The Prime Minister of Pakistan sounds more like a jihadist preacher than a political leader these days. Since the removal of Article 370, Imran Khan has ranted and raved in all the speeches he has made. He has threatened nuclear war. Declared that the ‘annexation’ of Kashmir was a war crime. And, accused India of genocide and ethnic cleansing. But the speech that shocked me most was the one he made last Friday. Not just for its belligerence but for its ignorance.
In this speech, the elected leader of the Islamic Republic gave us his historical analysis of the ideology of the RSS. With Allah invoked in every other breath, he declared that the RSS ideology was based on a hatred of Muslims and on the Nazi idea of racial superiority. He compared Narendra Modi to Hitler and although, good Muslim that he is, he did not mention the Holocaust, he said that Modi wanted to do in India what Hitler had done in Germany. He wanted to make India into a country in which Hindus were first-class citizens and Muslims and Christians second-class citizens.
It was in this context that he saw the removal of Kashmir’s special status. In his view, this is a fight for the rights of Muslims. Inshallah, he said, he would fight till his dying breath for the freedom of Kashmir. He announced plans to go to every international forum as ‘the ambassador of Kashmir’ to warn world leaders that India was now a ‘fascist’ nuclear power that has become a danger to the whole world. More dangerous than the Islamic Republic he serves where jihadist military men have control of the nuclear button? Really?
Pakistan has been morbidly fixated on Kashmir since 1947. Children are taught in schools that Kashmir is the ‘unfinished business’ of Partition and that Pakistan will not be whole till it is taken away from India. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to do this. The most sinister of these has been the use of Islamist terrorism to change the very character of Kashmiri Islam and make it more jihadist. This is why the Valley has remained on the boil for two decades, with young Kashmiri leaders of the ‘azaadi’ movement now demanding the imposition of the Shariat. It was probably with this long season of unrest in the Valley in mind, that Imran Khan thought it was the right time to ask US President Donald Trump to ‘mediate’. He seems not to have understood, as wiser Pakistani leaders did long ago, that Kashmir is going nowhere.
Now that Kashmir will for the forseeable future be ruled directly from Delhi, the chances of it going anywhere have diminished dramatically. This is one reason that its special status was removed. Most Indians approve of the removal of Article 370 and believe that once the process of accession to India was complete, this special status should never have been given. So the Prime Minister did something that most Indians believe should have been done long ago.
Having said this, it is also true that our Kashmir problem is likely to become a bigger headache for Delhi than it was before. How long can this lockdown be sustained? How long can a communications blackout be sustained? Judging from the panicky manner in which a doctor was arrested last week for drawing attention to the collapse of healthcare facilites in Srinagar, these are questions that the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir has not even begun to address. Satya Pal Malik gives many interviews these days boasting about how there has not been a single death since Kashmir’s political realities changed. He seems unaware that he has not yet devised a strategy to bring uncurfewed peace.
Already, despite the lockdown, reporters are going up to the Valley and meeting children who claim to have been tortured in the custody of the Indian Army and women who claim to have been threatened with rape. I find these stories hard to believe because in the Nineties, when the insurgency began, I investigated many of the stories of torture and rape and found them to be false. I remember in particular a village near Baramulla where the women laughed as they told me that every woman had been raped by Indian soldiers. A young man in jeans and sneakers who was not Kashmiri was present to orchestrate this performance.
This does not mean that these things never happen or that they are not happening now. If they are, then it would be a terrible mistake. The Prime Minister is now personally in charge of governing Kashmir so he needs to be vigilant about bad things that might be happening in his name. He needs to remember that if, as the BBC reported last week, there is a violent military crackdown underway, there is absolutely no chance of winning the peace.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 1, 2019 under the title ‘Losing the peace in Kashmir’. Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh