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Kashmir: The Unending War

But I was still taken aback when—eager to make an impression, and bolder now in his remarks—he said that Kashmiri Muslims only understood the language of the danda, the policeman’s baton. That was the lesson of the maharajah’s rule. “Give the security forces a free hand,” he said, “and the Kashmir problem would be solved in two weeks.”

The Kashmiri Muslim politician Mirwaiz Omar Farooq observed when I met him this past spring in Srinagar that the Hindu nationalists were determined to hold on to the valley but had little interest in the Kashmiris, and knew very little about their long history and culture. Just twenty-seven years old, and slightly built, Farooq is the youngest of the leading separatist politicians in the Muslim-dominated valley. Most of his colleagues were in prison in the western Indian state of Rajasthan when I saw him; he himself was under house arrest, and a small posse of policemen were outside asserting their presence by checking under all incoming cars for bombs. On the clean-cut lawns where the trimmed tall hedges looked, distractingly, like giant hand grenades, a small group of men waited for an audience. Though much older, they were reverential toward Farooq, who was also the religious head of old Srinagar, a position occupied by his father, an opponent of the pro-India chief minister Sheikh Abdullah, until his assassination in 1990.2

At the age of eighteen, Farooq had become the leader of the coalition of parties fighting for liberation from Indian rule: the news, I remember, was greeted with derision in India, as a sign of Kashmir’s political immaturity. But people grow up fast in adverse times, and Farooq spoke with the subtlety and skill of an older, more experienced politician.

He was among the majority of Kashmiris, he said, who thought the insurgency had failed, and not only that: it had also undermined an ancient and gentle culture by introducing it to the dangerous cult of the gun. There was now no alternative to a dialogue between India and Pakistan which would also involve representatives of Kashmir. Although he opposed Indian rule in Kashmir, and worried about the hardening of attitudes in India, he was also concerned about the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Kashmir. There was no alternative to a secular democratic state and rapid economic pro-gress. It was Nehru’s vision for India all over again. Ironically, in Kashmir, that vision had been dissolved by the same Indian state that was entrusted with the great power to realize it.

Still, the Kashmiris themselves are quick to embrace the modern world whenever the opportunity comes their way. You can see movement and growth even after ten years of damage. Education suffered the most in a decade of endless curfews and strikes, and yet even so, it is now one of the most popular small businesses in the valley: a little room and a graduate is all you need to set up a primary “English-medium” school or “coaching institute.” You are assured of customers: parents who can’t afford anything fancier but are anxious for their children to make their way into the larger world of jobs and professional careers, their anxiety so great and widespread that even madrassas—the schools run by the fundamentalist Jamaat-I-Islami—have had to secularize their syllabus.

At the time when political activity had been restricted by the insurgency, Omar Farooq had been accumulating degrees in computer science and political science and was now taking courses to get an M.Phil. degree in Islamic studies. I went to the market in Pattan, a town a few miles north of Srinagar, which is regularly destroyed and rebuilt after each battle between the police and guerrillas, and found two “computer institutes” there: tiny rooms really, with a computer in each, full of restless young men—restless because there was no power and they paid by the hour to learn Windows 95. At Kashmir University in Srinagar—its vast green campus bordering a lake and monitored by snow-capped mountains—the lines of students for enrollment in the new semester are very long. Students with guns ruled the campus not so long ago; many of them went to Pakistan and were killed by Indian security forces on their return to the valley. There had been encounters and raids on the campus. The university, set up in 1948 and already in 1988 known as one of the best universities in India, effectively ceased to function in the Nineties. Most of the Kashmiri Hindus on the faculty left. The anomie and corruption elsewhere had infected the university: there was mass cheating on exams and the percentages of students passing their exams reached an unusually high 90.5 percent. The lowest point was reached in 1992, when the university awarded degrees without holding examinations.

But the India-backed drive to restore peace to the state after the elections in 1996 benefited those in education; the university quickly reformed itself during the brief respite it was allowed. The faculty was restaffed: more Kashmiri Muslims now occupied senior teaching positions. Seminars and conferences were held again; the students were serious. The percentage of students passing their exams was back to normal. Some of the Muslim students who went to colleges and universities in India came back after being continually harassed by the police; the university had set up new departments of biotechnology and geology for them.

