In Depth

Delhi’s “Permanent Solution”: Is martial era back in Kashmir?

Shopian hamlets are grappling with repeated dusk attacks—even women are being left with broken bones.

The Indian army chief Bipin Rawat makes no bones about his Kashmir plans. Taking about the “dirty war”, the CI veteran wants commoners to fear army and wishes to see guns instead of stones in the hands of the Kashmiri youth.

Justifying one Indian major Gogoi’s war crime of using a Kashmiri weaver as human shield, BJP’s Kashmir pointman, Ram Madhav says, “Everything is fear in love and war.”

After Lt. Umar Fayaz, a Kashmiri Indian army man who was killed by unknown gunmen, many Kashmiris serving the Indian security setup in the Valley have been gunned down; the “Parrikar” pattern is being read somewhere after Hyderpora warns about the revival of the old guns, Ikhwan.

Some RSS biggies in Jammu term Kashmir as the “5-district problem”; the Hindu rightwing organisation is already on task to change the Kashmir narrative, the pracharaks say: “Learn to articulate, it’s not a Kashmir problem!”

Home Minister Rajnath Singh floats his “Permanent Solution” for Kashmir. “Expect peace any time now,” he asserts.

At the wreath ceremony of a DySP killed in Nowhatta, Mehbooba Mufti delivers a stern message: “What if the cops lose patience…”

Hence, the story…

“What is going on?” a septuagenarian man living at a stone’s throw away from Jamia Masjid enquires from his shopfront companion, a day after the police officer’s death.

“They say he was on offensive.”

Its noon time and mosques around them are blaring with sermons. But the grand mosque is under lock and key. The ‘war-weary’ paramilitary men are vacantly staring at the pervasive desolation reflecting from the Nowhatta streets. Around them, the place bears the blatant conflicting scars: shattered windowpanes, blasted torture centre, eroded houses and stark graffiti.

Amid this thawed war scene, the septuagenarian begins a familiar tale of intrigues involving cops in civvies “tailing” the grand mosque since eons now.

Friday, 3rd August, 1951.

Some young boys affiliated with the Muslim Conference turn up at Jamia Masjid to press for election boycott. The boys are telling the crowd that the fate of Kashmir is yet to be decided by the United Nations and therefore, no elections or legislative assembly can have a true representative character. They touch upon many things—from Sheikh Abdullah’s “treacherous” handshake with his buddy Nehru to the terror unleashed by the National Conference vigilantes on different shades of opinion in the Valley.

While they speak, some men can be menacingly seen prowling around the gates of the grand mosque. They are taking serious note of the “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans resounding inside the mosque. These men are cops in civvies who along with the NC musclemen pounce on the boys once they make their way out. One boy slips away, but the other has been outnumbered. He is being dragged to a nearby house of a NC Halqa president—the law unto himself—where he is greeted with kicks, punches and filthy abuses.

Once done with the beating, the cops in civvies take him to a nearby Nowhatta police post, where fresh beating follows. At night, the vehicle of Special Staff—equivalent to present day SOG—arrives and bundles him to their camp, Kothi Bagh, the Cargo of yesteryears. The boy is now under the clutches of the Special Staff boss, Qadir Ganderbali, the dreaded officer who mercilessly beat him along with his six men. Weeks later, he walks from the camp, half dead.

“But what is the point of this story?”

“Well, the point is its message that informers or cops in civvies have been shadowing people at Jamia Masjid since 1947 now. And despite standing identified, none of them were ever roughed up. Instead, they framed thousands of political dissidents. But now…”

“What is going on?”

“Exactly my question, what is going on?”

The unfolding plot…

Since 1947, when the last monarch fled the Valley with his caravan of plundered gold amassed by Kashmiris through the damned begair, Delhi’s martial approach to deal with Kashmir’s pending post-colonial conflict has been quite a thing. The moment rage erupts in the Valley, the military muscle is being flexed. Lately as Burhan Wani’s message found resonance in Kashmir, Indian policymaker-politician consortium felt a bundle of nerves and advocated the Indian strongman’s approach in the Valley.

Amid the deadlock, those wishing Kashmir’s handling according to the previous BJP premier’s way are being chided by the nationalists: “Stop looking for Vajpayee’s shades in Modi! He is different cult with a different understanding of the poet-prime minister’s trilogy: Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat.”

