Tag Archive for 'Kashmir'

“In (my) two decades of reporting on Kashmir, I have never witnessed such rage here”

Muzamil Jaleel in The Indian Express:

Unlike previous protests, it isn’t just anger, but more than that. Kashmir isn’t unused to killings but the hanging of Afzal Guru, its secretive nature and the clampdown in its wake, seem to have changed the discourse on the ground.

Unlike in the last three summer agitations, the mainstream political parties aren’t seen as independent entities that disregard the overwhelming public sentiment to stay in power. Now they are being looked upon as merely an extension of New Delhi. This is the primary reason why both the ruling National Conference and its main opposition, the People’s Democratic Party, are competing to disassociate themselves from Afzal’s hanging.

Though there is a strong belief in Kashmir that Afzal didn’t get a fair trial, the reasons why he has become a “martyr” don’t have entirely to do with him. Kashmir’s pent up sentiment against the perpetual status quo needed a trigger to explode, and the hanging has provided that. The J&K government knew this, and that is why it had locked down the entire Valley even before news of the hanging broke on Saturday morning. More:

Impunity in India

“Major Avtar Singh of the Indian Army’s counterinsurgency in Kashmir killed dozens. India refused to punish him. So did Canada and the U.S., where he killed his family and committed suicide.” Shubh Mathur in Guernica:

On Saturday June 9, 2012, Major Avtar Singh, formerly of the Indian Army and living in Selma, California, shot his wife and three children. Before turning the gun on himself, he called the Sheriff’s office and told them that he had killed four people. The SWAT team that responded to the call found his youngest and oldest sons, ages three and seventeen, and his wife, dead of gunshot wounds to the head; the middle son, fifteen years old, was critically injured, but alive. He died a few days later, from wounds to the head.

 The execution-style gunshots to the head were identical to those which killed Major Singh’s most famous victim, the Kashmiri human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi. Andrabi was abducted, tortured and murdered in 1996 for exposing abuses carried out by the Indian Army in Kashmir. Major Avtar Singh was also wanted by Kashmir’s courts and Interpol for the murder of twenty-eight people in Kashmir in the course of his career as an officer in 35 Rashtriya Rifles, a counterinsurgency unit of the Indian Army. The story of his crimes and the manner in which he evaded justice for sixteen years is a grim chronicle of Indian crimes against humanity in Kashmir and of the silence of the international community which has abetted these. The impunity exploited by India and enabled by the international community clearly corrupted Singh’s conscience, to judge by the murder of his family and his subsequent suicide. Until it deals with the gross human rights violations in Kashmir and an impunity that harkens back to its colonial past, India’s proud claims as the world’s most populous democracy are fatally tainted. More:

Left with no choice

A chilling account of the circumstances under which a Kashmiri Pandit family was forced out of the Valley. Excerpts from Rahul Pandita’s latest book, Our Moon Has Blood Clots, in Open:

19 January 1990 was a very cold day despite the sun’s weak attempts to emerge from behind dark clouds. In the afternoon, I played cricket with some boys from my neighbourhood. All of us wore thick sweaters and pherans. I would always remove my pheran and place it on the fence in the kitchen garden. After playing, I would wear it before entering the house to escape my mother’s wrath. She’d worry that I’d catch a cold. “The neighbours will think that I am incapable of taking care of my children,” she would say in exasperation.

We had an early dinner that evening and, since there was no electricity, we couldn’t watch television. Father heard the evening news bulletin on the radio as usual, and just as we were going to sleep, the electricity returned.

I am in a deep slumber. I can hear strange noises. Fear grips me. All is not well. Everything is going to change. I see shadows of men slithering along our compound wall. And then they jump inside. One by one. So many of them.

I woke up startled. But the zero-watt bulb was not on. The hundred-watt bulb was. Father was waking me up. “Something is happening,” he said. I could hear it—there were people out on the streets. They were talking loudly. Some major activity was underfoot. Were they setting our locality on fire?

So, it wasn’t entirely a dream, after all? Will they jump inside now?

Then a whistling sound could be heard. It was the sound of the mosque’s loudspeaker. We heard it every day in the wee hours of the morning just before the muezzin broke into the azaan. But normally the whistle was short-lived; that night, it refused to stop. That night, the muezzin didn’t call. That night, it felt like something sinister was going to happen.

The noise outside our house had died down. But in the mosque, we could hear people’s voices. They were arguing about something. More:

Why is Cashmere more expensive than other kinds of wool?

From Slate:

Its costly production process and scarcity. Cashmere comes from the soft undercoat of goats bred to produce the wool. It takes more than two goats to make a single two-ply sweater. The fibers of the warming undercoat must be separated from a coarser protective top coat during the spring molting season, a labor-intensive process that typically involves combing and sorting the hair by hand. These factors contribute to the relatively low global production rate of cashmere—approximately 6,500 metric tons of pure cashmere annually, as opposed to 2 million metric tons of sheep’s wool.*

The name cashmere comes from an old spelling of Kashmir, the region where its production and trade originated, possibly as early as the Mongolian empire in the 13th century. According to historian Michelle Maskiell, author of “Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires, 1500-2000,” from the 1500s to as late as the early 1900s, Iranian and Indian emperors used Kashmiri shawls in political and religious settings; in the Mughal Indian courts, for example, the acceptance of a shawl from a political figure established a hierarchy between the giver and the receiver. In the late 18th century, Scottish textile manufacturer Joseph Dawson discovered shawls made from cashmere in India and began to import the material to his factory in Scotland. Dawson sold shawls to upper-class British women who prized the fabric for its softness and warmth. (High-quality cashmere can be up to eight times warmer than sheep’s wool despite its light weight.) More:

The 1995 Kashmir hostage crisis

Suzanne Goldenberg reviews “The Meadow: Kashmir, Where the Terror Began” by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark (Penguin). In Himal Southasian:

One of the satisfying things about being a reporter is the idea that once you have filed your story, you are free. No more wasted afternoons waiting for call-backs, no more re-writing intros, no more fretting over nuance and meaning. Push the send button, and it’s done. Move on.

