Archive for the ‘Kashmir’ Category
Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.
Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.
No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.
New York- I attended an event at Asia Society in New York last Thursday called India and Pakistan: Back from the Brink? that dealt largely with the never ending fight over Kashmir. From India was C. Raja Mohan, author of Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India’s New Foreign Policy and current Kissenger Chair at the Library of Congress. From Pakistan was Dr. Adil Najam, professor of International Relations at Boston University. No one from the other major stakeholder, China (with its own slice of occupied Kashmir called Aksai Chin) was present nor was there a Kashmiri to represent the people of Kashmir save for an audience member who spoke up. The event was moderated by Briton Robert Templer from the International Crisis Group. Raja Mohan explained to the audience that the Musharraf years between 2004-2007 were more productive toward a modicum of Indo-Pak peace than the sum of foreign relations in the previous four decades. All of this was derailed by the end of Musharraf’s one-man, rather unipolar military-civilian government, and of course the vile Mumbai terror attack in late November of 2008. Mohan said that the post-Musharraf power structure in Islamabad had complicated things in that the Singh government was now dealing with a Kayani-Zardari-Gilani troika rather than just talking to and dealing with one man as it had done for years with General Pervez Musharraf.
With the prospect of a getting a peace process back on track, Mohan said that such a process must be able withstand pressure from the spoilers. That is to say if Lashkar-e-Tayyba or another Pakistani terror group launches a large scale attack on the Indian heartland, that peace talks will not automatically be turned off at the tap in response. Doing so would hand another victory to those waging asymmetrical warfare/mass murder in South Asia. Adil Najam stated that he was more of an optimist than a realist when considering territorial disputes between India and Pakistan in a broader context. Najam is hopeful that by working on the Sir Creek dispute on the Arabian Sea and the Siachen glacier dispute on the Chinese frontier abutting the Chinese-controlled Shaksgam valley, the larger Kashmir dispute can be talked about more amicably if the less ideologically and emotionally-based conflicts can be settled peacefully. Najam believes there is currently a viable window open for the two primary players to work on the Kashmir dispute but that this window will not last and must be taken advantage of in the near term. Mohan said the Indians were unclear if Musharraf’s policies on Kashmir had been grandfathered in by the current Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani and were therefore not sure of some of the parameters for discussion with their Himalayan opponent. On the subject of cross border terrorism, often Delhi’s biggest contention, Najam said that Pakistan will reign in terror groups when it realizes it is in its own interest to do so rather than as a component of Indian demands (that may further bruise Pakistan’s battered ego). Mohan concluded that Kashmir and the other disputes between India and Pakistan (he left out poor Bangladesh) are more of a post-1947 South Asian civil war stemming from the massive internecine partition than a classic war in the international sense.
New York- On Friday evening, I launched the first issue of my new publication with the Jamestown Foundation called Militant Leadership Monitor. I have the free teaser article about the death of a Moro militant in Waziristan a few weeks ago. It’s a subscription-based site that we are doing for $150 a year for twelve issues ($300 for institutions). Our inaugural issue has profiles of Qais al-Khazali by Rafid Fadhil Ali, Dr. Khalil Ibrahim by Dr. Andrew McGregor, and Ilyas Kashmiri by Arif Jamal plus briefs by yours truly on the surrender of an Oromo Liberation Front leaders in Addis Ababa and the shoot up of Mullah Krekar’s flat in Oslo. I think we’re off to a good start…2010 is shaping up to be an interesting year.
I participated in a World Have Your Say debate hosted by Madeline Morris on BBC World Service with guests Zahid Hussain, Times of London correspondent and author of Frontline Pakistan:The Struggle with Militant Islam, Walid Phares author of The Confrontation:Winning the War Against Future Jihad and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Pakistan People’s Party insider Wajid Shamsul Hassan. The show’s producers called me to react to Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani’s recent comments on a his espousing of a “bailout” of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan rather than, say, AIG or GM. I, and I think most rational internationalists, agree that Pakistan certainly does need help but that of a nuanced and self-sustaining sort rather than thoughtlessly throwing further billions at the military while the feuding feudal kleptocrats Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif create a political smokescreen in their constant dust ups. As an asymmetrical civil war engulfs swaths of Pakistan’s geography and attempts to silence members of its civil society, a regional rethink is required by all parties. The United States and Pakistan have quite different objectives in regard to Afghanistan and South Asia as whole (not to mention China and Russia) and a modus vivendi by several sides will be necessary to solve the “Af-Pak” crisis.
As someone at a party in Karachi said to me last year,”Ten years ago we were being compared to India, and now we are being compared to Afghanistan. What the hell happened”?
