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The Kashmir imbroglio: Concerns and Way out

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Kashmir is the valley of enormous beauty with beautiful and serene valleys, enclosed by the mighty Himalayas and lofty mountains, with the heart-enthralling scenes of beautiful meadows and low-lying areas, but the state has manifested into an intractable problem of the Asian sub-continent, posing challenges of a continuous struggle day in and day out. Although, it is known by the Switzerland of Asia through its beauty, yet, there is a different side of the story turning its glamour upside down. Kashmir is the burning issue of the subcontinent that continues to haunt relations between India and Pakistan. It is also one of the oldest issue in the UN history. Despite a series of UN resolutions, India and Pakistan have been unable to resolve this imbroglio.

Prior to accession with the Union of India, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state. Through the historical chronicles, we come across the instances that the people of the state have been ruled by a different number of rulers over the period of time. The first Muslim ruler of Kashmir was Shah Mir who laid foundation of the Shah Mir dynasty. Kashmir was also part of the great Mughals empire from 1586 to 1751.Later on, until 1820,it was under the reigns of Afghan-Durrani empire.Ranjit Singh annexed Kashmir at that point of time. The treaty of Amritsar signed on 15 march 1846 was a grim chapter in the history of Kashmir under the provisions of which Raja Gulab Singh after the first Anglo-Sikh war purchased the vale from the British and became its ruler .The rule of his descendents continued under the paramountcy of the British till the partition of India in 1947, when the erstwhile princely state was claimed by the respective descendents of the partition. That issue at stake continues till today without a glimmer of hope between India and Pakistan, leaving the aspirations of the masses to fly in air with each passing day. The instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja with the Union of India was a turning point in the annals of history where the erstwhile state was acceded with India after the guerrilla attack.UN was invited at that time to mediate on the issue. In 1948, a ceasefire was agreed upon under the auspices of the UN.Unfortunately, the referendum was never conducted which heightened the state of hostility between India and Pakistan. The two nuclear states of India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir including the Kargil war. In 1987, insurgency erupted in the state of J&K. Dixon plan was a failed attempt from the UN to meditate on Kashmir. According to A.G.Noorani,the people of Kashmir are very much party to the problem.

In all these preceding years, Kashmir has been on a tumultuous journey of agonies and pain. The Amarnath land controversy over the transfer of land was an unfortunate episode in 2008 which consumed 40 people leaving behind a tale of pain and suffering for the respective families.2009 and 2010 also carried on the legacy of protests and killings. The year of 2016 was a historic and a turning point in the state which brought about a paradigm shift in the dynamics of the political thinking of the masses and affected a change of thinking, creating much more alienation of the people from mainstream India. This not only affected the life of the people, but also added a chapter of tragedy to the flashpoint of Kashmir.

Over the years of  political churnings and establishment of new regimes after the conduction of the elections, the people have attained a political maturity .The double dose of autonomy and self rule proposed by NC and PDP have found very little take from the mainland of India.Although,the political establishment at New Delhi appointed three interlocutors in the past,but,what transpired after the provision of their reports is still shrouded in a political mystery. Since its inception, both India and Pakistan have tried to solve the issue of Kashmir. A number of bilateral negotiations have been initiated at different levels to settle the protracted issue. Kashmir problem dogged with near perpetual instability, posing a grave risk to the peace and stability of South Asia in particular and the whole continent in general. Time is testimony to the fact that an environment of peace and reconciliation has been a sine qua non for the redressel and resolution of the issues, be it local or universal. The parties to the problem at stake, that is India and Pakistan cannot remain mute spectators to this imbroglio. A sort of acknowledgement of the problem from a humanitarian perspective is need of the hour.Blame games, face-offs and broken promises are in no way remedies to the problem. What is actually a solution is to sit across the table to have a meaningful and a multi-pronged strategy of the dialogue to contain the problem and resolve it for once and all. The leadership of the separatist chamber has also to be invited, being a major party to the redressal. Also, the appointment of the interlocutor is a good step. But, the reports should be heed to and not be put into the backburner. For how long will the valley bleed? Time has to ripe to fructify the peace in the state. The loss of the youth is the loss of the humanity, for it alienates and creates a concurrent of nationalism .The alienation of the people has to do away with.

