K B Jandial
PM Modi returned home to a tumultuous and rousing reception after a highly productive 7-day state visit to America. While many may differ on its necessity (Imran too organised it) BJP in its political maneuvering made it a big “victory show” with eyes on impending State elections including Delhi. Nonetheless, India has scored amazing diplomatic victory on sensitive constitutional changes made in Jammu & Kashmir, conveying the world in unambiguous terms that it is India’s internal matter and the other nations including China must respect its territorial sovereignty.
Indeed, the high point of Modi’s USA visit was the unforgettable grand political spectacle at Houston whose effects didn’t wash out by Trump’s frequent U-turns in the course of four days. Billed as perhaps the largest ever ‘reception’ to a foreign dignitary in US, “Howdy Modi” which Trump himself called it a “profoundly historic event”. Some called it a “new forms of power” while others made it the third surgical strike on Pakistan, this time on US soil. Modi succeeded in convincing world leaders of Indian position on the constitutional changes in J&K even before the start of UNGA. It was explained that abrogation of article 370 was not a mere move of BJP Govt but wholehearted approval of the nation with the support of two third majority of the Parliament, highest forum in a democracy. None can dispute it, within & outside India.
Another high point of his visit was the statesman-like brief address at the 79th session of UNGA focused on the urgent global issues and Indian initiatives on these besides the story of India’s aspirations. In comparison, Imran’s maiden 50-minute long ( longest ever) speech was theatrical, hysterical, provocative, near abusive, racial, anti-India & anti-Modi rant which showed his frustration at the lukewarm response of international community to his misconceived agenda on Kashmir. Imran’s strategy of getting the world to intervene in the contestation over Kashmir with India failed. The only support he got was from Turkey and China which too is the beneficiary of illegal occupation of 42,735 sq. km territory of J&K including 5180 sq km ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963.
While PM Modi refused to join him on futile public argument Imran got mouthful from a junior officer, Vidisha Maitra, First Secretary of Indian Permanent Mission, who while exercising India’s right of reply, dismissed Imran’s address as “a script that fosters divisiveness at the United Nations” and simply called it “hate speech” designed to “sharpen differences and stir up hatred”. Rarely, UN General Assembly had witnessed such an abuse of the forum. In her stinging matter-of-fact response, Maitra shredded Imran’s speech, his duplicity and falsehood without using indecent words. First, she called Pak PM with his surname, ‘Niazi’ whose use he had prohibited by an order immediately on entering the office of Pakistan PM. Interesting; she has hit him where it hurts him more. Without elaborating more on his ‘Niazi’ surname that he preferred to hide, Maitra obliquely linked him to the infamous Lt. Gen AAK Niazi, considered a traitor in Pakistan, and unraveled his ‘pedigree’ before the world. She also reminded him that he comes from the same Pashtun tribe of Gen. Niazi who had the dubious distinction of surrendering along with 95000 Pak soldiers before Lt. Gen Jagjit Singh Arora in erstwhile East Pakistan, his veiled threat of nuclear war over Kashmir, and provocative expressions of “pogrom, bloodbath, fight to finish” notwithstanding.
Maitra hadn’t emptied her armory yet and Imran Khan had still to get more ‘sixes’ from her ‘bat’. She said, “Prime Minister Khan’s threat of unleashing nuclear devastation qualifies as brinkmanship, not statesmanship. For someone, who was once a cricketer and believed in the gentleman’s game, today’s speech bordered on crudeness of the variety that is reminiscent of the guns of Darra Adam Khel.” Not many know that this is a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, notorious for its bazaar packed with gunsmiths and weapons merchants. Dawn once reported that Kalashnikov gun is sold cheaper there than smartphone.
On Imran’s lie that Pakistan has demolished terrorist infrastructure, she requested UN to hold him to his offer to UN Observers to Pakistan to verify it. But ahead of this verification, Maitra posed some very uncomfortable questions to him. Isn’t it Pakistan home to 130 UN designated terrorists with existence of 25 terrorist entities? Isn’t it Pakistan the only Govt in the world that provides pension to terrorists (Al-Qaeda & Da’esh sanctioned individuals)?
Taking Imran Khan to task for duplicity for his so called anguish on the “plight of Kashmiri Muslims”, US Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells said that Khan’s comments on Kashmir were “unhelpful”. Why PM Imran Khan is not “highlighting the plight of the Uyghurs Muslims the same way he spoke about the Kashmiris”. She questioned why Khan was not speaking out on China, which has data of an estimated one million Uyghurs Muslims. “…I would like to see the same level of concern expressed about Muslims who are being detained in Western China, literally in concentration-like conditions.”
On his charge against India on atrocities on minorities, Maitra questioned Pakistan’s track record of human rights and said that the population of minorities in Pakistan has shrunk from 23% in 1947 to just 3% today, primarily due to draconian blasphemy laws, systematic persecution,, blatant abuse and forced conversions. In India, on the contrary, Muslim population has increased from 9.8% in 1951 to 14.23% while Hindu population has decreased from 84.1% to 79.80% during this period.
How can world forget the genocide committed by Pakistan rulers of their own Bangla Muslim brethren in its eastern part in 1971 whose mention was made at the UNGA by Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina earlier in the day.
Yes, his anti- Modi and anti-India provocative speech did create some stir in few parts of Kashmir which heard it on Aljazeera TV network and mild torchlight protest broke out in Srinagar’s down town, Nishat, Shalimar and Harwan. Such protests might have held at some other places too but not as big to create law & order problem. It wasn’t what Imran Khan was expecting to see after provoking Kashmiris in his speech. He was expecting a “bloodbath”. Non-bloody protests are not of his liking. Hope Kashmiri brethren will deprive Imran of this pleasure.
While Modi has won, by and large, all the rounds on Article 370 within and outside India Kashmir situation continues to be challenging one with everyone keeping their fingers crossed. Even low grade protests on night of 27th September indicate that things are still volatile. PM Modi had assured Kashmiris of justice and blooming of Kashmiriyat from the pulpit of Red Fort on I-Day and much more in his radio & TV exclusive address for them after abrogation of article 370. Last week, the US State Department has asked him to work on his assurances to “improve the conditions of the people of Kashmir” and remove restrictions as promised”. When will PM walk the talk?
While the Supreme Court will hear and decide the constitutional validity of the “abrogation” of article 370, information clampdown and preventive detention of Kashmir’s mainstream political leaders, it is high time that the Central Govt initiate dialogue with stakeholders including political leaders. It is the Govt that takes the first step to bring around estranged people. Preventive detention of political leaders for a brief period for maintenance of peace is understandable but not a long and unending spell. Delay in hearing these cases even by the Apex Court is also not a good augury for a strong and independent judiciary, the most important pillar of our vibrant democracy.
Almost two months have passed and despite lifting of day curfew and other restrictions of information clampdown life in Kashmir has not returned to normalcy. Day time shut down of the markets, absence of public transport and deserted class rooms of schools are manifestations of Kashmiris’ silent protest, partially forced and partially voluntary, against removal of J&K’s special status. People are still angry and the Govt needs to reach out to them. Article 370 has been buried and threads have to be picked up for moving forward.
There are indications that the Govt is endeavoring to create a new leadership of youth in Kashmir to fill the political vacuum while keeping the existing leadership of Kashmir’s mainstream parties in detention. Well, such moves can continue but remember that the trust deficit on installing Govts by Delhi and rigging elections has been one of the factors for alienation and also for militancy. The negative fallout of Installing Gul Shah Govt in 1984 and rigging of 1987 elections must be kept in mind while toying with any such idea.
Whether the Govt accepts or denies, it is a fact that Kashmiris continue to be angry over what they feel is the “betrayal” with them. Neither the continuous denial nor proclaiming that majority of the people of Kashmir are happy over this move would not make any headway. The promised financial, development and employment packages may not give the desired breakthrough as such moves are not new to the people. Kashmir is not the problem of poverty, unemployment or development. There is no Kashmiri who has no shelter or sleep without meal as is seen in other States. It is the problem of mindset of a separate nation and partly religious radicalisation.
There is an urgent need for initiating dialogue with the detained senior mainstream political leaders like Dr. Farooq Abdullah despite mutual hatred and ill will. The Govt should consider their release, even in phase manner that would ease the situation. They are not terrorists and had to be trusted. And if they provoke people for violence or create law & situation, they can be detained again. Their point of view is well known and they would reiterate it again. Mehbooba’s daughter Sana Iltija, who has emerged from obscurity to political lime light recently has compared the present situation as “emergency in Kashmir” at India Today Conclave recently. There are many who agree with her. She could be a new political star in Kashmir.
In a functional democracy on which we always boast, dissent is its soul and so are the challenges. Today, there is no contrarian view point in Kashmir on new constitutional arrangement including bifurcation of the State as the entire Kashmiri leadership is behind the bars. Why all powerful Modi Govt is scary of contrary viewpoint if expressed in Kashmir by leaders on release? It is aired elsewhere. Our astute Govt is capable to handle it politically. Now, when the Govt is holding elections to the Chairpersons of Block Development Councils on 24th October, 2019 on party basis, immediate release of detained political leaders to facilitate their participation would only enhance India’s image as a great functional democracy at international level besides breaking the ice in Kashmir for good. Otherwise it would be a big joke.