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My Kashmir: Conflict and the Prospect of Enduring Peace

By Wajahat Habibullah; Vanguard Books Lahore 2009; Pp201


BOOK REVIEW: How India got it wrong in Kashmir —by Khaled Ahmed


Daily Times - Site Edition Sunday, July 05, 2009


Wajahat Habibullah’s view is important because he served as a civil servant in Jammu & Kashmir when it was going through the throes of the insurrection starting 1990. He was the only Muslim in that year’s batch of the Indian Administrative Service, a branch of the All India Services, and the ruling chief minister happened to be a friend of his father’s, which became “the subject of some conjecture in the press gossip”.


The majority of the Jammu and Kashmir population now living within India — more than 5.4 million according to the 2001 census — are in the Kashmir Valley, known as the Kashmir Division. The Kashmiri language, spoken in the valley and in the areas immediately abutting it, is a Dardic language. The second major component is the Jammu Division, with a population of just under 4.4 million, more than 60 percent Hindu and 30 percent Muslim — the latter forming a majority in three of Jammu’s six districts with languages that are variations of Punjabi, distinct from Kashmiri.


The third component of Jammu and Kashmir, though administratively under the Kashmir Division, is Ladakh (population 233,000), the largest of the three in area, with a slim Muslim majority, mostly Shia, in contrast to predominantly Sunni Kashmir. One of Ladakh’s two districts, Kargil, theatre of war between India and Pakistan in 1999, is predominantly Shia Muslim (73 percent), as is adjoining Baltistan in the Northern Area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The district of Leh, to the south, has a Buddhist majority. (p.7)


Habibullah is disturbed by Pakistanis’ newfound contempt for the tolerant Sufi culture in Islam. He writes: “In November 2003, while talking to a group of Pakistani Americans in Washington, DC, over an iftar, I was surprised to learn of the Pakistani Americans’ low regard for the influence the Sufi shrines still exert over common folk in India and Pakistan. The general feeling was that these shrines were the haunts of deluded illiterates and instruments for extortion by avaricious con men. Although many Indians, Muslims as well as Hindus, look askance at the extortion in the guise of religion that occurs at several Sufi shrines — identical to what occurs at many Hindu temples — the Indian intelligentsia does not view the shrines with the same contempt expressed by the Pakistani intelligentsia.” (p.17)


The author is clear about why Sheikh Abdullah, the charismatic leader of J&K, did not join Muslim Pakistan: “As a National Conference leader, Sheikh Abdullah faced a clear choice: he could join a Muslim nation whose leadership would surely be Punjabi, a people whom Kashmiris feared and distrusted and who were unlikely to respect the distinct religious tradition and identity of Kashmiris. Alternatively, he could join a secular state, where Kashmiris would be assured freedom in a new nation and the source of those assurances of freedom was someone of Kashmiri descent, who cherished that heritage and was a personal friend of the Sheikh’s, with an inclusive vision of what India was to be.” (p.19)


India had its first war with Pakistan immediately after Independence, after it moved to annex J&K. Nehru went to the UN for justice but got an in-between verdict from the Security Council. The UN Resolution of August 13, 1948, called for determination of the future status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir; it was qualified by the resolution of January 5, 1949 which called for a plebiscite to determine the future of Jammu and Kashmir, with the limited choice of opting either to be a part of India or of Pakistan.


This also caused the first wrinkle to appear in the Abdullah-Nehru friendship. In May 1953, the National Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah, set up a committee to address the prevailing uncertainty and explore the feasibility of a plebiscite, allowing also for the third option of independence. That committee included Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, GM Sadiq, Girdharilal Dogra, and Shamlal Saraf, many o whom went on to serve in government (p.21)


The book reveals another cause for the disturbance in the New Delhi dovecotes. What is said to have particularly incensed the Indian government were Abdullah’s two meetings in Srinagar with Adlai Stevenson, the recently defeated US Democratic presidential candidate. Supposedly, Stevenson urged the Sheikh to opt for independence, perhaps in return for US bases in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah was arrested on charges of treason in August 1953. (p.22) The ‘third option’ which is reality in 2009 could thus be the seed sown by Sheikh Abdullah and watered by the Americans.


