Letters, open and counters
In this Information age, the opinions of people are shaped by the discourse that happens in the media – the newspapers, the internet forums, the videos that are shot, the letters, open letters and counter letters. A vast majority of them are full of half-truths and that is not surprising as every side has skeletons to hide. The problem arises when a gullible population (read Indians) digest these printed words both offline and on as the ultimate Truth without question. Secondary sources and even imaginary accounts becomes Gospels to be used to shut anyone who dares to oppose the mainstream discourse.
The Quint has recently published an open letter by a veteran soldier of the Indian Army named Major Gaurav. They apparently waited for a counter to that which was furnished by a Wasim Khan, a ‘Kashmiri’ who now is settled in Mumbai and runs a successful media agency (not surprising).
So before we go into braindead blaming attempts, let’s analyze the two pieces one by one and check the merits of each case. First, let’s see what the Major has to say. The letter is addressed to the dead terrorist – Burhan Wani (actually to all sympathizers of him)
‘Ever since you were terminated in a forces-led operation in the Valley, 23 people have died. I don’t know why they died. The majority were possibly overcome with grief and fury and wanted to avenge your death. That did not happen, for obvious reasons. A policeman was thrown along with his vehicle into a river and he drowned. I grieve with your family and with the families of all those who lost their lives. Despicable though you may have been, I cannot find it in my heart to blame your family.’
This is not unique to Kashmir. In fact, if you kill a policeman and riot in the streets in any country – even in Switzerland or Norway, you will face the full might of the state to restore what the state calls ‘normalcy’. And this is a known fact, certainly in the region of Kashmir that has seen similar ‘uprisings’ in the past as well. There can be no excuse for this fake ignorance. The Major is quite empathetic in his approach, unlike what I expected of him.
He then adds, ‘The day you started your social media blitzkrieg, you were a dead man. You encouraged young men of Kashmir to kill Indian soldiers, all from behind the safety of your Facebook account. You died when you were 22. Had you survived this operation, you would have died when you were 23. Just a different date on the calendar, that’s all. The intensity of violence and the result would have been the same.’ This is also true and almost nothing to object. In fact this is the policy of any State in the world and India is not an exception. Any armed threat to the sovereignty of any nation, especially from religious zealots can be put down by armed force. There is no hypocrisy in this.
Then he writes, ‘I wish we had met and I could have explained to you (before killing you) that the old men of the Hurriyat Conference are like leeches. They feed on the blood of men. They send young Kashmiris to face the Indian Army. What sort of a war is this, where lambs are sent to fight lions?’ This is where the Major misses the point. While he is correct about the Hurriyat who just make empty claims of representing the whole of Kashmir, it is the Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen that is ruling the roost, at least with Burhan as the commander. It is true that the Hurriyat only defends terrorists while encouraging their own children to flourish in Indian and Western universities. But that is because they are (perhaps often rightly) accused to be a safety valve, a convenient pawn in the hands of the Indian establishment. The real ‘fight’ against the existence of the un-Islamic Indian control over Jammu and Kashmir is waged by the HuM and the Lashkar e Taiba (among others). And it needs to be mentioned that the HuM is highly motivated and they do send their children to wage Allah’s war without flinching. So the Major here makes a mistake in not being able to distinguish the real enemy from what was apparent. May be he was trying to be diplomatic, hoping to wish away the harsher realities and apply a soothing touch. But he may have fooled only the mainland Indians. Kashmiri Muslims will not be swayed by this rhetoric. They the difference between the HuM and the Hurriyat.
He ends with defiance, ‘You were a terrorist. You chose to wage war against India. Like for all other such perpetrators in the past, it didn’t go too well for you. When you choose to fight against the Indian Army, know this; THEY WILL KILL YOU. Your supporters now want blood. So be it. Cheers!’ Events have indeed turned him right. The terrorists will try to impose their rule of Shariyat and the Indian State will try to oppose this. In this war, the Indian State will emerge victorious, but the problem will remain only suppressed, only to return later, may be just to be suppressed again. The real issues behind these symptoms will not be addressed (I mean the whole Mosque network and religious apparatus including maulvis).
