Remembering the martyr of Kashmir

 

By: Syed Zafar Mehdi

His son Ghalib was barely two when Mohammad Afzal Guroo was picked up by the sleuths of Delhi Police from a bus terminal in Srinagar Kashmir as ‘prime’ accused in the Indian Parliament attack case, two days after the attack took place on December 13, 2001.

He had no inkling that his doting father had been implicated in a high-profile case of terrorism that was to change his and his family’s life forever. He was too little to understand the nitty-gritty of criminal laws, the art of hounding and persecuting innocents and making them pawns in utterly sinister games.

India was shaken and stunned. L K Advani, the then Home Minister of India, termed it an attack on the ‘sovereignty’ of India. Suspicion, as is the norm with mandarins in South Block, was pointed at shadowy forces across the border. Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan was called back in protest. Troops were dispatched to the border. Dogs of war on national television went into tizzy. A full-scale armed confrontation between the estranged neighours looked imminent. Even the possibility of a nuclear war could not be ruled out.

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Amid all the perfunctory frenzy and wild speculations, Delhi Police was engaged in some serious business. Within no time, they zeroed in on the suspects. The four people were paraded before the agitated, breathless reporters of Indian media, and all of them Kashmiris. Kashmiris, in this part of the world, make for incredibly good scapegoats.

The ‘suspects’ became ‘dreaded terrorists’ even before the trail kicked off. The equation had conveniently tilted in favour of vengeful State and its collaborators. It was no more the question of innocent-until-proven-guilty, rather the other way round.

Besides Afzal Guroo, his cousin Shaukat Guroo, Shaukat’s wife Afshan Guroo, and Delhi University lecturer SAR Geelani were also arrested. Those who knew Afzal at a personal level were in utter disbelief. His family was shocked, even shattered. The foot soldiers of extremist right-wing outfits like Bajrang Dal, RSS, and Shiv Sena took to streets and demanded death to the ‘terrorists’.

Even before the trail commenced, Indian news channels were holding their own parallel trials in air-conditioned studios and pronouncing verdicts against those who they accused of ‘plotting terror against the greatest symbol of the largest democracy’.

Trial court sentenced Afzal, Geelani and Shaukat to death, while Afshan got five years of rigorous imprisonment. The High Court subsequently acquitted Geelani and Afshan, but upheld the death penalty of Afzal and Shaukat. Geelani’s acquittal, who was initially introduced as the ‘mastermind of attack’, blew a cavernous hole in the prosecution’s version.

Supreme Court came to the rescue of Shaukat, reducing his punishment to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. Afzal, however, got no reprieve. He was served three life sentences and a double death sentence. In its order, the court said, “the collective conscience of society will be satisfied if the death sentence is given to the offender’. The court, however, observed that his involvement in the attack on Indian parliament could not be established ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. It was wholly based on circumstantial evidence, rather any direct evidence.

While his wife Afshan was exempted of all charges and acquitted, Shaukat Guroo’s sentence was relaxed. SAR Geelani was acquitted by Supreme Court. All three of them were represented by eminent lawyers. However, for Geelani, the ‘trail’ wasn’t over yet. His crime was perhaps that he was a bearded Muslim, a Kashmiri and an Arabic teacher. After failing to indict him in court, they wanted an out-of-court cold-blooded settlement with him.

He was attacked by the hired goons soon after his acquittal, outside his lawyer’s residence on the night of February 2008, 2005. Not less than five bullets pierced his torso. Displaying an exceptional fighter’s spirit, he crawled his way to hospital and survived to tell the tale.

While Geelani was battling for his life on a hospital bed, Afzal was waiting to embrace gallows inside jail.

He refused to seek presidential pardon, since he was not sure about his crime. His wife Tabassum Guroo filed a petition for clemency on his behalf. She, along with Guroo’s son and mother, even went to meet the then President of India APJ Kalam.

In her appeal for justice, she explained how Afzal was falsely implicated in the case by notorious Special Task Force in Kashmir. “You will think that Afzal must be involved in some militant activities, which is why the security forces were torturing him to extract information. But you must understand the situation in Kashmir, every man, woman and child has some information on the movement, even if they are not involved. By making people into informers, they turn brother against brother, wife against husband and children against parents. Afzal wanted to live quietly with his family but the STF would not allow him.”

The questions that remained unanswered even after his death are: Was it actually a case of ‘rarest of rare crimes’ that warrant capital punishment? Was the due process of law followed? Did he get a fair and just trail? Was he a dreaded terrorist or merely a pawn in a sinister game?

Afzal Guroo was sent to gallows on this day last year to ‘satisfy the collective conscience of society’. Death penalty is doled out only in ‘rarest of rare’ crimes, where crime is established beyond any iota of doubt, after a fair trial in accordance to the due process of law and international standards of human rights. But, not in this case. Guru’s death penalty violated Supreme Court’s own guidelines, which say that capital punishment should be awarded in ‘rarest of rare crimes’.

There were a lot of loopholes in the prosecution’s version about Afzal’s involvement in the case. Death sentence is doled out to accused only after strictest observance of free trail. Did he get a free trail? He was denied worthwhile legal assistance at trail court – a crucial stage where evidences are produced and examined, which later become basis for court’s verdict against the accused. Right to legal protection is an inherent right. It is clearly enshrined in UN Declaration of Human Rights. Constitution of India also entitles a citizen with right to be defended in court of law.

Prosecution had accused him for being a “facilitator”, and not directly involved in the crime. Its case stood wholly on “circumstantial evidence”, for which death penalty becomes grossly disproportionate. As his lawyer in High Court was to say later, his case rested on two grave infirmities. First was the media trail, which rendered doing justice impossible, and second was trail court, which had denied him a lawyer.

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Afzal’s case was based on unsubstantiated charges and fabricated evidence put together by investigating agencies. As per his own admission, Special task force personnel ruthlessly tormented him in Kashmir. Confessions were extracted from him under duress, after he was tortured and his family was threatened of dire consequences. In a letter to his lawyer from Tihar Jail, Afzal wrote in 2004, “Throughout the trial, I remained mute and helpless spectator as witnesses, police and even judge all became a single force against me. I remained bewildered and confused between the security and safety of myself and my family. I protected and saved my family. That is how I am lying in death row.”

