Book Review: Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Picture right below Bashart Peer

lal-chowk-srinagar-oct-6American author and academic Alastair Lamb wrote of the Kashmir dispute as “incomplete partition”.  He wrote that had it not been for the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan and India might have worked out their differences and existed as two prosperous nations “evolving towards each other” –which was the stated objective of partition in the first place- instead of away from each other. The cleavage instead has widened and Kashmir remains etched in the consciousness of Indians and Pakistanis – both anxious to claim it to complete themselves.  So  Basharat Peer’s memoir epitomizes the effect of this incompleteness that both Indians and Pakistanis have brought to bear on the lives of hapless Kashmiris.
“Curfewed Night” is a chronicle from the eyes of a Kashmiri growing up in the valley and watching it transform into a hotbed of violent militancy pitted against state oppression. It is also about a people unwilling to lose their identity. What is it about identity anyway that causes people to sacrifice their future in its name?  Identity is the most powerful mobilizing force in history.  But what happens when identity gets into a perpetual conflict with those who wish to crush it?   Does identity dissipate?  Kashmir has been ill-served by India, by Pakistan, by the militants and by its own politicians who have failed to work out a compromise.  It has turned the serene valley into the bloodied nose of Asia.
Peer tells the story of this valley at peace in the 1980s but also of a people who consciously refused to associate themselves with India.   Then- long before the terrorism and violence of that we’ve grown accustomed to- national identity had one litmus test: which side were you on of Miandad’s famous last ball sixer at Sharjah?  Peer describes the jubilation that his family, his neighborhood and his valley experienced when the “stocky” Pakistani batsman hit Chetan Sharma out of the ground to win Pakistan an impossible victory. Pakistan won and Kashmir jubilated.  It wasn’t just Pakistan.  Kashmiris supported any and all teams which played against India.   They rejected India more than they associate with Pakistan- a point often forgotten by Pakistanis. In subjection Kashmiris held on to their identity and rejected the one imposed on them.   Perhaps we in Pakistan should consider the ultimate what if: what if the invasion of Kashmir by irregulars in 1947 succeeded inwresting all of the Jammu and Kashmir state?

Peer’s  narrative then takes us into the 1990s, when militancy against Indian occupation takes full swing and India responds with the full force of state power.  The valley of Kashmir becomes an endless maze of check-posts with gun totting Indian soldiers.  As violence spreads, it becomes impossible to distinguish between the terror unleashed by the state forces and that which is inflicted by militancy.  There Peer’s memoir becomes a cry for help more than cry freedom than many amongst militants and in Pakistan would like to hear.  No one can remain a perpetual hostage to identity alone- that requires the determination of a mad man.   Peer’s narrative is on the other hand evolving through personal experience.    We meet the young Kashmiri child, at home with his own Kashmiri identity and yet paradoxically at peace with Indian occupation which he rejects, the Kashmiri teenager who is sick of living in fear of the Indian Army and tries to become a militant,  the young student at Aligarh who finds Indian Muslims out of touch with the reality in Kashmir and finally the journalist who pens the memoir which tells it all.  To me- and I concede that similarity might not be obvious to others- the “Curfewed Night” echoes “Khatirat” by Zafar Hassan Aibak as well as “Kala Pani; Tarikh-e-Ajeeb” by Jafar Thanisari, both of whom experienced similar subjection to British rule, which they first tried to overturn through violent militancy i.e. Jehad but who evolved into moderates through exposure to the world.  Theirs was a case of evolving in their identity and not out of it.  To me Basharat Peer represents a similar evolution and thanks to it, he now can have his story heard by the world.  A wrong turn somewhere and he would be a statistic like many young men and women of Kashmir.curfewed-night-after-curve1

The most poignant lesson, however, is a political one- drawn both from Peer’s personal story and the story of his people: Militancy has but limited success in the way of any cause, especially when the same militancy leads to violence against those it claims to be liberating.  The militants and their backers in Pakistan must make a note of this and stop making the mess they have in Kashmir. That said a people have the right to govern themselves and in Kashmir’s case, the right to self determination was conceded by India’s first Prime Minister. No Indian leader has kept that pledge starting with Nehru himself who imprisoned India’s closest ally in Kashmir, Shaikh Abdullah, because the latter would not settle on Nehru’s terms.  Forced subjection of an unwilling group will continue to fuel the anger that leads to militancy harming the peace of the entire region. It is the responsibility of India, Pakistan and the world at large to solve what now is the oldest existing  dispute on the United Nations’ agenda.  Kashmir’s cry for help should not be ignored, as our collective future, particularly in India and Pakistan, is directly linked to it.


