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Kashmir: A Collective Alienation

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Burhan-the prominent face of young, revived and local militancy in Kashmir valley, is no more today! Killed on July 8, by forces, which resulted in an unforeseen law and order problem and violent social unrest. For the majority of native Kashmiris’ he was an icon of unsuppressed youth demanding justice and adherence to freedom sentiment! Like the previous bloody uprisings of 2008 and 2010, the loss is, once again, huge as over fifty civilian killings resulted in the gory aftermath and hundreds of injured lie groaning in hospitals!

Burhan Muzaffar Wani – merely 22 years old – was in the prime of his youth and much more popular, especially in the southern belt of Kashmir, purely due to his being tech-savvy and having a wider popular support than many lesser known militant commanders in the past. The young boy was called the face of new and young militancy in Kashmir valley and became quite famous due to his liberal use of social media. Security apparatus and media called this social media using militant, the poster-boy of young militancy in Kashmir as he was considered the main recruiter and an attraction to lure young boys to militancy in the valley. The threat of increase in the local militancy still continues even after his death given the unrest, civilians killings, injures and a new wave of uprising in the valley, reacting violently to his death!

Situation from the Ground Zero

The situation on the ground is pathetic and mostly described as war like. While I had gone to the valley for a study on the Amarnath pilgrimage, I got stranded there due to the violent situation that constituted the explosive aftermath of Burhan’s killing. Being a local I interacted with friends and acquaintances around regarding the prevailing situation of uncertainty following the killing. I was learning a new lesson with each uninhibited response; I was getting from ground zero. The highest state of mass alienation, routine killings, deep pessimism about the system and hopelessness with the government and political institution has become a reality. Also the sheer frustration of the masses and anger over the violent and unpredictable situation prevailing is alarming. Most importantly, the legitimising of the all-pervasive culture of violence in the valley is becoming a dangerous trend.

“If twenty more civilians die, Kashmir issue will reach some solution”, said an elderly man. Such thinking reflects that there is a section of society in Kashmir who thinks only violence can solve their issues and more the killings of civilians, more will be the impact. People perceive so because they have been witnessing only violence since the onset of the armed conflict since 1989.A culture of violence has inadvertently shaped up to the core and is being legitimised even by the common masses, for they feel only violence is the way to change the system. They know the history and failure of all other means.

Youth are seeing this as yet another big uprising after the 2010 violent agitation, as both significant and different given the different pattern of violence, intensity of civilian killings, people’s rebellion and violent protests, an undying commitment to resist the brute power and above all, the scale of unmanageable violence and senseless loss of lives and injures.

“I am thirty three years old who has witnessed 2008 unrest and then 2010 unrest and all the other such big and small incidents since 1990s, but this time the situation is different and more dangerous. The valley is burning.” says an Engineering student. The rampant killing spree by forces and oft repeated crisis mishandling and failure of crowed control management has added fuel to the fire. The separatist camp keeps extending the shut down duration and people keep following. Militants keep dying and people gather in thousands for their funerals.

Mass Alienation and No Lessons Learnt by Security Apparatus & State

Undoubtedly, the inevitable fall-out of Burhan’s killing is the huge unrest in itself after the 2008 and 2010 uprisings. How it led to such a violent turn, couldn’t even the establishment guess in time? Why they couldn’t foresee the consequences given past instances is, in itself, quite shocking! Is it again a mere case of crisis mishandling in terms of the lack of following SOPs by security apparatus or the design of the peoples’ protest itself that has made it so violent? Now there are also debates on the ill-equipped and ill-trained forces which brave such protests with least protection available. Why this incident resulted in so many civilian deaths, even time will not tell because even the previous unrests are yet to be probed properly and nothing tangible has come out so far. The masses maintain that hardly anybody has been persecuted for civilian killings till date, be it any uprising in the past. Was killing the Hizb Commander a mistake or a pre-mediated/mature and well thought out strategy that proved too expensive? Perhaps yes. Could he have been captured alive to avoid the crisis or was it really so impossible? Why such an outpouring of mass anger and why so much of growing popular support for militancy in the valley even today? Is this so called movement or anger against the nation growing and why is the reach out to the vulnerable, not being made? Why Kashmiris support militancy and why so much of mass participation and sloganeering on militants’ funerals, are also significant issues that remain to be pondered over?

