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Kashmir-A Million Pellets for a Million Stones

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The other day my friend while discussing Kashmir’s worsening situation literally rebuked me for writing yet another opinion on Kashmir’s current uprising and prevailing mass unrest, reacted brutally so far by security forces leaving about sixty nine civilians dead and thousands injured.

The point is whether mass cries and scores of articles, opinions or commentaries, etc, on Kashmir’s worst uprising so far have made any difference on the ground situation, as far as the tactful tackling or peace building or approaching the angry and protesting people is concerned? The answer is a clear no.

Why is it so, there are reasons. The reason is not that the nation does not politically understand Kashmir and its issues or what people refer to when they talk of UN Resolutions, Plebiscite or right to self determination or Azadi, etc,. The nation seems more worried about geo-politics and cannot afford to see its hostile neighbor coming closer. Also Kashmiri people understand that security forces or local police are trained personal and do what they are asked to do and do not do things on their own. Therefore whatever, killings or torture so far in the valley cannot be attributed only to forces and their mishandling but to the political masters who control them. The question is why so many killings don’t still matter and apart from night raids and intimidation against masses, what positive and reasonable efforts are being done on the ground to normalize the situation? Is there any, I doubt.

A Dangerous Tit for Tat

Now there is a strange dichotomy and a tit for tat situation when the uprising is in its second month. Strikes or shut down or in common parlance hartals during the day called by the resistance camp and stressed religiously by militants as a direct action of dissent are followed by masses. On the other hand forces now impose curfew during the night time when people were actually moving out after day long shutdowns. The two camps, i mean forces and separatists, have therefore shared the whole 24 hours of a Kashmiri in equal proportion leaving him completely breathless. People protest during the day, forces beat them in the night. Forces barging in peoples’ homes at night and smashing window panes is also on. A million stones for a million pellets. When it comes to Kashmir context, we have developed a strong culture of direct action in terms of hartals since decades now but till date without any significant results as everybody takes it as a normal affair of life now. Still people defy curfews for protests and follow hartals religiously. The reason is the system in place which is crippled and has no credibility among the masses. The power elite has even has lost guts to face the same people who voted them to power. They only offer sermons of peace without actually doing anything for it and play blame game to escape queries. Justifying violence in Kashmir is easy and labeling Pakistan for everything is much easier but understanding the woes of and approaching the masses especially now when the use of power has crossed all limits seems very difficult. This difficult situation is further made impossible by politicians who are either in opposition or anti-Mehbooba by their rhetoric. The only thing so far constructive they have done is approaching the President and the PM in the centre. Hartal calendars keep appearing and updating like examination date sheets and calls for bandhs and chalos’, etc, continue only to be curbed or foiled by the state. When hartal time is over, forces start their turn. Where will it all end, nobody knows. What is the way out; nobody knows even not the state at the moment.

Kashmiris’-Historically Resilient

Kashmir has been suffering since centuries and witnessed a plethora of unaccounted oppression and long drawn conflict with linkages to cruel history. This has slowly led to coping strategies among masses and they have developed enough resilience and honed survival instincts and ability to survive under all kinds of adverse situations. During the acute conflict situation in 1990’s there used to be hartals for months together, like Dargah Hazratbal siege (1993) and long drawn hartals, massive uprisings of 2008 and 2010 (the new ragdo culture) but life never stopped despite acute situations. Also for any act or activity that starts hampering the economic interest of the Kashmiris, they quickly discover a way to overcome, manoeuvre or bypass it. Also people in Kashmir now have turned self medicos and psychologists or counselors as well. They witness the worst but take it easy now because they know there is no way out but to live it. Same is the case with the mass protests or bandhs that Kashmir followed and preferred over violent conflict but not without a range of repercussions. This time the rage has crossed all limits and Burhan Wani incident on July 8, played just a trigger.

Media Trials only Alienate Further

While Kashmir’s 2016 uprising is on, many media persons were thrashed either by masses or by security forces. Why masses don’t believe what they call Indian media can be attributed to venom that prime time channels spew on Kashmir and its people. Over last few years, people of Kashmir have become well aware of the true intentions, biases, and political games of media and large chunks of youth oppose their (prime time channels) Kashmir policy, goals and aspirations. Even media channels who insult every Kashmiri panelist very well know what is ailing Kashmir and what people want but their TRP craze changes the whole discourse on Kashmir that only leads to provocation and alienation besides strengthening the dissent on the ground. Baring a few media groups, Kashmir and Kashmiris are maligned and presented differently to the nation and labeled even as terrorists. Such a venomous approach further alienates people as their point of view hardly comes to surface.

