The violence and fantasies of ‘the truth’ in Kashmir

The murderous assault on Fazal Haq Qureshi is not unique in its method or in the terror it seeks to provoke. Many Kashmiri activists including Majid Dar, Abdul Ghani Lone and Maulvi Mushtaq were attacked fatally in similar circumstances by ‘unknown’ assailants. What is known and can be fathomed without fail is a clear pattern and method to these incidents. Whenever pro-freedom Kashmiri groups show any signs of resolve to break from the stranglehold of inertia and try to unsettle the status quo, the process is brutally obliterated by employing murder. Commenting on the recent attack, a press statement by the Jammu and Kashmir People’s League makes similar observations, “…whenever there was some progress towards the resolution of the dispute through peaceful means, certain individuals and agencies got unnerved and resorted to such dastardly acts to thwart the process”.

The attack on the senior Hurriyat leader was ostensibly caused by leaked reports that the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had entered into a dialogue with the Indian Government in what was dubbed as ‘quiet diplomacy’, a pretence that did not last long. This led to public accusations of a sell out by the rival Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Geelani. As if wild rumours had been whispered into his ear, Geelani made fiery public pronouncements, devoid of any nuanced understanding of the engagement. This raised a furore and vitiated the atmosphere, which led to the grievous attack on one of the most respected separatist politicians in the valley. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq later said that the “assailants were incited by the provocative statements.”

Regular attacks on the Kashmiri leadership suggest a deep level of sophisticated surveillance that keeps a close track of their moments, and if their political behaviour does not conform to the mood music of those who want to control them, they are intimidated through crude and blunt acts of terrorism. The attack is symptomatic, not only of the failure of the India-Pakistan peace process which has now been stalled for nearly two years, but also a testimony to the dangers the Kashmiri leadership faces from the acrimonious relations between the two countries. Kashmiri leaders are also vulnerable to increasing terrorism from various transnational forces and ideologies that are wreaking havoc in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This makes it more urgent for the Kashmiri leaders to chart their own course of engagement with India without having to wait for Pakistani involvement. Such engagements are important to build political resilience, should Pakistan crumble under the onslaught of the Taliban. Our resilience will minimise the damage to the Kashmiri population and culture from a Taliban spillover if that should occur.

Soon after the initial leaks about ‘quiet diplomacy’ surfaced in late November, Syed Salahuddin, Chairman, United Jihad Council, in an interview with the Greater Kashmir “made it clear that dialogue at any level would be futile”. He also rejected ‘quiet diplomacy’ or ‘secret talks’ as serving no purpose. Similar pronouncements were advanced by Ghulam Mohammad Safi, who leads the Pakistani chapter of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, the party Syed Ali Geelani formed after his split from the Jama’at-e-Islami. Safi, who formerly headed the Hizbul Mujahideen, and was removed from the position following his differences with Syed Salahuddin, added his weight to the opposition by saying no to quiet diplomacy and secret talks. He went further by pronouncing the “Kashmiri leadership had no justification whatsoever to get engaged with any sort of dialogue especially in bilateral talks and that too at secret level”.

The matter might have lapsed, had the Mirwaiz faction agreed to back down at these thinly veiled coercive statements and threats of violence. However, much to my surprise at least, Mirwaiz confidently defended ‘quiet diplomacy’ and gave a clear and unequivocal indication that his organisation intended to continue the process. “Quiet talks are nothing new. Such talks led to the final settlement of Ireland and I believe Kashmiri leaders should not shy away from it”, he told a newspaper. He also defended Musharraf’s Four Point Formula as a first step towards the resolution of the issue. Mirwaiz’s tone and candour signalled a marked shift from his group’s previously maintained position of ‘plausible deniability’. This time, the Hurriyat (M) showed much needed confidence and readiness to accept its role and its desire to continue the political engagement, despite serious and threatening opposition from the Kashmiri militant leadership based in Pakistan.

Mirwaiz’s strong defence of quiet dialogue must have come as a surprise – it exhibited Hurriyat’s determination in its engagement with India. The only way to shake this confidence was violence –” a chosen method of certain agencies that do not want Kashmiris to grow out of their dependency syndrome that has become the main pathogen of Kashmiri politics during the last two decades. By targeting Fazal Haq Qureshi, these agencies tried to send a strong and fatal message, as Qureshi is a spotless Kashmiri leader and a vociferous supporter of dialogue with India. Even after the attack, the condemnation statement by the United Jihad Council slipped benign phrases with threats wrapped around them into the text. It added grim tone to the syntax and grammar of ‘the truth’ that had bloody fingerprints all over it.