While the Centre maintains that such kind of reality is because of the vested interests that motivate youth, fuel anger or radicalise them, but the story from the ground seems altogether different! No one is fuelling anger as everyone is already angry and those who could have fuelled it further, are already under house arrest. People are forced to starve inside their homes due to curfew, communication blockade continues without any break and pellets and bullets have wreaked havoc everywhere. Are such acts the sign of the mass alienation that has increased multifold due to bad governance, which New Delhi denies outright or is it again the sentiment of secession from India that never dies down, the stories on the ground are a mixed bag of all this ? New Delhi cannot and should not brush aside every such situation as merely a law and order problem and as a solution announce economic packages or treat unemployment as responsible for the mess but approach youth with a political discourse. Where will it lead us to and where will it end, nobody knows! Why nobody knows because nobody not even the State government is clear about the methods of peace building on the ground but feels the pain only when it reaches the optimum. Are Kashmiri youth really so radically alienated that even death is not a big deal now? Perhaps yes. Because they continue their protests even when they know they may die. The situation that prevails is the writing on the wall and must be taken seriously by the power corridors.

The Sentiment and the Peoples’ Resistance

A local told me that there is a sentiment which can never die down in the valley. There are even youths who want their sisters to marry a boy who is nothing but ‘Tehreek Pasand’ (Movement sympathiser).What has actually shaped such a mentality and mass perception, is a question surely worth pondering over, is it not? Who is doing such perception management in the valley? Analysts only call it Islamic radicalisation but I think it is beyond that. The problem is political and cannot be treated with such labelling time and again. A complete political alienation exists on the ground and no readiness to listen to such angry voices remains a reality.

“The shocking thing to see is the stone versus bullet again and the same civilian causalities. Does it mean people have lost the fear of death and prefer honour and dignity?” questions a businessman. The question that still remains to be answered satisfactorily, is the success of stone pelting as a practice among youth and what leads to such anger time and again, crisis mishandling, use of much force or what? Why hasn’t been stone pelting been curbed so far? Who has failed and who will take responsibility for such a mess time and again? Are stones still the weapon of the weak and pellets/bullets the answer to such anger?

“Even rifles are snatched and to the worst police personnel are kidnapped by protesters. The situation has crossed all limits. People hate local police even a cop was pushed in Jhelum along with his vehicle resulting in his death. It cannot be worst than this. Has police failed local aspirations or is it facing the wrath of past mistakes?” asks a young chap musingly.

“The police feels caught between the devil and the deep sea, masses hate them and bosses push them against us”, emphatically maintains a protester.

Why is the local police, that too highly ill equipped, pitted against the angry mobs every day? Are they really trained to face such situations? I think no.

“The new wave of anger against the system is on its full flair”, says a medical student. Everyone is angry as everyone feels caged, frustrated due to shut downs and blockades, etc.

“The future of Kashmir whatever it may be, but this uprising (he calls it Ragda-3) is the severe one and may turn decisive” says a history student”. Will the state learn some lessons out of such repeated violence? Nobody is sure. There is a sentiment, a secessionist sentiment and an enemy perception that is not going to die down without a proper reach out and a political solution.

Burhan Backlash and the Culture of Violence

Burhans’s death led to many more deaths (over forty five and thousands injured) for his death is treated as a major setback to militancy in Kashmir and a big success for the forces. But the question as much debated in media now is that whether the new recruitment will increase or decrease due to this killing. If the poster boy was killed who will recruit now, some say, the dead Burhan will recruit, for emotion and inspiration may motivate the youth now. Sloganeering is everywhere, some raise pro-freedom slogans, some eulogise Pakistan while some attach religion via religious slogans to the Kashmir’s political issue. Amid this all, killings are routine these days and the people’s sympathy seems to be increasing and violence permanently becoming a part of culture as rightly guessed by eminent sociologist Prof. Dipankar Gupta in one of his recent articles on Kashmir.

“State has power and absolute power this time which is being used against us, we are still not afraid.” preaches a sloganeer defiantly during a protest. The question remains why is the power not used wisely and under control?

As a social analyst and being an insider, one can see a different turn now. People, especially those well educated, feel such killings are a mistake on the part of security forces as far as the bloody fallouts are concerned and therefore calling such killings a big breakthrough or major success, is a folly. State is not enough, public is sensitive and killings are still not replaced with arrests leading to such expensive fallouts. Should forces prefer arrests to encounters, remains a significant debate for the future.

