Whose War Are We Fighting in Kashmir?

The veteran war correspondent and novelist Humra Quraishi, in her Kashmir: The Untold Story (2004), writes about a heart-breaking incident that seems to be handpicked from a Kim Ki Duk thriller. The story goes on like this. Sometime in March 2003, a 22-year old Japanese ophthalmology student named Koichiro Takata arrived in Srinagar. The young man had obviously been lured by the more than beautiful and picturesque images that the tourism industry publishes to attract tourists. He was shell shocked when he saw how a city that was promoted as a paradise was in reality nothing but a penal colony. “What he saw instead was a bunkered city with helmeted and gun-toting security personnel far outnumbering the happy people he had hoped to see….”

He had imagined Kashmir as what everybody in the past had imagined Kashmir to be: a heaven on earth with shirakas floating in the Dal Lake and purple mountains in the backdrop. But it turned out to be a vast dungeon. The young man became so crazy that as soon as he entered a hotel, he took a pair of scissors and stabbed his stomach several times, until he lost consciousness. Srinagar, as Kashmiri novelist Mirza Waheed reminds us in The Book of Gold Leaves, “is a lightless prison. No one can stir without the permission of the soldiers.” The young student’s horrible predicament to kill or not to kill one’s own self, to live or to die, is the moral predicament of the people of Kashmir.

For the past several days, as I have walked like a ghost in this city, I have been haunted by the same question: whose wars are we fighting in Kashmir and why? How can a country that claims itself to be the world’s largest democracy also maintain a state that is the world’s most militarized zone? How can we reconcile these two self-contradictory claims in our political imagination? Is there a connection between liberal democracies and militarization?

According to figures cited by Jagmohan, the former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, in his Bible-length memoir entitled My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir, from 1989 to May 1996 there were as many as 12,332 attacks on the security forces. The death toll of the army for the same period stands at 1,195 (p. 919). The number of civilians killed in the on-going war from 1989-2010 stands at 70,000. In Kashmir, almost eight times as many young men have disappeared than during the CIA backed and funded coup d’état in Chile (1973-1990). Almost 90 percent of the population has suffered because of the conflict. They are what Médecins Sans Frontières calls an emotionally disturbed population. The number of people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder stands at 100,000. In early 1989, the figures stood below 1,200. The number of patients at the out-patient department of the lone government hospital for psychiatric diseases in the valley increased from six a day in 1990 to 2,000 a day by early 2000. The psychiatrist-patient ratio in the valley remains at 1:200,000 as reported in the January-March 2001 issue of JK Practitioner. The government of India has spent a whooping sum of $14 billion (Rs. 95,000 cores) from 1989-2010 to contain the situation (Jagmohan, p.823).

I could go on citing figures to show how really bad things are in Kashmir. But I don’t wish to fall into that degrading trap where people are nothing but statistical figures on paper. Suffering and helplessness cannot be computed or tabulated. Numbers alone cannot contain the enormity of the human tragedy we are facing in Kashmir. In our middle-class zeal to maintain law and order, we have imprisoned an entire civilization.

At such a critical moment, our dear Modiji is busy. As violence erupted in Kashmir, the Modi-controlled electronic media was busy bombarding our homes with images that showed the Nero beating drums in Africa. And when he came back, what did he do: he ordered more troops to be send to Kashmir, which already has about 600,000 soldiers and 100,000 Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Police. More troops in his deranged imaginarium means more peace.

Let’s face some facts. In recent months Modiji’s government has allowed 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in defense. The publicly owned banks are ready with billions of rupees for his dearest friends. Now, if you wish, you can come straight to India and strike a friendship with Modi and Amitji and set up your own lovely little factory to manufacture “non-lethal” things like pellet guns. For his friends like Anil Ambani, who owns Reliance Defense Engineering Limited, which is India’s “first private sector company to obtain license and contract to build warships” conflict is always a good commercial proposition. In fact, Anil Ambani is quoted to have said that, “This is a unique opportunity for Reliance Group to participate in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme for the high growth defense sector. ”

Conflicts such as the one that is taking place in Kashmir or in other parts of India mean sunny days are ahead. More conflict means more consumption of weapons, and more consumption means more profit. And more profit means more production of weapons, and more production means more induced demands…. The cycle is so vicious that once it starts, it keeps rolling on its own.