That’s the theory anyway. As it turns out, there are stories that defy closure.

One of those, for me, involves the events described in The Meadow: Kashmir, Where the Terror Began by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, which deals with the kidnapping of six Western tourists in Indian-administered Kashmir.

A quick recap for those not burdened with my obsessions: The tourists – two Britons, two Americans, a Norwegian and a German – were taken hostage by a then-unknown Kashmiri militant group in July 1995. The kidnapping was claimed by a group called al-Faran, but that name turned out to be an alias adopted for this particular mission. Al-Faran, it turns out, was an offshoot of Harkat-ul-Ansar. The Islamist militant group was based in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and had bases in Afghanistan, but its main focus and area of operation was the Kashmir valley, inside Indian-administered Kashmir. Some of those involved in the kidnapping in the name of al-Faran had also been involved in the kidnapping of two Western tourists a year earlier. But in that instance the Westerners were released, unharmed, within a matter of days.

In the Kashmir kidnapping most of the hostages were not so lucky. One American escaped and – it seems as improbable to me now as it did then – was personally rescued by the governor’s security advisor, who just happened to be in the area in his helicopter. The Norwegian was brutally executed, trussed up like an animal and then beheaded. The other four are presumed dead. Their bodies were never discovered. More:

 

Remembering Kashmir

Majid Maqbool at 3quarksdaily:

On days when I’m alone at home some vivid images and memories of my childhood rush back. They arrange themselves in disturbing ways, unsettling previous memories. Sometimes these memories write themselves in solitude. Sometimes they are forgotten, only to return later from the oblivion: in the middle of some conversation, for example, while travelling, or at night, in the dreams. Sometimes it’s too painful to write down compelling memories. Sometimes remembering them is the only way of making peace with them. And all these memories are unforgettable, lingering in some corner of mind, waiting to be summoned.

I write because I remember. Because what I remember makes me who I am.

I remember, for example, those military crackdowns that loomed large over my childhood like black clouds: people ordered out of their homes early in the morning by the Indian troops, and assembled in open fields and playgrounds. And then that fearful wait for the next order of the troops. The troops lining up people, one frightened person after another, in front of that dreaded army gypsy. And whenever a masked mukbir (informer) seated inside the guarded army vehicle made a particularly shrill signal or a coded gesture, the person paraded in front of him was immediately frisked away by the troops. Often, he never returned home. More:

Purifying Kashmir

Tariq Mir in Boston Review:

A squat and priggish man of 46, Abdul Lateef Al Kindi has a thick salt-and-pepper beard and a reputation for causing controversy. During a sermon last August at his mosque in Srinagar—one of the capitals of Kashmir, and its largest city—he evoked the spirit of Islam as observed fourteen centuries ago, in the Prophet’s time, and demanded a total break from local traditions. He railed against the veneration of the tombs and relics of saints—common practice in Kashmir—as vestiges of ancient Greek and Hindu mythologies with no place in Islam.

Historically, Kashmir has been dominated by Sufi Islam, a mystical branch of the faith that the puritanically minded abhor. But Al Kindi plans to change all that. In a region already wracked by internal division and foreign pressure, he represents yet another potentially destabilizing force: orthodox Salafism, aggressively expansionist and imported from Saudi Arabia.

After the sermon, we drove to Al Kindi’s rented apartment. He lived in a prosperous area with large houses and fenced-in compounds stretching along the barbed wire–topped wall of a sprawling Indian army camp. The ragged three-room flat was a temporary accommodation for his family; he was putting the finishing touches on a house in a new suburb. Constructing even a modest house in Srinagar is out of reach for most, but Al Kindi, an alumnus of the Saudi-backed Islamic University of Medina, managed thanks to a hefty monthly stipend from his alma mater. More:

This is not zero tolerance, Mr. Prime Minister

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

You see, 10 years ago, I visited a woman named Raja Begum in Anantnag. She was the mother of Zahoor Dalal, one of the five men murdered in Pathribal. Throughout the time I spent in her house, she wept quietly in one corner and didn’t say a word. All the talking was done by another relative. As I left, I made one last attempt, asking her whether there was anything she wanted to tell the people of the country. “Zahoor can’t come back but those who did this should be punished before my eyes,” she replied. “Why did they pick up an innocent man and murder him? If there is a government, if there is justice, the people who did this must be punished.”

I wrote about Pathribal and its aftermath countless times but wanted to make another push for justice in this case. My question to Dr. Singh, then, was really Raja Begum’s, the partial discharge of a debt journalists accumulate as they run from story to story. And as expected, the Prime Minister promised to look into the matter. I have no idea what enquiries or exertions he has made on the case since then but the facts themselves are quite simple. And, in the context of the recent exposé of fake encounters in Machhil in Kupwara, they reveal a pattern of impunity that ordinary Kashmiris will be condemned to endure until India gets a Prime Minister brave enough to put a stop to it.