The Kashmir conflict assumes dynamic forms with each passing day. The recent recruitment of meritorious and dynamic qualified youth into militancy has set alarm bells not only in the local circles, but also at the national level triggering widespread debates, counter-debates and narratives, trying to uncover the root genesis of the problem at large. The Kashmir issue if analysed in its totality and put to the table of dissection and vivi-section,is the longest South Asian issue which refuses to calm down in the contemporary times and calls for a comprehensive analysis and a pragmatic approach for its resolution permanently once for all, sans lackadaisical heed and a no-point direction from the political and administrative quarters of both India and Pakistan.

Although, the side of Pakistan and the leadership of Hurriyat Conference have, time and again sought the world attention to play their part in the resolution of the Kashmir conflict, but, the leadership of India always reiterate their view of a no third party intervention .Over the years, Kashmir has become a symbol of agonies,pains,sufferings,tragedies and what not. The instability of the region ascribed to the political manipulations has added fuel to the fire over the course of these years.Today,when the world is enmeshed in its own state of conflict, the conflict of Kashmir cannot be put to backburner and draped by political manuevours.The vocal politics has to metamorphise into a politics of compassion on paper to give a touch of care for the sufferings of yore,to pledge an end to the vicious cycles of killings and to recognise this monster and have a bargain for peace with a vision for the prospective future of Kashmir,including its sister concerns of Jammu and Ladakh region.after all, peace comes from within, one need to explore it and not without.

To fructify the dream of a microcosm painted with the colours of peace and development within the macrocosm of grand nationalism, the confluence of one and all is the need of the hour, especially, with a bigger role over the horizon of the fourth pillar and third eye, that is, media within the pursuit of humanitarian horizon and aloof of we vs. they. Unfortunately, Media of the mainland India has played a very negative role in portraying the valley of Kashmir during all these years and added a current of hyper-sensationalism of the miniscule issues, leaving behind the real aspirations of the people aside. This has not only manifested in the negative image of the Kashmir valley, but added an element of otherwise image on the main spectrum of the collected psyche of the people of the rest of the country. This step-motherly treatment should subsume with an ethic of care and concern, lest, time takes the cogs out of wheels in a different way.

After the triumph of Imran Khan, to be Prime Minister of Pakistan, there is now a renowed focus on the Kashmir problem. Will he be able to solve the problem of Kashmir is a million dollar question to ponder upon. Both India and Pakistan have to come across a viable-cum-meaningful dialogue to resolve the pending issues, including the problem in Kashmir for the greater good of the people, particularly the masses of valley.

The author has done M.Sc.(Biochemistry),B.Ed from Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi,M.A.(History) and also qualified CTET from CBSE. Previously,he was also working as a project trainee at JNU,New Delhi.He writes for a number of platforms on socio-politico-economic issues and currently works in J&K, government education department. He can be reached at abidjmi121[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

The problem of pellet guns in Kashmir

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Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of the Indian union dogged with an overridden unhealthy political atmosphere. The valley of Kashmir is beset with a major governance deficit which has given renewed impetus to the dissenting voices of the masses day in and day out. Dissent is the hallmark of a democracy which acts as a medium for the expression of the masses against the system. There are certain rights and duties guaranteed by the Indian constitution for the citizens, including the right to freedom of expression and right to life. Caught in the quagmire of a political crisis that has deeply permeated the society, the people in Kashmir from time to time vent up their dissent. Hartals are the tools for the masses through which they ventilate their pent up emotions. Kashmir is not a different case. It is also amuck with crisis and caught in a looming distress day in and day out. Kashmir is the most sensitive zone of the whole Asian sub-continent, where situations turn awry with the passage of time, like the seasons of the year and is the only state of the Indian Union where there has been a reckless use of the pellet guns without any regard for the precious life of the common man. This is a sort of dichotomy.

The use of pellet guns is a major problem which has not only maimed, blinded and killed the masses, but also shaken the collective conscience of the people, who have fallen prey to a different approach of dichotomy of the government. The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 brought about a volcanic eruption in valley which not only deteriorated the situation in Kashmir, but also increased the massive alienation of the masses. The waves of grief and anger against the day-to-day killings and maims that the people felt increased with each passing day. In order to control the crisis, the security agencies used the deadly pellets which caused heavy damage to the sufferers. More than 1200 people lost their vision in 2016. According to a report of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), more than 75% people suffered injuries due to pellet guns, ranging from minor to major in 2016.There was a heavy loss of life.

