In the aftermath of Amarnath attack, could tragedy offer opportunity?

In the wake of the severe condemnation of the Amarnath Yatra attack by Kashmiris, India needs to restart the dialogue with all Kashmiris, including the Hurriyat -- especially since India’s leaders seem to have already decided that it does not intend on having that conversation with Pakistan.

Written by Mosharraf Zaidi | Updated: July 14, 2017 9:56 am
Amarnath yatra attack, amarnath attack, kashmir, jammu and kashmir, Lashkar, Pakistan, Amarnath yatra attack is the continuation of a cynical and sinister attempt by terrorists to exploit the feelings of isolation and disenchantment that inform the identity of young people in Jammu & Kashmir. (File photo)

The Amarnath Yatra terror attack has not just shaken India, but all people of conscience and decency, especially in Pakistan. For over a decade, the targeting of religious and spiritual gatherings has become a key tool in the arsenal of terrorists. Throughout the Middle East, sectarian wounds have been gouged and deepened by wave after wave of terror groups.

Outside of Iraq and Syria, perhaps no country has seen as many religious gatherings attacked by terrorists as Pakistan. The targeted community changes, the context changes, but the objective of the terrorists is always the same: to provide those that would divide us the ammunition to pour more gasoline on an already volatile set of perceptions and relations within and between communities.

The Amarnath yatra attack is the continuation of a cynical and sinister attempt by terrorists to exploit the feelings of isolation and disenchantment that inform the identity of young people in Jammu & Kashmir. Unlike the dark days of the 1990s when the contest between militant groups and Indian security forces took place away from the spotlight of ubiquitous social media, the atrocity in Anantnag has taken place in plain view of all decent people, all over the world.

It is not a coincidence that from Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, to Yasin Malik, the condemnations of the Anantnag attack have been swift, unequivocal and strong. Any terror attack as heinous as the one that took the lives of seven devotees undermines the very foundation of Kashmiri resistance to Indian rule in Srinagar. It may not hold true for mainstream India, but across the Kashmir Valley, and particularly in Pakistan, Kashmiri militants can get away with, (and even be lionised for) fighting against symbols of the Indian state.

But Hindus praying at a special time and a special place is nothing but a group of believers expressing their religious devotion. Any support for Kashmiri self-determination will collapse in the face of brutality against innocent people, especially worshippers. The Amarnath yatra attack, as several Kashmiri separatist leaders have stated, goes against the very grain of Kashmiriyat. I suspect Kashmiriyat here denotes not only the unique social ethos of the state, but also the Kashmiri argument for deeper federalism, autonomy, self-determination, call it what you will.

Pakistanis know well the feelings of rage and vengeance that emerge after terror attacks against worshippers. A December 2009 attack on a Friday congregation at Parade Lane in Rawalpindi took 40 lives, including the lives of family members of serving generals in the Pakistan Army. On May 28, 2010 a double attack on Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore ended with nearly one hundred fatalities. At Sehwan Sharif earlier this year, the shrine of an especially beloved saint or Pir, over 70 devotees were killed by a suicide attack.

Christians have been repeatedly attacked in Pakistan, including at the All Saints Church in Peshawar in 2013 (with 127 deaths), the March 2015 attack in Youhanabad in Lahore (with 15 deaths), and the 2016 Easter attack in Lahore (with 75 deaths). Shia mosques or Imambargahs have regularly seen bloodshed over the years, with dozens of fatalities each year.

The accumulated rage from these and other attacks (especially the Peshawar attack on schoolchildren in December 2014) helped produce the public appetite for a series of military operations against terrorists. The root of sanction that ordinary Pakistanis afforded to those operations was the illegitimacy of the method and target of terror attacks.

Many Indians may see the Anantnag attack as offering a similar window of opportunity to the Indian state to act swiftly and strongly against militants it deems to be anti-national. But in framing and executing a response, India must tread carefully.

