Intifada or not - Kashmir defies definitions

Written by: Nairita Das
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New Delhi, Aug.25 (ANI): The recent spurt in violence in a few districts of the Kashmir Valley is being termed as an Intifada by many journalists. Perhaps because they perceive that the fight is popular and the street protestors are fighting a repressive regime.

Let us go back to see what exactly is an Intifada. In Arabic, the term means "shaking off". Webster defines the Intifada as an armed uprising of Palestinians against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The first Intifada (1987-1993) and the second Intifada (2000-2004) led to the popularisation of the word and soon any revolt, armed or unarmed, by the Muslim people came to be termed as an Intifada.

The recent protests in the Kashmir Valley were first termed as an 'Intifada ' by The Kashmir Action Committee of Pakistan (KACP). This is a Lahore-based organisation, run by Justice Sharifuddin Bokhari, a retired Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court. Consisting mainly of some retired bureaucrats and ex-army men, it gets support from expatriate Pakistanis, who remain convinced that the so-called liberation of Kashmir is an issue supreme in the minds of ordinary Pakistanis.

This organisation, which though located hundreds of miles away from Srinagar, is miraculously aware of the minutest details of the recent uprising. This organisation decided that it was time to give the stone throwers of the Kashmir Valley an aura of respectability; so Intifada, they labeled it. It is no coincidence that this is a term that foreign journalists and American think tanks and publications are familiar with.

The term was duly picked up by the local media in Indian administered Kashmir and then by foreign correspondents that visited the Valley. Of course, a similar revolt in Balochistan, in Pakistan, has been termed by international media (NYT) as " a nationalist movement led by armed ethnic Baluch groups (that) has long sought greater provincial autonomy."

That the Baloch want secession from Pakistan goes unreported. The reason for the near black out of the civilian uprising in Balochistan is because the foreign media cannot enter the province. Why foreign, even domestic media in Pakistan, faces repression in the economic and backward province where, simmering hatred towards the Pakistani regime is beyond control now.

But it largely goes unreported, as it is much easier to cover the uprising in Srinagar than Balochistan. India allows free access to media, both Indian and foreign, in its part of Kashmir, like it does in any other part of the country. Incidentally, Pakistan administered Kashmir or POK is as inaccessible to media as Balochistan.

Despite the overt similarities in the recent visual images from Kashmir with the images from Palestine --- the stone throwing mobs, use of face masks, women and children being used on the frontlines of these mobs --- there are major differences between the two situations.

The Intifada was against the occupying forces of Israel. Palestinians had been thrown out of their land where they had lived for centuries.

India is not an occupying force in Kashmir, despite the sensational sound bites that are given by the ubiquitous boatman or a teen with a stone.

In 1948, Maharaja Hari Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, signed the instrument of accession like 500 other rulers, accepting its union with India. The accession to India was also publicly supported by the most popular Kashmiri leader of the time, Sheikh Abdullah.

Unlike the Palestinians, Kashmiris were not asked to vacate their lands so that "occupying forces" could occupy their land and homes. The immediate cause for the first Intifada in December 1987 was the incident in the Jabalya refugee camp when an Israeli army tank ran into a group of refugees, killing four and injuring seven. Do you see tanks ramming into civilians in Kashmir? This, despite the well documented fact that there are militants among stone pelters inciting and threatening them to throw stones and lynch policemen and burn down police stations.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah termed stone pelting as an "industry" saying: "We have, in fact, been able to identify to a couple of big business houses, one in particular, who has used, through his network of dealers, to route money through."

The involvement of women and children in the 2010 uprising in Srinagar is said to be similar to the first Intifada, in which, women provided cover for men who pelted stones and hid behind skirts.

Asiya Andarabi of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat, a women's organisation championing the cause of "freedom", is at the forefront of this so-called women's movement in Kashmir. At her mildest best, Asiya "urges" women and children to abandon the safety of their homes and schools and get on to the streets to fight unarmed against security forces who have shoot-at-sight orders.

Rage has many manifestations, but, women and children coerced to go onto the streets to hurl stones, is the most despicable of them all.

