Millennium Post

Tale of a lost paradise

IN 1947-48 Kashmir was the only issue between India and Pakistan. The Simla agreement of 1972 neutralised that centrality to a large extent. Half a century after the composite dialogue process, the first ever structural engagement between the two countries, the importance of Kashmir was reduced to one of the eight issues India and Pakistan need to resolve. Transforming Kashmir from ‘the issue’ to ‘one of the issues’ is a rich reflection of India’s diplomatic craftsmanship. However, Pakistan continued to harp on Kashmir as the core issue between the countries.

On the eve of the Agra summit the then External Affairs Minister aptly summed up the national consensus opinion on Kashmir: ‘What Pakistan calls as core issue is actually the core of Indian nationhood’. Really! This ‘core business’ needs investigation, the earlier the better for India’s whole concept of Kashmir being central to Indian nationhood. New Delhi’s diplomatic craftsmanship notwithstanding, it is important to acknowledge Kashmir’s internal drive leading to change in the dynamics of the conflict.

In 2013 there are not many Kashmiris who think Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan. In 2010, Syed Ali Shah Geelani dropped Pakistan out of his five-point framework of engagement with New Delhi. Geelani’s agenda was clearly influenced by the ground realities of an average Kashmiri seeking to renegotiate relations with the rest of India on the basis of mutual respect and human dignity. That is the point that was once again been grossly missed in New Delhi while the secretive manner in which Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging was planned and executed.

Afzal Guru’s truth lies buried with him behind the high walls of Tihar, South Asia’s largest prison. Condemned to death in 2006 for his alleged role in the 2001 Parliament attack case, in his prison cell Guru was a powder keg for competing sets of nationhood and different ideologies. His impending hanging promised a political fortune for different parties to eke out. That is what has been simply happening since 9 February. For the rightwing nationalists the hanging has come as message of India’s strength and capacity to fight terrorism and for the centrists it is an answer to the rightwing clamour.

The collective conscience of the society has been talked about a thousand times in the past week. If Kashmir is not part of it then one must admit that the Indian nation’s collective conscience has a sense of satisfaction and gratification over the latest hanging at Tihar. The question is not the legality of the execution as we repose trust in the Indian judicial system. The question here is of Schadenfreude between Kashmir and the rest of India. We must understand that except for Guru himself and other than the claims the prosecution presented before the courts, no one on earth would have known the exact status of his involvement in the Parliament attack case. Therefore, we have not heard anyone in Kashmir saying with absolute confidence that an innocent was hanged for satisfying the ‘collective conscience of the society’. The questions in Kashmir are only about fair trial and the right of family to meet the convict before being sent to the gallows.

We have grown up hearing about alienation in Kashmir. In equal measures we have heard of all things possible done for Kashmir’s emotional integration with the rest of India. While sifting through the pages of history one comes across two types of questions many times over –Why Kashmiris erred? Why New Delhi erred? Six decades later the same questions continue. In the latest case there were, at the most, two questions an average Kashmiri could have asked. Instead of upholding the claimed democratic traditions of India by letting them ask the two questions, their voices have been muffled and they have been virtually imprisoned.

The two questions that Kashmiris could have asked are those which two important persons have said shouldn’t have happened in the first place. The questions are about fair trial to the satisfaction of any law-knowing person and the family’s right to know about the execution and opportunity to meet the convict before he is hanged. See, who has asked these questions. Gopal Subramaniam, the lawyer instrumental in securing the death sentence for Guru, has described the secret hanging as violation of human rights. He has said that the convict should have been given the opportunity of exploring the last legal option available to him. The second question comes from none other than the Prime Minister, who has made his displeasure known  at the way the family was not informed of the executionwell in time.

With these questions staring at the face of what Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde says ‘following the due process of law’, no one can stop people within and outside India from attributing political motives to the execution. As the communication blockade keeps Kashmiris isolated, their job is being done by the rightwing nationalists who are asking the Congress government of motives behind the timing of the execution. The Home Minister’s Hindu terror remark will always be connected with Guru’s hanging. Pending since 2006 the execution was just a matter of time, but the timing has made wide sections of society feel that Kashmir –the core of Indian nationhood – has been made use of to address some political questions the ruling regime had been facing. Indeed, a new chapter has been added to Kashmir’s alienation. CBM or the Confidence Building Measure is the most abused term in the case of Kashmir.

A basic right of every Indian national, for example the travel document, is denied at the first instance or its issuance is prolonged. Then travel documents become a part of the issues to be discussed in a peace process and directions for speedy clearance comes as ‘Kashmir-specific political and security CBMs’. (IPA)
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