An Open Letter to Dr. Shah Faesal

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Salamun-Alaikum,

Dear Dr. Shah Faesal

Hope you are doing well.

Your resignation from the elite Indian services has made big news. I have been watching your interviews and statements with huge interest. As you yourself have said, and rightly so, people could be speculating in all directions about why Dr. Faesal is doing all this, who is backing him etc. etc. In all fairness they have the right to do so, in normal circumstances also, but more so in a conflict situation like that of Kashmir. I will, however, skip that part of the story, won’t go into why you resigned or what makes you say what you are saying. Rather, I will take your word at face value, and trust that you mean good to the people of Kashmir. I will however focus on your stated intentions, critically commenting on the efficacy of your plans, and will briefly outline towards the end what I think are the real challenges that a genuine political engagement in Kashmir presents. This I will do as your fellow countryman, and as you have said you want to hear from people, it is only expected that my submissions will be duly noted and considered. 

Dear Dr Faesal, we communicate, both, by word and deed. In what you have said through words there are generalities rather than specifics, huge flexibility, but nevertheless there is a clear message that you want to make a difference, you want to utilize your energies and capabilities to do some good to Kashmir and Kashmiri people. In what you have said through action there is absolute certainty, no flexibility, you are firmly decided. ‘Politics’ and not civil service is the route, is your firm decision. That is what your resignation translates to.

The first thing I, as your compatriot with nothing but your best at heart, want to know is what makes you so convinced about politics being the right way to solve people’s problems. You have said you might contest elections, go to New Delhi as an MP. That means you will join the politics often called ‘mainstream’ politics (I have always rubbished this vocabulary—Mainstream/Separatist politics—-it misrepresents the reality on the ground and is therefore sheer nonsense), which I would rather call India-sponsored politics, that is,  a politics and political system created and nurtured by the Indian state, and geared towards the achievement of its objectives. With all due regard to your sentiments, I fail to understand how you regard this system an effective means to serve the people. In principle this system, not being representative of people’s aspirations, is illegitimate, and in practice it is farcical. Time and again it has been proven if a proof were ever needed. 

What do you make of the intrinsic strength of a system and the constitutional positions associated with it when a serving Prime Minister, is arrested, as was the late Mr Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1953, only to be returned back decades after? Does it not expose the extreme fragility of this system? You might say 53 was long back, we should not stick to past but move on. But do we sleepwalk into the future ignoring what has happened or take a hard-nosed view of the realities which could help in making the right choices for the future? Well things change, what India did in 1953, it may not do again. Agreed, but then , why should it keep arresting Prime/Chief ministers, that is not per se what India wants; its real motive is to keep Kashmir under its subjugation which in the first place it grabbed by military invasion against the will of Kashmiri people. So while it may change tactics, its strategic goals remain unchanged. One can see how consistent India’s Kashmir policies have been in tightening its direct control and not trusting the local governments, and that is entirely understandable: in an act of grab trust is non-existent. Sheikh Abdullah was never trusted, nor anybody else all the way down to Ms Mehbooba Mufti. The level of distrust was such that a Prime Minister was arrested, and who did it? Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the most liberal politician (discounting for the moment Dr Manmohan Singh, basically an outsider not a part of the establishment) Indian political establishment could ever produce, if he could do this, what do you expect from today’s India? 

Now, if you stand in the election, and ask for votes, the Kashmiri voter will trust you as they should—-but will you ask him/her to trust this system? If no, then why should you ask for votes in the first place, if yes, can you give him/her one—-only one, not two or three—-good reason to trust? You can’t, because there aren’t any. The point I am trying to drive home is that this political system being, both, immoral as well as fragile, cannot be the vehicle for the realization of your dreams of bringing change. 

You have a right to make your choices and I respect that, but let us for a moment agree, at least for the sake of argument, that joining India-sponsored politics is no option. The question then arises what is the option? Framed in a more general sense, the question becomes what are the avenues of political participation in Kashmir for someone who means well, sees beyond his/her nose, and sincerely wants to do some good to his/her people. This is an important question to which there are no easy answers, a problem to which there are no ready solutions, and more importantly, nor should one rush for quick fixes, but nevertheless, a valid answer, a proper solution must be explored. Coming to that in a moment, I wish to summarily examine a couple of so-called off -the-shelf solutions often talked about in Kashmir related political narratives.

It is argued by some that Kashmir is in pre-political phase which means it has to be freed first, and then politics initiated, like acquiring a garden, fencing it, establishing control and then cultivating it. That makes perfect sense. However, pre-political phase does not mean no politics at all; it means single-issue politics (liberation, reclaiming desired political status) often pursued mainly but not exclusively by military means rather than routine political ways.  Applied to Kashmir it means Dr Faesal, in order to serve his people, should join the efforts aimed at liberating Kashmir, and then join the governance related politics. The fact that you have clearly shown your preference for politics rather than armed militancy does not make a basic difference here, as we know politics and war/armed struggle are not different things at the level of aims and objectives, they are different methods, neither war nor politics  by itself is an objective. That is why it is said war is politics by other means, and vice versa. Pakistan fought Kargil using war (mainly) as means, India responded using politics (mainly) as means. India won the war which Pakistan had otherwise comfortably militarily won. 