The BBC podcast can be downloaded here…
New York-The New York University’s Center On Law and Security held a discussion on the role of the Kashmir conflict in the context of the South Asian security environment and the disputed region’s place in overall Indo-Pakistani relations. The speakers included Steve Coll of the New Yorker magazine and author of Ghost Wars, Pakistani journalist Arif Jamal and author of Shadow War:The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, and Basharat Peer, Kashmiri journalist and author of Curfewed Night.
Basharat Peer began the discussion with a general background on the history of the Kashmir dispute and its relevance within the post-partition ideologies in the Indian subcontinent. Peer told the audience of Nehru, himself a Hindu Pandit from the Kashmir Valley, and his belief that maintaining control over a Muslim majority state was an essential element of the inward projection of Indian secularism. Obversely, Pakistan, being founded on the principle of an Islamic Republic, necessitated the Muslim Kashmir be absorbed into Muslim Pakistan.
Arif Jamal related an anecdote of an American diplomat, who upon meeting with a Pakistani counterpart, asked to begin the discussion on Kashmir’s hot and cold cycle of crisis. When the Pakistani official curiously asked why, the American responded “When I come to discuss the Taleban, people in your government shoot back with “Let’s start with discussing Kashmir””. The American learned that he should cut to the chase and realized from the Pakistani perspective that the war over the Valley was of primary importance while the American war with the Taleban and Pakistan’s proxies in Afghanistan was secondary. Jamal explained that jihadi ideology, rather than being some recent off shoot of globalization, was in fact an integral focus of the Pakistani defense establishment’s outlook since the nation’s inception. Jamal differentiated between being an Islamist and a so-called Jihadist. “One does not have to be an Islamist to be a Jihadist”. In that sense, Ronald Reagan was a jihadist to the extent that he espoused the framing of the Soviet-Afghan war as a Holy War pitting pious Afghans against godless Soviet Communism.
Steve Coll mentioned excerpts from his recent New Yorker piece The Back Channel on Indo-Pak negotiations and recent events roiling the subcontinent. Coll described the lack of a regular Western media presence in Srinagar as possible reasoning behind the Mumbai atrocities. As Coll put it, “A suicide bomber entering a police barracks in Srinagar won’t make the evening news in the United States but attacking five star hotels in Mumbai will”. Coll commented when asked by moderator Karen Greenberg whether he agreed with David Kilcullen’s assessment that Pakistan may collapse in six months time due a marked decrease in the country’s overall security profile by saying that Kilcullen had overstated his case and that Pakistan’s relatively successful (and peaceful) elections showed that the overwhelming majority of ordinary Pakistanis do not want to live in a feudal Sharia state. (Author’s Note:The best example of this is the voters of NWFP throwing out the militant leaning Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal in favor of the secular Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party)
An interesting part of the discussion was the disagreement between Jamal and Coll over the proposed styles of a Kashmir settlement. Arif Jamal advocated the sanctioned internationalization of Kashmir talks because the historical record of three wars and over sixty years of squabbling between India and Pakistan demonstrates that they are not capable of coming to a mutually trustful agreement without pressure from some international body. Steve Coll sharply disagreed stating the Kashmir conflict must be solved bilaterally inherent to the 1972 Simla Agreement and said that a far more likely scenario would involve non-declared internationals quietly partaking in outward bilateral talks.
I was sitting with my family in an Indian restaurant in Queens, New York at our annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner as my eye occasionally darted up to the screen overhead with images of Mumbai’s Taj Hotel smoldering on a Hindi-language satellite channel. I thought to myself “This has got to be a Lashkar operation” as the casualty numbers mounted. Then when a local ABC news crew began to interview the Indian family at the next table, I knew the militants had really awoken the somewhat slumbering global media in a way their last foray in India did not. In December of 2001, members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and another Pakistani group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), jointly attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. However, the world was largely focused on the war in Afghanistan and the ensuing Bonn conference at the time. Lashkar-e-Taiba is known and feared throughout South Asia as a brutal terrorist network composed primarily of Kashmiri irredentists and unreconstructed pan-Islamists. Their agenda has morphed over the last two decades since the group’s inception in the 1980’s with a focused agenda wresting the Indian administered portion of Kashmir from Indian forces to attacks on India’s political and financial institutions.
To explain how groups such as LeT and JeM operate openly in Pakistan is to try to understand Pakistan’s dysfunctional political discourse. I attended a rally earlier this year set up by several of the country’s “big tent” Islamist parties who opposed Musharraf’s rule for not being sufficiently strident toward India and the United States. After shooting photos at the all day affair, a Pakistani friend and I went over the images on my laptop later that evening. He began to comb over the photos tooth-and-nail to show me what I was not nuanced enough to realize earlier. Amid the crowds of demonstrators and on-lookers mixed members of some of Pakistan’s most feared militant outfits. Members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, like LeT, a supposedly banned formation, mingled around in their distinctive headdresses consisting of a very specifically embroidered prayer cap wrapped in a stylized turban. “How could it be” I asked my friend “that these terrorists are walking around central Lahore openly and in front of the press, even standing next to Punjab police officers?” This rally was not being held by a group of nameless malcontents either. Some of the most prominent members of the political establishment were speaking including cricket world champion-turned-pundit Imran Khan and the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of Pakistan’s oldest Islamic parties.