Now let us look at the emotional ‘response’ of Wasim Khan. For all his sentimental outburst, which is natural, he is eloquent. So let’ssee what he has to say.
He begins with a sober note, ‘I could talk about each one of those issues, but I think there’s a bigger issue here that’s gone missing. I want to talk about that because I don’t want my friends, especially in India to feel proud about what’s happening in Kashmir right now. I want them to know the truth, which according to your letter I find half told.’ The issues he mentions means the issues leading up to the ‘uprising’ and Kashmiri Muslim’s disenchantment with ‘Hindu’ India.
He is also honest in his primary appraisal when he states that, ‘Let me begin by saying that I get your point straight up. Burhan Wani was a Hizbul commander. He challenged the Indian army and he met his fate. I understand and in fact I respect that as your point of view being an army officer. This is war. No two ways about it. Lets not be confused and that’s your job. The army is in Kashmir to kill insurgents and has been doing so successfully for about two and a half decades now. You being an army officer should take pride in that and so should the fellow countrymen.’
Then he drives down the path of victimhood and blatantly obfuscates facts when he states, ‘I will not take this back to history and talk about why there is insurgency to begin with. I’m sure you are well aware of it. If not then you’re being conveniently ignorant.’
So when did insurgency begin? Our Wasim Khan refuses to even mention the reasons. Why? Is he afraid that his narrative is the same as that of the ISIS and the various other Jihadis in the Valley trying to justify their establishment of an Islamic State in Kashmir? For all that’s worth, the reasons are known and written down in stone. Only parts can be shown to people, depending on which side you are on. But what happened has happened and the past can’t change. Even God/Allah can’t do that. The real insurgency began around 1989, after Benazir Bhutto gave her speech exhorting the Kashmiri youth to rise up against the Kafir rulers, reminding them that their blood was of the Ghazis and what not. True, the ramblings began in 1984 and actually a little before that, and the farcical election of 1987 did give it a boost. But the insurgency, the armed struggle actually began around 1989 to 1990, which incidentally saw the ethnic cleansing of all 400,000+ Kashmiri Pandits from the valley (except about a couple of thousand!) In fact, the following period saw the expulsion of lesser Muslims like the Shias. Why even go to that? In the 1990s itself, all the bars, the movie theaters, theaters and all were ‘banned’ by Islamists as they were against Islam. Women’s dress code was implemented, among others by a young fiery woman named Asiya Andrabi of the Dukhtaran e Millat (Women of Islam) who became notorious for throwing acid on Muslim women not wearing the burqa! (Quoted here is a pro Islamist Indian Muslim paper, in case doubts of veracity arises) And before you jump your gun, let me assure you – she is considered a hero of sorts in the Valley. Not very different from the (in) famous executions of rape victims and women in the Kabul stadium while the crowd jeered. In fact, the local Kashmiri young boys threatened outstation girl students in the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar of rape to silence them! But I guess that’s ok and pardonable under their way and faith!
He continues, ‘You, Major Arya, are a part of a mighty force. I think fifth strongest in the world but then you forget. More than the might of the army you are also a part of worlds largest democracy. If J&K is an ‘integral’ part of India then why do not the laws of democracy apply there? In statistics they do. Don’t you think that’s being hypocritical?’
Okay, he assumes that the Major forgets that he belongs to the Indian Army and its strength. Is he stupid? No. He is trying to compare the David and Goliath scale to this conflict, implying in the justness of the Islamist cause in Kashmir. Smart move. But here’s the thing – the strength of any country is not measured in numbers, at least not any more (this is not the early twentieth century), but by the resolve and the efficiency with which a nation can meet its threats. It can be a small force and still protect itself, and vice versa, a bigger army can falter in its duty as well. The strength of the armed forces may not be the full story. Being a part of the world’s largest democracy is irrelevant here, any conflict, any armed insurrection against any state in the world, democracy or otherwise will be met with arms. Wasim can’t take shelter under democracy’s embrace all the while kicking at her from below. Then he adds his classic. He mentions all of Jammu and Kashmir to be an ‘integral’ part of India. Integral in quotes. His stand is quite clear by now. It would not be partisan on my behalf to conclude which side he is on. But I will let that slide, his arguments are enough to rebut him comprehensively. He claims that the laws of democracy are applied there.
