Tuesday, 3 May 2011


If not his ideology and his violent death, Al Qaeda chief’s actions changed Kashmir

Has Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's death made any difference to Kashmir? None, one would think. There were no protests and no call for hartal, our eternal weapon against any grievance, pique and a host of other resentments. There was, however, a lot of news interest in the development. The sudden announcement of Osama’s death was received with a sense of disbelief in the state. And in this, reaction in Kashmir was one with the response across the globe.
For much of the world, Laden was an abstraction at best. He was an image that stared at us from newspapers, from the internet and from a fixed set of videos beamed from the television screens where he walked the barren landscape of Afghanistan with a trademark Kalashankov slung over his shoulder. And sometimes he spoke to us through his recorded video or audio addresses. This reminded the world of his presence - albeit immaterial - hovering across the Af-Pak region. Over the past ten years that he was on the run Laden seemed to have lost his physical attributes and become an idea that evoked dread in the West and curiosity elsewhere.

But his sudden death has made him come alive. Osama the apparition that spanned across Afghanistan and Pakistan has contracted back into a lanky six foot human being. People have started believing that Osama was actually breathing as an individual all these ten years. And for Kashmiris he is somebody who lived just across the LoC, few hundred kilometres away from us in Abbotabad.

This is why Osama was a huge subject of discussion on the streets, on shops, in offices and homes. The individual observations were driven by an overriding curiosity about the development rather than by any sense of regret. There was, of course, some acknowledgment of Osama having stood up to Americans and died fighting them.

There were some probing questions also about the place and the circumstances under which Al Qaeda chief was killed. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was on twitter wondering whether Islamabad had given up on Laden or was caught out by US. Moderate separatists maintained a steadied silence, conveying an impression that they were too unrelated to the development to make a comment. In a statement, the faction said it was against terrorism in all its forms and at the same time, sought the attention of the world towards the causes that fuel conflicts in the world and sometimes create figures like Osama.

Only Hurriyat (G) chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani struck a different note. He called Al Qaeda chief a martyr who died fighting US oppression in the world.
However, the question still remains as to what Osama meant for Kashmir. He didn’t, in fact, mean much beyond his obvious importance as Al Qaeda chief who had drawn US into two wars over the past one decade. His ideology or his death haven’t been a factor in Kashmir discourse – albeit the militancy at one point of time through nineties had threatened to take on pan-Islamist contours but was soon seen as anti-movement by a substantial chunk of separatist and militant leadership and discouraged. Osama’s actions over the years, however, have changed Kashmir. 9/11 brought about a profound shift in the way the West looked at the militant struggle in Kashmir. Suddenly, US exhibited a degree of discomfort with the armed part of the struggle and alleged religious underpinnings. Kashmir as a historical dispute between India and Pakistan with roots in the partition and the growing disaffection among the local population faded into the background. And for once, world started becoming more accommodative of the Indian stance on the state and drifted away from that of Pakistan.
This shift in subsequent years will alter even the way Islamabad approached the problem. President Musharraf sobered by the drastic geo-political re-alignment post-9/11 went through a fundamental shift in his idea of a Kashmir solution. He created a new political frame of reference which soon would fructify in his now famous four point proposals. The proposals sought a Kashmir settlement without a change in the borders and informally acknowledged the irrelevance of United Nations resolutions.
The transformation was so sudden that India found itself unable to reconcile the hawkish General Musharraf during his 2000 visit to New Delhi and a flexible leader who visited the country in 2005. He successfully fashioned an intimate dialogue process with New Delhi which came closest ever to resolving Kashmir before the general's sudden exit from power in Pakistan. 9/11 also bogged down Islamabad in a new war in Afghanistan depleting its capacity to sustain the militancy in Valley. Besides, with US making no secret of its distaste for a militant struggle in Kashmir and seeking Pakistan’s unstinted support for the Afghanistan war, the violence in Kashmir became politically unsustainable.
The result is today’s Kashmir. The militancy has long lost its sting, even while it shows up in occasional bursts. The mainstream political parties have hurtled back into centre stage. Separatist political alliances like Hurriyat too remain in business but they no longer set the agenda. What, however, has not been affected is the separatist sentiment in Valley. And it is this sentiment that has driven the three successive summer surges in Valley over the past three years which only pushed gun further into the background. Can we thus infer from this that the great geo-political change engineered by Osama’s actions helped change the course of Kashmir away from the militancy? It will be safe to conclude that they did.

No comments: