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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

Opposing Hindutava: US conference raises troubling questions

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Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.

The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.

Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, insisted that they distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutava, Mr. Modi’s notion of Hindu nationalism that enables discrimination against and attacks on India’s 200 million Muslims.

The distinction failed to impress critics who accused the organizers of Hinduphobia. Some critics charged that the framing of the conference demonstrated a pervasiveness of groupthink in academia and an unwillingness to tackle similar phenomena in other major religions, particularly Islam.

The campaign against the conference appeared to have been organized predominantly by organizations in the United States with links to militant right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in India, including some with a history of violence. The conference’s most militant critics threatened violence against conference speakers and their families, prompting some participants to withdraw from the event.

Opponents of political Islam noted that Western academia has not organized a similar conference about the politicization of the faith even though powerful states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have lobbied Western capitals against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish and Qatari supporters with notable successes in France, Austria, Belgium and Britain.

Academia was likely to have been hesitant to tackle political Islam because Islamophobia is far more prevalent than Hinduphobia.

Moreover, perceptions of political Islam, are far more complex and convoluted. Islam is frequently conflated with political expressions and interpretations of the faith run a gamut from supremacist and conservative to more liberal and tolerant. They also lump together groups that adhere and respect the election process and ones that advocate violent jihad.

Scholars and analysts declared an end to political Islam’s heyday with the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, who was elected president in Egypt’s first and only free and fair poll. Political Islam’s alleged swansong loomed even larger with this year’s setbacks for two of the most moderate Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco as well as hints that Turkey may restrict activities of Islamists operating in exile from Istanbul.

A more fundamental criticism of the framing of the Hindutava conference is its failure to put Hindutava in a broader context.

That context involves the undermining of the social cohesion of societies made up of collections of diverse ethnic and religious communities since Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The attacks fueled the rise of ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism not only in the Hindu world but also in the worlds of other major religions.

These include politicized ultra-conservative Islam, politicized Evangelism and Buddhist nationalism. Right-wing religious nationalism in Israel, unlike Islamism and politicized Evangelism, is shaped by ultra-nationalism rather than religious ultra-conservatism.

The worlds of religious ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism are often mutually reinforcing.

Scholar Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s assessment of the impact of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States is equally true for India or Europe.

“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped American politics in ways that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, Al-Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” Ms. Miller-Idriss said.

“Almost overnight, the United States and European countries abounded with precisely the fears that the far-right had been trying to stoke for decades,” she added.

The comparison of politically charged militant nationalist and ultra-conservative expressions of diverse religions takes on added significance in a world that has seen the emergence of civilizationalist leaders.

Scholar Sumantra Bose attributes the rise of religious nationalism in non-Western states like Turkey and India to the fact that they never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church.

Instead, they based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. As a result, the rejection of secularism in Turkey and India fits a global trend that conflates a dominant religious identity with national identity.

Sarah Kamali, the author of a recently published book that compares militant white nationalists to militant Islamists in the United States, notes similar patterns while drawing parallels between far-right xenophobes and militant Islamists.

Militant Islamists’ “sense of victimhood […] is similar to that of their White nationalist counterparts in that [it] is constructed and exploited to justify their violence… Both mutually – and exclusively – target America for the purpose of claiming the nation as theirs and theirs alone, either as a White ethno-state or as part of a global caliphate,” Ms. Kamali writes.

Similarly, the Taliban defeat of a superpower energized militant Islamists, as well as proponents of Hindutava, with Islamophobic narratives spun by Mr. Modi’s followers gaining new fodder with the assertion that India was being encircled by Muslim states hosting religious extremists.

Modi is essentially helping the recruitment of…jihadist groups by taking such a hard, repressive line against the Islamic community in India, who are now being forced to see themselves being repressed,” said Douglas London, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief for South and South-West Asia until 2019.

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Panjshir – the last stronghold of democracy in Afghanistan

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The Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan has briefly stalled only in the face of strong resistance mounted by the people of the country’s recalcitrant mountainous province of Panjshir. Whoever controls the region’s passes controls the routes leading to China and Tajikistan, but to seize this mountain valley and, most importantly, to keep it permanently under control has always been a problem for all invaders. Eager to let the international community see for the first time in 40 years a united Afghanistan as a sign of their final victory, the radical Islamists were prepared to make any sacrifices, including filling the approaches to the Panjshir Valley up with dead bodies. Moreover, the Taliban’s longtime ally Pakistan, which, regardless of its status of an ally of the United States, has provided them with direct military support. In fact, Islamabad admitted its less than successful role when it proposed signing a truce to find and take out the bodies of its special Ops forces who had died during the attack on the valley. However, drones flown by Pakistani operators, professional commandos (possibly once trained by the Americans), air support and other pleasant gifts from the allies eventually bore fruit letting the Taliban be photographed in front of the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Massoud Sr., the famous “Lion of Panjshir,” who controlled the valley from 1996 to 2001. The Islamists also took control of the province’s central city of Bazarak.