The notorious Special cell of Delhi Police used media to brand him a ‘terrorist’, even before trail commenced. He was forced to confess his ‘imaginary’ crime before media. It followed the media trail in a rather brazen manner, including a film broadcasted on Zee TV, apparently previewed and approved by the then P.M Atal Bihari Vajpaaye himself. It was one of the prime factors in prejudicing the outcome of the trail.

Delhi High court acknowledged that investigating agencies had fabricated evidence against him, yet it went ahead to uphold the “unfair” verdict against him. Supreme Court admitted that his direct association with any terrorist outfit couldn’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt. His case did not meet international standards of a fair trial. Taking all the serious loopholes into account, it violated Article 7, 10, 14, 17 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Before staging a judicial murder in a secretive manner, the State did not even deem it important to inform his family. It feared the public backlash, but the protests erupted anyway. Then, they cited jail manual to refuse the request of Guroo’s family to return his corpse for proper burial in Kashmir.

As activist and author Arundathi Roy wrote in her Outlook essay few years back, he was not the dragon, he was only dragon’s footprint, and if dragon’s footprint is made to ‘become extinct’, we will never know who the dragon was”.

Today, his son Ghalib is 15 years old. He has grown up fast. He knows life better now. He is a proud son of a martyr. Today, Afzal Guroo has become a symbol of resistance for new-generation freedom-lovers in Kashmir. He has become a rallying point. His martyrdom has infused a fresh lease of life in the movement against Indian occupation and repression in Kashmir.

It is sickening to see many pseudo-liberals in India now beating their chests and shedding crocodile tears over the miscarriage of justice. Their sudden change of heart is more preposterous than the frenzied celebrations of the blood-hungry right-wing fanatics. There have been reports in Indian press suggesting that he was ‘Indian nationalist’ who was ‘wronged by law’, and who wanted to ‘rid country of corruption’.

Guroo was a man of principles. He had strong principled political stand on Kashmir. It was evident when he turned down the offer of Ram Jethmalani to plead his case, who had put some conditions before him. The conditions put by the lawyer, who also defended co-accused SAR Geelani in the same case, were against the principles and political ideology of Guroo. He was unequivocal about Kashmir being a ‘disputed’ region, and not the ‘integral part’ or ‘jugular vein’ of any other outside entity. He was a staunch freedom-lover like any one of us. If that is a crime that warrants capital punishment, then we all deserve to be hanged and buried in Tihar jail.

Today, on his first death anniversary, Kashmir is under curfew, and I am far away from home. There is internet blockade, and various other arm-twisting methods are being used to crush the spirit of young Kashmiris who want to register their protest against the secretive, vengeful hanging of this martyr. But, nothing can beat this spirit, not even death.

A stone epitaph on his empty grave in Srinagar’s main martyr’s graveyard, right next to the empty grave of the founding father of Kashmir’ independence movement Maqbool Bhat, who was executed in the same jail 29 years ago, shines bright. The epitaph reads, “The martyr of the nation, whose mortal remains are lying in the custody of the Government of India. The nation is awaiting its return.”

I do not hate people, nor do I encroach. But if I become hungry, the usurper’s flesh will be my food. Beware… Beware… of my hunger, and my anger! ~ Mahmoud Darwish (Palestinian poet and author; 1941-2008)

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Boys who never came home

 

Parveena Ahangar’s small world came crashing down on the fateful night of August 18, 1990 when her 16-year old school-going son Javed Ahmed vanished under mysterious circumstances. The boy was picked up by Indian paramilitary forces during a midnight raid at his uncle’s house in India-controlled Kashmir. The grief-stricken mother spent sleepless nights waiting for her son to return. She never saw him or heard from him again.

This Himalayan valley of shimmering lakes and beautiful meadows has been the bone of contention between the estranged South Asian neighours India and Pakistan for more than six decades. The two nuclear powers have gone to war on two occasions to claim the disputed territory.

In 1989, a full-blown armed insurgency broke out in Kashmir. The anti-India sentiment assumed a whole new dimension. In order to quell the popular uprising, Indian armed forces would resort to unbridled use of force against the civilians. The sense of fear and susceptibility was overpowering. Young boys would leave home for a game of cricket and never return. Many of them would be abducted from their homes and dragged to various interrogation centers. The traumatized families would run from pillar to post to know the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Day of Disappeared

Like every year, the International Day of Disappeared was observed across the world on August 30. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, people assembled in Pratap Park in the heart of Srinagar to show solidarity with the families of the missing. The relatives – mothers, sisters, daughters – sat quietly, holding the posters, pictures and placards, as cameras zoomed into their wrinkled faces and sunken eyes. One of them was 80-year-old Hajira, who had come all the way from North Kashmir’s Bandipora district to attend the protest. Her three sons were killed at the time when militancy was at its peak, and the fourth went missing. She has become weak but the resilience is infectious. The protest was also joined by JKLF Chairman Yaseen Malik and parents of the youth who were killed by Indian forces during the 2010 unrest.

“For unknown reasons, unmarked graves in the disputed territory of the world’s largest democracy have not been deemed scandalous enough”

This year, the protest had a creative element to it. Many young artists took active part in the daylong silent sit-in. Some of them wrapped themselves in banners with faces white washed, while some scribbled notes in black ink on their bare bodies. The trend of artistic resistance has become increasingly popular in Kashmir of late, with the young breed of artists, cartoonists, singers, and poets taking the center stage. “The resistance movement has become inclusive and youth are taking the lead now. These are the children of conflict who grew up in the turbulent period of the 90s and they pretty much know the art and science of resistance,” says journalist Hilal Mir.

Events to mark the Day of Disappeared were also held in JNU New Delhi, and TISS Mumbai, where Kashmiri students and activists spoke on the phenomenon of disappearances in Kashmir.

Together for a cause

Ahangar’s is not an isolated case. Thousands of young men mysteriously disappeared during the turbulent 1990s. The law enforcement agencies did not move. With no help coming from anywhere, Ahangar decided to run the gauntlet. She got together some of the families whose members had disappeared under similar circumstances. In 1994, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) was born.

Without any formal education, she managed to create a stir. “I knew there were thousands of poor hapless mothers like me, so I decided to get them on board and carry forward our struggle collectively,” says Ahangar. There is another organisation by same name working for the same cause, run by J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).

“Young boys would leave home for a game of cricket and never return. Many of them would be abducted and dragged to various interrogation centers”

Over the years, both the associations have become bigger with more than a thousand members who have similar tales of despair and despondency to narrate.Nazima Jan (31) of North Kashmir district has been waiting for her missing three brothers for the last 15 years. She joins a protest in a public park in Srinagar – the summer capital of Kashmir – on the 10th and 28th of every month, against enforced disappearances.