The situation in the valley is obviously tense and everyone is scared. People don’t necessarily fear the security forces but fellow people for everyone has turned a rebel and violence against each other is almost legitimised due to sentiment, emotions and anger. I myself had to rush to the airport for the national capital at 2 am in the night just to escape agitating masses and stone pelting during the day time.

Of Pellets, Bullets and Political Appeals of Peace

Despite the appeals of maintaining peace by Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister and the CM, peace is yet to return to the valley that always keeps waiting for a tipping point to burn. Will only peace appeals do when so much needs to be done on the ground in every perspective be they Human Rights concern, political space, dialogue and consultation with youth, development and empowerment, etc, remains a big question? Frankly speaking, youth in Kashmir today don’t expect any such initiative from the State that can address the real problem on the ground. The State reacts with pellets, bullets and later with some appeals. The conundrum continues and bloodshed is the routine.

The Way Forward

For a perpetual peace building in Kashmir, even before engaging with the angry masses, State primarily needs to engage with those who know and understand Kashmir well from a strategy, administration and security perspective. State needs consultations with those who understand Kashmir well from its economic, security, social, political and crisis perspective. First and foremost the Centre should withdraw AFSPA at least on experimental basis in less vulnerable regions to make forces more accountable and give a sense of justice to the alienated people.

What will and who will stop this routine bloodshed in the valley, should be the concern of the central government at the moment as the State government, like the past governments, has failed to deliver so far? Therefore, who will speak to seething masses and build peace in the valley, I think the Centre should leave this job to the charismatic and worthy Governor of the State? The man who addressed thousands of people’s problems, that too in a shorter span of time during governor’s rule in the state and reached out to the flood affected Srinagar masses without any publicity and complications besides scores of other people, friendly and developmental works. Who has the capacity to bridge the hateful gap between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, I think only Mr Vohra is capable of that given his governance style and expertise. Who will restore peace and justice by delivering on the Human Rights abuse of the past, I think the Centre should form an expert commission on the subject so that the alienated masses feel that justice will be done and culprits will be brought to book eventually! Who will value peoples’ lives and who will stop this killing spree, I think the Centre needs the consultation of those who have served in Kashmir in uniform and those who understand the reality on the ground. The Centre should assign this job to the eminent defence stalwarts like Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, who introduced the ‘Hearts Doctrine’ in the valley and achieved much on goodwill and peace building front during his short tenure as Corps Commander in the valley. For his people friendly soldering he began to be called as the ‘Peoples General’ and therefore his recommendations should be valued and practiced on the ground to avoid such a massive collateral damage time and again.

The Centre has to ponder over it and think of a credible administration in Kashmir after all for how long will the reality be distorted or painted as a mere proxy war by Pakistan, law and order problem, unemployment as the only culprit, paid stone throwing, denying leadership of Hurriyat sections, Islamic radicalisation, etc,. Also Healing Touch theory should be practised on the ground not by those who only preach it but by the Centre itself and I am quite sure that the eminent Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, is quite capable of that.

Epilogue

After Wani’s killing, the Hizb (PoK based Militant outfit) appointed a new commander to continue what was being done. What does it indicate? Simply that this is not the end of the show, also reflected by the Pakistani PM’s statement on Kashmir. May be tomorrow the new Commander dies and the state will be back square one. Is the State ready for the future now or learning any lessons from the mess the state is in at the moment? I guess no. Given the magnititude of chaos and violence in the valley, I think making peace has fewer stakeholders than those producing more and more violence. We urgently need a permanent peace building strategy and solutions for Kashmir, not just some statements of sorrow and some appeals on television when Kashmir boils time and again.

The death of the poster boy after all does not mean the end of the violent story and it has already affected the fragile normalcy of the valley. The need of the hour is to address the issue politically for long lasting peace in the region and reaching out to the angry and alienated public, besides the separatist and mainstream leadership to build some peace on the ground. Let us see if Home Minister’s July 23 Kashmir visit makes some difference when separatists and other key stake holders are not meeting him and described his visit as a time buying act.

The article first appeared in Kashmir Times

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South Asia

Economic And Political Reform Is Needed In Sri Lanka, Not State Violence

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Image source: Wikipedia

Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence has highlighted years of political and economic mismanagement and a reliance on state-sanctioned violence in response to legitimate protests. Legitimate reform and respect for human rights is required if the island nation is to act in the best interests of its people.

