Srinagar: Senior Indian journalist and editor of TheWire.in, Siddharth Varadarajan, was left red-faced when he was confronted by a Kashmiri professor, Hameeda Nayeem, who asked him how as a “liberal humanist” could he frame the Kashmir dispute within the “statist discourse”.
“I am disappointed how a liberal humanist can discuss Kashmir within the statist discourse,” Hameeda said in response to Varadarajan’s speech at a seminar here in which he remained soft on the army and asked Kashmiris to find their own way by shunning the path that leads to death.
“It has become the habit of liberal humanists and other pseudo intellectuals to discuss Kashmir within the statist discourse. How can they be impartial? Wherefrom they would get their moral courage and independent thought which will advocate truth and justice in Kashmir?” Nayeem said at the seminar, ‘The Kashmir Conundrum: Stakes and Stakeholders’, held at a hotel in Srinagar and organised by non-governmental organisation (NGO) Lehar.
A number of journalists and other people participated in the seminar, at which the dialogue was initiated by Varadarajan, who described the army as one of the stakeholders responsible for addressing the “Kashmir problem”. Hameeda Nayeem said that the army was not a stakeholder but an institution that had developed deep interests in Kashmir.
“We have been told it is natural that the army will be stationed here and will be sometimes involved in human rights violations. The truth is that the army is ruling Kashmir through unified headquarters even if the chief minister is supposed to be the head of that huddle,” Nayeem said, attracting applause from the audience.
“The army is an organ of the state in a democracy. However, it has undermined Indian democracy in Kashmir,” Nayeem said. “We have to understand the basic genesis of the Kashmir problem. Kashmir is not a conundrum. It is a dispute with a historical context,” she said. “There are also no ‘stakeholders’, as if we are dealing with a business. Such terminologies are being used to dilute the Kashmir narrative,” she said.
Nayeem said that militancy was an extreme reaction to state violence.
“We have been never averse to talks, but there are conditions which need to be fulfilled, like release of prisoners,” she said.
Later, Nayeem said that there has been a consistent effort from “liberal humanists and pseudo intellectuals in India” to equate India with Pakistan.
“This is actually done to appropriate the Indian position,” she said.
Earlier, initiating the dialogue, Varadarjan said, “Broadly speaking, there are five stakeholders in the Kashmir issue. It includes Government of India, Army and security forces, Pakistan, a section of Azadi-pasands, and Rest of India which includes civil society and the media.”
He said the present Government of India, that is, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had a “confusing position” on Kashmir.
“Home Minister Rajnath Singh appointed the interlocutor so that he addresses the aspirations of Jammu and Kashmir. But, on the very next day, we were told he was not an interlocutor but a special representative,” Varadarajan said.
He said there were headways made on the Kashmir issue soon after the 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan. “The Musharraf-Manmohan formula made some progress and opened the door for a formal framework. It created hope,” he said.
“But the hopes were dashed when the Modi-led government came in power. The opportunities provided by that period were squandered away by the BJP for domestic politics and also due to complications in Pakistan,” he said.
“There is dissonance on part of the ruling dispensation. There should be clarity in thinking,” Varadarajan said.
Speaking about the army’s role, he said that the army is deployed in Kashmir for border security and counter-insurgency. “They have realised their tactics were counter-productive. The rights abuses, well documented, are not helping their cause,” Varadarajan said of the army.
“Militancy has been brought down, but the political establishment should have taken a political initiative which it did not. As a result, the opportunity provided by the security establishment was squandered away,” he said.
On the third stakeholder identified by him, Pakistan, Varadarajan said it patronises militant groups operating in Kashmir. “It provides them weapons and training. The militant groups are closely tied to Pakistan Army and the ISI. Pakistan wants to take benefit out of the Kashmir situation. The Pakistan Army is more powerful than it was in the time of Ayoub or during the Musharraf era. It is in control of the security policy,” he said.
“So, the Pakistan military’s links with militants is an obstacle. It will not help in normalising the situation,” he said.
Regarding the pro-freedom camp, which he identified as the section called ‘Azaadi-pasand’, Varadarajan said they are guilty of being unimaginative.
“They have to be brave and accept that the current tactics will not work. They have to discourage people from taking the path which will lead to death. The killing of policeman and sarpanches should be condemned,” he said.
“They are also not engaging with the interlocutor as they have not got the green signal from the Pakistani establishment,” he said of the resistance leadership.
Varadarajan said the resistance leadership should have talked to the GoI’s interlocutor, former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma, so as to not give a chance to the Indian government that a section of Kashmiris do not want to talk.
“The (resistance) leadership has to take things in their own hands. They need to change their strategy and tactics,” he said.
“The civil society, including the media, have made a negative contribution in worsening the Kashmir situation. They even called the NC and PDP spokespersons on TV as anti-nationals,” Varadarajan said. “All of these stakeholders are responsible for the present Kashmir situation.”
Another speaker, Professor Gul Wani, said that youth have to find their way on their own to come out of the present stalemate. “The government has to understand the sense of powerlessness (among Kashmiris),” he said.