Having survived the latest fury in Kashmir, Omar Abdullah’s fight for political survival remains ongoing as India wrestles over its state policy. Inhabiting an unenviable position, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir faces the potentially impossible challenge of placating Muslim-Kashmiris without alienating New Delhi. Yesterday Abdullah wisely chose to inject some much needed sanity into Kashmir’s deadlock.
''What is the need for an individual to hoist the flag?'” he rhetorically asked in response to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) plan to raise India’s tricolor at Lal Chowk in downtown Srinagar. ''Please tell them to stop if their aim is to set Kashmir afire. I'll hold them responsible if there are any repercussions.”
But BJP, India’s main conservative party currently riding a new wave of nationalism, isn’t listening. The chief of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha's (BJYM), BJP’s youth wing and marshaller of the flag ceremony, immediately retaliated at Abdullah. Anurag Thakur intends to raise the flag from January 12th through India’s Republic Day on January 26th, declaring, "Tensions were created because of stone-pelting incidents. Many soldiers of the country were wounded. Was there no tension then? We are hosting the flag for national integration. We want Article 370 to go and Jammu and Kashmir to be fully integrated with India."
Opposing either autonomy or independence in Jammu and Kashmir, BJP wishes to inflame tensions in order to further its hard-line position. The entire act is meant to suppress Muslim-Kashmiris seeking independence. Clearly the BJP has little regard for the consequences of fourth-generation warfare, and Abdullah knows that he would bear the initial brunt of any backlash. Maybe too aware.
Though he refused to back down from the BJP - “their plan is nothing but an attempt to disrupt the peace in the valley again” - Abdullah also issued his own unjustifiable remark: "I have appealed separatist leaders, including Geelani Sahib many a time to come on the table for the resolution of the Kashmir issue as strikes and protests can never be the solution to any problem.”
How convenient, a call to halt strikes and protests just as a new round approaches.
Such a request will be immediately discarded; there’s no truth in Abdullah’s claim to begin with. Arguing, "Due to five month long agitation which began in June we did not achieve anything except losing 112 lives,” Abdullah implored separatist leaders Syed Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to seek resolution through dialogue. However Geelani and Farooq aren’t closed off to negotiations with New Delhi, but await certain conditions to be met.
Like the Palestinians, they simply have no real reason to trust their occupier’s word without corresponding action. India eventually learned, like Israel, to mix rubber bullets with live ones in order to lower death totals, but this tactic is meant to suppress the movement itself more than prevent casualties. New Delhi has used Kashmir’s lull - a product of economic fragility, heavy police crackdown on the APHC, tireless curfews, and sub zero temperatures - to lull itself back into thinking the worst is over.
An unlikely possibility, and a bad time to get complacent again.
The reality is that strikes and protests, though still offering a long, painstaking climb to self-determination, have inched Kashmir towards a final resolution. International attention, while also relatively low, has risen in accordance with the APHC’s designs, having wrenched Kashmir’s struggle from militants and evolved into a civil disobedience campaign. The situation has gained a sense of urgency because of the last five months, and the APHC should be able to carry over momentum with the right strategy.
Geelani vows not to be sucked into BJP's attempt to discredit their movement through provocation, but he will try to exploit any incident in APHC’s favor.
"Again this year, the killing and oppression was meant to push Kashmiris to pick up the gun again,” he said from house arrest. “However, let it be clear to India that they cannot provoke us through brute atrocities. We will continue our peaceful struggle and won't even resort to provocative sloganeering.”
Rather, Geelani accuses the government of failing to resolve Kashmir’s dispute through dialogue, having refused to even acknowledge the territory as “disputed.”
“Once again the government pursued its policy of force and restrictions to foil a peaceful gathering,” he said of the recent curfew in Sopore, site of the Sopore Massacre. “What should one make of P Chidambaram’s assurances that space would be allowed for peaceful political activities when the National Conference is hell bent on using curfew and other coercive measures to disrupt such activities? Either the military Raj in Kashmir doesn’t give a damn about the Indian Home Ministry or Chidambaram’s statement was another eyewash like the appointment of interlocutors, meant to hoodwink the international community into believing that India is serious about resolving the issue.”
Geelani is making the most sense of anyone right now. Instead of issuing a futile demand to halt their movement, Abdullah must return to New Delhi with a very simple demand: give me a consensus. Kashmir’s problems go on and on, but the constant is erratic leadership within India’s government. APHC leaders, whatever their past (and frequent) clashes, currently hold the same views on self-determination.
New Delhi, however, suffers from total disharmony.
While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has tried to stay above the fray, the BJP has consistently preached a nationalistic sermon to drown out dissent. Absolutely refusing to deal with Geelani and even Farooq, the BJP and its loyal elements first took aim at Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy, then at India’s own appointed interlocutors. Anyone suggesting the words autonomy or sovereignty is open game, even though this is the only end game in Kashmir.
Deadlock in New Delhi has abandoned Abdullah to his familial political power. Though considerable in its own right, Abdullah is paralyzed to resolve the conflict so long as India’s political establishment remains indecisive and combative. Kashmir’s task is daunting to be sure. But Geelani’s plan, “radical” as he is, offers the most realistic solution to a long-standing geopolitical dispute. Essentially stop ignoring Kashmir's problems and get them over with.
Acknowledge Kashmir as a dispute, mediate through a third party, hold a national referendum among Muslim-Kashmiris and Pandits, and allow India to “progress and grow,” in Geelani’s words.
The BJP is currently planning insanity. Abdullah is speaking it. India should enjoy the passing calm before another storm appears, as Jammu and Kashmir is likely to come alive in spring. Frozen and battered, New Delhi has put Muslim-Kashmiris under curfew during religious holidays, WikiLeaks revealing Indian torture, and after BJYM harassed Farooq during his recent visit to India.
Instead of putting a stop to the protests - while simultaneously inciting them - find an end to the conflict.