Filed under Books, India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Reviews, south asia, violence

20 responses to “Book Review: Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer

  1. Kaffir

    I’d like to clarify for avoidance of doubt that the picture above is of Mr. Basharat Peer and not me. Thanks :).

  2. Just to clarify any doubt and fears of misrepresentation, I have corrected the caption of the photo.

    Thanks for the advice!

  3. ylh

    Not that I mean to impugn Mr. Peer’s good looks. :).

  4. azhar aslam

    This article was published in Atlantic Monthly in 1958.

    The Sensitive Areas by Frederic M. Bennett

    Muslim and Hindu

    A decade has passed since the struggle of the Indian subcontinent to free itself from British imperial rule was crowned with success. For half a century or more before emancipation, nationalists of both the great religious communities had stridently asserted that communal antipathy was illusory – a mere creation of the British Raj, allegedly following the old Roman maxim of “divide and rule.” History since independence has shown with tragic clarity that antagonism between Muslim and Hindu is much more deeply rooted than in an oppressor’s stratagem. For the ink was not yet dry on the 1947 charter of sovereignty before what had been one great single nation under British rule became split into two sullenly hostile countries, Pakistan and India.

    However regrettable, this state of affairs is not really surprising. Long before the British conquered India, the Hindus had resented their Muslim Mogul masters and those who by conversion followed the same faith. The Muslim for his part had all the scorn of the warrior for those less martial than himself, not untainted with an intellectual inferiority complex vis-à-vis those commercially and politically more astute than he. With this historic background it would have required more courage, tolerance, and statecraft than any leaders in Delhi or Karachi have yet shown to heal the hereditary strains between the two great communal factions.

    Instead, as each year passes, friction grows. What began with a squabble about the division of assets after partition, and went on to bitter conflict over the future of disputed princely states such as Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Kashmir, has now spread to the struggle for limited, precious irrigation water which literally spells life or death for millions upon millions of poverty-stricken, undernourished, illiterate peasants.

    Externally, too, a wide gulf has yawned. Pakistan, West and East, with barely a fifth of the population of her larger neighbor, cut asunder by over 1500 miles of Indian territory, fearful of ultimate Indian subjection and absorption, has in her search for allies gone much further than she otherwise might have in openly siding with the West in the global struggle against Communism. For although Pakistan’s opposition to Communism is genuine, there is no doubt that to the average Pakistani, India, not Soviet Russia or Red China, is the number one foe.

    India, superior in manpower and resources, is fundamentally resentful of, in her view, the quite unnecessarily continued existence of the only nation that stands between her and the complete hegemony of the Indian subcontinent. Nehru is not alone in the ambition to see his country leading a great Asian uncommitted third force between warring Capitalist West and Communist East. Inclined toward Communism to meet the social and political demands of his teeming peoples, he does not openly break with the West in shrewd calculation that only thence can flow the capital and technical know-how to ensure his country’s economic survival and its development. Pakistan, firmly linked with one side, the West, is a hindrance to this tightrope policy.

    In Kashmir, hostility has reached near flash point. Today an uneasy peace is maintained between the two zones of rival occupation only through the vigilant presence of UN officers and troops ceaselessly patrolling the demarcation line.

    In the Indian-occupied sector of this unhappy state, with a handful of local stooges backed by Hindu and Sikh troops keeping in subjection 3 million resentful Muslims, conditions remind one of life in one of the Soviet satellites. As you walk down a street in Srinagar, the state’s capital, a man sidles up to you, mutters something in barely intelligible English, and warily presses a crumpled piece of paper into your hand. Nearby stand a couple of police. On the other side of the road .a detachment of grim-faced soldiers marches along. Behind you casually strolls your own particular shadow, the man who seems always to be hanging around the lobby of your hotel when you come down from your room, looking at nothing in particular; who always decides to take a walk when you do; and who always, too, stops aimlessly when you pause on your way.