The crisis has resulted in the import-reliant country’s foreign currency reserves running dry, meaning that the government is unable to pay for imports of basic goods, including food and fuel. Rising inflation of 17 per cent has meant that any food available is now too expensive, with a kilogram of rice costing 500 rupees when it previously cost 80. The lack of fuel has meant that Sri Lankans are suffering through 12-hour power cuts, with the government asking people to work from home to save fuel.

Making matters worse, the government has defaulted on its foreign debts for the first time since independence. Sri Lanka’s debt is approximately $51 billion, making it now reliant on negotiations with its creditors, such as the Asian Development Bank, to pause payments so basic goods can be purchased.

As always, these issues are affecting Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable, particularly those in poorer rural areas, the elderly and people with disability. There are reports of people dying while lining up for fuel in the heat. This has the potential to worsen into a significant humanitarian crisis, with half the country sinking into poverty and food insecurity rising.

This is a big step back for a country that was once regarded as one of Asia’s success stories, formerly enjoying economic growth, burgeoning industries and a wealthier middle class. The was a sign of a country that was beginning to rebuild after a brutal civil war that affected all Sri Lankans.

While the government has blamed the crisis on the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent drop in tourism, the cause is closer to home, and the government deserves significant blame.

The President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, previously slashed taxes and focused on domestic markets rather than exports, creating an economy reliant on imports, which created unsustainable levels of debt. The government has also racked up huge debts to fund irresponsible infrastructure projects which has severely depleted the country’s foreign reserves. The banning of imports of chemical fertilisers left Sri Lanka’s large agriculture sector crippled and increased debt through the reliance on importing food.

The Rajapaksa family has ruled Sri Lanka for over two decades, with Mahinda Rajapaksa ruling as President between 2005 and 2015 and then as Prime Minister until his recent resignation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has served as President since 2019 and several family members have long held prominent positions within the military and government. This has resulted in rampant nepotism, corruption and poor economic decisions that have turned the public away from the once popular family.

The crisis in Sri Lanka has led to nation-wide protests, which have rapidly turned violent. Protesters have stormed government buildings and government forces have been injured. Citizens are justifiably angry about years of poor economic decisions that has crippled the economy, leaving millions without the most basic of goods.

Authorities have reacted to this unrest with a heavy handed approach. The deployment of the military with orders to shoot looters on sight and the use of water cannons and tear gas had led to two deaths of the arrest of over two hundred people, including peaceful protesters. President Rajapaksa has also declared two state of emergencies, severely restricting the rights of Sri Lankans and giving authorities sweeping powers to detain legitimate protesters or those breaking curfew. This raises serious concerns about the governments respect for human rights and will do little to rebuild trust in government.

Instead of the use of violence to crush protests, the government needs to take responsibility and undertake meaningful economic and political reforms to address the crisis and quell unrest.

Human rights need to be at the forefront of any solution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has rightly called for any attacks on civilians and peace protesters to be independently and transparently investigated. State of emergency declarations and curfews should also cease, allowing Sri Lankans their right to peacefully protest about legitimate issues of concern. Any peaceful protester illegally detained needs to be released immediately.

The government should also work with international partners to find rapid solutions to critical problems, such as providing basic goods to their citizens. The decision by the World Bank to provide $600 million in assistance and ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are welcome. But more needs to be done.

The government needs to undertake meaningful economic reforms, including reversing damaging tax cuts and reducing debt, so the IMF will agree to a more substantial financial package that allows the country to recover.

The democratic process also needs to be respected. The government should maintain dialogue and consult with other political parties’, civil society and non-governmental organisations to find adequate solutions to the economic and political problems facing the country.

This includes negotiating with opposition parties to reach political solutions that lead to ongoing stability. However, while the embattled President has replaced his brother as Prime Minister in an attempt to ease political pressure, the opposition has so far refused to join an administration with the Rajapaksa family. A political solution may need to be found that finally breaks the link with the Rajapaksa’s so Sri Lanka can move forward as a nation.

Sri Lankan’s have shown that they desire legitimate change in response to this unprecedented crisis. They demand meaningful political and economic change that will allow Sri Lankans to buy basic goods and reduce poverty. The government, whether it includes the Rajapaksa’s or not, needs to listen to the people and not respond with violence by respecting their human rights and undertaking meaningful change.

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South Asia

“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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South Asia

When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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