A group of terrorists, most probably from the Lashkar-e-Taiba, arrived at the Chattisinghpora village in Anantnag district in the dead of night on March 20, 2000. They made all the Sikh men assemble and gunned them down in cold blood. Five days later, L.K. Advani, who was Union Home Minister at the time, told a nation still recovering from shock that the heinous crime had been solved with the killing of five “foreign militants.” In an FIR filed on March 25, officers from the Rashtriya Rifles and the Special Operations Group of the State police said they had managed to corner and kill the five terrorists in a fierce encounter at Pathribal-Panchalthan. The bodies of the men, which had been burned beyond recognition, were buried in a common grave.

Unfortunately for the army, the five men killed were not terrorists or foreign nationals. They were civilians who had been picked up in and around Anantnag on March 24. More:

In Kashmir, ‘good’ Barelvis vs ‘dangerous’ Wahabis

Sectarian shadow boxing between Islamic sects is getting full play in Kashmir. It’s the ‘Good Barelvis’ versus ‘Dangerous Wahabis’. And the duel seems to be getting some support of the Centre and its agencies. Could this turn out to be the kind of folly the State committed when it played footsie with Bhindranwale in Punjab, asks Randeep Singh Nandal in Times of India

Chances are that Pir Jalaluddin, head of the Batmaloo Sahib shrine in Srinagar, never heard the two bullets that hit him on the night of March 17. But for many in Kashmir, these were echoes of a sectarian war in the making in the Valley. The Pir belonged to a new aggressive group of the Barelvi sect of Islam in Kashmir, a grouping that in the past six months has lost no opportunity to rally its large following in the state.

Shrine-going Barelvis constitute about 70% of J&K’s Muslims – an overwhelming majority in the Valley. However, the past 20 years have seen the more puritanical Wahabis like Ahle Hadith make rapid inroads in the state – a spread that is often ascribed to vast inflow of foreign funds to these organisations from Saudi Arabia. Thanks to their resources, Wahabi groups have ensured easy availability of Wahabi literature. more

Sorry, Kashmir is happy

Manu Joseph in Open

There was a moment when Prashant Bhushan was irreversibly diminished, and he became the Ringo Starr of Team Anna’s famous four. It happened in the middle of a television interview, when thugs broke into his chamber and beat him up for demanding a referendum in Kashmir to solve the dispute. At the time, a section of Kashmir’s intellectuals were still waiting to hear from Anna Hazare. They were naïve enough to believe everything that television anchors said and to invite him to take up the Valley’s cause with the evil Indian government. After all, Hazare had demanded a referendum for the anti-corruption bill. He was surely the referendum-type? But Hazare soon made his position clear. Even as Bhushan’s body was still aching, Hazare publicly condemned his stand on Kashmir. According to Hazare, and possibly some other former truck drivers of the Indian Army, Kashmir was not a disputed part of India. more

Kashmir scientists clone Pashmina goat

Compiled from despatches:

Noori, a cloned pashmina goat, stands inside a sheep breeding center at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in Alastang, some 25 kilometers from Srinagar.

Scientists in Kashmir have cloned a rare Himalayan goat, of the kind famed for its silky Pashmina wool — or cashmere.

The team from Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST) named the goat Noori (“light” in Arabic).

The healthy female kid was born on March 9 using a foster mother and it took the scientists two years to standardise the technique, Director Research of SKUAST Shafiq A Wani said.

The team of scientists was led by Associate Professor, Centre of Animal Biotechnology, Riaz Ahmad Shah, and included Nazir A Ganai, Hilal Musadiq, Mujeeb Fazili, F D Sheikh, T A S Ganai along with Syed Hilal, Maajid Hassan and Firdous Khan as Research Associates.

Shah was the key researcher in the team of scientists who earlier in 2009 gave the first cloned buffalo calf, “Garima” to the world using the same hand-made cloning technique while doing research at the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal in Haryana.

The “badmash” mule

D K Havanoor in The Times of India:

A jawan once gave me the lowdown on mules in the army. There are three types of mules – there is one for general load carrying, General Service. The second is the sturdier type, used to carry dismantled artillery guns called the Mountain Arty. And the third variety is used for riding. Jawans who handle mules are called ‘mule drivers’ and each of them usually handles a pair. A point to note is that referring to them as “khachchar wale” is considered very offensive.

Whereas most mules are disciplined, some, called ‘badmash mules’, are not. These badmash mules toss any jawan who tries to get on their backs. But again, if an officer tries to ride them, they behave themselves! The indiscipline of the badmash mules seeps down to their movements too. Yet when the commanding officer (CO) of the Animal Transport Battalion comes around for inspection, they conduct themselves like the most disciplined soldier!

All mules recognise their CO; they probably sense authority, or recognise the officers’ pips on the shoulders. Whatever the reason, the badmash mules behave themselves when the CO is around because they seem to know he has complete hold over all, man and mule. He rewards well-behaved mules and punishes the bad ones. If the CO has judicial powers of a magistrate for the men, he can also summarily dispose of ‘disciplinary cases’ involving mules.

