Once again, police overreaction by a repressive and short-sighted regime that assumes without forethought that A) its own position is beyond question and B) that the concerns of a frustrated population merit no consideration is manufacturing a needless crisis.
Police, in the event, are obstructing funeral processions and killing stone-throwing teenagers. Local doctors reported, based on their examination of the wounds of protestors delivered to hospitals, that government forces were “firing from close range to target the vital organs of protesters.” [“Docs At SMHS Reveal Gory Condition Of Victims” on Greater Kashmir.com.]
No, I am not referring to Israel, the U.S. in Iraq or Afghanistan, Colombia, Russia in the Caucasus, or Iran; this time the repressive regime is that of the great Asian democracy India. This can come as little surprise, really; since Nehru broke his promise to Kashmir more than half a century ago, New Delhi’s stance has been quite consistent: might makes right. (New Delhi should pray that Beijing never decides to apply to India the same principle.)
Kashmir is in the early stages of an intifada. The home minister dismissed the upsurge of anger in the Valley in June by accusing the Lashkar-e-Toiba of being behind the stone pelters. What no one seems to have realised is that the decision of Kashmiri youth to abjure the use of guns and throw stones instead has conferred a moral ascendancy on the separatist movement that it never enjoyed before. In 1990, most Kashmiris had not approved of the boys’ decision to pick up guns. A significant proportion were therefore prepared to concede that the State might have resorted to violence in selfdefence. By exchanging stones for guns, today’s generation of militants has deprived India of this shield at one stroke. As a result, each fresh death of a boy at the hands of the police or paramilitary is feeding a rage the Valley has never known….
Only an anger that is beyond control can overcome the instinct for self-preservation and make one throw oneself in death’s way. Such rage is not born out of poverty, but out of a profound rebellion against injustice. In Kashmir it is embedded in the collective unconscious of its youth. Seven out of 10 Kashmiris are below the age of 25. Not one has known a day when the talk among elders was not of death — of relatives and acquaintances killed or arrested, of classmates who had crossed over into Pakistan, of rapes, custodial killings and deaths of innocents in crossfire.
It is pretty clear that New Delhi is manufacturing a needless crisis; whether or not this may be intentional is less clear. In some well-known cases, regimes have benefited from crisis. Israel uses crises with Palestinians to pressure Washington into providing more weapons and to distract attention from its West Bank land grab. Colombia similarly uses its low-grade civil war to get arms as well as to enable the landed elite to expand their latifundia by stealing land from peasants being herded into cities. Under the cover of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington built a massive archipelago of military bases along much of Iran’s border, bases Iran could be forgiven for viewing as a direct military threat to its national security. The degree to which such considerations constituted the primary rationale for the respective hardline policies of the states choosing to resolve their problems through force is debatable, but the fact remains that portions of the elite in each case benefited from the violence they provoked.
Whether New Delhi sees the rapidly escalating crisis in Kashmir as an opportunity, however, is another question. Low-grade “counterterrorist” campaigns seem endlessly tempting to politicians, but in this case, the police over-reaction may just be a typical case of government arrogance. Assuming that is the case, one cannot but ask, “Where do politicians elected to serve the people keep getting the idea that they are justified in oppressing, rather than listening to, those with grievances?”
Can you hear Plato’s ghost whispering, “What else would you expect, when you let the rabble elect politicians no better qualified than themselves?” And perhaps it is indeed exactly that simple.
Whatever the calculus in New Delhi, an explosion in Kashmir will be a golden opportunity for jihadis, risk a Pakistani-Indian war, spill over into Afghanistan in all sorts of ways, and generally undermine Washington’s already precarious South Asian position. Calls for “restraint” are predictable, and the uselessness of such mindless statements is also predictable. Why mindless? Restraint is a great policy when the playing field is level (e.g., when each side is a regime backed up by an army), but when the aggrieved party is citizens being repressed by an unresponsive state, “restraint” means “accept your oppression and forget your grievances.” That is a non-starter, blatantly unjust, and can only be expected to provoke further outrage. In the event, a rise in government corruption and mistreatment of Kashmiris over the last several years provoked outrage, which provoked harsh police reaction rather than an examination of government misbehavior, producing the current crisis, so “restraint” would overlook the government misbehavior and leave the population exposed.
The conditions for dialogue with New Delhi defined by the Kashmiri All Parties Hurriyat Conference are instructive. Note their focus on substantive government moves to improve the situation on the ground and implicitly recognize that protest implies not criminality to be eliminated but grievances to be addressed [“Delhi Digs a Well While Kashmir Burns,” on Tehelka.com.]:
1. The immediate and complete cessation of military and para-military actions against the civilian population in Jammu & Kashmir;
2. Withdrawal of military presence from towns and villages;
3. Dismantling of bunkers, watchtowers and barricades;
4. Release of political prisoners;
5. Annulment of various special repressive laws;
6. Restoration of the rights of peaceful association, demonstration and assembly.
Perhaps the Conference should have added a final condition, i.e., the formal indictment and bringing to public trial of those in charge of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy to force them to explain New Delhi’s policies.
A call for restraint between oppressor and victim is simply a refusal to make a moral judgment. If teenagers are risking their lives to throw rocks at soldiers who respond by killing them, a prima fascia indictment of the government by the people has been submitted. The first step is to bring the government to trial and listen to the people’s evidence.