All of this militarization fits quite well with Modiji’s overall agenda. Modi has been known for war chants, hyper-nationalism, machochismo, spread of programmatic hatred towards Muslims, Dalits and others, attempts to saffronize an overwhelmingly secular educational system, increases in military expenditure and reduction of health and education allocation, including the allowances for higher research in publicly funded universities.

If one is to believe the Indian government’s Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, or the Minister for External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, then all of this trouble has been cooked up in Pakistan. One rarely has doubts about Pakistan’s dubious role in Kashmir. For Pakistan, Kashmir is that magical philosopher’s stone that turns the bad political days of aging generals and corrupt civilian leaders into hectic ones filled with money flowing from the Saudis and CIA. Just as it is here in India,  in Pakistan Kashmir is a political performance that is enacted when all arsenals have failed.

All said and done, it is but a bit naive to blame them for the on-going clashes after the death of Buran Wani. The recent clashes were too big, spontaneous and leaderless to be organized by a few good-for-nothing Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chaps from Pakistan.

Now, those who have read Plato’s Republic would remember well that in Book IV, in a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon, Socrates explains that there are three parts to the soul. The first is hunger, the second is reason, and the third crucial one is known as Thymos (self-esteem or a feeling of self-respect), which “when not corrupted by bad education is a natural auxiliary of reason.” A fight over the national flag in a war zone, an attempt to stand before a moving tank, a child’s attempt to challenge an army man, or ex-Governor Jagmohan’s emphatic statements in his memoir claiming that he supervised month-long curfews or covered mass rapes without even drawing “any salary”: all these, according to Plato, are concrete expressions of thymotic pride. How do we expect any meaningful dialogue to emerge when the Indian state and media do not even recognize this elementary aspect of their humanity? Instead of seeing anger in the faces of young boys when they pick up stones, the manufactured Indian public opinion on Kashmir sees in them traces of sedition, of militancy, of Islamism.

Editor’s Notes: Imtiaz Akhtar is the author of Kafka Sutra, a collection of short stories. Photographs one, two, five and seven by Alexandre Marchand; photographs six, eight and ten by Austin Yoder.


9 Responses to Whose War Are We Fighting in Kashmir?

  1. Prasad August 7, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    No doubt about the suffering of average Kashmiri in the current situation, but let’s also not forget the bigger picture here.

    Total area of J&K is 222,000 sq km (out of which 78,000 is with Pakistan and 35,000 with China). Kashmir valley, which the author and everyone refers to, is merely 15,000 sq km in total. So, less than 10% of the total J&K!

    Total population of J&K was 12.55 million, as of 2011. Out of this, population of Kashmir valley is 5.5 million (44%) out of which almost 96% are Muslims. When everyone talks about Kashmir, they refer to this 10% of the landmass housing ~42% of the J&K population.

    There is a significant number (~800,000) of non-muslims who are categorized as internally displaced population due to circumstances in Kashmir valley (read… atrocities committed by Muslim extremists).

    Without defending lack of long term vision and empathetic approach of Indian government, and without criticizing ongoing amoral support for extremism from Pakistan army, I just want to highlight that provocative statements like “Kashmir is burning” and “world is in danger” are not reflective of the ground realities in terms of geographical size or population affected.

    Let’s all calm down and put pressure on Indian government to improve its approach to Kashmir and at the same time also put pressure on Pakistan army to stop dreaming of conquering Kashmir (they have tried it 3-4 times and every time were given a sound beating that resulted in significant loss for average Pakistani citizen and also created the “gift” of Taliban for Pakistan to adore for next few generations).

    • Imtiaz Akhtar August 9, 2016 at 11:34 am

      Mr. Prasad, I am glad you took out time to read what I wrote. You see you are right when you mention the areas that both China and Pakistan control. But where I get hazy is how on earth do you get your 10% figure. Even by your own facts, India controls/occupies/administers more or less half of it. It means one half is under India, not one tenth. And secondly, I would ask you to read some pieces on Kashmir. Please just take out time to read. And I am sure, you too would feel the pain of people who live under the shadows of gun. If you wish I could sent you a list books on the subject.