On August 30, the families got together again and took a pledge to continue their search for the missing. However, their protests are largely ignored by mainstream Indian media. “No doubt India has a powerful and free media but many editors and other key players in the industry, if not all, have drawn a line in certain issues and areas including Kashmir. They call it ‘national interest’,” says Yusuf Jameel, senior journalist who covered Kashmir for BBC in 1990s.

“The phenomenon of enforced disappearances started in 1990, says Zahir ud Din, senior journalist and activist. “Initially it was not part of a bigger design to scare people. Brutal torture claimed hundreds of lives and their bodies were disposed of in rivers, lakes and elsewhere. Then the security agencies realized how it can be used as an effective tool to scare people. It became a policy,” says Zahir ud Din, who authored a book ‘Did they vanish into thin air?’ on Kashmir’s disappeared.

APDP has played an instrumental role in bringing the issue of enforced disappearances in Kashmir into limelight. Ahangar (49) is now a member of AFAD (Asian Federation of Involuntary Disappearances). She has travelled to many parts of the world like Philippines (2000), Indonesia (2004), and Europe (2008) to speak on the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Kashmir. In 2008, the United Nation’s Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture granted funds to APDP, which are spent on the medicines, clothes and other necessities of the families of victims.

Mass graves and missing people

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted by UN General Assembly on 20 December 2006 explicitly terms the systematic practice of enforced disappearances a ‘crime against humanity’.

Human rights activists in Kashmir claim that close to 8,000 people, including combatants and non-combatants, have been subjected to enforced disappearance in the region over the last 20 years. The International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) in its report released in December 2009 revealed 2,700 unmarked graves containing more than 2,900 bodies in more than 50 villages in north Kashmir. Due to some operational constraints, the research was confined to select villages, so the observers believe the number could be much higher.

In August 2011, the 11-member police investigation team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) verified 2,156 unidentified bodies in unidentified graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara districts. It was a moment of vindication for the families of victims; however, no further investigation was done to get to the root of matter. “For unknown reasons, unmarked graves in the disputed territory of the world’s largest democracy have not been deemed scandalous enough,” says Mirza Waheed, author of The Collaborator, a critically acclaimed novel set in Kashmir. “Doesn’t such an astonishing discovery merit a serious inquiry and investigation by the Indian State?” he asks. “In the long run, state will not want to penalize itself on anything, least of all disappearances which it enforces as a matter of representational threat to people to safeguard its imagined sovereignty,” says Ather Zia, Kashmir-born and US-based anthropologist and writer.

Many believe the missing persons have been killed and dumped in these unmarked graves. “Many families are ready to volunteer their DNA samples to confirm if their kin is buried in these graves to gain closure, at the same time many see it as another deferral tactic by the government, since the tests are not happening any soon,” says Zia.

To be or not to be

Twenty-nine year old Nusrat (name changed) is a resident of southern Kashmir district. She is known in her locality as a ‘half-widow,’ a term used for women whose spouses are missing. “The simple fact that their men have disappeared and not been declared dead has left thousands of these women in a wretched state with no legal protection,” says Aliya Bashir, Kashmir-based journalist, who has done extensive research on the half-widows of Kashmir.

“Half-widows face the worst kind of economic, social and emotional insecurities. They live between hope and despair, hope of seeing their loved ones again, and despair of not finding a clue since last 25 years,” says Zia.

Perpetrators and inaction:

On December 6, 2012, the IPTK released a report, “Alleged Perpetrators – Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir”. The meticulous research work of two years uses data from official state documents and witness testimonies. It examined 214 cases of human-rights abuses and the role of 500 alleged perpetrators. Among the 500 perpetrators were 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 government-backed associates. The list of alleged perpetrators included two major generals, three brigadiers, nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels, 78 majors and 25 captains. “Cases presented in this report reveal that there is a policy to not genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human-rights violations,” said a press handout by the IPTK.

Taking serious cognizance of the report, Amnesty International called for an “impartial probe into the allegations of human-rights violations made in a report”. The Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearances said the study “clearly points to a high level of command decision, given the involvement of top ranking officers of the Indian Army”. So far, no action has been taken on the report. “Many people in Kashmir,” says Waheed, “have resigned to the idea that justice is a far-fetched dream, and the perpetrators may never be booked.”

Notwithstanding the hopelessness and helplessness, Ahangar is not tired of waiting for her son. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

~ Zafar

Living on the edge — LoC flare-up

 

 
A Hindu protestor shouts slogans during communal riots with Muslims in Kishtwar
 

For the residentsof Silikote – a small nondescript village on the Line of Control (LoC) – the fear of the ongoing skirmishes turning into a full-blown war between the two estranged South Asian neighours has marred Eid celebrations. They find themselves trapped in the line of fire.

The latest flare-up on the 740-km line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, followed by bellicose statements, can have serious repercussions on the peace parleys between the two countries. After New Delhi blamed Pakistan Army for a deadly overnight ambush last week that killed five Indian soldiers, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony did not rule out the possibility of a strong military retaliation. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, caught in an embarrassing situation, urged both sides to take swift measures to shore up the 10-year ceasefire.

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  An Indian woman walks along a border fence on the Line of Control
An Indian woman walks along a border fence on the Line of Control
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Pakistani military officials on Thursday accused Indian border troops of opening fire and injuring a civilian in the Tatta Pani sector along the LoC. Similar border skirmishes in January had stalled the peace process between two countries. Despite the pledge taken by Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two countries to ‘de-escalate’ the situation along the LoC, the sabre-rattling has only continued. The peace process had resumed after a long hiatus triggered by the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. India accused Pakistan of engineering and sponsoring the attack.

This is not the first such outburst. The two countries have a history of flashpoints and flare-ups. In 1947-48, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir. The war was ended with a UN-brokered ceasefire and a resolution demanding plebiscite for Kashmir. In 1965, the two countries went to war over Kashmir again. The war ended with a UN ceasefire again. In 1971, the two countries fought for the third time, over East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. In 1988, an armed revolt against Indian occupation in Kashmir gained fresh momentum, and India blamed Pakistan for arming Kashmiri militants. In 1998, India carried out nuclear tests, and Pakistan followed suit. In 1999, India and Pakistan fought another war in the mountains near Kargil. In July 2001, the high-level Agra summit between Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpaaye proved a disaster. In December 2011, the Indian Parliament was attacked by terrorists and India accused Pakistan-based groups.

