In dealing with the Pulwama attack of February 14, India has exhibited a degree of triumphalism that could spell disaster, for the Kashmiri people and for the future of Indian democracy.
India saw the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s invitation to be a guest of honour at the 46th session of its Council of Foreign Ministers Conference in Abu Dhabi as a triumph over Pakistan. An even bigger triumph was that the meeting passed a declaration without mentioning Kashmir.
The triumph was facilitated by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Indian media did not question this solidarity. Why should it have? The Saudi regime stands internationally accused of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident, author, columnist for The Washington Post and editor of Al-Arab News Channel who was assassinated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year.
India had warmly welcomed the very man accused of ordering the murder, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and now Riyadh was reciprocating by blocking any mention of Kashmir in the declaration.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Bahrain and Egypt, have blockaded Qatar since June 2017 for “supporting terrorism”, a claim Qatar denies. They have issued a 13-point list of demands which must be met for the land, air and sea embargo to be lifted. Point 6 demands that Al Jazeera network be shut down while Point 11 demands the shuttering of six other news outlets.
Media is the most important casualty of the war against terror. In India, a significant section of the media has been silenced by the Bharatiya Janata Party government, which has thrown in jail even bloggers with no link to terrorism.
On February 22, the governor’s administration in Jammu and Kashmir abruptly stopped advertisements to Greater Kashmir, the Valley’s largest English newspaper, which was already blacklisted from getting ads from the central government. Ads were also stopped to Kashmir Reader, a daily banned for around three months during the 2016 mass protests.
The administration did not provide a reason for stopping ads, but officials indicated it was done at the behest of the Indian government. It is thought the move is intended to stop the newspapers from publishing “highly radicalised content glamourising terrorists and anti-national elements”.
Closing space for debate
In the 1990s, the Kashmiri people were demonised by the Hindi film industry. Today the BJP has created an atmosphere in which ordinary Kashmiris working and studying in different parts of India are subjected to mob attacks. This would not have been possible without the triumphalism accompanying the war against terrorism.
The people of Kashmir are victims of many kinds of atrocities and their voices are silenced in a thousand ways. This time, they are being crushed by a discourse of triumphalism that is becoming ever harder to resist. It closes all democratic space for discussion and debate and prepares a ground ripe for recruitment by militant groups.
By putting national security on top of its agenda, the Narendra Modi government has closed any possibility of discussion on the underlying political causes of the Kashmir conflict.
In contrast, Modi willingly talked to Naga insurgents, even those who had blown up convoys like the one targeted in Pulwama.
The most distressing aspect of the Indian state’s and the media’s responses to the Pulwama attack is that they have worsened rather than addressed every single underlying cause of the discontent of the Kashmiri people.
India’s security doctrine under the BJP borrows from the United States’ War on Terror. The BJP does not seem to realise that despite fighting for nearly two decades now, the US and its allies have been unable to eliminate terrorists. Their endless war has only served to destabilise several countries.
Analysing the impact of American triumphalism, the historian Andrew J Bacevich writes: “Post-cold war triumphalism produced consequences that are nothing less than disastrous. Historians will remember the past two decades not as a unipolar moment, but as an interval in which America succumbed to excessive self-regard. That moment is now ending with our economy in shambles and our country facing the prospect of permanent war.”
Today, with India’s economy in a shambles and unemployment rising, the BJP’s policies on Pakistan and Kashmir could result in destabilising South Asia.
This is a very real danger if the BJP comes back to power on May 23 and is allowed to continue with its triumphalism, for it will only further alienate the people of Kashmir and polarise the Indian society.
Nandita Haksar is a human rights lawyer, teacher, activist and writer.