    When you get back to the privacy of your own room, you look at the scribbled message which you were handed: it is either a plea for outside intervention of the forces of freedom, or a letter to a friend or relative across the border, which the writer knows would never pass the censor if posted the ordinary way. A few minutes later your telephone rings, and a voice hysterical with fear asks whether a few opponents of the regime may come and talk privately with you. Hours later, a handful of tired, nervous men crowd into your room, insisting on searching every corner for hidden microphones before they talk. They are late because the police, knowing of their plans through wire tapping, have forbidden all taxis, the only transport available, to bring them, and so they have had to walk several dusty miles. Their story is sickeningly familiar in this day and age – a tale of persecution, repression, midnight arrests, and aggrandizement of the local “Big Brother.”

    Officials do not deny that thousands of Indian soldiers and gendarmery are stationed in the state to help preserve an outward calm. (Reliable estimates put the figure at 125,000-one soldier to every dozen adult inhabitants of occupied Kashmir.) A rigid censorship exists. All public assemblies and gatherings, except regime-sponsored ones, are banned. The prisons are full to overflowing, and those behind bars include twenty-five or more political leaders – among them a former prime minister – who are being detained under a local law which permits imprisonment without charge or trial, on executive order alone, for periods of up to five years.

    As to the recent elections there, Hitler and Stalin could have approved of their conception and execution. In the Vale of Kashmir itself, only five out of a total of forty-five constituencies were contested, all the others returning unopposed ruling party candidates. Moreover, even where the five contests did occur, permitted opposition candidature was limited to purely domestic controversy. This was inevitable, since it is “unlawful,” under the constitution imposed from Delhi last year, for anyone to declare for any policy other than the status quo of absorption into India.

    To appreciate how this sorry state of affairs has come about, one has to recall the year 1947, when Britain handed over the reins of government to the two newly born states of Pakistan and India, with consequent partitioning of the subcontinent. So far as the then autonomous princely states were concerned, they were faced with three choices: accession to India or to Pakistan or complete independence. The third alternative proved in every case illusory.

    The last British Viceroy, Earl Mountbatten, then holding the ring between the rival claimants in this territorial lottery, affecting more than five hundred separate states and 93 million people, declared, with the prior approval of the governments of both India and Pakistan, the considerations that should decide the states’ choice. The overriding factor was to be the will of the people concerned, which was to be implemented through the medium of a formal accession instrument lodged by the ruler either in Delhi or Karachi. In cases where the ruler’s personal wishes conflicted or were likely to conflict on communal religious or other grounds with those of his subjects, the latters’ will, to be given a free, prompt opportunity to express itself, should prevail.

    Meanwhile, in any instance where the issue seemed to be in doubt, interim agreements could be entered into with one or both of the national claimants, in order to preserve certain existing essential links, such as the postal system and trade. To the general principle of self-determination, the Viceroy added a practical warning that in reaching a decision the inescapable consequences of frontier contiguity could not he ignored. What happened next is history.

    In Junagadh, a small princedom with a Muslim ruler but a population which was predominantly Hindu, surrounded by Indian territory except for an outlet to the sea, the decision of the Nawab to join Pakistan was immediately thwarted by force of Indian arms – in the name of democracy.

    In Hyderabad, one of the few princely states large enough and strong enough economically to support itself, the Muslim ruler of a largely Hindu population opted, as was his constitutional right, for total independence, and initiated a referendum to test the will of his subjects. Refusing to await the outcome of this, the Indian government, in what it soothingly described as a “police action,” entered the territory with tanks and infantry and forcibly integrated the state with India.

    In Kashmir, partition rivalry between India and Pakistan produced an even more confused and dangerous situation. Thankful for an opportunity at long last to rid themselves of the autocratic minority Hindu regime which had ruled them so long, the local population supported by sympathetic tribesmen from outside the state rose in revolt and drove the Maharajah from the land. The fleeing Prince sought Indian help and, in exchange for the promise of Indian military intervention on his side, signed an accession instrument in favor of India. In accepting this purported accession, the Indian government also accepted the condition that it should subsequently be ratified by a free and fair expression of the people’s will. Meanwhile, Pakistan refused to accept at all the validity of the ousted ruler’s accession, and fearful of her own national security as Indian troops continued their advance northward toward her own frontiers, Pakistan moved her troops into Kashmir and a local war began.