Khursheed Shah blamed the escalated tensions on the new government’s “weak policies”

Making sure not to take sides, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a diplomatic tone: “We are aware of these unconfirmed reports and are concerned about any violence along the Line of Control”. Reiterating the ambiguous US policy on Kashmir, she said the pace, scope, and character of dialogue on Kashmir was for India and Pakistan to determine.

Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq expressed serious concerns over the deadly attacks, and said they had the potential to harm the improving relations between the two countries. “The killing of Indian or Pakistani soldiers along the border has always been a matter of worry and concern. Hence, Kashmiris have repeatedly stressed resolving all outstanding issues including Kashmir to stop the wastage of lives on both sides of the LoC,” Mirwaiz said while addressing a religious gathering in Kashmir. He urged both the countries to demilitarise the border and ensure the safety of Kashmiris living along the LoC on both sides of the divided valley.

In Jammu region, communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in the wake of the LoC skirmishes have already claimed three lives

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly of Pakistan, Syed Khursheed Shah, blamed the escalated tensions on the new government’s “weak policies”. He said no such incidents had taken place in the PPP government’s tenure.

In India, there are concerns about the role of the jingoistic media and the right-wing BJP. BJP’s top leadership managed to corner the Congress-led government over the repeated ceasefire violations on LoC. According to Defence Minister AK Antony, the number of infiltration attempts from the Pakistani side of Kashmir has doubled in the period between January and August.

For the Congress-led government in New Delhi, the flare-up has brought more headaches on the domestic front. The party may not be able to pass its ambitious Food Bill before August 20 – Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary.

Meanwhile, in Jammu region, communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in the wake of the LoC skirmishes have already claimed three lives, while several men are critically injured. The clashes erupted in Kishtwar after venom-spewing Hindu men apparently belonging to some Hindutva groups attacked an Eid congregation. Muslims retaliated with full force. Soon, clashes broke out across the Jammu region. Houses were attacked, shops were set ablaze, and places of worship were desecrated. The situation remains tense, and curfew has been imposed in six of the 10 districts of Jammu.

Like the residents of Jammu, people living along the LoC on both sides of the divided Kashmir continue to live on the edge, with the threat of war looming large over them.

~ Zafar

Taliban In Context of Kashmir

kid82A palpable buzz in the town is that after the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the hard-bitten Talibani guerillas may trickle over to the Indian-occupied-Kashmir. Local media has been sent into a tizzy as seasoned political pundits discuss its possible repercussions. While most of the blustering Kashmir experts on prime time shows play it down as gibberish talk, some are not ruling out the possibility of Kashmir being Pakistani Taliban’s next pit stop. Amidst all this shrill noise from different sides, a poor common man on the street looks panicky and frightened, not knowing who to believe.

The threat, according to naysayers, comes from Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is an umbrella organization of militant groups in the federal areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border, formed in 2007 under the patronage of Baitullah Mehsud. While their stated intent is to fight the pro-US governments in Pakistan and to enforce a system of Sharia (in which minorities have no place), they have also been aggressive in their war against the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In December last year, after Hurriyat Conference (M)’s much-publicized Pakistan visit, Chairman of his faction of Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq warned New Delhi of “Taliban spill-over with impact beyond Kashmir” if the dispute was not resolved before US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. He came under blistering criticism for his ‘surreptitious’ remarks bordering on paranoia, but was he only stating the truth based on his observations or was it a blatant invite to the Taliban?

Recently, a 42-minute video was released by Pakistani Taliban, in which their chief Hakimullah Mehsud and his deputy Wali ur Rehman addressed media persons and answered queries on the strategies and methods of Taliban warfare, its relations with Afghan Taliban, and plans of extending their operations to Indian-occupied-Kashmir. “The practical struggle for a Shariah system that we are carrying out in Pakistan, the same way we will continue it in Kashmir. And this is the only solution for people’s problems,” said the beaming duo, vowing to liberate Kashmir and establish Islamic Shariah.

On one hand, the possibilities of Taliban coming to Kashmir look slim, because they are also engaged in a fight against the government in Pakistan and NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 is not likely to end their ‘turfwar’ within Pakistan. Political analysts believe the change of guard in Pakistan is not going to discourage them or dampen their spirits. Even though the newly crowned PM is known for mollycoddling Taliban and their shady fringe groups, now he also has to entertain Obama and go with a begging bowl to bail out his country from economic crisis. That, in all likelihood, will keep the Taliban fighters busy in Pakistan and they would find it difficult to sneak through Line of Control without the aid of army.

On the other hand, there is a small section that is loudly and vociferously sounding the alarm bells. They are not ruling out the possibility of Taliban ‘liberating’ Kashmir, post NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Talibani fighters may be inclined to extend their operations beyond the Pakistani border and as stated in the video released by TTP, the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation may be one of their prime objectives. After all, they won’t come for skiing and paragliding, they mean business.

The question, however, to be asked is: should TTP be welcome in Kashmir? Who will host them in Kashmir if they come? Will it help the cause or damage it further? Or, to put it plainlyis there a need for TTP to come to Kashmir in the first place? Unlike Afghan Taliban, TTP is only known for its notoriety. Former was the creation of America to fight Russians in Afghanistan, while latter came into force essentially to wipe out the pro-west institutions in Pakistan and to enforce most strict form of ‘Shariat’. Has it been successful in doing just that?

Pakistan continues to be an important ally of America in its ‘war-on-terror’. They can still come in with permission and launch drone strikes. They still have their embassy and other offices across Pakistan. The relations between Pakistan and America have only got better, at least at the governmental level. With Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) in power, things are not going to change much. Then what has TTP been fighting for all these years? What has it achieved? Yes, there are some achievements to their credit.

Over the years, TTP has only managed to wreak havoc in Quad e Azam’s Pakistan. They have declared ‘others’ as ‘apostates’ and take it upon themselves to wipe them off. The dream of an Islamic republic where all Muslims live in peace and dignity stands in tatters today, and much of the credit goes to TTP and the monsters it has created in the form of Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ). If you do not subscribe to a particular line of religious thought, you are only inviting trouble for yourself. Chances are you can be shot dead on a crowded street, killed in a targeted attack, blown up in a mine blast, offloaded from a bus and shot dead and other far more diabolical ways. That is their achievement, their way of enforcing Shariah, establishing a Khilafah, in which minorities like Shias or Ahmedis or Christains have no place.