Already on the job is the well-oiled PR machinery, spinning new narratives on Kashmir. “We have a new policy to deal with the changed nature of the oldest political problem,” goes the military-political catchphrase these days. Even the spokespersons of the ruling BJP endorse the solution of Kashmir on the pattern of KPS Gill’s doctrine that “broke the back” of Khalistani militancy in Punjab during the nineties. Both rookies as well as veterans of Indian TV media don’t shy to use their lung power while batting for the military solution. The manner they spin the  narratives, make them a clear extension of the State for the commoners.

But after the Modi-led NDA government shunned talks, snubbed resistance leaders and stuck to its military method to deal with Vale’s dissent, all this seems happening as per the well-prepared script. Delhi, many argue, is desperate to cut down the mounting global attention on Kashmir. Last fall, it had brushed off the then US President-elect Donald Trump’s offer to mediate on Kashmir. But when Washington reiterated its unsolicited offer in April this year, South Block had to publicly reject it.

Since the offer came in the backdrop of fresh dissent demos across the Valley—mainly led by students, Delhi apparently mulled military option to “discipline its integral part”. Kashmir making it to global news outlets and its subsequent internationalisation was clearly read as the diplomatic dent to the 1972 Shimla Agreement between India and Pakistan. The agreement calls for the bilateral settlement of Kashmir.

Amid this renewed international pressure favouring Pakistan, Delhi curtly played its political psyop stroke. The day Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the need of the ‘multilateral dialogue’ to settle Kashmir question once and for all, even offering Ankara’s mediation on the issue, Rajnath Singh unveiled his government’s ambitious plan.

“The initiative has begun,” said Singh, sounding never so clear on Kashmir. “We have come up with a permanent solution to solve Kashmir.” He didn’t explain it further, thus setting the rumour mills on fire. But if things transpiring on the ground are any indication, then Delhi indeed means martial business in the Valley.

Behind such conclusions are the moves like the additional deployment of soldiers in Kulgam, Anantnag, Shopian and Pulwama districts — the smouldering south, where even new army camps are coming up. These are obviously no simple signs, many in Srinagar say. This heightened militarisation is seen as an attempt to cut down the civilian support to militants. Earlier, an anxiety took over the apparatus after civilians repeatedly mounted attacks on the encounter sites to help militants to flee despite army warnings — until this winter Indian army chief Bipin Rawat blurs the distinction between stones and guns in a “dirty war”.

When one of his officers Lt. Ummer Fayaz fell to anonymous assassins on May 31, 2017, the military called it a “watershed moment” that will turn the tide against “extremist violence” in the region. String of cop killings that followed further escalated a sense of inevitable full-throttle military response.

“Campaigns don’t start suddenly in a vacuum,” said a sleuth seen in Srinagar circles quite often. “It takes a bang to create a bang. Things are there for everybody to see.” Like a textbook spook, he kept most of his cards close to his chest. But the place where from he operates lately witnessed soldiers marching down with RCRs. Though a possible encounter bid in Kashmir’s trade heartland—Lal Chowk—was averted, but the sleuth had inkling about the military exercise: “Area domination.”

And for such actions, Modi is apparently throwing his weight behind his general. Perhaps that’s why Delhi is reluctant to roll back its muscular-militaristic approach to deal with dissent despite a major crisis in sight. But the CI specialist—the label Rawat wears like a ‘badge of honour’—conveniently skips ‘hot war’ for his “dirty war”, where soldiers aren’t supposed to win hearts and minds.

Photo: Javed Dar

As the general explains it, it’s to instill fear among the people. With soldiers showing up every now and then in Shopian hamlets to vandalise and thrash the inmates, that fear is clearly escalating on the ground. Even the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti “unwittingly” said the obvious over the latest cop killing: “What if the cops lose their patience…”

Since such calls now emanate from both Srinagar as well as Delhi, the things look well sorted for the offensive accompanying an otherwise regular war-cry of Indian retired military men during their TV debates. “When a staunch Western ally such as Israel draws savage criticism for using disproportionate force against Palestinian civilians,” says Ajai Shukla, retired Indian army colonel turned scribe, “why would New Delhi expect to be judged by a lesser standard?”

Therefore, the Footnote

In military lexicon, Soup Sandwich is quite a phrase, describing a situation, or mission, going horribly wrong. The thrust of the term’s meaning derives from the fact that it is incredibly difficult, some would say impossible, to make a sandwich out of soup.

Perhaps mindful of Delhi’s bygone Soup Sandwiches in Kashmir, the ex-military veteran Lt. Gen HS Panag couldn’t resist tweeting when Major Gogoi was getting a kick by parading that Budgam weaver as a human shield.

Despite the image “will haunt India forever”, the martial action on dissenting Kashmiris seeking the promised plebiscite doesn’t seem to be over yet.

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