Syed Ali Geelani was among the first to condemn the attack on Qureshi, but he showed no remorse over his impulse to create violence with his ‘truth’ that contains ugly undertones of terror. As Qureshi lay struggling for every breath in the intensive care unit of a Srinagar hospital, Geelani, held fast to his version of ‘the truth’, with a chilling public display of this conviction that he will continue to speak regardless of any implications. “I never issue any provocative statement. I only speak the truth and can’t refrain from it to appease anyone”, he said during a public address. Sadly over the years, Geelani Sahib’s truth has lost its humanity, as it occupies an illusory mental space in which the realities of life in Kashmir are elided. The ‘truth’ Geelani sahib proudly presents to the nation wipes out the faith that human life is precious. His truth is devoid of any imagination because it contains no compassion. In a perverse act of triumphalism, Geelani sahib once again claimed to have people’s unequivocal support for his position; during last year’s public demonstrations, he claimed to be the sole leader of Kashmiri struggle, only to apologise later.

Geelani Sahib and his like-minded colleagues sitting in Azad Kashmir are not attuned to the unheard or ‘unofficial’ reality of Kashmir –” which is that Kashmiris are dying without a whimper, and it is therefore only they who can address the problem. If Kashmiris seriously believe they are a party to the dispute, they must act according to their own free will. To acknowledge a formal status of Kashmiris as a party in discussion, does not stop Kashmiris from behaving as the central player and from dealing with India and Pakistan separately and according to the merits of each entity. Kashmiris cannot afford for history to deliver a verdict on their behalf. Nor can they wait for Indian and Pakistani relations to thaw for a purposeful dialogue to start. The mantra of ‘only tri-lateral dialogue’ negates the Kashmiri role and is unrealistic and untenable. There is a long history of bilateral dialogue between New Delhi and the Kashmiri leadership. Sheikh Abdullah’s Indira-Abdullah Accord after Pakistan’s defeat in Bangladesh is a case in point. Regardless of whether Sheikh Abdullah earned a good deal for Kashmiris or for himself, his initiative to move ahead with India was as bold as it was important, and would have gone down relatively well in the annals of history, had the Indian leadership not seen it as a vindication of their colonial attitude. A recent example of successful bilateral negotiations is the granting of a new status to Gilgit-Baltistan and the conduct of peaceful elections. If bilateral dialogue is good enough for Pakistan and people of Gilgit-Baltistan, why should a similar courtesy be denied to Kashmiris?

If my memory does not fail me, Fazal Haq Qureshi is the only leader of his stature to have survived the attack. The report of his slow recovery is a good omen for Kashmiri politics. His attackers must feel defeated as their violence has lost its power over its victims. The attack has invigorated the peace camp in the Hurriyat Conference, because this attack has failed to quell the sentiment that caused it. In its emergency session, Qureshi’s party, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Political Front, reiterated that “the dialogue process was the only effective and civilized way to resolve Kashmir”. The party asserted the attack on Qureshi was motivated by an extremist and fascist mindset, and boldly set out a statement that it will “never surrender before extremism and fascism”. Similarly, the acting Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s League, Mukhtar Ahmad Waza said, “such spineless, un-Islamic and inhuman acts could not deter the Kashmiri leadership’s efforts to settle Kashmir dispute amicably through talks”.

These bold statements are very welcome and timely. It is important that Kashmiri political groups based in Srinagar continue to show responsibility and courage, and open up the rusted ribcage of Kashmiri politics, and overcome the exclusion that has brought nothing but misery and unsettlement to Kashmiri life. They must remove themselves from the ‘truth’ that has reached a deadly cul-de-sac. The recent statements by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and parties like the Jammu and Kashmir People’s League and the People’s Political Front show a new maturity and determination. This confidence must grow further in order to deal with the issues that confront Kashmiri society in an indigenous context. We shall not wait for mythical heroes of untested valour to deliver us. Equally, we shall no more be casualties of a fantasy that masquerades as truth.