Hard News Media , March 2007
Case after case of dead bodies being exhumed after innocent citizens were murdered by the security forces in fake encounters has pushed public anger to the brink in Kashmir
Iftikhar Gilani New Delhi
It’s an invisible narrative in Kashmir in the blood-soaked twilight zone between truth and untruth, life and death, justice and crass injustice. Killings and fake encounters.
The ghastly murder of ordinary citizens at the hands of the police for rewards and promotions could be just the bloody script of State repression which has never been told. But once it has been told, in a changed and charged political environment, the anger has just boiled over. As are the revelations of case after case of dead bodies being exhumed after innocent citizens were murdered by the security forces in fake encounters.
As the peace process between India and Pakistan builds up and both countries host the ‘moderate separatist leadership’ who are forecasting "important developments", human rights have taken the centre-stage at ground zero in Kashmir. Massive and angry protests have stalked the streets following the exposure of several fake encounters and serial murders of innocent citizens by the notorious Special Operations Group (SOG) and security forces. The ghastly story was exposed when civilians were falsely branded as foreign terrorists and bumped off by the cops to get rewards and promotions.
The public outrage has finally forced the Congress-led government to act, even while its ally, the Mufti Mohammad-led People’s Democratic Party and the opposition National Conference, has reworked the usual rhetoric. Some policemen, including a superintendent and his deputy (SP and DSP) have been arrested. But
things may not cool down for the government as the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) maintains that they have documented 25 cases with evidence in which innocent civilians have been projected as foreign terrorists after killing them in cold blood.
The APDP has recorded 8,000 Enforced Involuntary Disappearances (EID) during the past two decades of turbulence. Recently, it claimed the existence of mass graves in the vicinity of security camps. In one cemetery, it said, there are eight graves that have just numbers and no names.
Unidentified people buried in graves are not an uncommon sight in Kahmir, but dubious graveyards are rare. In the last two years, there
have been only two instances when skeletons tumbled out in Baramulla and Anantnag while labourers were clearing the ground.
As for the peace process and a solution to the protracted ‘Kashmir problem’, in the recent past, when the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan committed themselves to finding an amicable settlement, in the third round of the dialogue process in January 2006, things seemed to be coming back to square one. After the series of bombings starting with the Mumbai blasts, the Malegaon massacre and recently the Samjhauta Express fire-bombing in Panipat in which mostly poor Pakistanis were killed, the peace process has been yet again pushed to the backburner.
India has demanded that Pakistan must first do something about violence, particularly in the rest of India outside Jammu and Kashmir, only then any movement towards resolving outstanding bilateral issues, including the ‘Kashmir problem’, can begin. In the third leg, the Indian establishment says, they would build "a lasting relationship with Pakistan that involves creation of stakes in each other's welfare".
Till 1975, India and Pakistan were actively engaged to find a solution on Kashmir, even though they had fought three wars (1947, 1965 and 1971). After India clinched an accord with Kashmir's towering leader late Sheikh Abdullah, it believed that the Kashmir problem was all but over. As per the agreement, Sheikh Abdullah, who was demanding the right to self determination, was anointed as chief minister. As Pakistan had been badly mauled in the 1971 war, it was in no position to oppose the accord. Since then, till recently, India would refuse to entertain any discussion on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
Since January 2006, both sides have reportedly exchanged papers on a final settlement. Though the contents of these papers are not known, highly placed sources say there has been more convergence in views than ever before.
"While Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf calls for joint supervision and sharing of sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir, India calls for cooperative management," said a government source in Delhi.
A Kashmir analyst believes that the leadership of India and Pakistan need only to sit down and find a strategic word between "joint supervision" and "cooperative management" and the ‘problem’ will solved. It is therefore an irony that despite convergence, both governments are still far away from any solution. Former Indian intelligence chief and an old Kashmir hand, Amarjit Singh Dulat, also believes that the situation is now ripe to find an answer to the complex tangle. He believes that 9/11 has changed the perceptions of various Kashmiri leaders and they now want "peace with dignity".
Indian officials, sources say, are sincerely ready to give some stakes to Pakistan but insist that a series of violent incidents since last January has made any movement difficult. This was made clear to Pakistan at the foreign secretary level talks in November 2006, and thereafter, by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee when he visited Islamabad last month. "We are a democratic country and it is not possible to go against public opinion which has largely gone against the peace process after these incidents," say government sources. "Everything will start moving but it all depends on what happens on the terrorism front."
Lack of forward movement has, however, made the situation in Kashmir explosive. There is a world of difference between Kashmir one year ago and now; then it was bubbling with optimism, now pessimism stalks the people. Talk to any young man in Kupwara, Bandipora or Srinagar, and he will burst out in anger and complain about the harassment he faces in his own village and when he travels to Delhi or other cities of India.
The Kashmir Valley has also seen a surge in volatile public protests. Whether it is nagging water or electricity problems, non-stop police atrocities or sex scandals involving the top brass of the police, bureaucracy and political establishment, the death sentence of Afzal Guru, or custodial disappearances, people are thronging the streets to vent their ire. Even those who were stoically holding onto hope a year ago, are terribly angry today. The situation has turned politically explosive and can flare up in the days to come.
The escalating cases of human rights violations have pushed public anger to the edge. There have been speculations in security circles that the former commander-in-chief of Srinagar-based 15 Corps General Dhillon, after taking over in June 2005, had strictly asked his subordinates to produce results at all costs; he assured them that he would take care of criticism against human rights abuses. This crassly undemocratic policy continues till this day.
Predictably, this has resulted in a sudden high in raids and search operations, often conducted ruthlessly, identification parades, forcing travellers and locals to march long distances and seizing civilian vehicles for operational purposes. There have been widespread protests against these repressive measures.
While acting tough on militants and conducing widespread operations, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's tenure has witnessed the killing of polic
emen – hitherto untouched by the militants – and the militants gaining control of the Bandipora, Pulwama (Yaripora-Shopian-Tral), Harwan (Srinagar) and Lolab (Kupwara) forests.
The army and the paramilitary top brass are blaming each other for exposing Srinagar to the militants and allowing them to regroup closer to the city. Sources in Srinagar say the army's northern command chief Lieutenant-General Deepak Kapoor had complained at a briefing organised for Congress president Sonia Gandhi in June 2006 that police as well as Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had failed to protect the capital.
In this complex and volatile vortex, the fake encounters of ordinary citizens have further inflamed the ground situation. Kashmir is boiling with rage, but the political establishment in Srinagar and Delhi seems least concerned.