National

Beyond White Noise

The Mirwaiz had publicly sought the return of the Pandits to the valley. But "meet and greet" functions do not a political dialogue make. The road map and benefits of such a dialogue need to be defined properly.

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Beyond White Noise
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Greater Kashmir

Sureenough, the Srinagar based newspaper had the choicest words to describe the "goonsquad" that ransacked the GK office, destroyed computers and thrashed somereporters, including a venerable 68-year old employee. Of course, I did not haveto wait too long - only a day later - when the same newspaper reminded itsreaders that before Mr. Javed Ahmad Mir became a respectable militant, he was anordinary employee of the Srinagar Municipality who went by the name of "JavedNalka" among those willing to engage his services.

Time has taken its toll on Mr. Javed Mir. After all there was a time in theearly 1990’s when the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was theprincipal militant organization in the valley and Mr. Mir was one of its seniorleaders. To slightly paraphrase the Andy Warhol misquote, everyone has their 15minutes of fame and for Mr. Mir those 15 minutesoccurred during the period when Yasin Malik was behind bars and Javed was the"Acting Chairman" and the de-facto supremo of his group.

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That is when he took to wearing fancy clothes, and with his beret and sun glasses couldwell have been easily mistaken for a handsome Jammu & Kashmir Police (JKP)traffic inspector. Except that he also had a revolver that he would brandish and play withduring his numerous press conferences. He loved to project a macho image inthose press meetings, dispensing his pearls of wisdom and authority, obliviousto changing terrorism patterns in the valley where JKLF "zone commanders"were being slowly rubbed out by formidable Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the newdarling of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

Today Mr. Mir is back where he started: threatening civilsociety just as any terrorist will do to get his way. He split with Yasin Malika couple of years back after the latter began his personal dialogue with Indiangovernment operatives in exchange for a few foreign trips, and Javed Mir hassince formed anew organization (his is the Forum as against Malik's Front) with some of his close associates all of whom took part in thedastardly attack on GK offices. Any way you look at it, it is an unimpressive bunch.I recallwhat Political Counselors from both the British High Commission and the AmericanEmbassy in New Delhi have told me of their interactions with the united JKLF inthe past. There seemed to be a common complaint that the group would show up invery large numbers at such exchanges and the experience was more like meeting abunch of undisciplined "high school boys" who displayed very littlepolitical acumen or diplomatic manners.

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But a bigger question looms in the background. What was the immediateprovocation for this motley group? The GK editor puts it this way, "Javed Mir is mostly seen in presscolony begging for a space for his orchestrated shows." Another localnewspaper used slightly more diplomatic language by saying that, "Javed Mir and hisassociates were infuriated as the newspaper (GK) did not carry a press releaseissued by their outfit." Apart from the obvious that a mention in GK brings acertain degree of legitimacy - at least in the eyes of militants - there is thisnagging feeling that the "movement" itself has degenerated into anescalating war of press releases.

In 1997 I wrote an article, The Political Education ofHurriyat in which I had pointed out how Hurriyatwas driving itself into irrelevance by relying on press releases, rather thanpolitical interactions, to convince its followers about its political success.The fact that the organization at that time was making no headway in itsrecognition by the Indian government and others was totally lost in the din ofrapid fire press releases from the organization. You had to wonder if theleaders of the separatist movement believed the success of their movement wasdirectly proportional to the space their self-generated news items received inthe local dailies, rather than true assessment of ground realities.

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Hurriyat has since grown and matured as a political entity, though notwithout a price. It has split along its political fault lines, but being aKashmiri I know the split is driven mostly by large egos rather than ideologicaldifferences. Mr. Abdul Ghani Lone alluded to these contradictions within the HurriyatExecutive Committee during a discussion that I had with him in 2002 literallyhours before his return journey from Washington to New Delhi. Sadly, he paid thesupreme price for transforming Hurriyat from a press release outfit into aserious player in Kashmiri politics. Whether Kashmiri civil societyappreciates it or not, but it was Mr. Lone who instilled a sense of professionalism in afloundering organization and rejuvenated Hurriyat with a new political strategy.

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Sadly, the Hurriyat today is again marching to a different tune, and thistime it seems that the pied piper is none other than the numero unogeneral of Pakistan. So only Mirwaiz Umer Farooq can rationalize General PervezMusharraf’s encouragement to him on the sidelines of the Organization of IslamicConference (OIC) meeting about the "United States of Kashmir" plan whilePakistan itself was moving, within OIC, the motion seeking implementation of pastUN resolutions.

Personally, I am sad to see Mr. Lone’s legacy interpreted in different waysby his two sons, but then that is no different from any other politicalorganization in the valley today. GK recently published an editorial whichmentioned that "for the first time in the history of Kashmir the Pandits arewithout a leader". But the point to note is that the valley Muslims are inno different a situation. The reality came home during the recent talk by Mr. YasinMalik at a Washington Think Tank, where a seasoned U.S. State Departmentofficial (and the former head of political desk in the US Embassy in Islamabad)commented that multitude of conflicting voices among valley Muslims is producinga "white noise" that is mostly an irritation rather than a message topotential listeners and well wishers.

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In so far as the Pandits are concerned, there is a serious offer ofintra-community dialogue with the Hurriyat on the negotiating table. This offerwas made to the Mirwaiz because he has publicly sought the return of Pandits to thevalley. Unfortunately Mirwaiz feels it is more expedient for him to engagePandits through "meet and greet" functions. After numerous field trips byhis designated point man, Syed Salim Geelani, to Jammu, the Mirwaiz repeated hisdeputy’s social outing with Pandits recently in Jammu. If Mirwaiz feels thatto be a political dialogue with the Pandits, he is sadly mistaken. The Panditshave leaders who can take up the challenge for engaging in a seriousintra-community dialogue with valley Muslims, but the road map and benefits ofsuch a dialogue need to be defined properly. If the Hurriyat is ready to do that, itwill not find the Pandits wanting. But having social get-togethers is meaninglessas they lose their value after the first few.

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If the Hurriyat and other valley Muslim groups do not get serious about thePandits now, it would be a criminal waste of time. This is the time to do thenecessary groundwork for a serious and sincere dialogue in which the majoritycommunity needs to create the "political and economic space" for theirminority brethren to be part of the valley identity. If we all acknowledge thatthere can be no lasting political solution of the Kashmir issue without thePandits, there is no more time to kill. It is time the muscle power in thevalley gave way to the brain power.

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D. is International Coordinator andNational President, Indo-AmericanKashmir Forum, Washington, DC

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