Although small in size, these black metallic balls have deteriorated our young generation. The use of pellet guns has wreaked crisis in Kashmir. For the security agencies, it is meant to disperse the crowds, but, for the common masses, it is a problematic affair. Pellet guns are pump-action shotguns which fire a cluster of small, round, metal pellets with high velocity over a broad range.

Recently, after the killing of a militant from Pahalgam area during the anti-establishment protests, a number of people were injured due to pellet A nurse working in the same area personally told me that we healed at least 100 plus pellet injured victims. The bloody Sunday of this year’s April and the subsequent clashes of the protestors with the security agencies left many injured, with multiple cases of pellet injuries to the eyes of the protestors.

Naseer Ahmad Bhat of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag was killed by the security forces during the post-Burhan phase of 2016 protests in Kashmir. He was an able worker and a good cricketer who fell silent to the pellets. Not only the collective conscience of the people was shaken, but also a state of disparity ensued. These deadly pellets have not even spared the school going children and snatched the power of seeing of the victims. Insha, a pellet victim who passed her matriculation examination last year despite odds is an inspiring hope for the likewise victims.

Pellets cause a number of biological ramifications in the victim, like the loss of vision, the state of paralysis, in case, the damage is caused to the spinal cord, defacements, and death in case of damage to the vital organs of the body, like, heart, kidneys, lungs, brain, etc. Moreover, the pangs of guilt that a victim suffers in silence dishearten one and all. The use of pellet guns as a crowd-control method during protests, whether in case of cordon and search operations (CASO) or common protests has added a volley of questions to the psyche of the common man? Being a part of the Indian union, that two acing the crown, Kashmir has been treated otherwise all through the passing times. People have got million queries, but, there are no solid answers to their problems and subsequent tactful solutions.

The substitution of pellet guns with PAVA shells can in no way control the crisis. The way people of other parts of the country are treated should form a close semblance in case of protests in Kashmir. Why the security forces are using pellets and bullets against the people whom the system claims with a sense of belonging. There can be other alternatives, like the use of water cannons without any damage and subsequent ensuing crisis that engulfs the society and creeps the psyche of the common men. If this is the notion of the system to punish dissent, then dissent itself takes a u-turn of additions and alterations with the passage of time. The bleeding valley is giving a close call for one and all to unite and ensue a state of peace and order. There is an urgent requirement of the administrative and political will to stop the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.

Whatever is happening to the people of Kashmir has not been experienced by the other people of the country. After all, it is a question of humanity. People suffer out of the ways as circumstances decide or may be destined otherwise. But to expect a peaceful valley without the intervention of a political will would be an underestimation of statements. There is a dual intolerance in Kashmir, one from the people and next from the system. The systematic targeting of the protestors from a point blank range irrespective of regard for the human life has shattered several families in Kashmir

Kashmir is passing through the phases of testing times with each passing day. The ugly turn of the situations and recurring events and the amateur dealing of the same has created an unhealthy atmosphere everywhere, where people have lost faith in the governance systems. The safety and security of every Tom, Dick and Harry is the looming question of the hour. Exits from dwellings and adieus from home don’t guarantee the safe return of the leavers. The interlocutor of the centre in vale, Mr. Dineshwar Sharma once reiterated that, ‘the priority is to prevent Kashmir turning into Syria’. The imbroglio has crippled the educational scenario, down slowed the economy, increased the unemployment, but, above all, the ultimate question is the redressal of the problem at stake, which for God sake can erupt into a lava-laden volcano one day and engulf the whole peace, stability and order of the South Asia, if not tactfully handled in the current times by the government.

The victory of BJP at the centre with the thumping majority after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ falls short of words and has partially failed in the state of J&K.The killings of the common masses are in no way remedies to the political ailments. There should be the ultimate regard for the human lives. Why has the blood of the people become so cheap .When will peace return to the valley of Kashmir? The government of India had constituted an expert committee in July 2016 to explore other possible alternatives to pellet guns as non-lethal weapons. Although, the committee submitted its report and the recommendations were taken into account by the government for implementation. But, what happened afterwards lies in the public domain for discussion. The use of pellet guns is tantamount to the violation of rights of the people.