This is difficult. Because J&K has its own constitution, along with the Indian Constitution. So legally there is some confusion. In terms of Defense, foreign affairs and the like, the Indian Constitution takes precedence, but let’s look closely at what Wasim is trying to point at. The reaction. He is pointing to the Indian Forces reaction to the armed insurgency and stone pelting attacks of the rioting mob. Mind you, stone pelting is no less harmful than pellets – while a pellet can penetrate only your softer tissues, a barrage of stones can and do damage a lot more. In fact, other countries like the US (during the Black/anti Black riots), China (though not democratic, during Tiananmen), Ukraine (Crimea), Pakistan (East Pakistan, Balochistan), Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Indonesia etc. have responded with far greater forces, using live bullets and even tanks in some cases to put down rebellions. A democracy gives many the impression that it is a blank cheque that anyone can cash anytime. But it does not imply impotency. There are sufficient safeguards in democratic states as well. That was what allowed the United States and England to mobilize their forces to comprehensively against the might of the Axis powers in the World War 2. The land of ‘One Land, One People, One Leader’ was put to ruins. Japan and Italy were also vanquished. In fact Japan was crushed by the democracies alone as the contribution of Soviet Union in that theater was only in name. But we can forgive Wasim for not remembering these. His world view may be much smaller, perhaps restricted to places where only Muslim have taken a beating, for whatever reasons.
In that case, he must not have forgotten the implementation of curfew in Gujarat in 2002, Muzaffarnagar in 2013, Bhagalpur, Nellie, Calcutta and so on. He should not have been ignorant of the number of Hindus killed in police actions in response to rioting Hindu mobs. Perhaps it is lost on the young Wasim that if you riot, you can be shot – being Hindu, Muslim, atheist etc is no guarantee for clemency.
Then he goes on, ‘Going by your words had Burhan survived at 22, he would have died at 23. You know I didn’t even about know about him till recently. I actually Googled him after his death and he became news to me along with the rest of my friends in India. Apparently he became a militant because the army trashed his brother unconscious in front of him. That probably was the first nail.’
I have covered this a while earlier, but what Wasim adds in the end is troubling. What he does is justify the becoming of a terrorist. So the logic goes this – if your brother or sister is trashed unconscious (there is no evidence of this incident that I could find, except from this oft quoted account sans references). I will give a short summary of what happened. Khalid (Burhan’s brother), Burhan and his friend went on a bike drive and was requested to buy some cigarettes for the Special Operations Group lads on some road in Tral. This is pretty common in any place in India where on duty policemen (or in this case special policemen) ask civilians to get them cigarettes or paan. The young Khalid bought them cigarettes which the young soldiers accepted. Then apparently without any reason they beat Khalid black and blue! And what is surprising is the 15 year old Burhan managed to drive his bike with his friend on his back away from the security cauldron without a scratch! All the while leaving his brother in the lurch! And yes, he even managed to threaten the policemen that he will avenge this! Very filmy. But what makes this story utterly fantastic is that the soldiers did not even bother to visit the young Burhan’s house after that, not even to investigate. Burhan’s sympathizers can gobble this story up without question, but objective observes should take everything with a pinch of salt. Things are often not what they seem to be. The simplistic explanation of why Burhan took to guns does not really hold water.
Even if you accept it as true for its sake, young Burhan took a vow at the age of 15 to wage war against all of India and establish a Sharia ruled state instead. At the age of 15! His parents certainly must have had a profound influence on his, especially perhaps his sympathetic and devout father. In any case, even then the logic of wanting to eliminate India itself, calling himself an Islamic warrior (Gazi), ridiculing non-Muslim workers in Kashmir gives the impression of not an avenging romantic, but that of a crazed religious zealot.
