BY AFTAB AHMAD
The grand press conference of Indian army chief General Bikram Singh on Monday was an exercise in pomposity and bravado, but it is an eye opener for all in Kashmir. The focus of the presser was Kashmir and the talk around it.
The General was as exacting as the commander of the army of an aspiring superpower can be. He was categorical in his statements. He said the army would stay in civilian areas in Kashmir; the AFSPA would not go; if our neighbours violate rules, we will too (he even proudly admitted to his soldiers killing 10 Pakistani soldiers to avenge the beheading of an Indian soldier along the LoC last year) and that incidents like Macchil and Pathribal, where civilians were murdered in cold blood and in the most cowardly manner by soldiers, were “aberrations”.
Many in the Indian media read the General’s emphasis on continuation of the AFSPA and army’s presence in Kashmir as an answer to Prashant Bhushan’s demand for a referendum to decide whether Kashmiris wanted the army to stay or not.
At a time when the Congress and the rightwing BJP are being outsmarted by a newcomer, the Aam Aadmi Party, it is quite possible that the General’s presser was timed to score a point over the ‘unpatriotic’ utterances of Prashant Bhushan, to put a spanner in the free ascent of the rookie party.
An eminent lawyer, Bhushan was forced to retract his demand for a referendum in Kashmir on army’s presence by a bunch of hoodlums belonging to a rabid Hindu fascist group.
Or, on its own, the army wants to convey to any emerging political formation in India that you may transform the entire edifice of the nation’s polity, but let Kashmir be handled by us, the only power capable of keeping this small valley in servitude.
And now, if Omar Abdullah or Mufti Sayeed still go on selling the dream of army withdrawal in their election campaigns, we will have only ourselves to blame if we buy those dreams.
In October 2011, Omar Abdullah used the Machil encounter as a case to revoke the AFSPA saying “the Act will go in my tenure only”. What appears increasingly certain is that while Omar Abdullah readies for an exit, or retains power if New Delhi decides so, the General has the last laugh.
The General’s provocative presser is also a slap on the face of those who have been rooting for people’s participation in elections. Even if, as desired by such campaigners, the Abdullahs and the Muftis are replaced by well-meaning people, how will the latter contain the army juggernaut?
At this time of year, it is not an unusual sight to watch Kashmiri school kids roaming the streets of New Delhi, carrying the banner of the army unit that has taken them out for “the tour of the country”. How will the honest and well-meaning people, if they ever join the fray, contain this social engineering?
In the hinterland, a vast network of informers and other people has been cultivated by the army and other agencies. In the Machil case, several such people were responsible for taking three civilians to the army unit that murdered them in cold blood. If the honest people come to power, how will they tackle such structures of occupation without the fear of being unseated and jailed?
The past 25 years testify to how the Indian army has its way in Kashmir. It wanted a 1300-kanal cattle breeding farm in Manasbal to be converted into a counter-insurgency platform, it constructed a bunker over it and then claimed it whole. Today, it is the headquarters of the 5 Sector RR. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who was the CM when army took it over, might have resisted, but the reality is that Kashmir lost a world-class scientific facility.
And who will forget the hue and cry raised by Farooq Abdullah when, out of power, he accused the Indian army of converting Kashmir into a garrison but looked the other way when the army occupied nearly 800 kanals of land in Gulmarg.
The General deserves thanks for sending the right message to the day-dreamers who believe a change is possible under a military occupation by getting honest people to file for election nomination.
Engineer Rashid led a spirited battle against the army’s medieval practice of forcing the villagers in Handwara into menial labour. That was resistance. He was jailed and tortured. Once he entered the so-called assembly, he got into a lot of things, writing newspaper articles critical of Hurriyats and pro-India political parties.
No doubt he made some serious attempts to remind the deep state about atrocities, draconian laws, discriminations. But in the larger scheme of things, his agitation became a small narrative in what is being sold as “democracy” in Kashmir.
Let us assume there are 50 more like him, or more intense and more wise. Unless they work on ridding Kashmir of the superstructure of military rule, wouldn’t they drown, like Rasheed, in this “democracy.”