Now, since they have expressed their desire and keenness to come to Kashmir, I cannot help but fear for the worst. Our freedom movement has stood the tests of time primarily because we, cutting across sects and communities, have stood together. I don’t want to see them spilling the blood of my brothers and sisters to ‘liberate’ Kashmir and to ‘enforce’ their brand of Shariat. We know how to resist and we know how to fight, and we can do that without any unsolicited help of Taliban or their proxies. There is no dearth of leadership, but truth be told, the movement presently is led by people themselves, and this shift has been more visible after the 2010 popular uprising. Keeping TTP out of the picture is important.

While India is not particularly happy with the Taliban upsurge in Afghanistan, it has no such issues with TTP. The internal war in Pakistan is in the interest of India. No matter the honeyed rhetoric of peace emissaries, the truth is India wants to see Pakistan crumble, and vice versa. Even if TTP comes to Kashmir, India should not fret much so long as TTP carries out its sinister sectarian agenda, which will only benefit India and weaken the freedom movement in Kashmir. It is one of the reasons why India has pledged the assistance of staggering 2 billion dollars to Karzai led government in Afghanistan, while carrying out the proxy wars in insurgency-hit provinces of Pakistan, in collision with TTP.

~ Zafar

A new dawn or an aberration?

Syed Zafar Mehdi

In the summer of 2009, there was a palpable buzz in Kashmir about a young tear-away pacer called Abid Nabi. The tall and muscular 22-year-old was drawing comparisons to many cricketing greats like Javagal Srinath and Waqar Younus. After getting amnesty from Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for playing in a rebel cricket league (ICL), he was back in the hunt and aiming for stars. “My dream to play at the highest level lives on,” he told me in an interview that time, with oozes of self-belief and excitement. He harboured the hopes of becoming the first cricketer from Kashmir to play for India. Nobody else had achieved the feat before, so he was raring to go and break the jinx.

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It is baffling why no one from this cricket-crazy region has played the international cricket, despite the exciting pool of talented young cricketers. In the past, players like Abdul Qayoom Bagoo, Mohuiddin Mirza and Abdul Rauf had been in the reckoning but nobody could break the shackles. Abdul Qayoom once told me in an interview that his prime came around the time when armed militancy was at its peak in Kashmir valley and state cricket association was in shambles. “I needed backing, which was not there”, said Qayoom, who captained the state team for many years and later donned the mantle of J&K team coach as well. Under his captaincy, the state team the first and only time managed to cruise into knockout stage of Ranji trophy in 2002. Like others, Qayoom was excited for Abid Nabi, who he thought would go on to play at the top level.

 

In the sub-continent, cricket is a religion and cricketers are worshipped as deities. In Kashmir, the fanaticism assumes a different dimension and meaning. Every boy on the street wants to be the next Shahid Afridi or Sachin Tendulkar. But, call it the irony of fate, no cricketer from Kashmir has hitherto played at the highest level. “The dismal performance of our state team in the Ranji trophy is the biggest factor,” confides Shuja Husain, opening batsman for Budgam Cricket Club (BCC). He is seconded by many players, coaches and cricket administrators I have over the years interacted with.

Some blame it on ‘non-seriousness’ among players, some blame it on the ‘climatic conditions’ that allow cricket activity only for six to seven months round the year. One veteran cricketer told me a few years ago that the ‘mess’ was because of the infighting and inter-factional rivalries in the state cricket board, headed by a powerful politician, who is as famous for his politics as for his flings. “The right people are not in the right positions in association,” a former cricketer told me on conditions of anonymity. Some felt the need to raise the bar, while some felt the need to upgrade the infrastructure at par with international standards. Some said the selection procedure at state level has been far from admirable, because of which good players keep warming the benches.

One former state level player, who I interviewed last year, spoke at length about the lobbies’ active in state cricket body and lack of any specific criteria for selection of players at zonal level, which has hampered the chances of players from smaller state like J&K. “There is definitely a rampant bias in selection at zonal levels. Skippers of zonal sides mostly favor their own boys, and players from Kashmir are almost always left out,” he said.

Asked if any player from Kashmir were to play at the highest level, Ashwini Gupta, a former state player once told me that it would be the “best thing to happen for game in Kashmir”. So, has the time come?

After being in the reckoning for many years, Abid Nabi seems to have vanished, like many other promising cricketers in the past. Now all of a sudden, the arch lights have turned to a young player from Bigbihera, a small town in the southern Kashmir district of Anantnag. Parvez Rasool, the 24 year old talented bowling all-rounder, will be part of a 15-member squad that will tour Zimbabwe to play five ODI matches from July 24. Coming from a family of cricketers (his father and brother have played professional cricket), Rasool has represented his state J&K from under-14 level. Legendary Indian cricketer Bishen Singh Bedi, also Rasool’s coach and mentor, feels the boy has the “temperament to succeed at the highest level”.

Rasool made his first-class debut for J&K in 2008-09. In the 17 first-class matches so far, he has scored 1003 runs and taken 46 wickets, which is pretty decent for someone who has grown up playing cricket in paddy fields. However, he caught the attention of cricket pundits and selectors last season after a string of impressive performances in Ranji trophy, India’s main domestic cricket competition. In seven Ranji matches, Rasool scored 594 runs with two centuries, and took 33 wickets to finish as the third-highest wicket-taker among spinners in the tournament, and also the top run-getter and wicket-taker for his side.

Soon, he received the news of his selection for India ‘A’ squad to play against England in a one-day warm-up game in Delhi, the first cricketer from Kashmir to make it. It was a curtailed match, so he did not make much of an impression. It was then against Australia, while playing for Board President XI earlier this year, Rasool hit the headlines. He returned with impressive figures of 7/45 and scored swashbuckling 36. Then, he got an offer from Pune Warriors team to play in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) this season.

Soon after the news of his selection broke out, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter were abuzz. Local newspapers in Kashmir were replete with stories and pictures about the new star. To score a few brownie points, state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted his wishes to the young cricketer and the leader of opposition party Mehbooba Mufti went all the way to his home to congratulate his family. He became a poster-boy overnight.

Kashmir, where cricket is a political statement, the support for the Pakistani cricket team is a part of popular folklore. Historians say it has to be seen and understood in the context of their larger political aspirations and their detestation for anything to do with India. So, it would be interesting to see how Kashmir embraces its new star. While he now represents the hopes and aspirations of one billion people who are crazy about the game, back home, a daunting task lies ahead for him to create his fan base. Will the people in Kashmir switch loyalties now to Indian cricket team? “It’s a stupendous achievement and we are really proud of him, but we would still want Pakistan to win against India,” says Aqeel Bhat, a young club cricketer in Kashmir.