A badmash mule is actually marched up to the CO in his court, for an act of indiscipline. More:

Why India gets away in Kashmir

Aakar Patel at First Post:

Kashmiris resent, quite rightly, the intrusive presence of India’s jawans on their streets. But the jawans don’t want to be there. New Delhi doesn’t want the jawans there either. So why are they there?

India says the army is in Kashmir because of terrorists, who can only be handled militarily. This is only partially true. The reason the army is deployed in Srinagar city is mainly to block its citizens from coming out on the streets and demanding azadi, as they did in the early 90s.

If Kashmiris would elect their leaders and not demand azadi, the army would go away. This is what the Indian government wants, and is desperate to do, but embarrassed to say. This is not debated in India’s media either because, since Pakistan is involved, we have fed ourselves myths about how the problem in Kashmir is the creation not of India but Pakistan.

The question that we should consider is: What does azadi mean? It means freedom, of course. But freedom from what? Kashmir cannot relocate itself geographically. It will stay where it is even if Kashmiris get azadi. What will change are its laws. Azadi means freedom from the Indian constitution. But what is offensive about the Indian constitution? This is not debated by the champions of azadi because it is a tricky one. The Hurriyat Conference is vague about what comes after azadi is achieved, whether through plebiscite or jihad. This is because the Hurriyat doesn’t want to offend those who support the freedom movement out of universal liberal values. More:

Half volleys in the Valley

A team of middle-aged Rotarians from Kolkata didn’t know what to expect when they flew to Kashmir to play cricket, writes Mudar Patherya in ESPNCricInfo. 

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[pic by Mudar Patherya

For decades the Indian army struggled to contain Kashmiri separatists, using military presence, profiling, and other pressures considered too impolite to mention in a cricket article. When Lt General Syed Ata Hasnain took over as General Officer Commanding of India’s most troubled state in late 2010, he pencilled across these established no-brainers to pluck an unusual rabbit out of his beret. Cricket.

Cricket? His protocol-worshipping colleagues in fatigues probably sneered at it, but Hasnain was convinced the game would make the difference, in possibly the most daring attempt by any army anywhere in the world to control dissenting action.

This was the Lt General’s rationale: cricket is religion in Kashmir, but there were hardly any pan-Kashmir cricketing opportunities. Kashmir’s cricket heroes lay across either the mountains or the line of control. The state needed some of its own; for long, the principal occupation of young Kashmiri was to pelt stones at the hukoomat(authorities). Perhaps what they needed was simply an alternative to take them off the streets. The young Kashmiri watched the IPL with awe and wondered whether the tournament’s rub-off would ever extend to him. more

Kashmir’s mass graves

For years, people whispered about the thousands of disappeared young men in Kashmir. But only now are the bones finally speaking. Basharat Peer in Foreign Policy:

Srinagar: On a pleasant September morning, Mohammad Sidiq, a sand-digger in his early 30s, pushes his long wooden boat out onto the River Jhelum, which cuts through the heart of Srinagar, the biggest city in the disputed, Indian-controlled province of Kashmir. As the sun rises over the blue-gray pines and bleached snows of the Himalayas circling the city, Sidiq paddles out with his partner, using long-handled shovels and corkscrews to draw sand from the riverbed. It’s slow, hard work, but a day’s labor nets a boat full of sand, which sells for $50. While describing the modest economy of his work, Sidiq speaks of his relationship to the Jhelum, a wide green river that flows quietly through the Kashmir Valley, across the disputed, mountainous border, known as the Line of Control, and into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. “No man can bear what this river has witnessed,” he says, staring across water.

Sidiq has been working on the river for 12 years now. Every week or two, as he hoists a shovel full of sand from the riverbed, he finds himself staring at a skull, a broken skeleton, or a shattered femur. “Most of the dead were young men. You could see their shiny teeth; you could tell from the skull, he was very, very young. One day I found a young man…. He had been badly tortured. Both his hands and feet had been chopped off,” says Sidiq as he sits beneath the majestic maple trees lining the riverbank.

A fellow sand-digger in his early 40s, Naseer Ahmed, found a skull in March. “It was a small skull. It would have been a 16- or 17-year-old boy. The other day, it was a thigh with flesh still on it,” Ahmed said. “It is a haunted river.” More:

Previously in AW: The dead begin to speak, by Arundhati Roy

Kashmir’s half-widows

In Guernica, Mallika Kaur on Kashmir’s ‘half-widows’, women whose husbands have disappeared and never heard from again, and the impact of these disappearances on families.

On the International Day of the Disappeared, which was observed on August 30, the International Committee of the Red Cross has noted that “[t]he tremendous impact that disappearances have on the daily lives and long-term prospects of the families, and indeed of entire communities, is still largely overlooked.” Overlooked also is how such apathy towards the “disappeared” in fact fuels the type of insecurity that continues to threaten sustainable peace. Kashmir’s “half widows” are a case in point.

Bilquees Begum* repeatedly asks whether my tea is too sweet. She smiles and adds how her husband Ahmed told her that city people liked their tea tasteless. But her smile disappears as she opens a brown suitcase, which the family keeps under lock and key. Inside are all the legal papers that Bilquees cannot read, but knows by heart. more

The autumn of hypocrisy

Rahul Pandita, author of Hello Bastar and a member of the Harud Literary Festival’s advisory committee, laments the cancellation of Kashmir’s first literature festival. Those opposed to the festival have ended up strengthening radical voices in Kashmir, he writes in Open.