So coming back, in more concrete terms it might mean Dr Faesal joining Hurriyat or an armed group now active in Kashmir. This is a simplistic solution, and I disagree. The challenges in Kashmir are far more serious, and we currently do not really have institutional arrangements to meet those. Moreover the politics of our pre-political phase does not measure up to the standards where it could reasonably be regarded as offering a ready solution to someone’s plans of political engagement. To be fair, you have been honest in saying that you don’t want to be jailed, so will not join Hurriyat politics. But I would say, even if you were absolutely ready for being behind bars, what great purpose would it serve if you join Hurriyat? I

have absolutely nothing against Hurriyat, in today’s Kashmir it has its own singular value which I fully appreciate, and also believe nothing should be done to weaken it, but looking at the challenges a real genuine political engagement in Kashmir comes with, your participation in Hurriyat may not be worthwhile.

Another ‘ready to work’ solution talked about in some narratives is joining India- Sponsored Politics, and fighting elections detached from Kashmir issue. The former Chief Minister Mr Omar Abdullah while asking for votes in 2008 assembly elections, took this position. I then reacted immediately with the following: “Can anybody in his or her senses deny the fact that Kashmir issue has been, and is, at the heart of Kashmir politics?  Now, if someone claims, as does Mr. Abdullah, that elections have to do nothing with Kashmir issue, is it not tantamount to saying that the elections to be held in Kashmir are apolitical? Is that not a contradiction in terms? In a democracy if elections are apolitical, what is political then? How are political ends pursued, and changes brought in a democracy, if not by elections? Make no mistake that elections are meant to bring political change, and when it comes to India holding elections in Kashmir, the objective goes beyond mere political change and becomes sabotage and conspiracy.  Elections cannot and are not divorced from the political realities of the place where they are held, and any attempt to create a disconnect as Mr. Abdullah has sought to do is utterly fallacious, and could be politically motivated.”

Now, setting aside the shortcuts outlined above, the real job in Kashmir for someone who wants to engage politically to bring about change is a huge one. It is neither simple— many balancing acts required—nor easy—India not allowing political activity. It is not starting from scratch, but neither is it to jump on a platform already live and functional. For a genuine political engagement a good amount of basic work is needed. To keep it brief, I will only list some essentials here in this regard:

To begin with lots of original and creative thinking is required to:

Read the situation:

(a) We all know and agree that getting out of India is a mass sentiment in Kashmir which means it has popular appeal. Populism has a dangerous downside: it provides a convenient cover for the selfish elements of the society to hide behind and pursue their personal ambitions. Kashmir issue has become a trading commodity in and outside Kashmir, more outside than in with the result that we have our people now clearly divided into sufferers and beneficiaries. This is a huge moral issue to be dealt with.

(b) India for the first time since Indira-Sheikh accord in 1974 is running short of political options facing insurmountable difficulties in political manoeuvring in Kashmir. Removing and installing puppet governments used to be a cakewalk for India, but no more. This is being widely taken note of by governments around the world, and veteran Indian leaders like Sharad Pawar and Yashwant Sinha have expressed concern about India’s growing political isolation in Kashmir

Identify the real challenges:

(a) The big challenge is a radical upgrade of Kashmir politics in terms of ideas, integrity, discourse, narrative, human material and leadership. The cruel irony is that the mass sentiment of people rejecting India’s occupation has no institutional refuge, it is diffuse. The unfortunate consequence is the sentiment erupts anytime on provocation, not necessarily when it could translate to strategic gains. The challenge is how to provide a safe refuge to this mass sentiment, nurture and strategically manage it, weaponise it when required, all the while maximizing gains and minimising costs.

(b) Apart from that, the bigger challenges include making Kashmir politics truly all- embracing rather than based on single-issue. This would require a delicate balancing act ensuring primacy of Kashmir Issue.

(c) Letting India-Sponsored politics occupy our political spaces through electoral politics is very unfortunate and benefits India in more than one way. Election boycott has its own logic, and does pay dividends if used properly, but withdrawal from electoral politics as a fixed ideology or modus-operandi is absolutely unwise. It has got to be revisited.

Imagine the future of Kashmir: Taking into account the changing political realities at the global and regional level,  the future of Kashmir should be imagined with a firm commitment to the bottom line:  a permanent solution to Kashmir issue based on justice, ensuring security, freedom, dignity, and prosperity to all is inhabitants.

Dr. Syed M Inayatullah Andrabi

[email protected]

London

22/01/2019

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