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Seventy years of accession

The recent 71st anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India was marked with a routine general strike. The Kashmir valley wore a deserted look as shops and business establishments remained closed and public transport and private vehicles were mostly off the roads.

Government offices remained either closed or partially operational amid thin attendance. Even our local government hospital showed extremely low public attendance. I visited the emergency section for an urgent intervention and there were hardly any people in a place that is usually brimming with all sorts of people seeking medical attention.

Since the public rebellion in the early 1990s, October 27, the day the Indian Army landed at Srinagar after Maharaja Hari Singh apparently signed the Instrument of Accession with India, is marked with a ‘civil curfew’ and a general strike as a sombre reminder of deeply-hurt local sentiments – a clear indicator of the unresolved nature of the problem that Kashmir has come to be known.

Elsewhere, particularly in Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the day is marked by customary public functions filled with fiery and often glum rhetoric from dozens of Kashmiri activists and those associated with the officially-sanctioned façade of the Kashmiri struggle. I have known most of them, if not all, personally and, despite my serious disagreements with almost all of them, can vouch for their commitment and dedication.

But for any struggle, let alone a political resistance movement, to achieve its desired goals, it is important to have a good understanding of not only the situation on the ground, but also the regional and international outlook that plays an important role in any political struggle. I am afraid that has been consistently lacking in the Kashmiri resistance discourse and the political messaging that was offered on the occasion certainly needs a lot of political appreciation from the current political milieu – local, regional and international.

This year, on October 27, Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and head of the United Jihad Council (UJC), addressed a press conference at Muzaffarabad’s Central Press Club. In a show of solidarity, he was flanked by about a dozen commanders from other militant outfits that are represented in the UJC. All these commanders unanimously called on Islamabad to extend “full military support” to them.

Salahuddin, while offering a grim overview of the political and humanitarian situation, asked the “government of Pakistan [to] announce full military support for Kashmiris without wasting even a second”. Beckoning Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to “hear the pleas of Kashmiris in their hearts”, he lamented that Pakistan was begging India for talks despite the Indian government’s “intransigence, haughtiness, and jingoism”. He also dismissed any prospects for a peaceful negotiation, pointing out that Pakistan and India have held more than 150 rounds of talks in the past, but without much result.

While censuring the Pakistani state for failing to bring much-needed global attention to Kashmiri suffering, as highlighted by the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s (UNHCR) report about growing rights violations, he also took a dig at the official Pakistani calendar with respect to commemorating Kashmir. “Remembering Kashmir on two or three occasions in a calendar year is not going to work,” he said.

Salahuddin’s peevishness at Pakistan’s government and its various organs in dealing with Kashmir is not new. He has eloquently articulated his concerns from time to time, though his recent outpouring sounds quite strong. Having known him personally for more than three decades, I have heard him express his feelings and concerns very bluntly and directly on a number of occasions. Although he is known as a top-ranking resistance commander, I have known him as a balanced man who is more inclined towards seeking solutions through active political and personal engagements rather than through force.

But since the murder of Burhan Wani in mid-2016, followed by mass public rebellion and resultant state brutality, the septuagenarian UJC head has issued several calls for abandoning any dialogue and seeking a solution through the barrel of the gun.

At the recent Muzaffarabad presser, Salahuddin suggested that only a state-wide armed struggle can bring India to the table. “I wish every Kashmiri take[s] up arms against India, including my own children,” he said. At another press conference at Muzaffarabad two years ago, Salahuddin had said that, “Pakistan should militarily support Kashmiris by providing resources to the mujahideen”. There is little doubt that the situation on the ground is so hopeless that there doesn’t seem to be any flicker of hope, let alone a solution, pushing more and more youth to the brink.

It is no wonder that even now PhD scholars and university teachers are abandoning their chosen fields of inquiry and intellectual pursuit to join the pro-freedom armed resistance. In the last month, two of the top-ranking HM commanders and former PhD scholars were killed in cordon operations by the military forces.

Regardless, such calls for military intervention by Pakistan or expanding the militant resistance movement are thoroughly erroneous and extremely dangerous. They will further escalate the humanitarian suffering of the people of Kashmir, complicate the already fragile political environment, and expand the theatre of risk and danger beyond the confines of Jammu and Kashmir.

As a participant observer of the Kashmiri movement, Salahuddin has personally witnessed the trajectory of the Kashmiri rights movement and seen how over-reliance on militancy has compromised its spirit and manipulated its direction. While militancy may be a means to focus attention on Kashmir, it cannot bring about a permanent solution. For that to happen, we can only bank upon the force of political negotiations. We need a well-grounded strategic plan and not an irresponsible fiery rhetoric that seeks to exacerbate the situation on the ground.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

Murtaza Shibli, "Seventy years of accession," The news. 2018-11-03.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social aspects , Social needs , Social issues , Political issues , Political crisis , Political leaders , History-Kashmir , Society-Kahsmir , International issue , Politics , Human rights , Imran Khan , Syed Salahuddin , India , Pakistan , Kashmir , UNHCR , HM