Traditional militancy in Pakistan is in fact a viable part of the political culture. Most of the militant groups operate not against the government but rather in the government’s interest of fomenting violence by proxy throughout the region. Militant groups that are genuinely against the government such as the once Marxist-leaning ethnic Balochi nationalists are painted by Islamabad to be pawns of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Indian CIA. However, among opposition politicians operating nationally in Pakistan, there seem to be certain red lines which, when crossed by the central government, can be used to stir up rage against the leadership. Qazi Hussein Ahmad, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami extolled his followers to never forgive the Musharraf regime for assassinating Nawab Akbar Bugti in the context of a military operation in 2006. Bugti, in life was anything but an Islamist in the fashion of Mr Hussein. Nawab Akbar Bugti was an ardent Baloch ethnic-nationalist. Essentially, Baloch dissidents want to secede and therefore partly dismantle the Pakistani state while Jamaat players seek to further consolidate Pakistan’s Islamization which they believe has not quite gone far enough. In comparison, there is virtually no synergy between the two groups. The province of Balochistan is a population poor, resource rich backwater long neglected for most of Pakistan’s independence. Walking down The Mall, Lahore’s trendy shopping street, there are signs advertising “Pay Your Sui Gas Bill Online”. The Sui natural gas field is in the Dera Bugti district of Balochistan and is precisely what the elderly Nawab Akbar Bugti was fighting over. Most of the gas produced in the Sui field is fed to Lahore and Karachi while Balochistan seethes largely devoid of infrastructure.
While the chanting of “Bugti, Bugti” by the mostly Punjabi (and entirely male) crowd was likely solely for propaganda purposes and obliviously ironic seeing as Nawab Akbar Bugti struggled much of his adult life against the Punjabi domination of Pakistan’s military and bureaucracy, the very fact that his name was being roused in Lahore demonstrates the fluidity of non state and terrorist alliances within such a fractured country. Jaish militants yelling “Bugti Zindaband” or “Long live Bugti” are actually voting against their interests since the Nawab’s narrow goals of Balochi liberation were diametrically opposed to their broader narrative of religious violence. Such are what passes for politics in Pakistan.
While Lashkar-e-Taiba’s primary aims are launching attacks across the Line of Control toward the Indian military in Jammu & Kashmir, their stated agenda has become much broader. Like Jaish-e-Mohammed, LeT has been partly co-opted into a wider global jihadist milieu. In the evolution of the ideological basis of Kashmiri separatism, these groups have stated their interest in attacking the architecture of the Indian state itself. Beyond that, they have resorted deploring Hinduism in the fashion of anti-Zionist Arab and Iranian groups decrying Judaism as an apostasy that stands in the way of their territorial aspirations. In the most unoriginal way they have equated India, whose destruction has become their raison d’etre, with Israel as part of an archipelago of anti-Muslim neo-colonial powers asserting themselves to destroy the global (although highly fissiparous) Islamic community.
LeT and JeM might sound almost like an exotic, murderous cults to those not familiar with Pakistan, but when I visited the southern city of Bahawalapur as a wandering college student less than a year before 9/11, Jaish-e-Mohammed was running their head office in the city, loud and proud with a corresponding set of charity offices and religious institutions all over Pakistan. Pakistan has border disputes with both Afghanistan and India and its militant groups can be used to irritate both and can easily provoke the Indian military to shift hundreds of thousands of soldiers with an inexpensive, coordinated suicide attack carried out by just a handful of cadres. For Pakistan, these armed formations with clerical justification are relatively easy to foster or deny depending on the current levels of Indo-Pakistani tension. The attack on Mumbai by a group like Lashkar can have one of two effects: India and Pakistan can move their forces along the border in a tired and expensive show of force as in 2002 or Pakistan and India’s respective civilian leadership can forge new ties in the name of counterterrorism and intergovernmental integration and work together, perhaps even with Kabul as a peripheral partner, to deescalate regional conflict. Let the international community encourage the latter.
Creating dramatic headlines on India’s west coast is an immense distraction from the reinvigorated interest in the war in eastern Afghanistan. It also helps to highlight the fact that the American strategy of dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan in isolation from Indo-Pakistani relations and their hot and cold war over Kashmir is a strategy that contains built-in obsolescence. Rather than the keep the Kashmir dispute simmering on the foreign policy back burner, it is in fact Palestine writ large.