One of the reasons for the long tail of violence in Kashmir is because the Indian state has mostly preferred force to dialogue in resolving the many contradictions in that northern province. Decade after decade, this approach has failed. The unanimity and coherence of condemnation that has emerged after the Amarnath yatra attack shows that many Kashmiri separatists are actually politicians whose need to be seen as legitimate actors is very high. A conversation with such people is always possible.

India needs to have this conversation, with Kashmiris – especially since India’s leaders seem to have already decided that it does not intend on having that conversation with Pakistan.

Pakistan is enduring a unique political moment in its long and arduous road to democracy, and an elected (and corrupt) prime minister is once again facing an uncertain future. The volatility in Pakistan may offer India a unique opportunity to engage Kashmiris in a sincere conversation about Kashmiri identity.

Using the Anantnag attack to try to bulldoze elements of this identity that may not recognize India as their sovereign would be a mistake. Bad people with the intention to hurt innocent citizens, including women and children, may be waiting in the wings to take advantage of such mistakes.

For years, Pakistanis have been successfully convinced of the normative importance of supporting Kashmiris of all ilk — the human rights violations at the hands of the state helps sustain this normative conviction. But as victims of senseless violence against worshippers itself, ordinary Pakistani opinion could be poised to be less spoiler and more concerned onlooker. Indians and Pakistanis – and Kashmiris and Sindhis and Baloch — we are all victims of the bad people that have made bloodsport of the religious devotion of South Asians.

The cycle of past violence must inform a less violent future for Kashmiris. Indians are quick to blame Pakistan for always taking advantage of the grievances of Kashmiris. The aftermath of this latest attack may offer a new opportunity for India. Is India prepared to take it?

Mosharraf Zaidi is a well-known Pakistani columnist and development practitioner and was a former advisor to the Pakistan ministry of foreign affairs. He tweets @mosharrafzaidi

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    Karim Lala
    Jul 14, 2017 at 2:01 am
    While India-watchers wax indignant about communal riots in India killing up to 20,000 people since 1948, in a proportion of one Muslims to three Hindus, the best-kept secret of the post-Independence Hindu-Muslim conflict is that in the subcontinent as a whole, the overwhelming majority of the victims have been Hindus. Even apart from the 1971 genocide, “ordinary” pogroms in East Pakistan in 1950 alone killed more Hindus than the total number of riot victims in India since 1948.
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      Babloo
      Jul 14, 2017 at 2:31 am
      Hindu callousness and indifference to Hindus killed by Muslims in various part of subcontinent may be the second most important reasons for extermination of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists from 40 percent of south asia and from entire countries and regions in south asia. The first reason being vicious denigration of Hindus as infidel idolators by Islam providing religious justification to the violence against Hindus. Remember in 1947 : Muslims exterminated or expelled 90 percent of Hindus from W Pakistan in contrast only 10 percent of Indian muslims were expelled from India.
      Reply
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      Karim Lala
      Jul 14, 2017 at 1:59 am
      Hindus suffered such attempted extermination in East Bengal in 1971, when the Pakistani Army killed 1 to 3 million people, with Hindus as their most wanted target. This fact is strictly ignored in most writing about Hindu-Muslim relations, in spite (or rather because) of its serious implication that even the lowest estimate of the Hindu death toll in 1971 makes Hindus by far the most numerous victims of Hindu-Muslim violence in the post-colonial period. It is significant that no serious count or religion-wise breakdown of the death toll has been attempted: the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ruling classes all agree that this would feed Hindu grievances against Muslims.
      Reply
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        Babloo
        Jul 14, 2017 at 2:30 am
        Hindu callousness and indifference to Hindus killed by Muslims in various part of subcontinent may be the second most important reasons for extermination of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists from 40 percent of south asia and from entire countries and regions in south asia. The first reason being vicious denigration of Hindus as infidel idolators by Islam providing religious justification to the violence against Hindus.
        Reply
      2. K
        Karim Lala
        Jul 14, 2017 at 1:56 am
        Can we put here all the details of Hindus and others kiIIed by Muslims worldwide? He numbers should be staggering.
        Reply
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          Karim Lala
          Jul 13, 2017 at 11:50 pm
          Dear Hindus please stop paying for Hujj for flying Muslims to Mecca. Instead now don't allow Muslims to fly to Mecca if they can attakc Hindus. Muslims burnt Hindu pilgrims coming back from Holy Ayodhya. Muslims attakced Amarnath Yatra. Time to stop Hujji Muslims going to Mecca. No more soft angle. Enough of atrocities on Hindus by Muslims.
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            Seshubabu Kilambi
            Jul 13, 2017 at 7:54 pm
            Common Kashmiris do not approve violence
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              Gopal
              Jul 13, 2017 at 6:18 pm
              Even moderate Pakistanis are totally misinformed. India has always dealt with Kashmir through talks. How many remember how Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abduallah negotiated which resulted in Abdullah's freedom and elections? It was billed as a referendum on Kashmir and the agreement won an overwhelming victory. Prior to that, India unilaterally enacted Article 370 which gave Kashmiris special privileges. The per capita average spending on Kashmir has also been far higher and new packages have been offered over the last 70 years. Indeed, we taught the Islamists that the more you give the more they will demand. In return, they have ethnically cleansed the valley, destroyed temples (read news reports carefully), and taken over Hindu properties in many violence infested areas.
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                dv1936
                Jul 13, 2017 at 3:11 pm
                The real issue is Islam which allows killing of non Muslims an easy way to go to heaven. Gandhi secularism has destroyed India and made it weak. The politics of India is controlled by appea t of Muslims, a strong action against Islamic terrorism has always been lacking.
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                  AP
                  Jul 13, 2017 at 6:33 pm
                  Either You are completely mistaken or the one who take pride in misleading the people. Killing an innocent irrespective of his religion Islam considers as killing a whole nation. Please get your facts in order before commenting.
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                    dv1936
                    Jul 13, 2017 at 7:13 pm
                    The truth is bitter. Can you justify killing of pilgrims
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                      Karim Lala
                      Jul 13, 2017 at 11:53 pm
                      If Islam is the religion of peace why are all 70 Islamic countries at war and none of them is secular democratic and all of them discriminates against Christians and Hindus. Why? If Islam is the religion of peace how come all terrorists are Muslims. I feel poverty makes Muslims terrorist then why are there no poor Christians who are terrorists? So please Muslims come out of your ghetto and leave your religion don't believe in your satanic Koran.
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                    Ehsan Habib
                    Jul 13, 2017 at 2:47 pm
                    Nice words, but we didn't see anything about the atrocities that the Occupation forces have unleashed over the years in IHK. Second, no sane mind will accept attack on unarmed civilians. The same logic can be extended to NO SANE MIND CAN ACCEPT OCCUPATION No matter how honey coated the words may be. Kashmir needs freedom, the people of Kashmir have already given their verdict by burying their fallen heroes in Pakistani flags. A million men in uniform have unleashed hell, but people have stood their ground just like our forefathers did against the British. But I must add they were very humane, compared to the occupation India has expressed.
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                      sundar
                      Jul 13, 2017 at 4:19 pm
                      So who's occupying whose land?? islam is a foriegn religion and its followers are either descendants of invaders or converts or immigrants into what we are told was ancient vedic-religion land. ultimately everyone lost their land to the british who bought and sold whatever they chose to other princes and kings. so now that for all practical purposes muslims took away a 1/3 of our land, we are asking whoever wants freedom from the remaining land to go across the border. while no one condones the civil crimes by armed forces, it still is a war-zone. pls feel free to leavethe land u have occupied and experience aazaadi in pakistan!
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                        Bnm
                        Jul 13, 2017 at 7:52 pm
                        Agree,those who support Pakistan, are free to go there,Kashmir is integral part of India.
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