Kashmir Earthquake: Waiting For The Next Jolt
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
15 December 2005
Counterpoint to Mr. Yasin Malik, Chairman of the JKLF, on the Kashmir issue at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, DC.
A lot has changed in Kashmir and Kashmiri politics since Mr. Yasin Malik visited this city 4 years ago. At that time he was very critical of the Indian government and its policy in Kashmir, and yet was very eloquent in his appreciation of Mr. Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India. Today, India has a new central government and a new Prime Minister, the J&K State has a new government and a new Chief Minister, and even Mr. Malik has a changed status as he has since resigned as an executive member of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Even his Valley based organization has fractured into two.
For those who may not know Mr. Malik, let me mention that he is one of the most well-recognized public faces in India today. His views are sought by the Indian civil society and whether it is the print media, television, all India conferences, or plain symbolic marches, Mr. Malik has done it all. His travel plans rival most ministers in the State government. He knows the power of mass communications and uses it as a true professional. A prominent newspaper owner-publisher in the State, Mr. Ved Bhasin, is his ardent supporter. Mr. Malik’s reach into academic institutions of India is equally impressive. A prestigious institution like the Jawarharlal Nehru University (JNU), where Dr. Manmohan Singh was recently heckled and booed as a “stooge of Americans”, has welcomed Mr. Yasin Malik with patience and applause. Mr. Malik used to complain that while he could speak at any university in India he was disallowed to speak at the Kashmir University in Srinagar, but not any more. He was invited in the summer of 2005 and made an interesting presentation at the university.
A journalist once called Mr. Malik the “poster boy of the militancy generation” who shows his passion through an appearance that is “grim, pensive and angst-ridden.” But today he can pick and choose his invitations and call press conferences at will. A photographic collection of his 2-year contact program in the Valley was exhibited in New Delhi at a gala function on March 17, 2005. The same exhibition was subsequently shown in Islamabad on June 13. Some of you may recall that episode since it was at the Islamabad function where a Pakistani minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, was exposed as the organizer of the “freedom camp” in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi area where Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) trained Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) terrorists in 1980’s until 1991 when Prime Minister N. Sharif closed the facility.
The point that I am trying to make is that Mr. Malik carries enormous clout with him these days and it shows. A few years back, he did not wish to do anything with the Pakistani establishment, perhaps because of painful memories of how once ISI trained and dispatched him and his boys belonging to the JKLF cadre to commit acts of terrorism in Kashmir, only to find his group upstaged after a few years by another ISI created Kashmiri terrorist group named Hezbul Mujahideen (HM), resulting in JKLF altering its strategy. The rest, as they say, is history. But today Mr. Malik has access to important Pakistani officials from the President down, and in fact, his access to sensitive Indian officials at the highest levels is almost comparable. How else can one explain Indian government’s public indifference to Mr. Malik’s recent visit to Pakistan where, by his own admission, he went solely as a social worker but got into an interesting political engagement with a controversial Pakistani figure who runs the outfit allegedly responsible for cowardly acts of terrorism in New Delhi barely a week earlier?
So the question of the day is why Mr. Malik is not using his connections and clout with the broad spectrum of personalities with whom he deals with to the benefit of Kashmiris who are exhausted – mentally and physically – with the mindless violence in Kashmir? Let me substantiate my point by highlighting events of a particular week, and it will be soon clear why this week remains in my mind to illustrate challenges faced by ordinary Kashmiris today.
The week of May 9, 2005 was a particularly violent week in the Valley. On Wednesday, May 11, a massive car bomb (the largest since August 10, 2000) exploded in a Srinagar suburb killing or maiming 50 civilian bystanders, and destroying a dozen cars, 40 small businesses, two major bank branches and many surrounding residences. On Thursday, May 12, a grenade exploded outside a Church missionary school, killing two adults (a mother and her daughter) and wounding 25 others, mostly school children leaving the school. On Friday, May 13, a “gift” was delivered to the home of a bus driver in Bijebehara town, about 30 miles south of Srinagar, killing the driver and his two children who opened the gift box. In all cases, the victims were ordinary civilians.