Then Wasim gives his own stories to back up Wani’s account, how he was mistreated himself.
‘This reminds me. Let me tell you something about myself. When the army in Srinagar beat me up for the first time I was ten years old. Ask me why and I’ll tell you I don’t know. I seriously don’t. I was just walking on the road and a soldier decided to frisk me then slap me and then he and his fellow mighty warriors together kicked me. There was no social media then and I didn’t threaten them. Last I remembered was that I offered water to one soldier standing outside my house on a hot sunny day.
The second time I was beaten up by the BSF, I was still ten years old. The third time I was beaten up by the CRPF I was still ten years old and then next fifteen sixteen times I was beaten up I was STILL ten years old. I remember this one time. A few years later I was pulled over and the soldier pushed me aside as I got out of the car. I told him to take it easy and barely finished my sentence when I felt a gun butt on my neck. I fell down. This was on the highway. When I regained consciousness I managed to spot an officer. I walked up to him and tried to reason. Before I could even get close enough he gestured me to stop. Then he said, ‘Tum sab h******* ke saath yehi karna chahiyae. Get lost’. He then got in his gypsy along with his mighty force and drove off. I just stood there and watched them disappear. The damage had been done. I didn’t catch his nameplate but I hope that wasn’t you.’
The interesting thing is that similar acts are common, most Kashmiri Muslims you ask will tell that they were tortured by the Army. Ask them the next day and they will give another account. Ask them the day next and you will get yet another story. Of course, I am not dismissing them altogether. Collective suffering may play a role, but the condition often takes on grotesque forms. An allegation of rape and murder of two young women was blamed automatically on the armed forces. Of course, non-Muslim Indian soldiers in Kashmir can’t help but rape and kill Kashmiri girls. Only later it was found that they were drowned in the river and the post mortem showed they were not even touched, let alone violated. But by then there were days of stone pelting, curfews of more than ten days and calls for making the girls martyrs!
In this age of the internet and mobile phone (and also secret cameras) that are all cheaply available, why do you think these incidents of army atrocities on individual civilians are almost entirely missing from the public domain? There are hundreds of videos of policemen taking bribes in India, policemen drinking on duty. But where are the videos of policemen or armymen abusing Kashmiris? They have the same means at their disposal. If they can write about their ordeal in paper under their name, they can as well at least record the audio and share them online. Videos? None exist. Audio – none exist. In fact even pictures are scarce. You have hundreds of pictures where the CRPF does a body check, or a luggage check, some pictures show an old man being apparently scared by a stick (implying local riot police, not army) and so on. But where are the filmy villainous dialogues of the Indian Armed forces or even the policemen in the Valley?
He says, ‘If you could ask my friends they’d tell you how I didn’t let that or any similar experiences bother me. Also post these beatings I didn’t resort to violence. It did cross my mind a few times but it wasn’t in me. I wouldn’t be out of place if I even told you that all the times I was beaten up weren’t because I was protesting. I was beaten up because I just looked at someone in uniform and the person my best guess is that the soldier probably felt threatened. Trust me when I say I only looked because I was curious. I can’t say I felt much curious after that.’ No Wasim, admit it. You don’t know why you were beaten, unless you can read minds. You can make guesses. But not beyond that. And this is me believing that such an event took place in the first place.
