Saturday, 7 February 2015

Liberation from ‘Kashmir’, Saroop Ijaz, 8 Feb 15

Liberation from ‘Kashmir’, Saroop Ijaz, 8 Feb 15

This February 5, the State-ordained ‘Kashmir Day’ makes one reflect on the time before cable television and 24/7 news channels, when the final broadcast of the day on Pakistan Television(PTV) was the 9pm “Khabarnama”. There was a special segment every evening on the atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir. Every evening, it was inescapable. Now, those look like peaceful days, a bit of State propaganda perhaps, but no real war, at least domestically. Yet, there is nothing peaceful about calling for open war; nobody felt the need to deny the support for the Kashmiri ‘Mujhiahdeen’ in those days.

The ‘liberation’ of Kashmir was what an entire generation (perhaps generations) was brought up on; the TTP’s ‘liberation’ of Pakistan lay well in a bloody future then. The State’s primary foreign policy imperative was uni-dimensional, ubiquitous and unrelenting, in the mosques, on PTV, in schoolchildren’s textbooks and of course on the ground in Kashmir.

The world changed and we sluggishly and perhaps unwillingly followed; the level of involvement of the ‘Mujhiadeen’ in Kashmir has very significantly dropped, other ‘Mujhiadeen’ have since entered the building and have us in their thrall. The days of Kashmiri ‘freedom fighter’ being sent across the border were simple; the State had a narrative and had engineered societal convergence on the point. The freedom fighters demanded no implementation of Sharia in the heartland; and the land of the pure was the fortress of Islam. ‘Jihad’ was still bloody but a State-controlled enterprise. How far have we and the State come?

The TTP attack us on not being ‘Islamic’ enough, for being ‘infidels’; from the Fortress of Islam to being ‘heathens’. This journey has left many, many thousands dead on the way, starting from the sectarian killings of the 1990s to the ongoing tragedy that is the APS Peshawar and Shikarpur.

We are told, APS Peshawar changed everything. We see that it hasn’t. This February 5 like most, belonged to Hafiz Saeed, the JuD, the HuM and friends. The defence put up is that these are pro-Pakistan groups; essentially meaning that they do not attack the Pakistani State or citizens. One can admit for the time being they might not. Yet, the National Action Plan (NAP) is about “zero tolerance for militancy”, is it not?

More fundamental is the implicit basic norm of the NAP that violence will not be privatised to militias and the business of governing the state and conducting its foreign policy will not be outsourced to armed, jihadi militias. The key question determining the success or failure of the NAP is: can the business of enforcing ideologies by the use or threat of force be allowed to be conducted or worse delegated to private actors by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? The answer after this past February 5 is yes.

Jammu and Kashmir has incredible levels of human rights abuses, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, mass graves and repression by the State of India; that is not under dispute. To refresh, one can recommend watching Haider, a very powerful adaptation of Hamlet in modern-day Kashmir; the movie minces no words on the repressive policy of the Indian State in Kashmir and it baffles the mind why the Pakistan censor board decided to ban it in the land of the pure. Our right to highlight and condemn the violations in Jammu and Kashmir is also unexceptionable (please, the argument of look at xyz at home first is not persuasive; that would require one to condemn everything before one condemns anything, etc.).

However, why are we obsessed with the ‘Kashmir issue’? Note, we are not really obsessed with the plight of the ‘Kashmiri people’. Kashmir is about politics and it is now about domestic policies and politics. Why is the major advocacy for Kashmir domestic, and done through mosque loudspeakers and jihadi megaphones in the streets? Surely, the people of Pakistan are sold on the idea. Shouldn’t the advocacy for the Kashmir cause be done in the UN and other international forums? Why is the Kashmir issue framed only in terms of religion and jihad?

The answer is because Kashmir is as much about foreign policy as it is about domestic control. The Taliban went rogue and are ‘bad’, however, ‘ideological’ states not only have ideologues but also have foot soldiers acting on those ideologies. To give up on ‘Kashmir jihad’ is to give up on ‘jihad’; isn’t that what the NAP is about?

Kashmir Day and jihad, etc. is not about the Kashmiris; it is about us. It is about ceding space; both physical and of narrative to armed militants with rhetoric of martyrdom and killing. It is about keeping the ideology of jihad and the State conducting it through proxies alive.

The prime minister doubling up as the foreign minister is the side show on Kashmir Day; it is Hafiz Saeed who is the show-stopper. In the speeches of recent years, even Kashmir is becoming a marginal issue; it is an opportunity to display muscle; both ideological and physical.
We declare a National Holiday on Kashmir Day. How does shutting down the economy and the entire business of the State for a day display solidarity with the Kashmiri people? How does it display intent to India, etc.? It doesn’t and that is not the point of it. The point of it has become giving the platform to the religious right, often armed to talk about Kashmir, xenophobia, but above all, the ideology of violence. What providing of open mic for one entire day does is that the ASWJ holds rallies and shows of strength ostensibly in favour of the ‘Kashmiris’ while actually simply making the Shias of Pakistan feel less secure than they already are.
The argument is not that the Pakistani State should give up Kashmir as a ‘foreign’ policy issue and not argue that case in appropriate forums. The Pakistani State has long lost the will to do that. The Kashmir issue is the domain of the government and the audience should be international. Kashmir now is a prop, an opportunity for assorted jihadi outfits to make their presence felt. We do a great disservice to the persecuted people of Kashmir and their genuine suffering by using them as mere gimmicks for domestic narrative power grabs; we do a disservice to ourselves by ceding the few inches of narrative space captured after APS Peshawar. ‘Kashmir jihad’ is the original sin; the convergence of religious militancy with hyper-nationalist patriotism. ‘Kashmir Day’ today makes a mockery of the NAP. We need to be ‘liberated’ from ‘Kashmir’ in our imagination before we talk about us, the NAP and perhaps even Kashmir.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2015.

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