Why is this week, which has been repeated over and over again in Kashmir since, etched in my memory? Because that missionary school is named Tyndale Biscoe School, the school I once attended and where my grandchildren would have surely been students if we were still living in the Valley today. Also, that Srinagar suburb where the massive car bomb exploded is known as Jawahar Nagar, which was my home precinct until the forced exodus of our family in 1990. Upon hearing about the blast in my old neighborhood, I contacted one of my friends – a journalist – who I knew lived in the vicinity and he gave me graphic details of the tragedy as well as described his own lucky experience of surviving the blast by passing through that area only moments earlier. On Friday, May 13, numerous school children bravely marched through Srinagar chanting slogans of peace, but sadly all separatist leaders, including Mr. Malik, who eagerly denounce excesses of security forces, were no where to be seen or heard.
My journalist friend, a Muslim, had many conversations with me following those violent incidents. He was incensed that every time a terrorist – either a “big gun” or a minor player – is killed, the Valley’s separatist leaders stumble over each other in trying to be the first to reach the slain person’s home to offer their condolences. But in the case of the mother-daughter duo killed on May 12, not one separatist leader offered any consoling words to the family, much less graced them with their presence. Only after some soul searching in the local newspapers did a few separatist organizations come out with statements denouncing violence against children, but the ambiguity of their position was obvious as all of them conveniently blamed “Indian agencies” for the attack.
So I would argue that given the situation today when Pakistan and India are engaged in peace making and committed to a composite dialogue that includes Kashmir, what we need now is not another rendering of the Kashmir dispute or possible options that have been hashed and rehashed already, but a determined effort from leaders in the Valley to restore peace and normalcy. Mr. Malik has the public stature and support of the Indian civil society to contribute towards that goal if he chooses to do so. Otherwise, the more things will change, the more they will stay the same. And nothing exemplifies this better than the earthquake on the morning of October 8, 2005.
By the latest count, the October 2005 earthquake has taken a toll of nearly 100,000 lives. Official figures from Pakistan show about 90,000 were killed by the quake, split almost evenly between Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK) and the rest of Pakistan, though not enough is known about the impact in the Northern Areas (NA). On the Indian side about 1500 lives were lost. The colossal nature of the tragedy becomes evident when one realizes that about 3.5 million people have been affected, nearly all of them in Pakistan, and they lack shelter, food or both.
The tragedy has exposed some interesting dichotomies. The Pakistani military controls every important institution in the country, Presidency included, on the claim that only it can deliver honest and efficient government to its people. But what happened to that efficiency and order in the aftermath of the earthquake? It is well known now that Pakistani military in the first few days after the quake had their priorities focused elsewhere, and even General Musharraf has admitted that initial military response was woefully inadequate. On the other hand, the Indian military which is usually reviled by separatists as brutal and insensitive, did a far better job than the civil administration on the Indian side of Kashmir, though the magnitude of disaster on the two sides is hardly comparable. Mr. Yasin Malik has publicly voiced his satisfaction of the relief effort by the Indian Army and the Border Security Force (BSF) in Uri and Tangdhar, where he and his cadre also organized relief activities, before his travel to Pakistan on October 17.
India and Pakistan could have used the aftermath of the tragedy as an opportunity for accelerating confidence building measures (CBM’s) to further promote peace and harmony across the Line of Control (LOC) in Jammu and Kashmir. But the mistrust in the two countries is very deep seated. Furthermore, the General has a habit of making grandiose gestures or statements at every photo-opportunity and media event, but such announcements by themselves are meaningless in terms of diplomacy or making serious progress on the composite dialogue. One has to believe that General Musharraf is astute enough to realize that such pronouncements add no value other than to keep up the hope among separatists who have very little to cheer about as most Kashmiri people today are fed up with violence and seek normalcy in their lives.
While the opening of 5 new additional routes between the Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmiris is a good step, the fact of the matter is that there has been increased militancy in the Valley since the earthquake. On October 10, four families comprising of 10 persons were killed by HM in the Rajouri district. And on October 18, the State education minister, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Lone, was killed in a terrorist attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in Srinagar. At the same time, the global nature of jihad in Kashmir was made obvious when a terrorist from Oman died in an engagement with security forces. In the past, terrorists from Pakistan, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Sudan, Bangladesh, and Lebanon have been killed in counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir.
On October 29, operatives of LeT struck in crowded New Delhi bazaars, killing 62 shoppers and wounding over 200. The bombings were especially horrific since they happened during the celebration of an important religious Hindu festival. New Delhi police nabbed some of the operatives involved in the attack, including the Srinagar based mastermind who had been previously arrested in Kashmir in April 2005 for possessing a grenade and substantial amount of Saudi riyals but was free on bail.
Here is where it gets really crazy. On Sunday, November 6, barely a week after the LeT strike in New Delhi, Mr. Yasin Malik, who was on the Pakistani side of the LOC to undertake relief work among earthquake victims, traveled to Lahore to meet with Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Just in case you do not know who Mr. Saeed is, let me introduce you to the chief of Jamaatud Dawa (JD), formerly Markaz Dawa, the parent of LeT, the organization that is raising armies of terrorists to pursue jihad from Baghdad to New Delhi. It is true that LeT (under different name plates) is doing relief work in earthquake affected areas of Pakistani Administered Kashmir as the Pakistani military has all but given an open license to all terrorist organizations – some on the U.S. foreign terrorist organization (FTO) or terrorist support organization lists – to collect funds and distribute relief to earthquake victims. So if Mr. Malik met with Hafiz Saeed, one could argue that the purpose of the meeting may have been to discuss humanitarian activities. But what actually happened was strange. Mr. Saeed hosted a reception in the honor of Mr. Malik that included a number of editors of Pakistani Urdu press. Statements made at the gathering included the following (reproduced from the Pakistani press):
“Malik is a jihadi minded person and I pray to Allah to strengthen his jihad.”
“I have come to listen to Malik because I am told he holds similar views as Syed Ali Shah Geelani.”
“Kashmir could not be liberated without a sword.”
“Jihad in Kashmir is such a sacred duty that it is even stated in the holy Quran.”
Of course, none of these statements are attributable to Mr. Malik. Rather, these were made by other guests present but then again there is no record that Mr. Malik offered a contrary perspective. In hindsight, I wonder if Mr. Malik feels he did the right thing by accepting hospitality of a man who runs an outlaw organization that is synonymous with terrorism and the one who evokes memories of senseless killings of innocent civilians. Ambassador Crocker reiterated the same point in Islamabad just a couple of days back when he expressed his concerns with Mr. Saeed’s relief related activities, saying that JD had not renounced violence and should not be allowed to raise funds.
The November 6 meeting at the headquarters of LeT is remarkable for another reason. There were statements made professing knowledge of the true reason for the presence of NATO troops in Pakistan, ignoring the Pakistani government statement that NATO troops were on a 90-day mercy mission to assist in relief efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake. A comment that received collective affirmation during the reception organized by Saeed was that “NATO and US forces have landed in Kashmir to complete a specific mission there under the garb of carrying out rehabilitation work.” The presence of NATO troops was also emphasized in a subsequent “Road Map” issued by the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) on November 28 indicating a common thread of thinking among Kashmiri insurgents that there are mutual benefits in promoting the presence of foreign troops in Kashmir that will further the cause of separatists while providing such troops with a cover for their “real mission,” implying that such a plan would find ready acceptance by the US and the European Union (EU). Such wishful thinking, however, may be unrealistic considering that EU declared HM, the rallying organization for separatists, a foreign terrorist organization on November 30.
It is impossible to talk of normalcy in the Valley until its composite culture is not restored. That will not happen until Kashmiri minorities see themselves as “equity partners” and not as “guests” who can be hounded out at moments of inconvenience just as JKLF did when it engaged in terrorist activities at the onset of insurgency in late 1980’s and assassinated prominent Kashmiri Pandits. Mr. Malik needs to confront that past and seriously consider renaming his organization if its mission has truly changed. On the other hand, I have also heard him make threats like, “we will be forced to take up the gun again,” etc. which provides a lingering suspicion that JKLF has publicly reserved the right to revert back to violence at a moment of convenience.
Finally, a point must be made that while there are many parties to the Kashmir dispute, the final resolution is impossible without constructive engagement among various stakeholders who must resist grandstanding, and instead, focus on areas within their realm of influence. For example, only India and Pakistan can resolve the Kashmir dispute and therefore the composite dialogue between the two countries must continue with encouragement from locals and the international community. Kashmiris have an important complimentary role in improving the future of their people and their land. This is a testing time for leaders like Mr. Yasin Malik who need to move away from global and regional polemics and put their time, energy and focus on everyday issues facing Kashmiris today – terrorism, human rights, minority rights, civil governance, institutional corruption, ecological and environmental damage, economic and social disparity among people, and strengthening of impartial civil society in Kashmir. All politics is local. Mr. Malik can contribute positively if he chooses to do so or he can continue doing what he is doing now. The choice is entirely up to him.
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.