For more than a century after 1846, when the British ceded Kashmir to a petty Hindu chieftain for 7.5 million rupees, the Kashmiri Hindus had dominated the Muslim-majority population of the valley. Then the land reforms of Sheikh Abdullah, introduced during his time as the India-backed leader of Kashmir from 1948 to 1953, and the spread of free primary education had created a new class of ambitious Kashmiri Muslims. But no new institutions had been provided to accommodate these Muslims; and the older ones were monopolized by the minority of Hindus who ran the schools and colleges and had a disproportionate presence in the bureaucracy.

At first, the abrupt departure of the Hindus from the valley after the insurgency began in 1990 was felt as a blow. But the space vacated by them had been gradually filled. In the last ten years, alongside the insurgency and the bloodletting, a new generation of Kashmiri Muslims had grown to take their positions in the bureaucracy, the universities, and the media; and it was hard not to be impressed by this new middle-class intelligentsia, by the journalists, academics, and politicians you saw in the valley—people like Abbas, my Muslim guide in Kashmir, Dr. Khan, the thoughtful scholar whom I had met in Srinagar, and Omar Farooq himself. They made it possible to believe that there had come to Kashmir, along with immeasurable suffering and pain, a new political and intellectual life; that as once in India, the struggle for greater liberty had turned out to be a rite of passage, an awakening that owed as much to modern education as to the still-strong Sufi Islamic traditions of tolerance and civility.

Pakistan—busy exporting jihad everywhere even as it slowly imploded—couldn’t have been expected to be responsive to that awakening; the section in northwest Kashmir which it continued to hold was the most underdeveloped part of Pakistan, and it had done little for it. India was the bigger, economically stronger, more democratic country that could have accommodated Kashmir, made it part of its growth. But the gap between India and Kashmir has grown even wider in the last ten years. Middle-class India has developed fast after the liberalization of the economy, while Kashmir, despite recent revivals in education, has remained imprisoned within a basic economy built around horticulture and handicrafts.


The government keeps inviting the separatists to renounce violence and engage in dialogue; army and police officers speak routinely of “winning back the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris.” But this isn’t going to be achieved simply by sending Kashmiri schoolchildren on tours of India—one of the Indian government’s populist measures, which, as one army officer told me, would not only appease the new generation of Kashmiris but would make them realize what a big and powerful country India is. That is a message that has already been conveyed by close to half a million Indian troops in Kashmir—the various army and paramilitary groups, some of whose more protected members, ten long years after the insurgency began, have done well for themselves in Kashmir.

In Srinagar, I met Mehbooba Mufti, the daughter of a senior pro-India Kashmiri politician from the state who now mainly lives in Delhi, like many other pro-India Kashmiri politicians. She has acquired a reputation for being one of the brave people who travel around the valley exposing and investigating the excesses of both the security forces and the guerrillas. When I saw her she had just returned from visiting the border with Pakistan near the distant north of the valley. The area was known for timber smuggling; and recently three timber smugglers, who had been caught while murdering some villagers, had fingered the commanding officer of the local army unit as their protector. That wasn’t all. The fabled beauty of the women in the area—who struck Ms. Mufti as being of a Central Asian race—invited trouble from the Indian soldiers stationed there. There had been stories of prostitution and rape in the past. Most recently the commanding officer had wanted to marry one of the seven daughters of a peasant. The woman was already married; and so was the army officer. The peasant father, who refused, was taken away, and pieces of his body were returned in a sack to the village. The army said that the man knew about a guerrilla hideout and was leading an army patrol to it when he stepped on a mine.

There were similar stories everywhere left unreported, similar rumors too dangerous to investigate, since what was at stake was the “national interest”—it was the excuse the India-backed chief minister of Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, himself had used in 1999 in the state legislature when asked by Yusuf Tarigami, the lone Communist legislator, to reveal the killers of fifteen Muslim villagers in Jammu, the southern, Hindu-majority region of the state. It was why, Mr. Tarigami told me, there was going to be no independent investigation into the killing of the Sikhs at Chitisinghpura, despite repeated requests by human rights organizations.

One of these organizations, Amnesty International, has put Indian intelligence agents and “renegade militants,” whose patrons are the Indian army, along with armed opposition groups on its list of those likely to be responsible for the killings. These “renegade militants,” so-called after the army began to recruit captured or “reformed” guerrillas for special operations in which the costs in human lives and the army’s reputation were likely to be too great, are now the most dreaded people in the valley, more than the Jihadi guerrillas, more than the army and police officials in remote areas or the jumpy soldiers in their bunkers.

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