By Murtaza Shibli
The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has buried all hopes of rapprochement with the besieged Kashmiris, giving a final symbolic blow to any hopes of the now-stalled ‘peace process’, its pet project that it flaunted so vigorously over the years to seek legitimacy as some sort of a champion of pro-Kashmiri sentiments.
After more than 14 years, the Border Security Force (BSF) is back on patrol in the streets of Srinagar. Redeployment of a few hundred or a few thousands troops in a place like Kashmir, where more than half a million troops are already stationed may not make much of a difference, but its emblematic importance and psychological mark will go beyond the streets and alleys of Srinagar. In layman’s terms, we are back to where we started in the early 1990.
An unnamed senior police officer quoted in a newspaper report termed the newly introduced patrolling of BSF as a “routine affair”.
Vikas Chander, IG BSF, was more forthright as he described the purpose of the deployment for “law and order duties”. Regardless of the spin or the slant, the development signifies the growing re-securitisation of Kashmir, both the narrative and the physical milieu, and should be a cause of serious concern for everyone who espouses permanent peace between Kashmiris and India, India and Pakistan and in the saarc region as a whole.
The deployment comes at a time when the ruling PDP and its masters in Delhi are shaping the narrative in terms that is extremely incendiary, anti-Islamic and outright racist. After Mehbooba Mufti’s crocodile tears and woolly phrases failed to garner any positive public response, PDP has unleashed a frontal attack against Kashmiris and their Islamic faith pandering to the Hindu extremists both in power and those militants who pull the strings from the outside.
It all started on 13 August when Muzaffar Beigh, a PDP parliamentarian and vice-president of the party, made scathing attacks against Islam, Muslims and Kashmiris during the All Party Meeting called by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
In a fitful farrago, Beigh, in front of Modi, claimed the current uprising was a problem created by the madrassas who wanted a revival of the Khilafat Movement and were supported by ISI, the ubiquitous Pakistani spy agency usually blamed for everything bad that happens in India. Ridiculing and vilifying the people of Kashmir, Beigh sought to distort the ground reality to suit Mehbooba Mufti’s ceaseless quest to remain in office at whatever cost to the poor Kashmiris.
Since then, PDP is drip feeding its anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri propaganda using Indian media or public gatherings outside of Kashmir, mainly in the Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu. These statements then get endorsed by the BJP and other extremist Hindu leaders provoking public demands for much harsh and severe military actions against Kashmiris.
A week after Beigh’s speech, Indian Finance Minister and an anti-Kashmiri hardliner, Arun Jaitley, took his inspiration from Beig when he stated the “situation in Kashmir was serious as Pakistan, separatists and religious forces had joined hands to attack the integrity of India”. He also described the stone-pelters as “attackers” and warned those indulging in “violence” would be dealt with sternly without any compromise.
Jaitley’s statement evoked a serious response from the pro-freedom leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who advised the people to start preparing for harsh days ahead, a refrain articulated by the octogenarian pro-freedom stalwart Syed Ali Shah Geelani a few days earlier.
Mirwaiz, in a statement laced in sarcasm commended Jaitley for “his frank admission that no distinction is made by the [Indian] forces between militants and stone-throwing civilians, and both are dealt in same manner by killing, maiming and torturing”.
He stated: “It does not shock us but it vindicates what we have been saying. It brings to fore anti-human and anti-Kashmir approach and totalitarian mindset of the ruling regime towards the people of Kashmir”.
In this backdrop, the redeployment of BSF can be seen as a practical manifestation of India’s growing belief that Kashmiri masses can be brought under control only by employing more ruthless means, appeasing the all powerful extremist Hindu groups who demand an endless supply of Kashmiri and Muslim blood from their soldiers on the ground.
Such a position also suits the ruling PDP as it stands exposed on the ground, so much so that no amount of spin or emotional blackmail seems to work for the party at present. Mehbooba Mufti has been looking visibility annoyed and angry at her Kashmiri compatriots as her usual repertoire of theatrics fail to influence anybody on the ground. As a result, while she is launching scathing and vilifying attacks on Kashmiri Muslims, the party under her command has totally subordinated its survival to an endless appeasement of the Hindu right by calling for and enacting more repression.
BSF has a very historical and a potent role in the hierarchy of repression in Kashmir. Its deployment in towns and villages of Kashmir provokes painful memories of the 90s, when the force committed several gruesome massacres in length and breadth of the valley – from Sopore to Srinagar, and Handwara to Bijbehara. In one attack alone, on 22 October 1993, on a peaceful public demonstration in Bijbehara claimed at least 51 lives and wounded 200, according to an Amnesty International report.
BSF is remembered for ruthless anti-militancy operations during the nineties including the Operation Tiger and the Operation Catch and Kill that killed anyone caught and suspected to have links with militants.
The deployment of BSF has also a direct relationship with the ascendancy of the Muftis. When the old Mufti took over as the Indian Home Minister, he installed Jagmohan as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir forcing Farooq Abdullah, the Chief Minister, to resign.
As Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley expands the anti-Kashmiri state narrative by describing the public uprisings of 2008, 2010 and the ongoing mass rebellion as Pakistan’s proxy-wars, there is a news of an additional 26 companies of BSF being rushed to quell the rebellion. It is anyone’s guess that what lies ahead.
Mufti Sayeed gave Kashmiris more than a dozen inhuman massacres that stoked a rebellion costing us two generations and bringing the two nuclear countries to the brink of extinction on several occasions. Mehbooba Mufti, imbibing her paternal desire to cling to power regardless of the human cost, seems to be following a similar trajectory and ready to bring us more destruction and instability. This has the potential to throw the whole region in a new quagmire, and for a long time.