    It was at this point that Nehru, who now so bitterly complains of United Nations interference in “an internal domestic matter,” took the matter to the Security Council for settlement. After much bitter wrangling, a temporary truce and cease fire was arranged and accepted by both sides. From that day to this, the story of Kashmir has been one of endlessly recurring delay, procrastination, and obstruction, by which India has sought to evade the obligations to hold a plebiscite that she solemnly affirmed between 1947 and 1949. Argument and counterargument have ranged over who was the original aggressor, the number of troops of each side that would have to be withdrawn before a fair test of public opinion could be held, and the terms and timing of the plebiscite.

    In patient efforts to end the deadlock, mediator after mediator, investigatory commission after investigatory commission, conciliator after conciliator, have been appointed. Despite even the division in the Security Council between Communist and non-Communist powers, one unanimous recommendation after another—eleven in all, including neutral arbitration of the points of detail still in dispute have been put forward. Every time Pakistan has said “Yes,” India has said “No.” Always, as one argument is met or falls to the ground, Nehru or his delegate at the United Nations, Krishna Menon, supported lately only by Soviet Russia, produces another, with seemingly inexhaustible fertility and often total irrelevance. Thus quite recently, when it at last seemed that the clouds were lifting, India suddenly announced that because Pakistan had joined in such anti-Communist security treaties with the West as SEATO and the Baghdad Pact, and had accepted military aid from the United States, Kashmir’s self-determination was permanently debarred. Now, the issue is once. more firmly back in the “For Urgent Action” file of the UN.

    While this controversy continues to rage, another perhaps even more menacing quarrel divides India and Pakistan; that of the division of their natural water resources. The Indus basin, watered by the Indus and its five main tributaries, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, all having their source in Indian territory, forms one of the largest irrigation systems in the world, created during the bygone days of British rule. On partition, the duly authorized representatives of both the two new countries gave assurances that each would abide by well-established principles of international law, requiring all riparian users of common rivers to respect one another’s established uses and to divide surplus waters, in accordance with the rule of equitable apportionment. Patient efforts by the’ International Bank in Washington have so far failed to find a solution that would produce for India the extra irrigatory supplies she needs for her increasing millions of impoverished peasants, without reducing the flow no less vitally needed by Pakistan to feed her own fast-growing population. For India the problem is grave, but for Pakistan it is one of national survival.

    If on this, as on all other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, any permanent cure of the present estrangement is to be effected, sacrifices and gestures will have to be made by both sides. Yet it is India who will have to make the first constructive efforts to break the log jam. For it is her recalcitrance that blocks the UN attempt to provide a settlement of the Kashmir quarrel; it is her obstinacy, based doubtless on uneasy foreknowledge of the probable verdict, that prevents the Canal Waters dispute going to thee International Court of justice at The Hague for adjudication. Is it too much to hope that Nehru, who has already lost so much of the moral stature he had gained for himself and his country since the war, will yet, before it is too tragically late, have second thoughts?

  5. YLH

    One can hope that one good that comes out of this current flare up is that the world should realize the importance of resolving Kashmir once and for all through a means acceptable to Kashmiris.

    I hope President-elect Obama does realize this and perhaps the US will finally be alive to the role that its stature and power demands that it should play in Kashmir.

  6. lal

    ‘….what if the invasion of Kashmir by irregulars in 1947 succeeded inwresting all of the Jammu and Kashmir state…..” object to the term irregulars……U know YLH,you just let the cat out of the bag with the comment posted above.Why on earth an attack on Mumbai at this point of time?Was this the reason?Put Obama under pressure

  7. ylh

    Perhaps that was the reason? So what do we do? Keep a whole people in subjection because we don’t want to “reward terror” and the terrorists keep carrying out terror activities in the name of those people?

    Is there a right answer here? Or a wrong one?

  8. alok

    a relevant article in The news international:

    By Aakar Patel
    On Jan 12, 2002, President Pervez Musharraf banned Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. He promised that “no organisation would be allowed to carry out terrorism on the pretext of Kashmir.”

    On Sept 17, 2002, Jammu and Kashmir went to vote. In the two months before polling, 570 people died, including 327 militants.

    The average vote was 44 percent. The lowest turnout, 7.8 percent, was in Sopore, home to the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Geelani; the highest, 78 percent, was 10 times that, in Kargil, a stronghold of Shias, always more wary about Jihad. US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill acknowledged a dip in infiltration across the Line of Control and called the turnout “remarkable.”

    On Nov 2, 2002, Mufti Mohammad Saeed and the Congress Party formed the government, agreeing to split the six-year term between the two parties with Mufti Saeed as chief minister for the first three years and Ghulam Nabi Azad the last three. They focussed on governance, not identity, for almost the whole of their terms. But then, in the manner of the subcontinent, identity appeared.

    Amarnath, 90 kilometres from Srinagar, is where Hindus pray to a giant ice stalagmite, which they believe is a representation of Shiva’s phallus. The Amarnath shrine was discovered by a Muslim shepherd in the 19th century, and pilgrims walk 42 kilometres from Pahalgam in the Hindu month of Sravan (July-August) to worship there.

    On May 26, 2008, the Jammu and Kashmir government agreed to give 100 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Trust, for the setting up of tents for pilgrims. In Srinagar, this was immediately shown as evidence of how Kashmir would slowly be taken over by India. (The Indian Constitution’s Article 370 gives Jammu and Kashmir separate status from the rest of the Union and Indians cannot buy land in that state.)

    Kashmiri Muslims came to the streets to oppose the transfer; Jammu’s Hindus came to the streets to defend it. Hindu groups, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, blocked the road to the Valley from Jammu, threatening an economic blockade and alarming the country. The government cancelled the land transfer, but Mufti Saeed withdrew support from the Congress government, which resigned on July 7, 2008.

    On Oct 19, the Election Commission of India announced Kashmir’s elections would be held from November 17 in seven phases till December 24. Few believed the elections would be successful.

    The communist Yusuf Tarigami said “elections were no solution to the Kashmir problem.” The secular Yasin Malik said his group, the JKLF, would campaign actively for a boycott and that the elections would fail just as they had in the past. “To boycott the elections was every Kashmiri’s right,” he said. Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson Omar said his party, the National Conference, would contest but he worried that “turnout would be low.” Hurriyat spokesman Abdul Ghani Bhat said elections were a non-issue and, “whether or not they were held, would cause the Hurriyat no consternation.” The Jamaat’s Geelani said that the “so-called elections were no solution.” The JKDFP’s Shabbir Shah promised a “total boycott.” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq asked people to stay away from the elections “or face social boycott.”

    On Nov 17, Bandipora, Leh, Kargil and Poonch polled 69 percent; on Nov 23, Ganderbal and Rajouri polled 68 percent; on Nov 30, Kupwara polled 68 percent; on Dec 7, Baramulla, Udhampur, Budgam and Reasi polled 59 percent; on Dec 13, Pulwama, Shopian and Kathua polled 58 percent; on Dec 17 Anantnag, Doda, Kishtwar, Kulgam and Ramban polled 66 percent; on Dec 24 Jammu, Srinagar and Samba polled 55 percent.

    Why did this happen?

    In 2003, there were 3,401 incidents of violence in Kashmir. In 2005 this fell to 1,415 incidents. In 2007 this fell to less than 900. Infiltration across the Line of Control also plummeted.

    Without the leverage of the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s and Jaish-e-Muhammad’s guns, the Hurriyat showed it had little influence. In a democracy, there is no substitute to rallying people, other than through daily contact on daily issues. Leadership on one grand, emotional issue cannot be sustained.

    Musharraf ended Pakistan’s jihad; Kashmiris have put a moratorium on identity issues. Kashmiris have damaged the credibility of the Hurriyat Conference, and made it irrelevant for the next six years.

    The Mirwaiz is conservative, as religious leaders must be. But along with worrying about Bida’a, in the manner of all South Asian maulvis, he fought a political battle—but without ever fighting an election. He has lost. After the results were announced on Sunday, Dec 28, he said this was a “lesson for separatists.”

    Who were the winners?

    Thirty-eight-year-old Omar Abdullah will become chief minister. He is secular (married to a Hindu), intelligent and experienced. Exactly the kind of man the state needs. His grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, and Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather, Nehru, had a friendship that fell apart and Nehru jailed the Sheikh for a dozen years. This was after Nehru fought against Hari Singh before Independence to have Sheikh Abdullah released. Now, these two young men, who are also close friends, are at the doorstep of history.

