Last year a teenager was arrested for waving an Islamic State (ISIS) flag in Srinagar. His elder brother was amused by the arrest. There were many reasons for it. “My brother doesn’t pray, doesn’t sport a beard, I know he has a girlfriend too and he listens to music and at the same time he was arrested for waving an ISIS flag. This amused me the most,” he said.
The ISIS would have surely flogged to death such a fan of its ideology.
According to the police, all those who have been arrested on accusations of waving ISIS flags have done so less out of ideological commitment and more to irritate the Central government. Ten years ago peace was as newsworthy as ISIS flags, with the media describing visits to the Valley by tourists as a sign of normalcy.
The state government, realising that such generalisations turn all Kashmir-bound tourists as possible counter-insurgents, was quick to dispel the correlation between tourism and the Kashmir issue and insisted that the influx of tourists to the Valley had nothing to do with the state's political problem. For years together, the state government had refused to divulge to journalists data on the number of tourists visiting Kashmir, fearing that the scribes would use it in their “return of peace” narrative. Thus, the number of tourists visiting Kashmir remained the most guarded secret in the state for years.
Other serious issues, including the scaling down of security presence in Kashmir, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and resolving the state's political issue, are now on the back-burner with this repeated talk about the waving of ISIS flags in Kashmir, which fits Kashmir into the global jihad narrative.
In his book Courage and Conviction, General VK Singh says a few days after the killing of 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans by “Naxalite-Maoists”, he met the then home minister P Chidambaram. “Without beating about the bush, Chidambaram came straight to the point. "You know the Naxal problem is a major national issue. So why do you oppose the deployment of the Army in Naxal areas?” Singh replied, “I am fully aware of the situation on the ground. It is a socio-economic and governance issue and needs to be addressed accordingly. At the same time, this is not a secessionist movement and it would not be correct to use the Army against our own people.”
But in the case of Kashmir, different parameters apply. There are only 150-something militants, and infiltration, according to the Army, has come down to zero, but the presence of the Army and other security agencies is only increasing with each day.
Former spy chief, AS Dulat in his Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, says General S Padmanabhan, who had been the corps commander in Srinagar from 1993 to 1995 and later in-charge of the Northern Command, was the only Army chief to have spoken about scaling down the military presence in Kashmir. “The rest of them would, on one hand, say that the situation in Kashmir had improved and, on the other hand, say that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, also known as AFSPA, couldn’t be removed... Though the Army justifies its heavy deployment by periodically raising the bogie of infiltration, it is not restricted to the border; many Kashmiris feel the Army has turned the entire Valley into a cantonment,” says Dulat.
In 2001, Dulat cited General Padmanabhan as saying that the Army had done its job and now it was up to the politicians to resolve the matter. “Sadly, he was told that generals were not supposed to make political statements... and he was basically told to shut up”.
Suvir Kaul, in his recently released book, Of Gardens and Graves, takes us to the mass demonstrations and protests in 2010 to make a point on what lies at the heart of Kashmir at present. “Kashmir has never seen such widespread anger and mobilisation, say those who lived through the worst episodes of armed militancy in the 1990s. Then the state forces fought those equipped to fight back, and civilian casualties (and there were many) could be blamed on insurgents and counter-insurgent tactics. Now there are no armed militants, only people, their voices, and their bodies on the road, and of course there are stones.”
Kaul says times of peace, or rather, times when daily violence is absent, are the right moments to initiate political dialogue and action, but those are precisely the moments when governments, lulled into a false sense of security and complacence, do nothing.
The government, however, is not sitting silent, in case of Kashmir. It is engaged in deciphering the real meaning of ISIS flags being waved and the reason for youths pelting stones at some places. Kaul has answered these questions while translating Kashmiri poet Arshad Mushtaq’s poem published in September 2010 when Kashmir was boiling after killing of over 100 teenaged boys and youths.
The translation reads:
When they tied barbed wire to my love
That’s when I threw stones!
When they shattered my dream
That’s when I threw stones
When they fired at a suckling baby
My blood rose to a boil
When they stuffed in a grave a hennaed groom
That’s when I threw stones!