He continues, ‘In the early nineties the strength of militants was about 4000 in the valley. You can check this with the nerd at HQ XV Corps. He’ll agree. Today the number of militants is about 66 in south Kashmir and about 40 in the north and rest of the valley. However the number of the army in the early nineties was about five hundred thousand and today it’s a little over seven hundred thousand. The nerd will agree to this too. So, if the army has successfully eradicated so many insurgents what is the need for the might to grow now?’ This is ridiculous. The ‘army’ in the valley, he says, numbers up to seven hundred thousand. That is half of the total Indian military strength. He makes a typical Islamist propaganda mistake here – he mentions the Corps name. So here is the thing. A Corps in India typically consists of about two or three divisions. This XV corps headquartered in Srinagar has two full strength divisions (19th Infantry Division HQ Baramulla and 28th Infantry Division HQ Gurez)
(Richard A. Renaldi, 2011) plus an artillery
brigade. The regular strength of each division is about 15,000 men and a
brigade should number around 6000 men. Along with other minor divisional and
corps assets the strength of the XV Corps can never exceed 50,000 men. In fact
that is the regular strength of each corps in the Indian Army. So perhaps,
Wasim has counted the CRPF, the J&K police to boost his quoted numbers. The
BBC, no great friend of India, even quotes a far
fewer 300,000 to 500,000 men – including police and paramilitary forces. So
instead of rising to ‘700,000 and beyond’, it is rapidly decreasing to lower
than 300,000! But the grand lie of 700,000 will continue to exist in the minds
of those who want to perpetuate this image of an ‘unequal struggle’ between
evil (Kufr or disbelief) and Islam.
Then he becomes sickening, ‘Many of my friends are army officer’s children and not once the thought crossed my mind that why didn’t they as army officer’s children join the army. I’m saying this to you so that we are not confused why Geelani’s or someone from Mirwaiz Omar’s family is abroad. It’s not relevant to what’s happening in Kashmir or is it? You really think that they would or could have done something to stop the killings? I want to drop the words Hurriyat, Jihad and Allah from this conversation and keep it only to the deaths are being caused because of the use of force from the mighty army on little children.’ These words can make any sane man puke. See how he justifies the abstaining of the ‘moderate’ separatists’ sons from the ‘struggle’. Fine, must grant him that, he has to defend them, what choice does he have? But next he brings the biggest statement – dropping the words Hurriyat, Jihad and Allah. Why? The whole struggle revolves around these words alone. It’s like leaving Nazism out of the Second World War and call it a war between men of different countries. The crucial reason d’etre of the conflict vanishes and reduces to a mere clash of faceless people. When you remove Jihad and Allah from the equation, you remove the reason, the justification, the little logic there is to the action of the Jihadists and the reaction of the Indian State. This was an intelligent maneuver but needs to be met head on. If you are discussing a conflict borne out of Jihad and Allah, you will have to discuss them as well. There can be no two ways about it.
Then he very dishonestly bring in the fight between the army and the children. To be clear, he is in Mumbai, probably in his movie studio. And the army does not shoot pellets. The local J&K police does. But here’s the thing – why are children in the streets? Do they know about ‘independence’, ‘Islam’, ‘Kafirs’, ‘essence of the struggle’, ‘significance of Maqbool Bhatt’, ‘Pandits’, ‘India’ etc? It is highly likely that they don’t. Even then why are they on the streets? When curfews are declared, why are the children the first to throw the stones? Mind you, children or otherwise, the stones have the same effect on their victims.
The parents(only fathers, mothers are conspicuously absent from this struggle) are well aware of the consequences. This is what makes it macabre. The video of Burhan’s father of glorifying his son’s death and journey to Allah and afterlife is chilling. Perhaps there is a greater attachment to this afterlife than making the most of this life, as he himself accepted to be part of their faith. How do we combat this? These are tough questions, and answers are not forthcoming easily. But the basic facts remain – even when there is a curfew, why do the children, young boys (only boys mind you) go to the streets and throw stones earning accolades from friends and family! The motive behind imposing a curfew is to allow the people to remain safe in their homes while the authorities deal with the trouble makers outside. If the parents (nay fathers) allow their children to become pawns to gain some Islamic benefits in their afterlife…the mere thought can send chills down one’s spine.
He goes on, ‘Lets say I protest in Delhi today would I be shot at? What sort of force would the security forces use on me? Probably water canons? Lets say I loose my cool and physically assault them then what sort of force would they use on me? Probably lathis. Lets say I pelt stones on them then what sort of force would they use on me? Tear gas? And finally if I behaved like a lunatic because I feel oppressed would I still be shot at? In Delhi or Mumbai – NO. In Kashmir – YES.’