In order to direct the valley towards the state of peace and development, the role of multiple players of India, Pakistan and Valley is necessary. This way the government can make a significant contribution in the restoration of normalcy. The need of the hour is the unity of all the stakeholders of the society, like government, non-governmental parties, NGO’s, etc. to help these pellet victims via financial or other means.

Although, there has been a strong criticism of the use of pellet guns not only at the local level ,but also at the international level, but the main part of the problem resolution lies with the government of India and the state. Although, much has been said and written about the people of Kashmir with the flow of waters of the river Jhelum, but the stability of the region is a farfetched dream. Here, comes the role of the government into play. The use of pellet guns against the dissenting masses has wreaked havoc and wounded the collective psyche of the people, particularly those who have lost their near and dear ones due to the deadly metallic balls. Those who have fully or partially lost the vision and are living in dark suffer in silence. The government should review the situation and put a full stop for the future use of pellet guns. Those who have lost their dear ones should be financially compensated or by provision of bread and butter. However, the clarion call of the people is the complete ban and stoppage of these pellet guns in order to prevent the further damage and restore the faith of the people in the system. The government of India should pass a resolution to put a terminal pause to the use of pellet guns in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The vital task for the current times is to build a consensus for the total pellet ban. The use of non-lethal methods by the security agencies like water cannons could be the best alternatives. This will not only restore the faith of the people in governance, but also generate a feeling of belongingness among the masses. The bruised scars of the pellets have defaulted the trust of the people in the political system. Although, the situation is worrisome for one and all, but, in which direction the boat sails lies with the future course of action. After all action speaks louder than the words.

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Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions

Uzge A. Saleem

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Ever since 1998; the beginning of Pakistan’s nuclear age, the state’s self-defense mechanism has been a source of worry and unrest for India and the US. Both these states never really accepted that a small state like Pakistan could develop the prestigious asset and was now well capable of defending itself against external threats. US opposed the program on the grounds that it had been tested after the signing of NPT and that it is an “illegitimate” program. Their basic concern was Pakistan not being a party to NPT and US non-proliferation efforts failing. India, though very much against the program, could not openly oppose it on the same grounds because its own Nuclear Program had the same issue i.e. it was tested after the signing of NPT and they had also not signed the treaty.

There  are  a  lot  of  ambiguities  surrounding   Pakistan’s  nuclear  program  which  are  there intentionally for the benefit and security of the program and state. However, there is one thing which has been kept very clear since day one and that is the Indo centric nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The program was developed because the conventionally strong next door neighbor had developed their program. Pakistan, in an attempt to ensure territorial security, had to develop its own program as well. US, China, Russia, France or the UK were never a threat to Pakistan nor was Pakistan on their attack agenda. India on the other hand was in close territorial proximity, a historic enemy, conventionally stronger and now also a nuclear power. After evaluating all these factors any national strategist would suggest a nuclear program for Pakistan and that is exactly what the state did.

There have been news in an Israeli newspaper,  Haaretz, that Pakistan is more of a threat to Israel than Iran. This was published on 20 May, 2018. The grounds for this allegation have been identified  as  Pakistan’s  growing  arsenal  and  other  similar  reasons  which  have  always  been popular in the western policy circles. Iran, a conventional enemy, one with which there have been numerous conflicts, has been ruled out as a threat to Israel since they do not have a nuclear arsenal.

However, there are many concrete facts that have been ignored in this propagating debate. For instance Pakistan has had no wars with Israel. Both the states have never even been on the verge of an all-out war. The states have never even had a conflict that could’ve led to war. Although Iran does not have  a nuclear arsenal at present but that did not stop the states from indulging into conflicts before and although initiating a nuclear war might not be a possibility for Iran but a conventional war is very much within their skill set.

Pakistan is already indulged in a two front defense strategy on its eastern and western borders. The Taliban threat from the west and the ever present Indian threat from the east, particularly along the  line of control is already consuming most of the state’s energy, attention and resources. Under such circumstances, jumping into any sort of venture as far as Israel without any apparent or direct conflict seems like an amateur move which is not expected from Pakistan whatsoever. If any linkages are being made based on the fact that Iran and Israel have cordial ties then they are weak to begin with. On the other hand India and Iran have more than friendly ties and India’s nuclear arsenal is growing rapidly with the US help. However, this does not mean that just because India is a nuclear state and a friend of Iran, it will be inclined to attack Israel.

Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for the safety and security of the nation against any external threat.  The program  is not for the state  to pick  and choose  enemies  and start  non-existing conflicts. That is definitely not how Pakistan intends to use its resources and deviate from the real agenda which is to protect the state of Pakistan. The only condition under which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons against any state would be if they choose to attack the territory of Pakistan in a nuclear or non-nuclear manner. The state has been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning of its  nuclear era.

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Behind Indo-Pacific Vision

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Mike Pompeo’s recent speech titled, ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision – at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum’ at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC has been carefully observed across Asia.  Beijing has understandably, paid close special attention to it. Pompeo emphasized on the need for greater connectivity within the Indo-Pacific, while also highlighting the role which the US was likely to play (including financial investments to the tune of 113 Million USD in areas like infrastructure, energy and digital economy). The US Secretary of State while stating that this vision was not targeted at anyone, he did make references to China’s hegemonic tendencies, as well as the lacunae of Chinese connectivity projects (especially the economic dimension).

The Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s speech was interesting. Senior Chinese government officials were initially dismissive of the speech, saying that such ideas have been spoken in the past, but produced no tangible results.

An article in the Global Times ‘Indo-Pacific strategy more a geo-political military alliance’ response is significant. What emerges clearly from this article is that Beijing is not taking the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’ lightly, and neither does it rule out the possibility of collaboration. The article is unequivocal, in expressing its skepticism, with regard to the geo-political vision of the Indo-Pacific vision. Argues the article:

While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert

It is optimistic with regard to the geo-economic dimension, saying that this would be beneficial, and would promote economic growth and prosperity. What must be noted is that, while the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been put forward as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the article also spoke about the possible complementarities between the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ and China’s version of BRI. While Mike Pompeo had spoken about a crucial role for US private companies in his speech, the article clearly bats in favor of not just between Indian, Japanese, Chinese, US governments as well as companies. This is interesting, given the fact that China had gone to the extent of dubbing the Indo-Pacific vision as the foam on the sea” “that gets attention but will soon dissipate”

While there is absolutely no doubt, that there is immense scope for synergies between the Indo-Pacific vision, and BRI especially in the economic sphere. China’s recent openness towards the Indo-Pacific vision is welcome, but one of the propelling factors is the growing resentment against the economic implications of some BRI projects. While in South Asia, Sri Lanka is a classical example of China’s debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing provides loans at high interest rates (China has taken over the strategic Hambantota Project, since Sri Lanka has been unable to pay Beijing the whopping 13 Billion USD). Even in ASEAN grouping, countries are beginning to question the feasibility of BRI projects, Malaysia which shares close economic ties with Beijing is reviewing certain Chinese projects (this was one of the first steps undertaken by  Mahathir Mohammad after taking over the reigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia).

Second, that while for long the Indo-Pacific Vision has been dubbed as a mere ‘expression’ and one of the criticisms has been a lack of gravitas in the economic context (and even now 113 Million USD is not sufficient). Developments over recent months, including the recent speech, indicate that The Department of State seems to be keen to dispel this notion that the Indo-Pacific narrative is bereft of substance. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Pompeo’s speech was followed by an Asia visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore).

Countries which are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific narrative need to keep in mind the following:

US needs to walk the course and apart from investing, more it needs to think of involving more countries, including Taiwan and more South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific partnership.

Second, the Indo-Pacific speaks in favor of democracy as well as greater integration, but not only are countries becoming more inward looking, even their stand on democracy, and Human Rights is ambiguous.  Japan is trying to change its attitude towards immigration, and is at the forefront of promoting integration and connectivity within the Indo-Pacific. Neither US, nor India, Japan or Australia have criticized China for its excesses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.

Finally, there is scope for China to be part of the Indo-Pacific, but it needs to look at certain projects beyond the rubric of the BRI. A perfect instance is the Bangladesh China, India Myanmar BCIM Corridor which India was willing to join, but China now considers this project as a part of BRI.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Beijing can not be excluded from the ‘Indo-Pacific’ narrative, but it can not expect to be part of the same, on its own terms. It is also important, for countries like US and India to speak up more forcefully on issues (within their domestic contexts, as well as external) pertaining to Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and  immigration issues, given that all these are essential for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’

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