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Of Whataboutism and False Equivalence

by Ejaz Haider
Kashmiris shout anti-India and pro-independence slogans at a funeral for a 16-year-old boy shot dead by security forces. AFP

Kashmiris shout anti-India and pro-independence slogans at a funeral for a 16-year-old boy shot dead by security forces. AFP

India cannot distract from its atrocities in Kashmir by pointing fingers at Pakistan.

When India avoids talking Occupied Kashmir and refers to Balochistan, it wraps its whataboutism in false equivalence. Anyone who has studied Logic 101 knows what that means. That was the essence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on Aug. 15, from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort, once the seat of Mughal power.

Modi didn’t have anything to say about what’s happening in Kashmir so he chose to talk Balochistan and Pakistan and ‘terrorism’.

There’s just a slight problem with that, though: Balochistan is not disputed territory. Kashmir is, and is recognized such by the United Nations.

There’s much else happening in India, in the northeast as well as the Red Corridor. But none of that concerns Pakistan, human rights abuses notwithstanding, because those parts belong to India. It is up to Indian rights groups to agitate those issues.

Kashmir, however, at this point belongs neither to India nor to Pakistan. It remains disputed. Here are some facts.

  1. Kashmir is not a real-estate issue. It is an issue about the Kashmiris’ inalienable right to self-determination.
  2. India continues to talk about Kashmir being its integral part and makes much of its internal track with Srinagar, but it has failed singularly, over decades, to integrate Kashmiris. Kashmir is totally alienated from Delhi.
  3. India has used two arguments to tell the world otherwise: elections in Kashmir (mostly rigged), the ‘turn-out’ in those elections, and tourism. Talk to any Kashmiri, and I have spoken to hundreds over several years, and not one has ever considered state elections to be anything more than an administrative and municipal expedient. Neither tourism nor voting represents Kashmiri aspirations. Events have repeatedly rubbished Indian arguments woven around them.
  4. It is deeply ironic that just days before Burhan Wani was martyred by Indian security forces, the Indian media were presenting a Kashmiri IAS [Indian Administrative Service] topper as the poster boy for Kashmiri youth. What has happened since Wani’s martyrdom clearly indicates that, barring some exceptions, no one in India had any inkling of the reaction Wani’s death would beget, or even its extent and depth. This in itself is evidence enough, if evidence is still needed, of how divorced New Delhi is from the ground reality in Kashmir and also the subterranean trends that have come to the surface since Wani has become the face of freedom.
  5. In 1990, Kashmiri youths started the azaadi (freedom) movement in the thousands. Through the ’90s and until 2004 the full coercive might of India tried to suppress them. At least 100,000 have been martyred, thousands injured, physically, emotionally and psychologically. When, in October 2004, I went to Occupied Kashmir, the place looked like a huge prison, manned by the Indian army, BSF, CRPF, RR, J&K police, the ITBP, basically every element of India’s security forces. Kashmiris paid a huge price. They have continued to pay a terrible price through lack of development et cetera. And yet, Kashmir has erupted again and Kashmiris are up against India with full knowledge of the sacrifices they have made in previous uprisings. And this time it’s not just the major towns but rural Kashmir, remote villages, each one of them garrisoned by Indian security forces. [NB: to get a sense of how the villages are manned and controlled, read Al-Jazeera’s report, Villager number nine
  6. But forget Al-Jazeera. Let’s talk Indian media reports. I quote here from multiple reports in no particular order: Last month, for the first time since the insurgency began in 1990, a mainstream politician, Iftikhar Misgar from the National Conference (NC), publicly renounced mainstream politics and pledged support to separatism. Misgar is a prominent leader. In the last Kashmir election, he contested against Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and, before that, against the late Mufti Mohammed Saeed.
  7. Then there’s Muzaffar Baig, PDP’s senior-most leader since Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death and its most Delhi-friendly member. He voiced his suspicion that Wani was martyred after he had surrendered to the police.
  8. Roohi Nazki, a former Tata Group executive who runs a tea house in Srinagar and is the wife of Haseeb Drabu, Mehbooba Mufti’s finance minister, in her Facebook post sharply criticized the chief minister for not resigning and thereby allowing the BJP to make the PDP an accomplice in the reign of terror that it has let loose on Kashmir. As an Indian Express report states: Nazki is also a cousin of top PDP ideologue and Education Minister Nayeem Akhtar, Revenue Minister Basharat Bukhari and Inspector General of Police Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, who heads the J&K Police in Kashmir.
  9. Then there’s the CPI-M MLA Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, by no stretch of the imagination a rightwing politician. He has confirmed that the Center approved Wani’s killing without even informing the chief minister of J&K, in the full knowledge that this would destroy the people’s trust in [Mehbooba] and her party.
  10. Ajai Shukla, a former colonel wrote this: “Over the last two years, civilians have even begun confronting the army. In incident after incident, unarmed locals have attacked armed soldiers who had laid cordons around villages where militants were holed up. Since most militants operating in the valley are now Kashmiri, the civilians pelted stones to breach the cordon and provide a route for the militants to escape.”
  11. Barkha Dutt in the Hindustan Times: “…every Kashmiri can contrast it with how the government responded to the quota agitation by Jats in Haryana, where railway tracks were uprooted, milk plants and shops set ablaze and policemen pelted with stones. Not just that; it’s now confirmed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court that women were dragged out of their cars, taken to the fields off the highway and gang-raped. Yet these men were not sprayed with pellet guns that blinded; they were not labeled seditious or anti-national, they were not even crushed with the full force of law.”

This is not even the tip of the iceberg. Remember also that these statements have come from pro-India elements and politicians. These are not the people who represent anything or anyone Kashmiri. But even they, being from Kashmir, realize that New Delhi has nothing viable to offer Kashmir and Kashmiris.

The difference between them and the Kashmiris who are protesting and who came for Wani’s funeral prayers, from everywhere, is that Wani represented a different aspiration, an aspiration that New Delhi-linked politicians know about but do not have the spine to voice.

When Pakistan voiced its concern, this is what the Ministry of External Affairs spox tweeted: “We have seen statements from Pakistan on the situation in Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. They reflect Pakistan’s continued attachment to terrorism & its usage [sic!] as an instrument of state policy.”

Classic whataboutism if there ever were. But here’s the thing, India. If there weren’t constraints, every Azad Kashmiri would travel for every Kashmiri you martyr. Because, frankly, when all else fails, you have nothing else to rely on but coercion and brute force. That is when you are divested of everything and when even the most frail Kashmiri defeats you. You can physically oppress them but you can never subjugate the spirit. That is when, to quote Yeats, “A terrible beauty is born.”

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider 

Editor’s Note: At the author’s insistence, India-administered Kashmir has been cited as “Occupied Kashmir,” a term that this publication does not subscribe to. For purposes of objectivity, Newsweek Pakistan refers to the relevant sides of Kashmir as “Pakistan-administered” or “India-administered.”

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1 comment

Asif Indian August 16, 2016 - 6:15 am

1)You need to read UN resolution. Pakistan was the defaulter.
2) Kashmiri`s have participated in voting. 65 % voting is the answer of your question.
3) Read answer 2.. 65%!!!
4) Wani was a terrorist. Commander of Hizb Ul Mujahideen- terrorist organisation based in Pakistan. Syed Sallaudin is his leader (UN designated terriorist) who roams freely in Pakistan.
5.Atrocities against Kashmiri Pandits tops the list of 1990. Backed by Pakistan
6.doesn’t mean anything. I can give thousands of examples like from POK, Baluchistan, Gilgit, Karachi and from minorities…..
7. read 6
8.MC read 6
9.BC read 6
10 MC BC read 6
11. Pakistan is the one who bombs and use fighter planes on their own citizens.


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