An unassuming boy-next-door and a practicing Muslim, he refused to sport the logo of a liquor brand on his Pune Warriors shirt in Indian Premier League (IPL), perhaps taking inspiration from South African star Hashim Amla. The road to success and fame, however, has not been smooth for this latest sensation from Kashmir. In October 2009, while representing J&K team in an under-22 tournament in southern Indian city of Bangalore, Rasool was detained by local police after traces of explosives were allegedly found in his kit bags. He was released after a few days for lack of evidence, not the first Kashmiri to have faced such a situation in an Indian state. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he was made a “scapegoat” and “arrested mistakenly”. Rasool’s brother Asif accused the Bangalore police of “high handedness”. “The police had used a sniffer dog for detection of any explosive material in their bags. Since there was a copy of holy Quran in the bag, my brother objected, which actually prompted his arrest,” his brother said to media. After a few days in the lock-up, he was back in the nets, bowling those vicious off spinners and lofting the bowlers over mid wicket.

The journey from the horror of lock-up to the limelight of dressing-room looks straight out of a typical Bollywood blockbuster. But, for him, it’s a reality he has lived, and a baggage he will always carry with him. As Rasool gets ready for a fresh innings of his life as the first cricketer from conflict-marred Kashmir to play for India, the big question is: is this a new dawn for cricket in Kashmir or just an aberration?

Engineering sectarian frenzy

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

The Holy Quran in no unequivocal terms calls for the unity and accord among Muslims. “And hold fast to the rope of Allah and be not divided among yourselves” (Al-Imran, 3:103). Unity is at the root of Islam, unity is vision and unity is strength. Sand grains make a desert, and tiny droplets make an ocean. We are only as strong as we are united, and only as weak as we are divided. It’s the clear and compelling message of unity that has brought many non-Muslims into the fold of Islam. Yusuf Islam, once known as Cat Stevens, says the very first lesson he learnt from the Qur’an was the “message of unity and peace”. Holy Quran puts lot of emphasis on ittihad (unity), which is testified by ample number of holy verses calling believers to tighten the rope and promote mutual respect, harmony and accord. There is a narration that says once Yunus as-Sadafi had a heated argument with Imam Shafie and he left the scene exasperated. Then one day, Imam Shafie met him, held his hand and said, “Can we not be brothers, even if we disagree about something”. A tradition attributed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) says; “Muslims are like a body; if one limb aches, the whole body aches.” It does.

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In his illuminating book ‘The Light of Islam’, Dr. Mohammad Ali Al-khuli says, “Islam is the greatest unifying force in the world.  It is a religion to all humans regardless of color, race and language.  It is a religion that tolerates other religions and orders its followers to respect and protect all humans.” Notwithstanding such strong emphasis on the subject of unity and accord, the fault lines still exist and continue to penetrate deeper into our social fabric. However, contrary to the widespread perception, these fault lines have little to do with the difference in interpretation of texts or understanding of the history. Toronto-based writer and analyst Murtaza Husain in a recent article for AlJazeera said the Shia-Sunni conflict has little or nothing to do with religious differences and is actually a byproduct of modern identity politics. Furthermore, he said, “western military powers have sought to amplify these divisions to generate internecine conflicts within Muslim societies and engineer a bloodbath which will be to their own benefit.” He was referring to Shia Sunni conflicts in Middle East, but replace ‘western military powers’ with ‘Indian occupation forces’ and the analogy fits well in the context of Indian-occupied-Kashmir as well.

Last few weeks have been particularly distressing. It started with the mindless massacre of unarmed protestors by trigger-happy Indian forces in Ramban district of Indian-occupied-Kashmir. The people were staging a peaceful demonstration against the desecration of mosque and Holy Quran by Indian forces when they were showered with bullets. As the bereaved people were mourning their dead, sectarian clashes broke out in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district, where Shia and Sunnis have lived in peace and harmony for centuries. What started as a minor altercation between two sumo drivers in a small non-descript village called Galwampora tucked between Bemina and Budgam, soon snowballed into major group clashes involving Shias and Sunnis from all the adjoining areas.

One of the drivers was a Shia, a resident of Bemina, who I have played cricket with. The other was a Sunni from the village Galwampora. According to privy reports, former was bashed up after the altercation in Galwampora. He came back to his village and told his friends about the incident. The same day, they intercepted a tipper (which belonged to Galwampora) at Bemina and beat up the driver. The next day, people in Galwampora stopped a tipper in their area (which belonged to Bemina) and did exactly same. Soon, the word spread, mischief-mongers got into play, leading to fierce group clashes between Shias and Sunnis in Khomeini Chowk, Dooru, Sebdan, Galwampora, Narkara, Ompora and other adjoining areas. Public announcements were made from loudspeakers in some mosques in Ompora and Narkara that Shias had attacked Sunnis, burnt their houses and shops and beaten up women and children. At that point, there was no truth to it. It was a conspiracy to pit people against each other. We know whose mischief it was, who was trying to create a rift, who wanted to fan the flames, and who wanted to shift the focus away from Ramban killings to petty sectarian clashes.

The civil administration was in blissful slumber until the clashes spilled to many parts of the Budgam district. There was no police and no official from district administration to douse the flames. According to sources, police contingents arrived late and did nothing. Even as hundreds got injured and houses were ransacked in many parts of Bemina, police did nothing. They let the tensions escalate.

The trouble mongers who instigated people to attack each other had a sinister agenda, so naturally they had full backing of police. As the days passed, the tensions escalated and clashes erupted in other parts as well. Then, perhaps as a face wash, curfew was imposed in the affected areas. Despite the restrictions, the miscreants, with overt and covert support of police, still managed to wreak havoc in many areas of Budgam like Dahpora, Naslapora, Dadina, Koolipora, Pymus, Dandoosa, Paris Abad, Garend Kalan etc.

The role of police has been particularly shameful. On Tuesday, people protested after an elderly woman, 58 year old Fatima Begum, was hit on her head with the gun butt at Dadina, a shia locality in Budgam. At the time of writing this, she is battling for the life in hospital. Police reportedly barged into many houses in some villages of Budgam and bashed up people. Many people were arrested and interrogated.

