach’ ~ I vividly recollect the sense of revulsion felt at the clearly insincere change of track by someone who had some much to account for. 

But the military focused on its duties with the hope that the other arms of governance like the judiciary, administrators, local politicians, and ‘Delhi’ would do their part to handle the situation. Sadly, peace remained elusive and only the Indian military remained steadfast with their voluntary sense of ‘unlimited liability’ in ensuring the territorial integrity of the nation, very often by paying the ‘ultimate price’. As for the politicians of ‘Delhi’ and ‘Srinagar’ ~ only the names, flags and permutation/combination of coalitions changed, essentially all remained mired in protecting their rotten boroughs or pursuing their partisan agendas, without exception. 

Those like Yasin Malik, who had been used and deprioritized by mentors in Pakistan, soon found a new calling as the hydra-headed financers, spokespersons and amplifiers of the secessionist agenda, albeit under the fake pretence of disavowed violence. Repeatedly, Yasin cocked a snook at sovereign sensibilities and patience by issuing most vile and untrue statements as also provocative actions like sharing a stage with terrorist and mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack, Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed (recently sentenced to 31 years in prison for terror financing, ironically in Pakistan!). While the local ground situation in Kashmir and the geopolitics of Islamic extremism mutated with its own suggestions, common Kashmiris started recalibrating their definitive opinions towards their own dynast political families and of terror-tainted leaders like Yasin Malik ~ a realisation of the terrible cost inflicted by their selfish agendas was coming home to roost. 

However, this is not to suggest any rebounding of warmth towards Delhi, as ‘Delhi’ too remained consumed by its own partisan agenda, and the distance between the common Kashmiri and Delhi remained as distant, if not greater. Time, circumstances and even the post-pandemic desperation have led to an unprecedented portent of ‘normalcy’ with a flood of tourists stampeding the Kashmiri tourist sites. With the military having controlled the militancy infrastructure, an opportunity for the politico-administrative intervention beckons, yet again. Will the healings of a constitutional embrace further the cause of ‘normalcy’ towards bridging the local disaffection, beyond the one compelled by economic desperation? Only time will tell. Currently, locals are dis- enchanted with dynast regional parties (also with Delhi), but importantly seek sustained ‘normalcy’ and dignity (read as tiring of violence and non-inclusion). 

Amidst this flicker of hope, came the news of Yasin Malik’s sentencing and the shut-down of Srinagar. I engaged the locals to assess their emotions and realised that almost all yearned for ‘normalcy’ and not for escalation, and remained crucially ambivalent at Yasin’s relevance, personally. Yet the psychological distance from Delhi led to the lowering of shutters and feeble protests. Clearly, the mirage of Pakistan is exposed locally with its own imploding narrative and optics, and therefore the fundamental perceptions of those like Yasin who suggest otherwise struggle to resonate, anymore. 

The recent murderous attack on Police Constable Saifullah Qadri and TV actor Ambereen Bhat by militants was met with widespread condemnation. In times like now, it is important to ‘include’ and not ‘exclude’ the common Kashmiri in the national dis- course with words and action that do not mock or auto-equate them with the likes of Yasin Malik and his ilk. The incorrigibly shameful saga of Yasin Malik was echoed by his wife (a Pakistani) who tweeted against the rather accommodative sentence by the court, ‘even if there is no evidence against the accused’ – this when Yasin had already accepted his complicity! 

Therefore, it is extremely important not to insinuate that every Kashmiri is a Yasin Malik by displaying triumphalism or misplaced jingoism as is often done by popular media ~ a terrorist has been duly sentenced (perhaps not enough, but that is for the courts to adjudicate), and a true, widespread and long-lasting ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir would be the ultimate sentence against Pakistan and its operatives in the Valley. 


(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)