Having deprived the province much of its Internet access, the radicals, who control most of the Afghan territory, found it easier to wage an information war. Their claims of victories were now more difficult to contest, even though information about their retreat did reach the outside world. Reflective of the heavy losses suffered for the first time by the Taliban and their allies – the Haqqani Network and other remnants of al-Qaeda, as well as by the regular Pakistani army is the brief truce arranged by Islamabad. Looks like the mountain passes leading to Panjshir were literally filled up with corpses…

As for Massoud Jr., the young lion of Panjshir, and his supporters, they retreated to the mountains. In fact, they had nowhere to fall back to. The problem of Afghanistan is its ethnic diversity. Thus, the country is home to 23 percent of ethnic Tajiks, most of whom live in the Panjshir Valley. However, the Taliban rely mainly on the Pashtuns, who account for over 50 percent of the country’s population. As for the new masters of Afghanistan, they are ready to carry out ethnic cleansings and even commit outright genocide in order to bring the valley into submission. To make this happen they are going to resettle there their fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Local men aged between 12 and 50 are already being taken away and, according to the National Resistance Front, no one has seen them again. However, due to the information blockade, the Taliban will not hesitate to refute such facts. One thing is clear: Massoud’s Tajik fighters and the government troops that joined them are fighting for their lives, and there will be no honorable surrender!

The main question now is whether the young lion of Panjshir will receive the same support as his father once did, or will find himself without ammunition and food. After all, the Taliban leaders have reached certain agreements with the United States. Suffice it to mention the numerous remarks made, among others, by President Biden himself about the Taliban now being different from what they were 20 years ago.

But no, the Taliban`s remain the same – they have only hired new PR people. Meanwhile, hating to admit their defeat, Brussels and Washington will have to engage in a dialogue with those who are responsible for the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and for the numerous terrorist attacks in Europe. The Taliban are pretending to make minor cosmetic concessions. Minor indeed, since they are still depriving women of the opportunity to work and study, destroying higher and secondary education and brutally clamping down on people who simply do not want to live according to religious norms.

The United States is actually helping the “new-look” Taliban. Their potential opponents, including the famous Marshal Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, left the country under various guarantees, and Washington is trying to keep them from any further participation in the conflict. Democratic politicians naively believe that by creating an Islamic state and ending the protracted civil war in Afghanistan the Taliban will ensure stability in the region and will not move any further. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan do not think so and are strengthening their borders and preparing to protect their Afghan compatriots, because they know full well that the Taliban`s are not a national political party; they are a radical Islamist ideology.

It knows no borders and spreads like a cancerous tumor, destroying all pockets of Western culture. It can only be stopped by force. However, the two decades of US military presence in Afghanistan showed that Washington, which quickly took control of the country in 2001, simply had no strategy to keep it. The Afghans were given nothing that would appear to them more attractive than the ideas of radical Islam. As a result, the few Afghans who embrace European values are fleeing the country, and those who, like Massoud Jr., decided to fight for their freedom, now risk being left to face their enemy all by themselves.

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Misjudgements in India’s Afghan policy

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India’s Afghan policy has always been obsessed with the desire to deny Pakistan the “strategic depth” that Pakistan, according to India’s perception, yearns. If India had a pragmatic policy, it would not have found itself whimpering and whining like a rueful baby over spilt milk.

India supported the invasion of Afghanistan by both the former Soviet Union and the USA, both losers. President Trump mocked Modi for having built a library for the Afghan people. Trump expected India to contribute foot soldiers, and by corollary, body packs to the Afghan crisis. India played all the tricks up its sleeves to convince the USA to make India a party to the US-Taliban talks. But the USA ditched not only Modi but also Ashraf Ghani to sign the Doha peace deal with the Taliban.

India’s external affairs minister still calls the Taliban government “a dispensation”. Interestingly, the USA has reluctantly accepted that the Taliban government is a de facto government.

