Ripples in Kashmir

Egypt crisis apart from sending shock waves in the wider Muslim world is being closely followed in the Sub-continent, giving their governments a cause for worry. Iftikhar Gilani reports.

Indian government is carefully monitoring the wave of protests sweeping West Asia and North Africa, as intelligence agencies have warned a possible effect in Jammu and Kashmir. They recall that the East European crises of 1989-89 had a cascading effect in Kashmir leading to massive protests and the birth of armed militancy in 1989.

Former intelligence sleuth B Raman maintains that West Asian crises may sooner or later have a copy-cat effect in Jammu and Kashmir. “We should not be complacent under the illusion that this can’t happen in J&K,” he believes. His prescription to avoid a recurrence in Srinagar is to address the anger of the people to the extent possible, and for security forces to exercise restraint in dealing with protesters. “People-friendly policies are the urgent need of the hour,” he maintains.

Already, calls for protests have emerged on social networking websites in Srinagar. Youth have been constantly updating news, pictures and videos of the Egyptian and Tunisian uprising. “Time to prepare! Keep your masks, boots, scarves and other stuff ready! We are joining the world revolution!! very soon!”” Frontline Kashmir, a Facebook page with more than 20,000 members, wrote.

For over the past few days, Kashmiris are glued to BBC Urdu radio and TV channels to watch events unfolding in the Arab world.

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, director of the army’s think tank, Centre of Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), fears that the Kashmir situation remains volatile and subterranean tensions may again surface without major provocation.

“If the Kashmiri people come out on the streets of Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Anantnag and half a dozen other towns like they did in 1988-89, in today’s mega-media age, it will be well-high impossible for India to keep the situation under control,” he says.

“The Government of India must lose no further time in meeting the aspirations of the Kashmiri people for autonomy and self rule within the framework of the Indian constitution. It is time to stop inflaming passions on vote-bank based party lines and to act in a statesman-like manner in keeping with the national interest.”

Major General Dhruv Katoch, a former senior officer of Military Intelligence (MI), believes that the Tunisian revolt was a wakeup call not only to Arab states with autocratic rulers but to the subcontinent too. “The situation in some of Pakistan’s provinces is more volatile and a spark could set a rebellion in the already troubled Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas,” he says.

Already communal division of North African Muslim nation Sudan has already found ripples in South Asia, with analysts in Srinagar and Pakistan already questioning the double standards of Western powers, who helped southern Sudan and earlier East Timor to get freedom. Despite world refusing to draw parallels between these regions and Kashmir, the events have put Indian diplomats in a predicament.

Experts here are also dismayed at the “overcautious” attitude of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government while responding to the West Asian crises. They have warned that lack of clarity of the Indian foreign office may rob the country of any sympathy in the region. “It is obviously in our interest to be on the right side of the new forces that will emerge to prominence in Egypt. They will remember who supported them in their hour of history and who sat on the fence,” cautions Chinmaya R Gharekhan, who served in Egypt.

However, officials here believe that situation was still fluid in the wake of the army now stepping in, to support President Hosni Mubarak. “Till yesterday, inputs from Cairo had suggested the picture was not yet clear, which is why we took our time,” they explained. In a measured response, India viewed the situation as an articulation of the “aspirations of the Egyptian people for reform” and hoped the crisis will be resolved in a peaceful manner in the best interests of its people.

Describing the protests as an “internal affair” of the country, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna hoped that a solution acceptable to the protesters will be found. A statement by the External Affairs Ministry also said that India continues to closely follow the “mass protests in Egypt which are an articulation of the aspirations of the Egyptian people for reform.”

In the absence of a clear chain of command among the protesters, India is treading a cautious path, sharing worries of the West that the Muslim Brotherhood may take control. Assailing such views, Gharekhan, the prime minister’s former advisor on West Asia, says India has nothing to fear from such a development. “At least we Indians must not make the mistake of shunning whatever government comes to power in Cairo through a peaceful, democratic process. Governments around the world will have to deal with it since it is not the Gaza Strip that can be ignored,” he believed.


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