Tonight, they will raise a toast. Tonight, they will pat one another’s backs, and, in the confines of their apartments in New Delhi and elsewhere, may even take out victory marches. Someone might even hurl an imaginary stone, declaring that finally, the Internet Intifada has been successful. Congratulatory messages will flood Facebook andTwitter. After all, a sinister design has been defeated. The Harud (Autumn) Literary Festival, scheduled to be held in Kashmir Valley in the last week of September, has been cancelled. It was a State conspiracy, as they would like everyone to believe.

The truth is that the festival has been sabotaged. A letter circulated on the internet condemned the literary festival, claiming that it would portray a false sense of normalcy in the state. The group circulating the letter also had issues with the organisers’ terming the fest an ‘apolitical’ event. more

Previously on AW:

An Autumn of Discontent

A litfest for the troubled Valley

‘Where is the body, the remains? I want to know. I want to see’

Muzamil Jaleel in The Indian Express:

The report by the J&K State Human Rights Commission establishing the presence of unmarked graves in Kashmir holding 2,156 unidentified bodies has given a glimmer of hope to hundreds who have been grieving for their spouses, siblings, children and friends who have gone missing over the past two decades, without any news.

As their wait for a closure, one way or the other, may now be just a DNA test away, here are stories of some of them:

A knock on the door one cold night

It has been nine years but Bilquees Manzoor hasn’t forgotten that knock on the door of their house at Rawalpora on the cold night of January 18. “When we opened the door, we found soldiers waiting outside,” says the 26-year-old. “They pushed us aside and started searching the house. When they finally left, they took my father along.” Manzoor Ahmad Dar had returned from his chemist shop just hours before. Bilquees says she and her family tried to resist but were pushed aside. Then only 17, she began searching for her father, starting from the Army camp where the raiding party of soldiers was stationed. “He (Major Malhotra) told us that he has been picked up for questioning and would be released soon,” she says. Bilquees says it was Major Malhotra who led the soldiers who picked up her father.

Some time later, a probe was initiated into the custodial disappearance of Dar. On the basis of the inquiry, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar, directed the Sadar Police Station to register a case against Major Malhotra and his men of 35 Rashtriya Rifles. But when they still got no news of Dar, the family approached the J&K High Court. On its directions, the DGP constituted a special team to investigate the case. The police sent several written communications to the Army and asked them to produce Major Malhotra and other accused soldiers before the inquiry officer. However, police say, there was no response from the Army. The accused Army officer was meanwhile shifted to Assam and promoted as Colonel with the Assam Regiment. More:

Can India and Pakistan overcome decades of mistrust to save the Indus Waters Treaty?

Jonathan Mingle in Slate:

Sixty years ago, David Lilienthal published an article in Collier’s Weekly that would prove uncannily prescient. Lilienthal, former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, had just returned from a visit to India and Pakistan and described two fledgling nations on the verge of another war over Kashmir. He made an unlikely suggestion to defuse tensions: The rivals should agree to manage jointly the Indus River and its main tributaries, some of which flowed through the contested region. Water, he claimed, was a hidden driver of South Asia’s most dangerous territorial dispute and might also be the key to resolving it.

While Lilienthal’s vision was never fully realized, his article helped sow the seeds of the Indus Waters Treaty, now widely hailed as one of the most successful international water-sharing agreements.

A resolution of the Kashmir conflict seems as elusive today as it did in 1951. Since 1989, armed Kashmiri separatists, some with Pakistani support, have waged a low-grade, off-and-on insurgency against Indian security forces. (Protests last summer against India’s heavy-handed rule in the Kashmir Valley roiled the region for several weeks, leading to the deaths of at least 110 Kashmiris, many of them teenage boys.)* Still, without the IWT, Kashmir might have been the source of even wider conflict. More:

A valley of contrasts

Shailaja Bajpai travels to Kashmir for the first time and realises that the Valley isn’t always what it’s made out to be. In Indian Express

First impressions or preconceptions? That Kashmir is a far-off land of incredible natural beauty and intractable human conflict; a place where once upon a time they used to shoot Bollywood films and now shoot only people in fake encounters or militant attacks.

Well, it is still very much nature’s basket, sylvan and lush, with sermons in streams, and poetry in pashmina. The day we arrive in Srinagar, protests are held after Friday prayers: an alleged rape of a Kashmiri woman by security personnel and the arrest of Ghulam Nabi Fai in the US turn them violent. The next day sees a bandh in the Valley. So far, preconceptions prevail. more

The Omar Abdullah interview

Shoma Chaudhury speaks to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah. “A lot of things have changed, but it’s too early to pass judgement,” says a cautious Omar. In Tehelka

Last summer it seemed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could do nothing right. As the Valley caught fire, every move he made seemed to escalate the crisis. He sent his police in to meet stones with bullets, piling death upon death as young boys threw themselves in spiraling rage at the forces. At the height of the crisis, he sent his aide Devinder Rana to seek bête noir Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s help. When the Valley was in most need of balm, he shut himself off and refused to wade into his people with soothing words. He did not know how to work the backroom with powerful players like the Jamaat; he did not know how to neutralise the opposition PDP. And he allowed himself to look like a puppet on the Centre’s string.