Youth and Dissent

Some of the very meaningful manifestations were seen during the floods in September 2014 where the same dissenting youth saved thousands of lives. Why the same youth are now on streets against the power reflects the oppressive designs of the state that have forced them to do so. Why isn’t the culture of dissent changing in the valley and why efforts have still not been made to approach youth, remains a question to ponder over? Does Kashmir need new ways to display anger or oppression, also needs a deeper thought as the fallout is so expensive given the prevailing bloodshed? For a pellet or a bullet cannot be an answer to a stone, State is yet to ban the lethal weapons and justify crisis mishandling by least equipped security personnel merely as a self defence or a small sorry after a murder.

What is the way-out to all this mess? The answer is peace but the very peace will be felt only by addressing human rights abuse so far and bringing the culprits to justice. How is Noman- the little son of murdered lecturer Shabir Mangoo-who was beaten to death by forces different from the Aleppo’s (Syria) five year old boy Omran-who was pulled out of the rubble of a bombed building in Syria recently which made the whole world cry? Is Kashmir becoming India’s Aleppo by such heinous crimes and why isn’t the nation crying for Noman? What is such an unaccounted violence going to teach the young children like Noman? Why is the State hell bent on turning Kashmiri youth into a lost generation. Such a catastrophe is actualizing gradually as resistance discourse and the masses’ resolve irrespective of caring about economy, value of life or scare of torture is going hand in hand. Who will address this dangerous trend? At least bullets and pellets or beating people to death in night raids or routine abuse will not address this.

Today’s well read, upward looking and a progressive Kashmiri is wise enough. He is articulate in his content as well. He raises questions in every TV show, conference or seminar on Kashmir, human rights, democracy, etc,. He has learnt a new dissent but needs satisfactory answers to his genuine queries which he never gets and in turn is labeled as seditious or anti-national. He demands a true answer on the question of recent killings and torture, he recalls Bijbehara massacre, Dardpora widows, half widows, Kunan-Poshpora mass rapes, Asiya-Neelofar double rape and murder, Pathribal massacre, Wandhama massacre, Chattisingpora tragedy, suffering of Kashmiri Pandits, disappearances & mass nameless graves, fake encounters like Machil tragedy, youth arrested and criminalized under PSA, prolonged detentions of leaders, muzzled voices, time and again gagged communication in the name of law and order, hijacked democracy and futile Bandhs, unaccounted killings under draconian AFSPA, etc,. Is the nation ready to address these grievances and prove that Kashmiris’ have all Azadi like the rest of Indians? He is made to feel like another Indian when he has been already made into a monster and even labeled a terrorist. The troll brigade online keep abusing them and media houses even YouTube keeps allowing such abusive comments.

Look For a Way-out Now

There is a dire need to address the current violent social unrest and it should not be taken or forgotten like past uprisings. Kashmir’s new social movements are now emanating from internet, use of new media, intellectual and political discourses. Still there are enough believers of peace diplomacy and functional interlocutions, fruitful and result oriented interactions and mediations provided the government in power initiates such a dialogue. Also people aspire for reconciliation and establishment of truth and accountability commissions which need to be respected. The only thing that remains to be actualized is the empathetic power apparatus that treats people their own and really care about blindly slapping PSA’s on youth and unaccounted use of bullets and pellets to suppress but feel the pain of civilian killings day in and day out and try practical measures to stop it. At the moment nothing but use of force is the only reality on the ground.

Last Word

The nation has failed to listen to and harness the potential of Kashmiri youth who have always been seen as a threat rather than an opportunity to make peace in the trouble torn region. They are active in politics and are brilliant in administration and entering in every sphere of life but they have grievances which cannot be answered every time by force and bullets and pellets.. They are fed up with shrewd politics and the policies of the great divide. They are becoming able scientists, researchers, writers, administrators, etc, who know their way and I am sure who can work for a different Kashmir which believes in peace and pluralism and is highly opposed to oppression, inequality and exclusion. This all can happen provided they are given a space and a platform to have their say. They are allowed to protest peacefully and are approached by authorities to address their grievances. They just demand justice and that must be delivered by thinking Kashmir as a political problem and treating Kashmir as the people of Kashmir not just its mountains and lands. Hatred only begets hatred and indifference only breeds chaos and alienation.

I am sure the nation has not lost vision on Kashmir but certainly before the PM spoke on the youth killings and the need for a dialogue beyond development discourse, nation seemed not caring about Kashmir. The Home Minister’s second visit to the valley for making peace is a welcome step and should bear fruits of peace in the valley.

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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South Asia

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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South Asia

Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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