I came to Indian-occupied Kashmir in the context of a larger trip around South Asia to document the fraying edges of the much-hyped Indian ascendancy that I’d been hearing about ad nauseam in the American media over that last few years. Kashmir status has been in political limbo since the day India and Pakistan parted ways in 1947. Its been in state of violent upheaval since a nationalist uprising began in 1989. Kashmir had been looming in my imagination since visiting the Pakistani side of the story as a wandering university student. It’s rare for Kashmir to make it in the headlines these days outside of talk about a peace deal between South Asia’s fratricidal nuclear rivals. To many, it has become a geopolitical afterthought.
After networking in Srinagar for a few days, I was befriended by a group of local photojournalists who let me into their lives for an all too brief two-week stay. In the heart of the city’s “new” district lay the press colony where every morning photographers gather to disseminate information on events related to the conflict, have a tea, or talk politics of the American-led “war on terror” with a random American in their midst. Aside from the 2005 earthquake, Kashmir has largely fallen into the abyss in the US in the shadow of the media’s obsessive Iraq coverage. But there is one international figure who hasn’t forgotten the plight of the Kashmiris. Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, described as al-Qaeda’s #2 man, still mentions the Himalayan conflict in his taped messages regularly airing on al-Jazeera. Kashmir was but one struggle as part of a broader theme in the Muslim world against occupation by non-Muslim powers like India in the worldview of pan-Islamic terrorists. I wanted to get a small window in the struggle that’s been burning in the Kashmir Valley for eighteen years.
My opportunity came knocking loudly one day on what became my routine stop by the press colony. There were going to be especially violent protests outside the main mosque in the Old City when Friday prayers let out into the streets. There had been exaggerated stories circulating in Srinagar that the Israeli government was preparing to demolish Jerusalem’s fabled al-Aqsa mosque in an attempt to devastate Islam’s presence in the holy city. What disturbed me was not that a bunch of stone throwing boys would be enraged by these stories but rather that many of the local journalists, who had never traveled out of their own region, also believed this to be the case. This put me on the spot ethically as I was the only non-local journalist with international experience. I tried, perhaps in vein, to spread the idea that what was being told in the mosques was not accurate and feared people could be killed as a result. It was as if what I was trying to convey was far too nuanced for a situation already in a state of hyper volatility. I was screaming at a wall.
But it was too late for any of that. I jumped in a rickshaw and throttled across town to the doorway of the massive Jamia Masjid in the old city’s Nowhatta neighborhood. I could feel the imam’s sermon pulsing with rage and tried to mentally prepare myself that trouble would break out at any moment. Indian police milled about at the entrance to the mosque grounds almost as if to invite trouble. A police commander approached a German journalist I had run into and politely asked the two of us to leave the area. It was “no longer safe for tourists”. The German scoffed while I questioned the legality of an Indian officer’s authority in this brutally disputed territory. Then stones, bricks and anything else that could be hurled began to reign down en masse onto the poorly equipped security forces. The police, whose line I was well advised to stay behind, fired teargas shells at a very heated crowd of teenage boys. When that didn’t have the desired effect, they began to lob shock grenades across the no-man’s land between the two groups. What could have been a protest was essentially an orchestrated riot. The security forces appeared at once fearful and cruelly childish. I ran up the street, darting from side to side hiding behind oil drums, lampposts and turbaned Sikh policemen. Rather than acting in concert by clearing and holding ground and being otherwise professional in any respect, the officers began to angrily throw debris back at the crowd. The basic tenets of crowd control were lost here. With most of them lacking proper protective equipment, they would make the occasional surge across the line getting just close enough to give the rioters a good scare. One side yelled slogans of “long live Pakistan” while the other just simply yelled and I was in the middle in every conceivable way. One of the local photographers named Tariq had taken a blow to his skull from a piece of red brick and has disappeared from my field of view.
I ran into an alleyway across from the mosque where I huddled with a group of cowering policeman. It appeared they had lost whatever ground they held and we could hear the youths closing in. Rocks began to ricochet into the alley. Our brief safe quarter was about to be breached and I gestured to the men in the shadows that they’d better confront the most aggressive or we would all be smashed. Each constable grabbed a rock and made a mad dash toward the opposite side. I ran behind them trying photograph and was hit by teargas that had been thrown back toward the police. I sprinted down another alley and into the courtyard of a home adjacent the mosque. A Kashmiri man came out from the doorway and turned on a spigot for me to wash my eyes. I graciously thanked him and took a moment to breathe. After about three hours of non-stop chaos, I decided I’d had enough.
When the smoke cleared, I encountered a young Kashmiri man named Hilal who had just returned from exile in Australia to lend his help to the nationalist resistance and to work in human rights. I asked Hilal how often this type of civil violence occurred in Srinagar. “Every week” he said. “But this week, especially bad”.