The Sheikh was arrested in 1953 without even the opportunity to bid his family farewell. He was released in 1958, only to be arrested again. Released in 1964 as part of Prime Minister Nehru’s final effort to settle Kashmir, the Sheikh visited President Ayub Khan in Pakistan. But he was arrested again in the summer of 1965 on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca. Released in 1967, he was detained once more in 1968, when his political activism for greater autonomy was perceived as a threat by Indira Gandhi’s Congress government. He was finally returned to power in February 1975 after a November 1974 Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi Accord. (p.33)


When Sheikh was restored to power in 1975, wealthy Kashmiri businesses were eager to assist the government, but the Sheikh’s political support was largely limited to the Kashmir Valley. Further support would have to be bought. Thus, the Bakshi tradition — which the Sheikh had re turned to power on a pledge to eradicate — not only persisted but was relied upon. There was growing corruption in the Abdullah government that lasted from 1975 to 1977. (p.47)


The author was deputy commissioner when the 1977 election came around. All the deputy commissioners in Kashmir were given orders requiring that leading National Conference volunteers be arrested under the Preventive Detention Act, which permitted detention without trial. Under the law, the deputy commissioner, as signatory of the arrest warrant, was expected to exercise judgement in reviewing grounds, and the detention had to withstand the scrutiny of a judicial review. (p.39)


After Sheikh Abdullah, New Delhi had to deal with his son Farooq Abdullah. The relationship soon went sour. Indira Gandhi’s cousin, BK Nehru, governor of Jammu and Kashmir since 1981, had advised against unseating Farooq. BK was replaced in April 1984 by Governor Jagmohan who advised that popular rule be replaced by governor’s rule under Article 92 of the Constitution. The overthrow of Farooq’s government in 1984 was reminiscent of the events of 1953, down to the collusion of his cohorts with the ruling party at the centre.


Did violence against Kashmiri Pandits begin after Pakistan sent in its non-state actors? The book tells us that it actually began in 1986, with the Rajiv Gandhi government in its infancy. The most remarkable aspect of this outbreak was that even though the community had faced persecution by bigoted rulers in the past, this marked the first person-to-person conflict in all of Kashmir’s history (p.55).


This is new information for a Pakistani reader. Also new is the fact that many Muslim clerics fled anti-Muslim violence in Assam and filled up the Kashmiri madrassas run Jamaat Islami. They became a potent influence on young minds and played a critical role in nurturing the religious mind-set of young Kashmiris by the close of the 1980s, when the insurgency erupted. (p.57)


Just as the elections of 1977 were a referendum on the Indira-Sheikh Accord, the state assembly elections in March 1987 were a referendum on the Rajiv-Farooq Accord. The alliance was returned to power with an overwhelming majority: sixty-six seats between the two parties, forty for the National Conference and twenty-six for the Congress party.


The elections were partly rigged but this decided the career of Syed Yusuf Shah, the discomfited candidate in the Amira Kadal constituency in 1987, who went on, under the nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, to become head of the militant Hizbul Mujahideen. (p.63) Note the observation: ‘partly rigged’. This is definitely not the way Syed Salahuddin looked at what happened in 1987.


What is surprising is the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits were attacked by the JKLF and not by the mullahs of the Jamaat. Even though the JKLF philosophy was supposedly secular, minuscule minority of the pandits from the Kashmir Valley became the principal targets of terrorists from both JKLF, and the violence sparked emigration of almost the entire Pandit community from the valley into Jammu and different parts of India. (p.66)


For Habibullah, the insurgency of March 1988 was caused by disillusionment, carefully nurtured and armed by the ubiquitous ISI. It led to an outflow of young men to Pakistan Kashmir and Afghanistan for training in the use of weapons seized from the retreating Soviet armies. The AK-47 became the preferred armament. Among those who took charge of this training was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, ‘a fanatical Afghan warlord and among the bitterest opponents of the USSR’. (p.67)


Then Hizb fell out with JKLF. In April 1993, the chief ideologue of the JKLF, Dr Guru, was kidnapped and brutally murdered by the Hizb militant Zulqarnain. Guru, a leading Srinagar physician who had funded a medical college, had commanded wide respect and presented reasonable face of separatism. (p.82) That year also came the Hazratbal Shrine Incident, followed by a far more damaging debacle at Charar-e-Sharif in March 1995.


Charar-e-Sharif is located near Shopian, District Badgam, in South Kashmir and straddles the ancient route through which the imperial Mughal caravan brought India’s Mughal emperors from Agra or Delhi to the summer retreat in the valley. It is a shrine dedicated to the fourteenth-century saint Sheikh Nooruddin Wali of the Kubravi School of Sufis, known t s Hindu devotees as Nanda Rishi or Sahajanand. Charar Sharif was destroyed in May 1995 and the terrorist Mast Gul escaped to Pakistan to be feted as a hero. (p.94)


The book wants a bit of all the solutions so far at hand: autonomy, Indo-Pak joint handling, and Manmohan Singh’s devolution ‘without changing maps’. Above all, he wants Kashmiri pride assuaged. *

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