Two video clips I saw on social media last week came as proof for me personally that Article 370 would have had to go sooner rather than later. The first showed Pakistani children playing at becoming suicide bombers. With the sound of verses from the Koran in the background, small children lined up to embrace an older child before he crossed the dusty field in which they played and disappeared in a fake explosion. The second showed ISIS widows and wives in a camp in Iraq the day after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed. They screamed that a new leader would be born soon to deal with infidels. They wore black burqas and black gloves and spoke from behind veils that totally concealed their faces. They said it was the will of Allah that the jihad continue till all infidels be killed. Their dress code reminded me that they have sisters like Asiya Andrabi in Kashmir.
India as a victim for decades of jihadist terrorism has every reason to be worried about this kind of Islam spreading through Kashmir. And, it has been spreading slowly but surely for many, many years. It has changed the nature of Kashmiri Islam and it has changed the objective of the armed insurgency from ‘azaadi’ to establishing an Islamic state in Kashmir governed by the Shariat. This transformation of the ‘freedom movement’ did not begin after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, it began long ago. Last week, on the day that the former state of Jammu & Kashmir lost not just its special status but its status as a state, senior Congress party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad declared publicly that there was no ‘Kashmir problem’ till 2014. He lied. Our Kashmir problem began in 1947 and was so badly handled by Congress prime ministers that even as the historical problem faded, a new one was born out of bad policies and terrible mistakes. Most of them made in Delhi. Not in Srinagar.
Having said this, it also needs to be said that the Kashmir tour that those random European legislators were treated to last week was a ludicrous public relations farce. Since the abrogation of Article 370, all attempts to win India’s case internationally have been absurdly farcical. Right from that first attempt by our National Security Advisor to show ‘normalcy’ in Srinagar by hosting a supposedly impromptu buffet lunch for a handful of locals in an ominously deserted street.
India has compelling reasons for the abrogation of Article 370. But, so far, they have been put before the world so badly that it is Pakistan that has taken control of the narrative. Every time a new story appears in some important western newspaper about torture and repression in the Kashmir Valley, spokesmen of the Indian Government dismiss it as prejudice and Pakistani propaganda. Perhaps. But, when are we going to start telling our side of the story better? When are we going to explain to the world that India can simply not afford to have an Islamic caliphate take birth within her borders? This was beginning to happen in Kashmir right under the noses of Kashmir’s ‘mainstream’ political leaders and they were unable to stop it. Sadly, ‘liberal’ journalists and human rights activists on our side of the border were reluctant to admit that we were dealing with something more serious than a ‘freedom movement’.
What is even more worrying is that instead of a responsible, mature effort to counter Pakistan’s false narrative on Kashmir, what we have seen from the Modi government is a childish kind of triumphalism. Where is the need to make the abrogation of Article 370 an issue of ‘national honour’? Where is the need for senior ministers in Modi’s cabinet to keep boasting about his “56-inch chest”? They do him no good when they talk like this because now that Jammu & Kashmir have come under direct rule from Delhi, every time there is a new act of jihadist violence, it will be blamed on Modi personally. The Chief Minister of West Bengal has already blamed him for the murder of five Bengali workers who have become the most recent victims of jihadist terrorists in Kashmir. Why they are still operating freely is a question for the Home Minister to answer.
Last week, the Prime Minister said while paying tribute at the Statue of Unity that he has ordered built, that by abrogating Article 370 he has fulfilled Sardar Patel’s dream of uniting India. “Peace and development will now prevail in Jammu and Kashmir,” Modi said while standing beside one gigantic foot of the Statue of Unity. We must hope and pray that he is right. It is what everyone wants, including the people of the state that is now not a state but a Union territory. Sadly, the steps taken since August 5 have been less than convincing.
The article appeared in print under the headline ‘Losing the Kashmir narrative’