    The BJP was rewarded for its opportunism in inflaming Jammu and won 11 seats, 10 more than last time. But it has polarised Jammu from Kashmir in its recklessness. It says the issue is of discrimination against Jammu, not Hindu versus Muslim, but this is untrue. Where it has the opportunity to use bigotry—in Gujarat, and elsewhere—it does so without qualm.

    The BJP talks tough to Indians, but in December 1999, Vajpayee surrendered to the Jaish-e-Muhammad after the Kandahar hijacking and released Masood Azhar and Omar Saeed Sheikh. This act of myopia under pressure from a few dozen middle-class families led to more terrorism in India, including the attack on Parliament in December 2001. It also led to the attacks on Musharraf, whose death might have led to a different story in Kashmir, and to the savage murder of The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl.

    The Congress calmed tempers even at the cost of being hurt by angry Hindus in Jammu and elsewhere in India—and it is down three seats to 17. Under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, it remains the party that puts nation above self.

    What about the separatists? They are fighting the wrong people.

    Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s father was killed by the Hizbul Mujahideen in May 1990. Sajjad Lone’s father, Abdul Ghani Lone, was killed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba in May 2002.

    I met Abdul Ghani Lone in his Srinagar house, and while showing me out he pointed at the Indian army soldiers protecting him and referred to them as “these butchers.” But I wondered who they were protecting him from.

    Mufti Mohammad Saeed’s daughter Rubaiyya was kidnapped by militants in December 1989, when he was India’s home minister. The V P Singh government released five prisoners to get Saeed’s daughter back.

    These people are the victims of militancy, but they became its champions. As it now fades away, they will become irrelevant, unless they separate their message from violence.

    Yasin Malik’s young face bears testimony to the brutality of the Indian state, whose guest he has been for much of his adult life. He says elections are not the solution to the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

    But India has no strategy beyond offering secular democracy and the recurring right to vote, which it has been begging Kashmiris to take—and which they have finally taken, at least for now.

    Yasin Malik talks about Gandhian protest, but Gandhi did not fight for a theocratic state. In a truly Azad Kashmir, Yasin Malik will be stamped out by Mirwaiz, Geelani and the Kashmiri population that will get down to the mischief of Hudood, Riba, Zina. Pakistan thinks it inherited it from Zia, but that actually came from the Muslim League and Liaquat’s 1949 Objectives Resolution.

    Having predicted that Kashmirs would boycott the election, Indian liberals are now urging the government to act to resolve the Kashmir issue with some sort of geographical solution. They are wrong.

    Elections are the solution. Secular democracy is the only goal. It is what Jinnah wanted. Kashmiris already have that.

  9. alok

    Prem shankar jha is an expert on kashmir issues. This article appeared in Hinsuatan times:

    Few recent elections have proved as full of surprises as the recently concluded state Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir? The questions abound. Why did all but an urban stratum of the population ignore the Hurriyat co-ordination committee’s call for a poll boycott? Does this mean that the secessionist movement in the Valley has died out? How did the National Conference manage to hold on to the same number of seats as it had in 2002 inspite of being the party most closely associated with the military rule of the past two decades? Is that another sign that the past has been laid to rest and secessionism is dead? What significance should we attach to the jump in the BJP’s seats in Jammu? Is this its dividend from its sponsorship of the violent economic blockade of Kashmir in July? And lastly, why was there no attempt by the jihadis from across the LoC or their local surrogates to discourage voters by killing candidates and their party workers?

    There may be no completely satisfactory answer to all of these questions, but the voting pattern gives us some strong clues. The jump in the vote from 44 per cent in 2002 to 61 per cent this year was a convincing rejection of the Hurriyat’s boycott call. But it is more than that. Although a majority of the voters interviewed by the media said that they were not voting on ‘the main issue’ but simply taking control of their day-to-day lives, this is a sophistry, for there is no middle ground between the bullet and the ballot. The decision to change anything at all through the one is a complete rejection of the other.

    But it remains a partial rejection. The voting pattern shows that ‘separatism’ has not died, but become more localised. Today it is almost as strong as it ever was in Srinagar, Sopore, Baramulla and Anantnag. While the government has been congratulating itself on the jump in the turnout in Srinagar from barely 5 per cent in 2002 to 20 per cent this year, it has chosen to forget that in a truly free and contested election, such as that of 1983, the turnout in the city was over 80 per cent. In other words, 60 per cent of the population of Srinagar, which had exercised its vote regularly before the outbreak of insurgency in 1989, still chose to ‘vote’ against the present setup by abstaining.