In the ensuing clashes, hundreds have been injured, women and children have been attacked, shops and houses have been set ablaze, and the madness continues. Many of my friends and acquaintances are either admitted in hospitals or languishing in police custody. And nobody will question the role of civil administration and police in letting the pot boil and instigating the majority to crush minority. Our very own Praveen Swami, in his characteristic style, gave both the administration and police a clean chit in his venomous First Post piece, shifting the blame on Lashkar e Toiba and Tableegi Jamaat. He wants us to believe that low-grade sectarian skirmishes in Kashmir have been for decades, even centuries, and predicts the doom for the community. It is not even funny, it is outright lame.

The timing of these clashes is suspect. Many people see the hand of shadowy government forces behind it, who want to shift the focus away from Ramban killings by stoking the Shia-Sunni flames and sowing the seeds of discord. “There is little doubt that an alleged scuffle between two drivers of commercial vehicles leading to a major sectarian clash in Kashmir is not something spontaneous and happening on its own free will and trajectory, such a sectarian clash, has often been sought to be engineered in Kashmir,” writes a senior journalist Najeeb Mubarki on his Facebook page. He is seconded by a Kashmiri research scholar Gowhar Fazili. “Following collective mass protests in one voice against the desecration of Quran and bloody military excess on people in Ramban that spread across the three artificial colonial divisions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, threatening the very edifice of occupation; we have these sudden sectarian skirmishes between Shias and Sunnis. This seems to provide a fine diversion from the pressing issue of impunity and creeping militarization at hand that affects us all equally regardless of our sectarian identities or political orientation.”

This is not the first time such a non-existent conflict has been engineered by vested interests working for various intelligence agencies in Kashmir. “I remember even in 1980s’ whenever the government was under threat, it would engineer a Shia-Sunni, Sher-Bakra and Pandit-Muslim conflicts and then intervene to rescue the people from themselves,” writes Fazili in his small, incisive Facebook note. Just last year, when people of Kashmir were coming to terms with Pir Dastgeer Sahib shrine tragedy, a sufi shrine that caught fire quite mysteriously, another shocking incident was reported from a small village called Gundhasi Bhat where some ‘shadowy’ miscreants torched Holy Book and Alam Sharif (a sacred relic for Shia Muslims).

The sequence of events was not just tragic but deeply disturbing. How did the fire erupt? Why did the fire tenders arrive late? Why did the government sleep over warnings on the vulnerability of wooden shrines, and fail to put up fire extinguishers at these shrines? There were many uncomfortable questions for the government to answer. All the people, cutting across sects and communities, were asking these questions, so it was a desperate attempt to stoke sectarian flames and pit people against each other. The shrine of Sheikh Sayed Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA), popularly known as Pir Dastgeer Sahib, was constructed in 1806 and housed the rare relics of this world-famous Sufi saint. It was more than an architectural wonder and a 200-year heritage site for the people in Kashmir. It was a silent and powerful witness to Kashmir’s turbulent history.

The latest shocking news coming is about a brutal murder of a local Sunni Imam’s two little children in Bemina. The mischief-mongers know where the fingers would be pointed and that is what they want. These are shamefully desperate attempts by the hydra-headed monsters who want to see people from different communities and sects in Kashmir bay for each other’s blood. When a popular movement poses an existential threat to the ruling establishment, they resort to such dastardly acts, creating a nonexistent conflict between people and communities and pitting them against each other. Clearly the aim is to create a wedge among people, divide them on sectarian lines, and deflect their attention from the bigger issues and bigger struggle against a military occupation.

Many of our political and religious leaders, who otherwise don’t miss an opportunity to preach lessons of unity and brotherhood, have kept mum on this latest round of engineered sectarian frenzy. Some, however, have tried to score a few brownie points by asking government to deploy military forces in the affected areas, thus asking for trouble. We have already seen how government used its police force to instigate mobs to attack each other and keep the pot boiling. Police sleuths attacked and ransacked many houses belonging to minority Shias in some parts of Budgam district yesterday. Why would people now trust the military, which only follows the orders from above, and expect ‘protection’ from them? Who would be responsible if they make the matters only worse?

It is a time of reckoning for our leaders and clerics to act wisely and keep people informed about the maneuverings and machinations of trouble-mongers. It is not the time to take potshots, or indulge in blame games. The onus lies on youth to create communication channels and douse the flames. Numbers don’t count, we have to prove that we are one community, who follow one God, one prophet, one Quran, and pray towards the same Kaabah. “There is no benefit in the majority of your numbers if there is lack of unity in your hearts,” says Imam Ali (as) in his masterpiece Nahjul Balagha. The book of guidance Holy Quran enjoins us to come forward and be the change makers. “And let there arise out of you a group inviting to all that is good, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. And it is they who are successful.” (Al-Imran, 3:104)

It is important to have respect and mutual accord, because there are bigger battles to be won. In the words of 13th century Persian poet-mystic Jalal u-din Muhammad Rumi, “realize that your inner sight is blind and try to see a treasure in everyone.” That is the least we can do in this blessed month. And it is equally important to remain vigilant and careful. Falling into the trap is the last thing we want. To borrow the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.” We will not let that happen.

The rot at Kashmir University

 
 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

As in other parts of the globe, the death anniversary of the Iranian revolution’s Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini is commemorated each year in Indian-controlled-Kashmir with tremendous solemnity and fervor. It’s one of those rare occasions for people from diverse fields and different schools of thought to rub shoulders and join the chorus of unity, peace and justice. A number of programs, seminars and conferences are held under the aegis of various independent socio-religious organizations. Each year, we see a posse of high-profile scholars, historians, politicians and members of clergy pay tributes to the figure of Imam Khomeini, his instrumental role in the Islamic awakening, and the challenges of preserving, safeguarding and promoting his legacy.

This year, however, something interesting happened that grabbed the headlines for a few days. At a conference titled ‘Role of Khomeini in Islamic Awakening’, organised by Anjuman e Sharie Shiayan in the sprawling campus of Kashmir University on June 3rd, some distinguished guests were seething with anger. Invited as one of the guest speakers, Yasin Malik, the former militant commander and chieftain of the pro-independence outfit Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was unceremoniously snubbed by the organisers due to a “paucity of time”. Embarrassed and hurt, he stood up in the jam-packed auditorium and lashed out at the organizers for not allowing him to speak. He accused them of being the lackeys of the unpopular government and bowing down to the diktats of university authorities who have never been comfortable with “seditious” political speeches and debates on the campus.

