Beyond White Noise
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
15 February 2006
When I heard about the rampage in the Srinagar press room of the newspaper Greater Kashmir (GK) by principal functionaries of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Forum in the afternoon of February 9th, I found myself muttering: “Javed Nalka is smarter than I thought. After all he got himself in the news one way or the other.” So I was keen to see how the aggrieved party will report the news the following day.
Sure enough, the Srinagar based newspaper had the choicest words to describe the “goon squad” that ransacked the GK office, destroyed computers and thrashed some reporters, including a venerable 68-year old employee. Of course, I did not have to wait too long – only a day later – when the same newspaper reminded its readers that before Mr. Javed Ahmad Mir became a respectable militant, he was an ordinary employee of the Srinagar Municipality who went by the name of “Javed Nalka” among those willing to engage his services.
Time has taken its toll on Mr. Javed Mir. After all there was a time in the early 1990’s when the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was the principal militant organization in the valley and Mr. Mir was one of its senior leaders. To slightly paraphrase the Andy Warhol misquote, everyone has their 15 minutes of fame and for Mr. Mir those 15 minutes occurred during the period when Yasin Malik was behind bars and Javed was the “Acting Chairman” and the de-facto supremo of his group.
That is when he took to wearing fancy clothes, and with his beret and sun glasses could well have been easily mistaken for a handsome Jammu & Kashmir Police (JKP) traffic inspector. Except that he also had a revolver that he would brandish and play with during his numerous press conferences. He loved to project a macho image in those press meetings, dispensing his pearls of wisdom and authority, oblivious to changing terrorism patterns in the valley where JKLF “zone commanders” were being slowly rubbed out by formidable Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the new darling of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Today Mr. Mir is back where he started: threatening civil society just as any terrorist will do to get his way. He split with Yasin Malik a couple of years back after the latter began his personal dialogue with Indian government operatives in exchange for a few foreign trips, and Javed Mir has since formed a new organization (his is the Forum as against Malik’s Front) with some of his close associates all of whom took part in the dastardly attack on GK offices. Any way you look at it, it is an unimpressive bunch. I recall what Political Counselors from both the British High Commission and the American Embassy in New Delhi have told me of their interactions with the united JKLF in the past. There seemed to be a common complaint that the group would show up in very large numbers at such exchanges and the experience was more like meeting a bunch of undisciplined “high school boys” who displayed very little political acumen or diplomatic manners.
But a bigger question looms in the background. What was the immediate provocation for this motley group? The GK editor puts it this way, “Javed Mir is mostly seen in press colony begging for a space for his orchestrated shows.” Another local newspaper used slightly more diplomatic language by saying that, “Javed Mir and his associates were infuriated as the newspaper (GK) did not carry a press release issued by their outfit.” Apart from the obvious that a mention in GK brings a certain degree of legitimacy – at least in the eyes of militants – there is this nagging feeling that the “movement” itself has degenerated into an escalating war of press releases.
In 1997 I wrote an article, “The Political Education of Hurriyat,” in which I had pointed out how Hurriyat was driving itself into irrelevance by relying on press releases, rather than political interactions, to convince its followers about its political success. The fact that the organization at that time was making no headway in its recognition by the Indian government and others was totally lost in the din of rapid fire press releases from the organization. You had to wonder if the leaders of the separatist movement believed the success of their movement was directly proportional to the space their self-generated news items received in the local dailies, rather than true assessment of ground realities.
Hurriyat has since grown and matured as a political entity, though not without a price. It has split along its political fault lines, but being a Kashmiri I know the split is driven mostly by large egos rather than ideological differences. Mr. Abdul Ghani Lone alluded to these contradictions within the Hurriyat Executive Committee during a discussion that I had with him in 2002 literally hours before his return journey from Washington to New Delhi. Sadly, he paid the supreme price for transforming Hurriyat from a press release outfit into a serious player in Kashmiri politics. Whether Kashmiri civil society appreciates it or not, but it was Mr. Lone who instilled a sense of professionalism in a floundering organization and rejuvenated Hurriyat with a new political strategy.
Sadly, the Hurriyat today is again marching to a different tune, and this time it seems that the pied piper is none other than the numero uno general of Pakistan. So only Mirwaiz Umer Farooq can rationalize General Pervez Musharraf’s encouragement to him on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting about the “United States of Kashmir” plan while Pakistan itself was moving, within OIC, the motion seeking implementation of past UN resolutions.
Personally, I am sad to see Mr. Lone’s legacy interpreted in different ways by his two sons, but then that is no different from any other political organization in the valley today. GK recently published an editorial which mentioned that “for the first time in the history of Kashmir the Pandits are without a leader”. But the point to note is that the valley Muslims are in no different a situation. The reality came home during the recent talk by Mr. Yasin Malik at a Washington Think Tank, where a seasoned U.S. State Department official (and the former head of political desk in the US Embassy in Islamabad) commented that multitude of conflicting voices among valley Muslims is producing a “white noise” that is mostly an irritation rather than a message to potential listeners and well wishers.
In so far as the Pandits are concerned, there is a serious offer of intra-community dialogue with the Hurriyat on the negotiating table. This offer was made to the Mirwaiz because he has publicly sought the return of Pandits to the valley. Unfortunately Mirwaiz feels it is more expedient for him to engage Pandits through “meet and greet” functions. After numerous field trips by his designated point man, Syed Salim Geelani, to Jammu, the Mirwaiz repeated his deputy’s social outing with Pandits recently in Jammu. If Mirwaiz feels that to be a political dialogue with the Pandits, he is sadly mistaken. The Pandits have leaders who can take up the challenge for engaging in a serious intra-community dialogue with valley Muslims, but the road map and benefits of such a dialogue need to be defined properly.If the Hurriyat is ready to do that, it will not find the Pandits wanting. But having social get-togethers is meaningless as they lose their value after the first few.
If the Hurriyat and other valley Muslim groups do not get serious about the Pandits now, it would be a criminal waste of time. This is the time to do the necessary groundwork for a serious and sincere dialogue in which the majority community needs to create the “political and economic space” for their minority brethren to be part of the valley identity. If we all acknowledge that there can be no lasting political solution of the Kashmir issue without the Pandits, there is no more time to kill. It is a time the muscle power in the valley gave way to the brain power.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.