By cutting off communication networks and pouring troops into the restive Muslim-majority state, India is preparing Kashmiris for an unprecedented escalation.
Editor's note: This article was written before Monday's announcement by India to abolish Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which prohibited the purchase of land in Kashmir by non-Kashmiris. All communication between Indian-administered Kashmir and the outside world has since been cut off.
By midnight on Sunday, Indian authorities had imposed a curfew in India-administered Kashmir, shut down communication networks, and deployed tens of thousands of reinforcements from across India to implement something that seemed a mystery.
Anticipating that this would be an unprecedented curfew and that we might not meet again, I bade farewell to a few friends who would be leaving Kashmir for either studies or jobs in India and abroad.
There was a fatalistic element in our conversation. One asked: “Do you think it would become difficult for the soldiers to keep the people caged if they massacre, say, 5000 people?”
In the late evening in Srinagar, people were stocking up on food items, medicine, withdrawing cash from ATMs, and filling their fuel tanks to the brim, as well as obsessively checking their smartphone for new developments.
While we spoke, a friend forwarded me a list of satellite phone numbers given to top civilian officials, one of several alarming developments that have created hysteria that a war might break out in this conflict-prone region.
During the past few days, India has sent tens of thousands of soldiers to Kashmir, police have been asked to provide details of mosques in their respective jurisdictions; government forces have been asked to stockpile rations for up to four months and “drinking water” for at least seven days.
Soldiers have been told to keep their backpacks ready “with sufficient amounts of eatables, drinking water, chocolates, money, etc., for emergency purposes.” The troops have also been told to send home any relative who might have come to visit them in Kashmir.
Indian tourists, labourers, and Hindu pilgrims to a cave shrine in Kashmir were asked to leave. Indian and Pakistani soldiers were involved in skirmishes at the borders.
Seasoned and well-connected journalists and even top pro-India politicians have no clue as to what India is up to. That is why theories, plausible and wild, have filled in the gap. The only thing clear at present is that the government of India plans something that is bound to provoke a public reaction on a massive scale.
This could be abrogating provisions that bar Indians from buying properties in Jammu and Kashmir and allow the region to enact its own laws besides having its own flag. It could be dividing the region into (Hindu-majority) Jammu, (Muslim) Kashmir and Ladakh (which has 50-50 Buddhist and Muslim population).
But rather than being a state where people elect their own local government, Kashmir would become a Union Territory, which is perpetually ruled by New Delhi directly.
Cutting Pakistani influence
Another theory making rounds is that on August 15, India’s independence day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be hoisting the Indian flag at Lal Chowk, Kashmir’s own Red Square, where India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had promised Kashmiris the plebiscite to choose between India and Pakistan.
Some surmise that by creating a warlike situation with Pakistan, India seeks to gain entry into talks between the US and the Taliban. New Delhi sees itself as being left out and is anxious that decades of its investment in the war-torn country - a policy aimed at cutting Pakistani influence and engage its army - is going waste.
Whatever be the reason, an outcome that India anticipates and which has forced it to empty Kashmir of its all its citizens except its soldiers could only be catastrophic. A friend asked me “are they going to carpet bomb us?”
The Indian government appears to have clearly marked the seven million Kashmiris as enemies in this coming mysterious clash because while Indian citizens were advised to run for safety, Kashmiris were told to ignore “rumours”, as if the entire military build up inside a densely populated place is a farce.
A study by Doctors Without Borders says 97 percent of Kashmiris have undergone some form of trauma brought about by the ongoing conflict. Kashmiris bore the brunt of Indo-Pak hostilities in February.
A series of security curbs and relentless military operations since have wracked the region already. Subjecting this vulnerable population to another round of jingoism is an experiment in sadistic adventurism.
But what has led India to take such unprecedented civilian and administrative measures? Possibly, Hindu nationalist’s cherished dream solution for Kashmir: strip the nominal autonomous character of the Muslim-majority region and settle Hindus from India to alter its demography.
Failure to win hearts and minds
However, deep down, the Indian state has also realised the futility of winning over elusive hearts and the defiant minds of Kashmiris who have made it clear that they want a political settlement to the 82-year-old dispute. That is why the new onslaught has not spared even the pro-India politicians who have been providing an electoral facade to what has been a quasi-militaristic rule all along.
The situation indicates that the Indian security establishment is under political pressure from, or on the same page as, the ruling BJP that seeks to push for a “final solution” to Kashmir. A keen Kashmir watcher told me that BJP has not enough experience in governing India to understand that Kashmir has been a graveyard of political hubris and the BJP and its ideological father RSS’ adventurism could cost the Indian state, and the Subcontinent, heavily.
The latest scaremongering has also exposed inherent Indian contradictions about Kashmir. In one of his speeches delivered in Kashmir, Modi asked Kashmiris to opt between “tourism and terrorism.”
New Delhi always sees tourism as a solution to the ills facing the beautiful valley.
By asking tourists to leave during the peak tourism season, India showed disregard for the local economy that has already been imperilled by a series of “security measures.”
By creating a scare only a few days ahead of Eid, the ruling Hindu nationalists once again demonstrated deep antipathy towards the sentiments of Muslims. At the same time, by cancelling the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a cave shrine in Kashmir 15 days ahead of its scheduled completion, citing “terror threats”, they demonstrated how adept they are at using religion towards political ends. The pilgrimage wasn’t cancelled when insurgents fired at a bus carrying pilgrims, killing seven of them in 2017.
More hardship ahead
Even though Kashmiris are likely to endure more hardship, it is possible that at the end of the BJP's political adventurism, the Kashmiris won't be complaining. One good example is how the rise of the BJP in recent years has made pro-India politicians of Kashmir totally surplus to requirement. In fact, these politicians, by now discarded by New Delhi, got together on Sunday night and “vowed to defend Kashmir’s” unique political status.
The military build-up and the attendant miseries wrought upon Kashmiris have also vindicated the separatist leadership’s claim that electoral democracy has only been a facade for authoritarian rule in Kashmir.
This has been amply demonstrated by the treatment meted out to pro-India politicians, who, until recently, were the only fig leaf for Indian rule in Kashmir. These politicians, locally despised as “agents of New Delhi”, would be paraded before the world as the only true representatives of Kashmir. But, according to Mehbooba Mufti, who was the chief minister of the region until last year, the police had ordered hotel owners to not host any of them for meetings.
Whether its aim is to unilaterally effect political changes in Kashmir while disregarding the people’s sentiments, or pin Pakistan down, India has unwittingly told the world that the plight of Kashmiris could not be ignored for long.
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