      Imtiaz Akhtar

  2. Free Kashmir from India August 8, 2016 at 4:38 am

    This article depicts the sad story of a beautiful place called Kashmir. Switzerland’s Alps mountain eclipse in front of majestic beauty of Kashmir, a piece of Heaven on Earth, turned into a battle zone by India. The whole world is not able to enjoy the true beauty of Kashmir. Whole of Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan is like mini heaven. Specially the Pakistani Kashmir is even more gorgeous with hundreds if not thousands of almost 30,000 feet mountains rising from the blue and turquoise color lakes. Beautiful lush green valleys, breathtaking view all around.

  3. ashtaj August 8, 2016 at 6:13 am

    We need articles like this one — a quite factual and explanatory and in fact very bold attempt to show the real face of Indian democracy to the world. We also urge the Indian public to wake up and pick some courage in favor of Kashmiri fellows — just like the Americans demonstrated against war in Vietnam. Keep it up till Indians’ so called biggest democracy realizes that zeal for independence cannot be crushed with any force. May God bless us all.

  4. coolash August 8, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Here are the reasons why many states have freedom struggles in India

    Cow urine is more expensive than cow milk in Incredible India.
    Cow slaughter is a crime in Incredible India.
    Rape capital of the world = Incredible India
    over 400,000 girls raped & 10,000s of cases go unreported.
    minorities live a life worse than stray dogs as they are deemed untouchable.

    70% people live in slums = Incredible India
    55% don’t even have water & electricity connections = Incredible India
    Home to quarter of the world’s poorest people = Incredible India
    70% people p00p in open = Incredible India
    5 people die of hunger every minute in which country = Incredible India

    get killed for eating beef = Incredible India
    Ministers openly admire Prime Minister for Godhra & Gujarat killings = Incredible India
    Tells its minorities & low castes if you want to eat beef leave the country = Incredible India
    Most racist country on the face of earth = Incredible India
    Buying weapons worth billions of dollars while people die of hunger = Incredible India

  5. Sainbaba August 8, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    On one side we boast of being a democracy and on the other we want to rule over people against their wishes. If we cannot rule with the help of over half-a-million army, we have no business to be there. Why is such huge army not in, say Bihar and UP? Only proves that we have ruled very badly with so much of inhuman and undemocratic actions. Why can’t we leave them alone? Canada has referendum, so does UK and Scotland now Brexit. What is the problem with India? If you can’t give them a good decent life, then please gracefully leave. I guarantee you, people to people, there will be no problem. It’s the politicians that make matters bad, starting with Nehru’s impulsive decisions. The blood that has flown in Kashmir on either side is on his hands. Since BJP is not a party to the problem, it should at least solve it. Can we have great selfless leadership like Gandhiji, Nelson Mandela and Gorbachev?

  6. Ruben Rosenberg Colorni
    Ruben Rosenberg Colorni August 9, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Fantastic article, as well as beautifully written.

    It would be fascinating to read an expose on Modi’s connections to the defence industry and the very shady deals that have taken place in that regard.

    Top job, colleague!

  7. Imtiaz Akhtar August 10, 2016 at 12:53 am

    Thanks Ruben. I really appreciate that. Whatever I have stated are part of public memory. And yet, people in Indian sub-continent refuse to see the truth as it is.

  8. Neil August 16, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    This is a very informative and objective article that states the facts plainly and truthfully. I salute the writer and deplore the disgraceful stance of pseudo-intellectual like Prasad. It is so easy for such Indians to enjoy the cozy life in the west and lecture about India. I have been to kashmir several times when I was a foreign student in India in the 1990’s and I know the feelings of Kashmiris about the presence of Indians in their land. India should abide by the UN resolution and hold a referendum about whether Kashmiris want to stay in India or go their own way. If democratic countries like Canada and Great Britain have done so, why should democratic India refuse ?

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