Sections of Kashmiris — opposition parties, journalists, intellectuals, even sometimes, the man on the street — criticise Omar severely for lacking emotion, foresight and political dexterity. He was supposed to be the new chapter, the young man who would bring something fresh, they say, but he completely lacks politics. He has no ideas that can rope people together and give them hope. In one of the most complicated corners of the globe, in a high-strung land that needs a master tactician to lead it, he casts himself as an earnest bureaucrat. Where people need drama and strategy and soaring words — and money — he does only the math. more

Pakistani military still cultivates militant groups, a former fighter says

Carlotta Gall in The New York Times:

The Pakistani military continues to nurture a broad range of militant groups as part of a three-decade strategy of using proxies against its neighbors and American forces in Afghanistan, but now some of the fighters it trained are questioning that strategy, a prominent former militant commander says.

The former commander said that he was supported by the Pakistani military for 15 years as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents until he quit a few years ago. Well known in militant circles but accustomed to a covert existence, he gave an interview to The New York Times on the condition that his name, location and other personal details not be revealed.

Militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen and Hizbul Mujahedeen, are run by religious leaders, with the Pakistani military providing training, strategic planning and protection. That system was still functioning, he said.

The former commander’s account belies years of assurances by Pakistan to American officials since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that it has ceased supporting militant groups in its territory. The United States has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid over the past decade for its help with counterterrorism operations. Still, the former commander said, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has not abandoned its policy of supporting the militant groups as tools in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the border territory of Kashmir and in Afghanistan to drive out American and NATO forces.

“There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and retired generals,” he said. He named a number of former military officials involved in the program, including former chiefs of the intelligence service and other former generals. “These people have a very big role still,” he said. More:

Also in NYT: Pakistan’s spies tied to slaying of a journalist

Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country’s military, according to American officials.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

Fear and framing in Kashmir

Zero Bridge Trailer from ZeroBridgeFilm.com on Vimeo.

Amy Rosenberg interviews Tariq Tapa, director of Zero Bridge, a film about contemporary daily life in Srinagar, Kashmir. In Guernica:

Zero Bridge does not deal directly with any of these issues, however. Instead it offers an expert telling of a simple, personal story, conveying the grim reality of the place through the lives of the characters depicted. Its protagonist, Dilawar, is a misguided seventeen-year-old, whip-smart but always making the wrong choices. His abusive caretaker, a bricklayer who took Dilawar in when his adoptive mother abandoned him, pulls him out of school early and puts him to work. Desperate to earn enough of his own money to escape, Dilawar steals a young woman’s purse and passport and charges his former classmates to do their math homework. When he later befriends his pickpocketing victim and cons her into helping him complete the homework, he learns the devastating consequences of his actions.

Tapa, 30, was born to a Muslim father from Srinagar and a Jewish mother from Atlantic City. He spent summers in Kashmir but grew up mainly in New York City’s Lower East Side at the tail end of the mean-streets era. He recalls a game he used to play as he walked up Manhattan’s First Avenue on his way to school every day: seeing how many empty crack vials he could step on along the way. His working-class childhood contained elements of harshness and was tempered only by his love of movies; Film Forum, where Zero Bridge opened, was one of his earliest refuges.

One of the mantras that guides Tapa’s dedication to craft comes from the title of a treatise by Soren Kierkegaard: the purity of heart is to will one thing. Now a resident of northern California, he maintains a strict routine of writing and reading from 9 to 5 at least five days a week, living as cheaply as possible, swimming regularly, and spending time with his partner, Josée Lajoie, who was also the co-editor and co-producer of Zero BridgeMore:

Kashmir’s fruits of discord

Arundhati Roy in The New York Times:

A week before he was elected in 2008, President Obama said that solving the dispute over Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination — which has led to three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947 — would be among his “critical tasks.” His remarks were greeted with consternation in India, and he has said almost nothing about Kashmir since then.

But on Monday, during his visit here, he pleased his hosts immensely by saying the United States would not intervene in Kashmir and announcing his support for India’s seat on the United Nations Security Council. While he spoke eloquently about threats of terrorism, he kept quiet about human rights abuses in Kashmir.

Whether Mr. Obama decides to change his position on Kashmir again depends on several factors: how the war in Afghanistan is going, how much help the United States needs from Pakistan and whether the government of India goes aircraft shopping this winter. (An order for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, worth $5.8 billion, among other huge business deals in the pipeline, may ensure the president’s silence.) But neither Mr. Obama’s silence nor his intervention is likely to make the people in Kashmir drop the stones in their hands.

I was in Kashmir 10 days ago, in that beautiful valley on the Pakistani border, home to three great civilizations — Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist. It’s a valley of myth and history. Some believe that Jesus died there; others that Moses went there to find the lost tribe. Millions worship at the Hazratbal shrine, where a few days a year a hair of the Prophet Muhammad is displayed to believers.

Now Kashmir, caught between the influence of militant Islam from Pakistan and Afghanistan, America’s interests in the region and Indian nationalism (which is becoming increasingly aggressive and “Hinduized”), is considered a nuclear flash point. It is patrolled by more than half a million soldiers and has become the most highly militarized zone in the world. More:

The importance of Arundhati Roy

Two recent articles on Arundhati Roy.

In Open, Manu Joseph says She is the creation of the very system she wants to dismantle, she is the anomaly that completes the system. Like Neo in The Matrix

Arundhati Roy speaking at Harvard University in April 2010. Image under CC

It would appear that a beautiful woman has more at stake than others, so her battles for social causes have a deep sacrificial quality to them. Add to this her extraordinary literary fame, and it is natural that Arundhati Roy’s grouses are of national importance. People react to her in different ways depending on their intellect, affluence, psychiatric condition and how their own books are doing. It is often said that she ‘polarises’ the nation through her opinions but that is a myth. Indians do not need Roy to be infuriated with each other.