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Yasin Malik
Yasin Malik
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The organizer, Aga Syed Hasan Mosavi, senior pro-freedom leader and head of Anjuman e Sharie Shiayan, was caught off guard. He had apparently submitted the names of 10 speakers and given an undertaking to university authorities that the event will be “apolitical”. Among the names proposed were Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (an amalgam of pro-freedom groups), and some senior resistance leaders like Abdul Ghani Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari. According to privy sources, the name of Malik was conspicuously missing from the list. The organizers were perhaps reluctant to take any chances with Malik, who is known for his fiery political speeches that have often landed him in troubled waters. He was still invited (as a speaker) and the details were not divulged to him until all hell broke loose inside the packed auditorium. When the organizers cold-shouldered him on the pretext of the “paucity of time” and apologised for not calling him on stage to deliver his speech; the hot-blooded JKLF chief stood up, created a ruckus and stormed out of the hall. It begs a pertinent question: If the organizers and university authorities were not comfortable with his presence there, why was he invited? If invited, why didn’t they inform him in advance in explicit terms about their “apolitical” program? Also, how could the organizers, one of the constituents of Hurriyat Conference, accept the absurd conditions put out by university authorities?

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the main speaker of the event, in his speech urged Iran to play a constructive role in the resolution of the vexed Kashmir issue. “India and Pakistan must realize that peace in South Asia is impracticable without Kashmir issue being resolved as per the aspirations of the people. Iran has a role to play in the region and the government of Iran can use its influence over India and Pakistan in this regard.” He stressed the need to provide space for meaningful political discourses inside the university. In an apparent dig at university authorities, Farooq said, “It is very pleasing to see that we are discussing Ayatollah Khomeini in the university but the university authorities must see to it that speeches and debates on political issues are allowed here. They [authorities] must not fear intellectual debates because disallowing them may result in expression of sentiments on the streets.” He is right. Universities are the battlegrounds of ideas and there should be no scope for suppressing or muzzling voices of dissent. Only the regime that stands on shaky ground will fear intellectual discourses inside universities.

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A day after the conference, the local media in Kashmir was replete with news about Malik being snubbed by the conference organizers at the behest of university authorities for the fear of a religious-cum-academic event turning into a political platform for pro-freedom leaders. The reports quoted Malik as saying that the organizers (Anjuman e Sharie Shiayan, an important constituent of Hurriyat Conference) was mollycoddling the university authorities and acting against the interests of the movement. Soon, the war of words ensued. ASS accused Yasin Malik of being “narrow-minded” with “autocratic political behavior”. Malik’s JKLF hit back and accused Aga Syed Hasan of orchestrating the split in united Hurriyat Conference. Soon the bickering turned murky as ASS accused Malik of handing over the arms to Indian forces under a secret pact. JKLF shot back saying that unlike the ASS leader, JKLF leaders don’t believe in making money, bungalows, and shopping malls in the name of the resistance movement.

At the end of the day, we know who had the last laugh. Not Malik, not Aga, but the university authorities and their masters in the corridors of power. The ugly confrontation between the two senior resistance leaders on a day when they had assembled to remember a revolutionary leader is a sad reminder of how we have always played into the hands of our enemies. It was Khomeini who once remarked, “We [Muslims] are so busy bickering over whether to fold or unfold our hands [during prayer], while the enemy is devising ways of cutting them off.”

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Very little has been written about Khomeini’s fascination with Kashmir, but it is no secret that he was a supporter of the Kashmir cause. He once made it emphatically clear to a visiting Indian delegation of MPs that relations between Iran and India couldn’t improve until the killing of Kashmiris doesn’t stop. Some historians even trace his roots to Kashmir, which is evident from the letter he once wrote from exile in Iraq to the then top Shia cleric of Kashmir Aga Syed Yusuf, expressing his desire to visit his ancestral land (in reference to Kashmir).

Yasin Malik is known to speak his mind and occasionally ruffle a few feathers. During the Iranian ambassador’s visit to Kashmir in June last year, Malik confronted the envoy in a seminar on “Imam Khomeini’s Political Thought” in front of a large gathering comprised of many senior pro-freedom leaders and some ministers of the J&K government. The envoy stressed the need for greater cooperation between India and Iran and said the bilateral trade had leapfrogged to 16 billion dollars from 9 billion in the last four years. This did not go down well with Malik. “Iran cannot afford to annoy India just to please Kashmiris. We understand that but it does not mean they will come all the way to Kashmir to glamorize Indian growth,” Malik said. To this, the envoy said Iran was not oblivious of her responsibilities and firmly believes that the movements of the suppressed nations cannot be crushed by sheer militarism. He then invited Malik and Mirwaiz to Iran.

Malik has often spoken about how the Iranian revolution inspired the youth in Kashmir. In a seminar on Ayatollah Khomeini’s death anniversary in Srinagar last year, he made a passionate appeal to the Iranian regime to break their silence over Kashmir. “Iranian revolution was an inspiration for us to demand our right to self determination.” As a young militant commander in the mid 90s, when the armed rebellion against the Indian occupation was at its peak, Malik was known for his passionate oratory and steely valour. He would often invoke the struggle of Ayatollah Khomeini to boost the morale of his comrades. In 1994, Malik gave up arms apparently on the dogged insistence of Indian civil society that urged him to explore democratic channels to engage with Indian government and work towards a meaningful resolution of this long-standing logjam over Kashmir.

Meanwhile, in an apparent fallout over the fiasco at the university, Kashmir University authorities, on the orders of the Governor of the state, expelled the Deputy Proctor of the university on June 7th for giving permission to pro-freedom leaders to hold a conference on the campus in the memory of Ayatollah Khomeini. The governor, who is also the chancellor of the university, was apparently not happy with the pro-freedom leaders getting a platform to speak in the campus. He fears these leaders might “indoctrinate” the students and the campus would become the Tahrir Square of Kashmir. Facebook has been abuzz about how the governor is turning the university into his personal fiefdom. In one such group on Facebook called ‘Liberate Kashmir University’, a Kashmiri scholar and researcher Abir Bashir Bazaz writes, “There has been too much interference over the years from the Governor’s office in matters of University administration. The Governor’s questioning of the University authorities is a brazen violation of the university’s autonomy.” His concerns are echoed by many others, and rightly so. The Kashmir Spring is not too far, it seems. This time, the tsunami will emerge from Kashmir University.