    The abstention is significant because except in China nearly every successful rebellion has begun in the cities and has been led by precisely the kind of people who remain alienated today. These are the urban, educated, insecure but aspiring middle class. Even in the rest of the Valley, the average vote has remained 20 or more per cent below that of 1983. Even Bandipore’s much quoted 56 per cent turnout was 23 per cent below that of 1983. There is thus a stratum of support for the separatists still very much alive in the Valley, although it is substantially weaker than at its height in 1996 and 2002.

    The National Conference’s strong performance is perhaps the biggest surprise of all. But a closer look shows that it owes its success almost entirely to the success of the Hurriyat’s boycott call in Srinagar and other cities. Ironically this call kept at home precisely those who would have gone out to vote for the PDP. Luck, too, has played a part, for in several of the Srinagar seats it has won by as few as 13-70 votes.

    The true strength of the two parties is reflected by their share of the vote. That of the NC has actually gone down by about 4 per cent while that of the PDP has gone up by 6. The voting pattern also reflects a sectarian bias. But the way it is being interpreted by the instant pundits of Delhi is hopelessly wrong. The PDP has gained the support of the Jamaat-i-Islami of Kashmir and of the Ahl-e-Hadis. But neither of these groups wants Kashmir to secede from India. But both want the peace process with Pakistan to continue and support Mufti’s call for ‘self–rule’ within the framework of the Indian union.

    Unlike the NC, which is prepared to seek autonomy within the present Constitution, the PDP believes that changes such as the gradual elimination of borders between the two Kashmirs and the establishment of consultative mechanisms between them are necessary to give Pakistan a sense of achievement and a reason to leave Kashmir alone in the future.

    Where communalism has raised its head is in Jammu. The BJP has won nearly all of its 11 seats in the Hindu heartland of Jammu, Kathua and Samba. The PDP, too, has registered gains in Jammu , but only in the Muslim belt. This is the BJP’s payoff for fomenting the anti-Kashmir riots and blockade over the Amarnath shrine in July. But there is a lesson in this for the Congress also. Throughout that crisis it played a ‘soft’ communal card , never daring to challenge the BJP for fear of losing ‘the Hindu vote’ and thereby leaving the Kashmiris defenceless. In the process it lost not only the vote but also its remaining claim to secularism.

    Finally, Kashmir remained free from violence not only because Pakistan showed no inclination to send any Mujahideen but also because in July the Hurriyat co-ordination Council specifically told them to stay away, as it intended to achieve its goals peacefully. Its call was endorsed by Syed Salahuddin from Muzaffarabad. Had the Hurriyat not also issued a call to boycott the elections, the PDP would have emerged as the largest single party, and would have been in a position to take the peace process forward. Today that onerous task is going to fall on the shoulders of the National Conference. Only Omar Abdullah has the courage and clear-sightedness to pursue it in an inclusive manner, without leaving the Hurriyat or the PDP out. Kashmir’s, and possibly the entire subcontinent’s future, therefore, rests on the shoulders of one young man.

  10. Milind Kher

    A very important development in Kashmir was the 62% voter turnout. This was the highest participation in RECENT years.

    Omar Abdullah is possibly the most sincere person in the entire Kashmir mix. Truly hope he delivers

  11. Neel Walia

    Well, the genesis sums up like this. The state has gone to polls, though with an undercurrent of despair. Despair at what can be stated as resolving of some pertinent issues related both to the majority and the minority populations in the vale. Yet, the fact remains that issues related to the ‘fatigue factor’ as of with the kashmiri muslims, has prompted them to give democracy a try. Indian nation, on its own, should now show its benign face by being true to the ideals as enshrined in the constitution. As a test case, send the NGO’s and other civil organizations who can apply a truely healing touch to the yet-to-be healed scars of an agonized population.

  12. devesh misra

    MUMBAI IS A MINOR INCIDENT IN A LONG WAR- In 1988,the Kashmiri insurgency started and within 1 year 250,000 Kashmiri pandits were expelled from Kashmir after selective massacres of a few thousand. Then followed a war between Indian army and the mujahedeen who have been OPENLY backed by Zia, Benazir, Nawaz and Musharraf, and ISI, scores of retd Pak army officers and Mafia dons like Dawood Ibrahim. By 1995, 40% of mujahedeen were non-Kashmiri and by 2000 al-Quaeda had also come in. This war by proxy was a brilliant if evil plan to bleed India slowly. Sadly 60,000 Kashmiris have died in the last 20 years.