No, you will be shot in anyplace in the country if you violate a curfew. Perhaps you don’t know that ‘shoot at sight’ orders are quite common when dealing with riot prone areas in our country (and abroad). There is nothing new to this. Even in Mumbai such orders have been issued in the past.
Wasim says, ‘I don’t want to argue about the might or the force. The right or the wrong. I just want you to know that your words “WE WILL SHOOT YOU” are ringing in my head and its scary. It’s scary because its not limited to insurgents, millitants or terrorists. I haven’t even challenged you but you’re scaring all of us.’ But you just did, Wasim. Why the dishonesty here? You did bring the David Goliath struggle (though implied), you brought in ethics (children in the struggle), you brought in the inequality of response (previous para). And now you say you don’t want to bring in right and wrong?
That’s crass dishonesty. The final statement is far softer in approach and the conclusions drawn are correct. The Major did issue a threat, with the means to make it true (okay, his successors as he is retired). But such is the way democratic states work – instead of rampant exercise of force, it is much better to create a deterrent to the use of force. You being scared makes it solve the purpose – a hardline approach, but it works. Any measure of weakness and who knows, you, Wasim, may have joined in the chorus of anti Hindu and anti India rhetoric or action!
More troubling is this – remember who Major Gaurav wrote this letter to? Yes, Burhan. And who is Wasim associating himself with? Again, yes – Burhan. Surprised? You should not be.
He adds to stress his point that the Major is wrong and he is right, ‘I’ll also admit that at this point I get a feeling that the same thought process is being used irrespective. On unarmed ten year olds. Dear Major Arya there is no might there. There is no might in blinding them. There is no might in crippling them. There definitely is no might in killing them. Lets get off of our high horses and see this as human beings.’ I have covered this before and the repetitive sloganeering needs to be given a pass, or best, ignored. Children don’t leave out to fight an enemy they don’t even understand. Unless they are taught or encouraged to do so, children know not even to hate. Fighting to death and facing pellets is too far off.
He says, ‘I hope this letter somehow trails back you so that you can see this from a simpler point of view. I hope that you can get to sit across me and look me in the eye and say there if there is any might or virtue in this. Just recently a mighty soldier of your army was denied cremation on basis of his caste. What happened to his mighty sacrifice? Did he die in vain?’ No Islamist sympathizer will let go of this taunt. Mark my words, I half expected a caste statement and here it was. Of course you need not miss the mock tone ‘mighty soldier’ of ‘your’ army. To answer his question – no. He died doing his duty. The State will forever be grateful, and not take his caste or creed or even sex into account (unlike Jihadis, the Indian Forces have started taking women recruits). In any case, we don’t know if this happened or not, no supporting source is mentioned even. But while indulging in propaganda, who needs facts?
He ends with this pathetic note – ‘And lastly, please don’t get me wrong. I feel that even after reading your letter another child is shot in the name of patriotism, nationalism you’d have done more harm than good.
Signed – Anyone in Kashmir.’
Note the righteous indignation. While the Major’s letter was basically a stress on the futility of the armed struggle for establishing an Islamic state in Kashmir, Wasim’s has been of mocking, lies, and dishonesty. In any case, children are not being shot in the name of patriotism nor nationalism. But they are simply being caught in the cross fire, urged on by the cowardly Islamic zealots like their fathers and mullahs and ignorant (or even innocent) friends. As long as the young men of the valley are enamored by reaping Allah’s rich dividends at the cost of their children’s eyes, such incidents will keep happening. Also the security restrictions are present in Ladakh and Jammu division of the State as well. But they are not turning to guns. And the last signing off – the claim to represent everyone in Kashmir is an old trick. But it is not true. As the J&K police is entirely Kashmiri. As is the J&K Light Infantry of the Indian Army. Not to mention the Shias who had to run away from the Sunni majority valley to Ladakh. I have not even mentioned the Kashmiri Hindus who were forced out and barred entry. Perhaps they were not ‘Kashmiri’ enough for the likes of Burhan and Wasim. I wonder why.