Her latest trouble follows a speech she had delivered in Delhi which said nothing new—that India should free Kashmir. At the time of writing this column, the Government is contemplating (aloud) arresting her on charges of sedition. She has issued an uncharacteristically tame statement claiming that her actions are a consequence of her love for the nation. Obviously, she does not want to go to jail. Despite her new nervousness, what her admirers say about her is true—that she is the conscience of the nation. What is disputable is whether it is a compliment.

It is futile to denude metaphors to their bare meanings, but in this case it might be useful to try. We know very little about conscience but what we do know is that there is an unattainable moral superiority about it, and that it usually transmits unsolicited advice, which is the opposite of what the mind really wants to do. But at the same time, it is fundamentally a creation of the mind, a creation that is meant to come in conflict with its maker. That is Roy. She is the creation of the very system that she aspires to bring down. More:

The Shape of the Beast

In Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury explains why shutting Arundhati Roy out would leave us a poorer society:

Arundhati Roy’s position on Kashmir is just the latest provocation. The truth is her very existence — her persona and her politics — has become a sort of affront to a certain strata of Indians. White-collared terrorist. Serial offender. Activist butterfly. Secessionist. Attention-monger. Rabble-rouser. Hate-merchant. Watching the enraged epithets being shot at her on national television a few days ago, it was difficult to remember that Arundhati Roy is a writer and public intellectual who has, at many crucial junctures, brought the nation’s attention to chasms that threatened to tear it apart.

Over the last decade, in fact, Roy has been there first at almost every trench line: illuminating, dissecting, warning, presaging. Taunting the cosy out of their towers. Magnifying the fights of the voiceless. Few other contemporary Indian writers have engaged so fiercely and urgently with the idea and reality of India. And none have taken it apart as unflinchingly.

It is impossible to understand the profound, yet scrappy and conflicted, impact of Roy’s political writings and utterances on India unless one recalls the dizzy euphoria of her arrival and the irony of the journey she picked for herself afterwards. Watching her now, few will remember that Roy was first announced to the world by a breathless article in a leading Indian magazine. The year was 1996. Liberalisation was just five years old. An ebullient middle-class was looking for a mascot. Roy came tailor-made from heaven: she had an elfin beauty, a diamond flash in her nose, a mane of gorgeous hair, a romantic backstory and a manuscript that triggered an international bidding war. India loved her. From the moment The God of Small Things was published, Roy was deemed the chosen one. As the successes of the book piled up — the huge advances, the translations in 40 languages, and finally the Booker (the first time any resident Indian had won it) — it was a done deal: Arundhati Roy was India’s triumphant entry on the global stage. She was the princess at the ball. More:

‘An independent Kashmiri nation may be a flawed entity, but is independent India perfect?’

Also in Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury interviews Arundhati Roy:

How do you interpret azadi? Going back to the earlier question about your critique of nation states, why would you be advocating the birth of a new nation state? Why not intellectually urge the dilution of nation states instead — more porous borders, less masculine constructs based on power and identity.

It doesn’t matter how I interpret azadi. It matters how the people of Kashmir interpret azadi. About my critique of the nation state — as I said, if we are keen to dilute its masculinity, let’s begin the process at home. Let’s dismantle the nuclear arsenal, roll up the flags, stand down the army and stop the crazed nationalistic rhetoric… then we can preach to others. More:

Can Arundhati Roy be called a traitor?

The Booker prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy under fire for saying “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact. Even the Indian government has accepted this.” There was talk of Roy being tried in court for charges of sedition.

On NDTV’s the Buck Stops Here, Vinod Mehta, Sajjad Lone, Harish Salve, Raju Ramachandran debate the issue with Barkha Dutt.

The Hindu editorial: In his classic defence of free speech, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill laid down what is known as the ‘harm principle.’ It postulates that the only justification for silencing a person against his will is to prevent him from causing harm to others. It is to this powerful libertarian mid-19th century principle that we owe the idea that free speech cannot be proscribed merely because we find it disagreeable, and that curbs may be imposed only if such expression constitutes a direct, explicit, and unequivocal incitement to violence. There is no such nexus in Ms Roy’s statements on Kashmir, which are shaped around the theme of gross human rights violations and (as she points out in a statement: “Pity the Nation that has to silence its writers” ) “fundamentally a call for justice.” It is tragi-comic that there is talk of ‘sedition’ at a time when it is regarded as obsolete in many countries.

Ignore history at your own peril: Manoj Joshi in Mail Today:

Sixty three years ago, on this day, in the pre-dawn darkness and the chill of an autumn morn, 6 civilian and 3 Royal Indian Air Force C-47 Dakota aircraft took off from New Delhi’s Palam and Willingdon airports respectively. The two flights met up over the skies of Haryana and became a single armada. Each civilian aircraft had 15 soldiers of the 1 Sikh Regiment, based in Gurgaon, the military ones had 17, as well as 225 kg of supplies. The troops were fully equipped with arms, ammunition and dry rations to enable them to go into battle as soon as they hit the ground. Their destination?

Srinagar airport.