And, the most pathetic, is to see the same women pleading with policemen to release the men who have been arrested, or mourning the dead who were caught in this vicious cross fire.

All this, while the so-called leaders of the "Intifada" sit in air-conditioned homes guarded by state security and travel in bullet proof SUVs.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat Conference defended the action of stone pelters, saying: "I have been urging the youth to keep these protests peaceful, but due to the atrocities of the troopers, the situation has taken a serious turn."

But women in Srinagar are not on the streets because they believe in freedom, independence or any such esoteric cause. They are protesting against the overwhelming presence of security personnel on the roads, which is preventing them from walking their children to school or going about their daily chores. They have lost their children, husbands and brothers to bullets. They want the protests and bloodshed to end. This is markedly different from the two Intifadas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There, it was an Islamic struggle against a Jewish occupation. Here, in Kashmir, the very thought of throwing out religious minorities from Kashmir is alien to Kashmiris. It is a radical view thrust and shoved into their struggle by Pakistani infiltrators and their agents.

On a recent visit to a Palestine refugee camp, in the West Bank, a group of Indian journalists had the opportunity to meet with people who had witnessed both Intifadas. Most of those we spoke to admit that violence had achieved little. They would have preferred peace talks.

The deputy mayor of Bethlehem, a Fatah leader, said that everyone, from Osama bin Laden to the smallest terror group on earth, has used the Palestinian cause to further their own ends.

This, he admitted, had harmed the cause of the Palestinian people and painted them as a violent race.

The Intifadas gave no respite to ordinary Palestinians. There are electromagnetic fences that divide the Palestinians from the Israelis. The violence shows no signs of abating. We visited the town of Sderot in Israel that lies on the Gaza border.

This town has suffered thousands of rocket attacks. There are bomb shelters every few miles, which are painted in bright welcoming colours so that children are not scared to run to them when the missile warning goes off.

In a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem, we saw a school with no windows. Glass windows could shatter during a missile attack and injure children so they study closeted in window-less classrooms.

Many of us draw parallels with the situation in Kashmir, thinking that the hardships that people face in conflict zones are almost similar. But the politics behind it is not. The Intifadas of Palestine are peculiar to that region. Not to Kashmir.

On 23rd August, shopkeepers at Peerbagh in Budgam district of Central Kashmir confronted separatists who were forcing them to shut shops and join the protests. The shopkeepers said their business was being affected and they could ill afford the daily shut down calls. The brave citizens then filed an FIR at the police station against the separatists who they said were violating the peace and harming their businesses.

The law enforcing agencies operating in the Valley are also now using non-lethal means of crowd control like pumping action shotguns. Tazer guns, rubber bullets and pepper balls will also be used, which should have been done as a matter of procedure right from the start of these protests.

Some commentators who have drawn an analogy between the Kashmir problem and the Palestinian conflict forebode that if the stone pelting incidents peter down or loose steam in the days ahead, it would only be a lull in the storm.

General Shankar Roychowdhury, a former Chief of Army Staff, writes "The Pakistan Army is attempting to co-opt Intifada into its own jihadi playbook, as a tactic of opportunity against India in the Valley. Keeping the history of Intifada in mind, it would be prudent to anticipate and prepare for possible increasing tempo of suicide bombing and fidayeen-type attacks in the country, both within and outside Jammu and Kashmir."

But this is where the separatists and their minders have been innovative. They have already gone through the suicide bombing, hijacking, and hostage taking tactics. It failed to win any public support in the state, in the country and internationally, and did not achieve their goal of "azadi".

Imran Nabi, a professor at the Islamic University of Kashmir recently commented, "We don't know what is Intifida, what is it, we don't have any clue who is running it? You must be knowing better, what you are seeing on the streets of Kashmir is the angry outburst against the indifferent government."

Stones, face masks and women protestors do not make an Intifada alone. Intifada, notwithstanding the superficial and misplaced use of the term to describe the recent protests in Kashmir, is an alien concept to India and will not work. Kashmiris know it. It is now time for commentators to realise it. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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