Humanitarian crisis

The United Nations’ Development Programme has portrayed a bleak situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is faced with multifarious challenges. These include prolonged drought and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, upheaval caused by the current political transition: frozen foreign reserves, and rising poverty.

About 47 per cent of its people live below the dollar-a-day poverty line. If the poverty line is pushed to $2 a day, 90 per cent of Afghans would be poor. About 55 per cent of Afghans are illiterate.

Ninety seven percent of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line, As such, Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty. Half of the population is already in need of humanitarian support. The UNDP has proposed to access the most vulnerable nine million people by focusing on essential services, local livelihoods, basic income and small infrastructure.

Currently, the gross national product of Afghanistan is around $190 billion, just a little more than the $160 billion economy of Dhaka city. The country’s legal exports of goods and services every year account for $1 billion. It imports$6 billion worth of goods and services every year.

About 80 per cent of world production of opium comes from Afghanistan. Every year, Afghanistan produces nearly 10,000 tons of opium and the revenue generated from it amounts to $7 billion approximately. About 87 per cent of the income of opium producing farmers comes exclusively from this single product. The illicit opium export by Afghanistan is worth $2 billion every year. The role of opium is significant.

About 80 per cent of public expenditure in this country is funded by grants. Since 2002, the World Bank has provided Afghanistan with a total of $5.3 billion as development and emergency relief assistance. The IMF earmarked for Afghanistan $400 million in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for combating the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

The United States has frozen about $10 billion worth of Afghan assets held at various banks in Afghanistan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withdrawn the $400 million worth of SDRs allocated earlier to Afghanistan for addressing the Covid-19 crisis. The World Bank has not said anything as of yet, but it may also put restrictions on its funding to Afghanistan.

India’s lip service to Afghanistan

India provided around $3 billion in aid to fallen U.S.-backed Afghan government.  It trained the Afghan army and police. But now it is not willing to pay or pledge a penny to the Taliban government. Look at the following Times of India report:

“India did not pledge any money to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan probably for the first time in 20 years. That it has not done so as Jaishanker declared … (At UN, India offers support to Afghanistan but does not pledge money. The Times of India September 14, 2021).The Hindu, September 11, 2021

India’s tirade against Afghanistan

Indian policymakers and experts say they see no guarantees that Afghanistan won’t become a haven for militants. “Afghanistan may be poised to become a bottomless hole for all shades of radical, extremist and jihadi outfits somewhat similar to Iraq and Syria, only closer to India,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who was India’s ambassador in Kabul between 2010 to 2013.  He added that the Taliban victory could have an “inspirational effect” not only for Kashmir’s rebels but wherever religiously-driven groups operate in the broader region… Lt. Gen Deependra Singh Hooda, former military commander for northern India between 2014-2016, said militant groups based across the border in Pakistan would “certainly try and push men” into Kashmir, following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan  (With Taliban’s rise, India sees renewed threat in Kashmir, Star Tribune September 14, 2021). “Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh conveyed to Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton that the rise of the Taliban raises serious security concerns for India and the region. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for an injection of cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would spark a “catastrophic” situation for the Afghan people and be a “gift for terrorist groups.”). Afghan economic meltdown would be ‘gift for terrorists,’ says U.N. chief” (The Hindu, September 11, 2021)

 India’s former envoy to Kabul, Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyay is skeptical of the conciliatory statements by the taliban government. He advises: “We should welcome recent statements by Stanekzai and Anas Haqqani that suggest some independence from the ISI. But we should also ask some hard questions and judge them by their actions and words, and not let down our guard, both with regard to our multiple security concerns such as whether they can protect us from the Ias and ISI, sever ties with other terror groups, especially those supported by the ISI against India, deny Pakistan strategic depth, and preserve and build on our historic P2P and trade ties; and a genuinely inclusive govt in Afghanistan that accommodates the majority of Afghans who want the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 2004 Afghan Constitution or at least acceptable to the Afghan people.” (Taliban move to form govt, Naya Afghanistan brings new challenge for India, September 2, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India wants a “central role’ to be given to the UN in Afghanistan. India’s mumbo jumbo implies that Afghanistan should be made a UN protectorate. Indian media is never tired of calling the Afghan government a bunch of terrorists. They have even launched video games about it.

India needs to rethink how it can mend fences with Afghanistan that it regards a hothouse of terrorists.

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