The Sikhs had been given just about two hours to get ready and emplaned after a hot meal. Their instructions were that if they could not raise the air traffic control in Srinagar airport, they were to turn around and land in Jammu and proceed by road. Fortunately, after an uneventful 3 ½ hour flight, the Sikhs landed safely and were followed by two more flights of 19 Dakotas later in the day that brought in another company of troops and some supplies.

But they had little idea what lay ahead. They spent the night in defensive positions around the airport and next morning, their commanding officer Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai led his troops and took up positions east of Baramula, 72 kms from Srinagar, occupied by a tribal backed army that had been sent into Kashmir by Pakistan. As soon as he did so, the Sikhs came under a strong attack from the tribal lashkars. Among the first casualties of the clash was Colonel Rai himself, struck by a stray bullet, as he organised a tactical withdrawal towards Srinagar. Thus commenced what is called the first Kashmir War whose consequences resonate to this day.

More here at Manoj Joshi’s blog

Kashmir’s forever war

Basharat Peer in Granta 112: Pakistan:

On an early December morning in 2009, I was on a flight home to Kashmir. It doesn’t matter how many times I come back, the frequency of arrival never diminishes the joy of homecoming – even when home is the beautiful, troubled, war-torn city of Srinagar. Frozen crusts of snow on mountain peaks brought the first intimation of the valley. Silhouettes of village houses and barren walnut trees appeared amid a sea of fog. On the chilly tarmac, my breath formed rings of smoke.

The sense of siege outside the airport was familiar. Olive-green military trucks with machine guns on their turrets, barbed wire circling the bunkers and check posts. Solemn-faced soldiers in overcoats patrolled with assault rifles at the ready, subdued by the bitter chill of Kashmiri winter. The streets were quiet, the naked rain-washed brick houses lining them seemed shrunken. Men and women walked quietly on the pavements, their pale faces reddened by the cold draughts.

In Kashmir, winter is a season of reflection, a time of reprieve. The guns fall silent and for a while one can forget the long war that has been raging since 1990. In the fragile peace that nature had imposed, I slipped into a routine of household chores: buying a new gas heater for Grandfather; picking up a suit from Father’s tailor; lazy lunches of a lamb ribcage delicacy with reporter friends; teaching young cousins to make home videos on my computer. Yet I opened the morning papers with a sense of dread, a fear of seeing a headline printed in red, the colour in which they prefer to announce yet another death – the continuing cost of our troubled recent history. More:

Harud (Autumn) — a film

Actor Aamir Bashir turns director with Harud. The film has been shot by Shanker Raman and stars Reza Naji.

From Harud website: Rafiq and his family are struggling to come to terms with the loss of his older brother Tauqir, a tourist photographer, who is one of the thousands of young men who have disappeared, since the onset of the militant insurgency in Kashmir.

After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border into Pakistan, to become a militant, Rafiq returns home to an aimless existence.

Until one day, he accidently finds his brother’s old camera.

Kashmir: finding the face of the protester

Suhasini Haider in The Hindu:

Getting at the truth in Kashmir is like interpreting the Dance of the Seven Veils. But there are moments that will startle you with their clarity. Like listening to 31-year-old Rafiqa, a housewife, at a protest in Srinagar’s Rambagh. Amidst chants of ‘Azaadi’, she would say to my surprise, “Yeh masla goli se nahin, boli se hal hoga.” Dialogue, not the bullet, is the way forward.

Like veils, Azaadi takes on several layers of meaning in Kashmir. You can never really tell how many. It’s something I first learned more than 15 years ago — going to buy walnut macaroons at the Jan bakery in Srinagar. It was closed and as I asked around, each explanation left me more confused. The first passer-by told me that curfew was on, the second attributed the closure to a hartal called by the Hurriyat, another added the bakery employees were picked up by security forces after firing in the area, and yet another told me that a militant group had issued threats. Eventually, it turned out that the owners were bereaved. I did not get my macaroons, but I took home the simple lesson — the truth has many versions in a conflict zone.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that even after his government’s attempt to throw the book at the man who threw a shoe at him, many now believe it was all a PR exercise concocted by his spin doctors. After all, his own officers had three versions of the truth — that Abdul Ahad Jan was mentally unstable, that he was a disgruntled officer with a poor service record, and that he had disrupted the Independence Day proceedings and aimed his shoe at the behest of Mr. Abdullah’s political rivals. Despite the overkill on theories and the very serious charge of sedition against Jan, when Mr. Abdullah decided to meet him and “forgive him,” the buzz on Srinagar’s curfew-silenced streets was that Jan was part of a government plot to make the Chief Minister look good. And then Jan resigned and pledged allegiance to the separatists. More:

What ails Kashmir? The Sunni idea of ‘azadi’

Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

We know what Hurriyat Conference wants: azadi, freedom. But freedom from what? Freedom from Indian rule. Doesn’t an elected Kashmiri, Omar Abdullah, rule from Srinagar?

Yes, but Hurriyat rejects elections. Why? Because ballots have no azadi option.But why can’t the azadi demand be made by democratically elected leaders? Because elections are rigged through the Indian Army. Why is the Indian Army out in Srinagar and not in Surat? Because Kashmiris want azadi.

Let’s try that again.

What do Kashmiris want freedom from? India’s Constitution.

What is offensive about India’s Constitution? It is not Islamic. This is the issue, let us be clear.

The violence in Srinagar isn’t for democratic self-rule because Kashmiris have that. The discomfort Kashmiris feel is about which laws self-rule must be under, and Hurriyat rejects a secular constitution. More: