Monday, Dec 05, 2022

Why an election in Jammu and Kashmir is urgently needed, for India and Pakistan

Pakistan needs new politicians that replace Jihad (war) with Ittihad (friendship). For India, election compromises, statehood restoration and new local politicians are the paths to peace

he prospect of J&K elections next year — the first under the Indian constitution -- is a unique opportunity for Pakistan’s awaam to liberate themselves from their army. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s speech at the UN pleading for neighbourhood peace last month was delivered while his army intelligence reportedly approved a heavily-funded plan to disrupt next year’s J&K elections. This duplicity between words and deeds hasn’t changed in 35 years. Sharif merely parroted a Pakistani President’s 1987 quip to an Indian President at a cricket match in Jaipur, “Hum Hindustan ke saath sirf aman chahte hain.” Giani Zail Singh responded (in a politically incorrect manner) to Ziaul Haq, “General Sahib, ek kudi do gaal ni kar sakdi; aankh bhi maare te ghunghat bhi kade” (a girl can’t wink and cover her face at the same time). Unfortunately, the Pakistan army’s incompetence — losing every war it has fought — is irrelevant because its wealth and power are purchased by exporting terror to India. The prospect of J&K elections next year — the first under the Indian constitution — is a unique opportunity for Pakistan’s awaam to liberate themselves from their army.

Farooq Abdullah once told us that Pakistan’s fitrat — nature or spirit — changed with the “three As” of America, Army, and Allah. America used Pakistan for Cold War spying, Afghan Mujahideen hospitality, and Nixon’s 1972 detente with Mao. Henry Kissinger cheekily told Yahya Khan that for a dictator, he ran a lousy election. Pakistan’s Army has not read Samuel Huntington’s 1957 book The Soldier and the State, which suggests “a highly professional officer corps stands ready to carry out the wishes of any civilian group which secures legitimate authority”. Pakistani politics have been sabotaged by Generals Iskander Mirza (1958), Ayub Khan (1958), Yahya Khan (1969), Ziaul Haq (1977), Pervez Musharraf (1999), and Qamar Bajwa (2022). The army’s wealth — skilfully investigated in Military Inc. by Ayesha Siddiqa — is symbolised by the 90-acre prime land allotment to former Army Chief Raheel Sharif. Civilian outrage at the allotment received the terse military response that “every four-star general gets a similar allotment under a constitutional provision with the decision made by Army General Headquarters”. To paraphrase Voltaire, many countries have an army, but Pakistan is the only army that has a country.

General Zia combined Army and Allah by unleashing the ISI, allowing the Tablighi Jamaat to operate freely within the military, requiring comments on an officer’s religious sincerity in evaluation forms, and embracing the Ghazwa-E-Hind (holy raid) propagated by Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI). In 1987, Pakistan’s army raised terrorist funding, set a Nizam-i-Mustafa deadline, and introduced Afghan Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Hizbul Mujahideen co-founder Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo. Since then, the export has continued. Terrorists used a +92 phone number for conveying threats in the Hazratbal siege, Norwegian Hans Christian Ostro’s beheading, and American John Child’s kidnapping. We underestimate that since 1990, Pakistan has exported one lakh handguns and AK-47s, misled one lakh youth, and hurt 75,000 families. As Foreign Minister Jaishankar told the UN, “no rhetoric, however sanctimonious, can ever cover up the blood stains”.

Pakistan and Kashmir are hardly similar in monoclonal religiosity and gun violence. Kashmir’s Shaivism dates to 850, Hari Singh carried the title of Tibetpadi, the first Christians arrived in 1854, Sheikh Abdullah’s great grandfather was a Sapru, there is a large peaceful Shia population, there was a large peaceful Pandit population, and most Sunnis are moderate Ahle-Aitquad (believers in saints and shrines). There were no gunshot deaths before 1987. Many Kashmiris participate in Zaba (the Bakra-Eid goat sacrifice) by touching the knives to their foreheads before turning their backs to the actual slaughter. Unlike Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadiyyas, Abdul Salam Deva was an MLA from Anantnag for a decade. When Zia hung Bhutto, angry mobs targeted JEI supporters by burning the bridge connecting Arwani village and cutting the apple orchard of legislator Abdul Razak Bachru. When JEI “rukuns” later remonstrated to Sheikh Sahib, he suggested the damage was Khuda Ka Keher and urged them to mend their ways. Pakistan’s use-and-throw mentality doesn’t value loyalty; an ISI proxy later murdered Bachru after dragging him in handcuffs through the market in Kulgam.

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The amusingly titled book 5000 years of Pakistan in 1950 reflected the need to convert Indian Muslims into Pakistanis via what historian Eric Hobsbawm called the “invention of tradition.” But a normal sovereign identity is sabotaged by selfishness (the army wants to roll back the 18th Pakistani constitutional amendment that decentralised government spending), and the Chinese all-weather friendship that, in theory, is “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean, and sweeter than honey” but in practice is taking Pakistan the Sri Lanka way. Pakistan’s Army is stuck in a doom loop where patronage networks destroy productive ones, faith replaces realism, and purists rout pragmatists.

Elections are invisible threads that tie Sheikh Abdullah’s frequent distinction between Siyasat (politics), Riyasat (government), and Awaam (citizens). Harvard Professor Pippa Norris suggests that electoral thresholds influence whether parties adopt bridging or bonding strategies; ballot structures shape how far parties adopt diverse or homogenous candidates, and context affects the emphasis on programmatic or particularistic campaigning. An election next year in J&K would have exciting new electoral thresholds, ballot structures, and context. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s economy is now smaller than Maharashtra, and the army is refurbishing F-16s. Pakistan needs new politicians that replace Jihad (war) with Ittihad (friendship). J&K’s current renewal is an opportunity.

In 1975, Sheikh Abdullah silenced party detractors who suggested his accord with Indira Gandhi and the Plebiscite Front merger was a surrender to Siyasat Suleh Hai Aur Suleh Siyasat Hai (politics is compromise, and compromise is politics). Election compromises, statehood restoration and new local politicians are the paths to peace. Some people — especially entitled dynasts who brandish soft separatism in their self-interest — suggest the next J&K elections will fail because fear is holding back talented local candidates from forming new parties, forging coalitions, and forgetting the past. But we know too many fearless academics, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and civil servants in J&K to believe that is true. As Ghalib said, Gumrah to woh hain jo ghar se hi nahi nikle.


The writers are a former Director General of J&K Police and a J&K-born entrepreneur

First published on: 31-10-2022 at 07:27:08 pm
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