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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2423

Kashmir : Perilous Religious War

By Tushar Charan - Syndicate Features

For all intents and purposes the state of Jammu and Kashmir is now in the grip of a ruinous religious war. The agitation in Jammu will not die unless the demand for transferring a 40-hectare piece of government land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board is accepted, say the people in Jammu who now think that only the board can provide transit facilities for the pilgrims who flock to the holy cave once a year during the summer for a ‘darshan’ of the ice Shivling. There is vehement opposition to this demand in the Kashmir valley where protests have reached hysterical levels with the allegation that it is all part of some diabolic design to change the demographics of the Muslim-dominated valley. The two opposing sides are sending a similar poison-coated message that the two leading communities in the state cannot coexist. Neither side is willing to listen to any voice that does not endorse their misleading views.

The display of unreasonableness by the two sides makes it difficult to find a way out of the impasse. What they refuse to see is that in the end both will be harmed by their stubbornness. The harm will come to the organisations that the two separate agitators are supposed to represent, to their respective communities at large and also the country to which they pledge loyalty.

The agitation in the Jammu region was started with the full backing of the entire Sangh Parivar. For the Bharatiya Janata Party, political arm of the Parivar, the Amarnath land controversy was a sort of a godsend. If the Ayodhya controversy had lost its pull there was now a substitute issue to polarise the voters. But if media reports are to be believed some of leaders of the agitators in Jammu want to keep the BJP out of their movement. Hindu extremists appear to have gained an upper hand and they have made the agitation look like a purely religious issue, an attack on the ‘rights’ of pilgrims, an assault on their beliefs and so on.

The appeal is supposed to cut across political divide among the Hindus. Matters have reached such a stage that women and children are being encouraged to court arrest in Jammu. On top of this calls have been given for a ‘civil disobedience’ movement —reminiscent of the freedom movement. But that was a time when Indians—regardless of their religious beliefs—were united in fighting a foreign power. The agitators in Jammu obviously think that they are under the yoke of a ‘foreign power’. Does the BJP share this view?

The ambitious pro-Pakistani leaders in the Kashmir valley might have succeeded in creating an anti-India and anti-Hindu frenzy among their followers but they have already exposed themselves as a bunch of short- sighted power-hungry demagogues. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a cantankerous, irritable politician who probably counts smiling among the original sins of mankind, has unilaterally declared that he alone is the leader of the Kashmiri agitation. Others, not willing to be counted among the lesser champions of the Kashmiris but as ambitious as him, are not willing to accept his hegemony. A meeting of the hotchpotch separatist groups in Srinagar reportedly broke off after fistfights among the supporters of Geelani and his detractors even as he maintained that his remarks were misinterpreted and that he had never said everyone should accept his tutelage.

Both Geelani and the so-called ‘moderate’ leaders in the valley are one in demanding that since the valley cannot depend on supplies from Jammu and the rest of India, the valley should be able to trade freely with the Pakistan occupied Kashmir and, in fact, Pakistan itself. This is seen by many as a precursor to their plans to secede the valley and make it a part of the land of the pure. The government of India has no problem in accepting the demand for opening up trade across the line of control in Kashmir. New Delhi has been waiting since 2005 for a positive response on this issue from Islamabad, which has been dragging its feet on increasing trade between the divided parts of Kashmir.

It may be recalled that Islamabad was rather unenthusiastic to the Indian initiative of starting a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. There were wild scenes of enthusiasm on the Indian side when the bus service started while on the other side it was almost a non-event. It is a different matter that subsequently Pakistan started mentioning this bus link among the confidence building measures that it had started!

There may be many reasons for Pakistan to be wary of allowing more trade between the two parts of Kashmir. One thing, however, is sure: Kashmir will suffer more if it looks only up to the PoK and Pakistan for trading commodities. The separatists who have been so ardent in demanding direct access to Pakistani and PoK markets may paint Pakistan as a heaven for Kashmiris, the fact is that the Pakistani economy, much less that of PoK, can contribute nothing for the well being of the Kashmiris. The whole of Pakistan, including PoK, is in the grip of a severe crisis caused by spiralling food and fuel prices and its economy is hurtling south. The country simply does not have the means to provide the necessities of the Kashmiris that have been available to them at subsidised rates for decades.

A well-known commentator has rather generously said that Kashmir will collapses within 15 minutes of attaining ‘Azadi’. The territory’s amalgamation with Pakistan might prolong its life by another 15 minutes. The separatists who shout ‘Azadi’ five times a day will have to be ready to forego the hefty packets that they receive regularly from across the LoC, either through the Pakistani mission in India or from one of the legions of ‘freedom fighters’ pushed into India regularly.

Finally, once Geelani becomes a Pakistani citizen will he be able to perform his rabble rousing acts or, more to the point, have the luxury of appointing himself as the sole voice of the Kashmiris? If he has to look to his future as a citizen of the country he loves most he might like to watch the fate of the just deposed Pakistani president.

- Asian Tribune -

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