    In 1999, there was the hijacking of an Indian plane to Kandahar by some Pakistanis, there was the invasion of Kargil by Mujahedeen and the Northern Light infantry of Pak (500 Indian and 1000 Pak dead-sad) then came attacks on Indian Parliament, slaughter of 30 wives and children of Indian soldiers in Jammu, bomb blasts in Mumbai trains in 2006,and bomb blasts in 7-8 Indian cities in 2007 and then Mumbai in 2008.
    Is this Kashmiri nationalism or muslim seperatism- I dont care. Kashmiris lived as well as any other group in India, but if this demand for seperation is intransigent, then I am one of those minority Indians who has said for 20 years- LET THEM GO. The only problem is this will bring Wahabi and Talebani style primitive Islamists into the beautiful valley of Kashmir where the gentler sufi style of Islam will be completely buried. There will also be partition style bloodbaths, militant Islam will get more ground and will not stop there.

    Mumbai killings, as also all attacks refd above, are the result of an unholy marriage between Mujahedeen, al-Quaeda, ISI, Pak army, Dawood and maybe 0.1% of local Islamists. I have no interest in this current debate about who exactly did this. The cure will be long term- India has to do a minor job- let Kashmir go; Pak has an impossible task- deep cleanse its society from the clutches of institutionalised hate. They have my best wishes.

  13. Iqbal


    I read all comments, first of all you all tell me who read the history of kashmir?What all you know about kashmir what is happening inside the kashmir( leave Indian news channels because we know better what they are saying ).why sheikh Abdullah was jailed by Nehru for Twenty Years ?What Abdullah has asked to Nehru Being a Friend why he jailed him?What is UN resolution?If there was not any problem why UN declared his resolution?If you all need to know about kashmir then ask kashmiri people they know better than you because they face these problems caused by Indian troops?90,000 people died,7000 rape cases,9000 Missing ??? Who did this ? Ask any child in kashmir he will reply..I would tell all you Indians who have open Mind read Basharat Peer’s Book ” Curfewed Night ” he dealed all these things.he interviewed people who suffered whatever he mentioned is all real stories of kashmir.They are only few if he goes On then this book will be in Volumes I don’t know how many Volumes.. Best of Luck

  14. Pingback: A portrait of Kashmir at Asian Window

  15. nikhil

    Few books and even fewer authors have been able to present such a balanced and riveting tale about the valley and the war it faces. The book is very touching and makes one emphatise with the cause on many grounds. I loved the parts where the author draws a bond with kashmiri pandits and how he puts the narrative above himself. a must read

  16. Prem Bodagala


    This was a great write up; quite possible one of your best. Bravo my friend.


  17. This is a lugubrious story.


  18. Pankaj

    Dear Peer Seeb,
    No doubt, you have drawn a very true picture of what happened in Kashmir during 1990’s. Great!.
    Good thing in introduction you have used ‘Anantnag’ in place of ‘Islamabad’, it motivated me to read further, as i believe the paramount responsibility of any writer is to keep facts in tact.
    But during your further references to this place you have used ‘Islamabad’, Ok if you felt so.

    But my major protest to your great writing is about the sketch of Srinagar by Malik Sajad, he addressed Shankaracharya with (or) Soloman’s Throne, i think you should had protested to it. Because as a responsible person we should not distract or create a president to replace original names and especially names of such places, which have religious or sacred importance.

    I am sure you being a learned person and writer could understand my feelings and overall the feelings of Kashmiri Pandits.


  19. Dear sir
    First of all i pray to allah for ur success and bright feature (AMEN)

  20. due

    Kashmir’s history begins long before what muslims think or write about it. Muslim history-writing is always very biased-selective, suitably written for vilifying non-muslims and suppressing the non-muslims’ claims (and sufferings), which are older (and more severe) than those of the muslims.

    Genuine liberation and self-determination of Kashmir and true self-respect of the people of Kashmir will be possible only after this ideology created/instigated from outside of Kashmir is reduced.