'The tinder must be examined'
The release of a book on Kashmir by David Devadas leads to a discussion on the root causes of rising militancy in the state, reports MORGAN HARRINGTON
|In Search of a Future: The Story of Kashmir
by David Devadas ; Penguin
David Devadas launched his new book In Search of a Future: The story of Kashmir at The Indian Habitat Centre with a heated panel discussion. Former governor of Kashmir, Girish Chandra Saxena, author and columnist B.G. Verghese as well as Chief Information Commissioner of India and Former Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Wajahat Habibullah joined the author on stage to discuss the root causes of the rising levels of militancy in the Jammu and Kashmir region during the late 1980s and 1990s.
'The tinder must be examined,' Mr. Devadas stated upon opening. He laid out the three reasons he believed were behind the increased insurgency: the centres role (including the rigged elections of 1983 and 1987), lack of economic opportunities for locals as well as wider Islamic mobilisation sweeping across from Iran and Afghanistan; the panel was then asked to respond.
The general consensus was that a sense of distress among Kashmiri youth who, at the time, wished to get ahead but lacked the opportunities, coupled with what Wajahat Habibullah called, 'a sense on injustice among Muslims' led to the troubles. While there was State led initiatives guaranteeing basic needs, private sector investment was nonexistent, as border regions are generally unsafe risks investors. No jobs led to an increasing feeling of uncertainty. These youths were healthy and educated, but, as B.G. Verghese put it, 'they were all dressed up with nowhere to go.'
This prompted what Girish Chandra Saxena called a 'rising level of indignation.' He however, did not agree that economic hardship provided the spark that ignited the insurgency, instead pointing towards the other major theme covered by the panel - the importance of the border region in broader geo-politics. Its volatile position both along China's western boundary and not too far south of what was at the time the Soviet Union, was crucial. Wishing to check the power of the communist juggernauts, Jammu and Kashmir became a pawn in Washington's grand game. 'The US had won its first proxy war in Iraq and now it turned to Pakistan,' said Girish Chandra Saxena. 'Pakistan was seen as a front line state and as you know, front line states can do no wrong,' he continued. With this exalted mandate, Pakistan started supporting a proxy war in which they have subsumed the militant movement. Islamabad hopes to squash the separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and take the territory for itself.
The most impassioned remarks of the evening came not from the any of the panellists, however, but an elderly Kashmiri man sitting in the audience. 'I have been living in Delhi for the last 16 years, when will I get to go home?! Who cares when I get to go home!?' Although he declined Mr. Devadas' invitation to join the on-stage panel, his thoughts seem to resonate with them. The author described the deeply troubling 'crisis of legitimacy' facing not just Jammu and Kashmir, but all of India: the people no longer see The State as a nurturing entity. No one argued against this point.
David Devadas has covered the conflict in Kashmir since 1988 for India Today, The Economic Times, Business Standard and Gulf News. He has edited Kashmir's largest English daily and currently works at Islamic University of Science and technology at Awantipora, Kashmir: indeed, his opinion on the subject should be heeded.
Despite his credentials, Mr. Devadas expressed concern that In Search of a Future would 'fall between three stools.' 'There are three narratives usually trotted out when it comes to the Jammu and Kashmir region,' he remarked, 'the Indian narrative, the Pakistani narrative and the Kashmiri narrative. My book won't please India or Pakistan; it won't please the Army, nor the militants. It is written from neither the colonizers nor the victims aspect.' Perhaps then, it will shed some new light on this epic conflict, which to this day shows scant sign of ceasing. An informal discussion concluded that it is economic investment, not a political solution, which the region needs most urgently. 'Hope,' Mr. Devadas says, 'lies with the future generation, which is, ironically, the generation that grew up with this militancy.'