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Kashmir’s gloomy future

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 24 August 2010 | Posted in ,

By Firdous Syed

The majority in India considers the present unrest in Kashmir if not instigated by Pakistan then surely inspired by the idea of Pakistan. For them it is intriguing; Pakistan is inundated not only with severe floods (one hopes it recovers fast) but also by a plethora of problems, all of a critical nature. Have Kashmiris gone nuts that they want to join a failing state? The assumption that Kashmiris want to join Pakistan is far-fetched; the overwhelming majority, given a chance, would like to maintain an equidistance from New Delhi and Islamabad. What baffles the section of Indian public sympathetic to the plight of Kashmiris is why does Kashmir want to break from India when India is emerging as an economic superpower? Of course, India is a functional democracy and a rising economic power, and it provides ample opportunities for growth; still do Kashmiris want to carve out a separate political identity? One hopes this leads to introspection in the Indian intelligentsia. Since governments take their cue from unrest, Kashmiris are not optimistic. The mess is a creation of the government itself and babus, in order to deflect responsibility, tend to believe their own propaganda: that the problem in Kashmir is the creation of Pakistan.

To unravel the mystery of Kashmir being cut off from New Delhi, one must revisit history, since 1947. Even P Chidambaram concedes that J&K “acceded to India in unique circumstances”. What were they? On the eve of the tribal invasion from Pakistan, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, then the popular leader of Kashmir, had provided the popular affirmation to the Instrument of Accession signed by the Hindu ruler of a Muslim majority state. When the subcontinent was divided on a two-nation theory propounded by M A Jinnah’s Muslim League, Sheikh’s brave act defied the logic of the time.

Hawks in India often remind Kashmiris that the Indian military sacrificed thousands of lives while defending Kashmir. Why do they suffer selective amnesia: it was Kashmiris first who under Sheikh’s leadership rose against their co-religionists from across the border; it was India which took Kashmir to the United Nations and Nehru promised Kashmir a plebiscite. The unique solution talked about now was in fact agreed upon by New Delhi and Srinagar back in 1952, with potential to even override the external factor, Pakistan. Under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, Kashmir was granted special status, having a separate constitution, flag and different nomenclature for the head of state; only currency, communications and defence was left to the Union.

As per Kashmiri perception (and Sheikh also described it in his book Atish-e-Chinar) New Delhi from the start was uncomfortable with Kashmir’s greater autonomy. National Conference’s patriarch believed that the agitation launched in Jammu in 1952 by Praja Parishad, an RSS-sponsored local outfit with the slogan ‘ek vidhan, ek pradhan, ek nishan’ and led by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, was abetted by New Delhi. The Jammu agitation came as a rude shock for Sheikh who until then thought that as he was single-handedly responsible for Kashmir’s accession with India, New Delhi would never stab him in the back. This proved to be his misconceived notion.

In August 1953 Sheikh Abdullah was accused of collaborating with America to declare Kashmir independent. A popular prime minister was under mysterious circumstances put behind bars; thus began the process of forced and forged assimilation. Nobody in Kashmir, even after 57 years, believes that Sheikh was aspiring to be Sultan-e-Kashmir (sovereign ruler). He indeed had autocratic tendencies but he may not have been harbouring azadi from the Union of India; the historical evidence in this regard is murky. On the contrary, in hindsight it is clear that New Delhi was keen on destroying Kashmir’s autonomous stature; hence Sheikh’s 22-year-long incarceration. If Sheikh was conspiring against India then his removal was enough to stem the rebellion; but this period also coincided with Kashmir’s autonomy on one pretext or other being eroded beyond recognition. After the 1975 peace accord (which complicated the situation further and ultimately paved way for an armed rebellion) Sheikh Abdullah was installed as chief minister, and he asked for the restoration of autonomy. He was blatantly told ‘the clock cannot be turned back’, as if treachery against Kashmir was a virtuous act.

A section of the national media is diseased with Islamophobia. Even a cry for azadi solely having Kashmiri nationalist underpinnings is described as Islamist-driven, ignoring the fact that pan-Islamic ideologues consider nationalism a heresy. These pseudo-intellectuals masquerading as scholars of Islam should not forget that a greater legitimacy to Jamaat-e-Islami was provided by Indira Gandhi herself in 1972, to weaken Sheikh’s nationalist appeal. JeI was helped with finances and also allowed to win six Assembly constituencies; at roughly the same time Bhindranwale was allowed to emerge in Punjab. Propping up extremists and pitching them against nationalists is an old game. Open the floodgates then, deal with the floods now.

When did real democracy arrive in J&K? The answer to this depends upon who answers: Morarji Desai or Atal Bihari Vajpayee, incidentally both the non-Congress prime ministers. Morarji Desai claims that the 1977 Assembly election held under his supervision was the first free and fair election in J&K, while Vajpayee asserts that elections held as late as in 2002 were the fairest, implying that other elections were not. Whatever the truth, all rulers in J&K in the past were utilised by the Centre as guinea pigs, used and discarded depending upon their utility. Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad was propped up to dislodge Sheikh in 1953; once he outlived his utility Sadiq was brought in and Mir Qasim was forced to make way for Sheikh Abdullah in 1975. And who can forget the miscarriage of democracy in 1984, when Gul Shah was installed in a midnight drama enacted at Raj Bhavan throwing out the duly-elected government of Farooq Abdullah only to satisfy Indira’s dictatorial instincts. Omar Abdullah, the poster boy of Delhi in Kashmir, might be enjoying today the confidence of the rulers, but the same power structures will not hesitate to remove him unceremoniously once his presence becomes untenable. If the present unrest continues longer, a sorry ending for Omar might be arriving sooner than later, adding to the list of sullen leaders in Kashmir.

Ironically, New Delhi understands the need for ‘unique solutions’, yet is not ready to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to withdraw forces, to release prisoners and above all to fix the responsibility for the recent murders of 62 civilians to make a fresh beginning. The view from the Valley is quite gloomy; there seems to be no light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

[Firdous Syed, formerly a separatist, is an analyst based in Kashmir. He can be contacted at firdoussyed@yahoo.com]

Muslims already pray on sacred 9/11 ground: the Pentagon

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 22 August 2010 | Posted in , ,

By Nancy A. Youssef

Washington: Inside the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Chapel, a female Air Force sergeant unlaced her combat boots, set them under the pews and slipped her black veil around her hair and over her camouflaged uniform.

The men pushed back the altar for Christian services to make room for their large green prayer rugs; then moved the podium from one side of the room to the other so that the congregation would be facing Mecca.

"Allahu Akhbar," called out Ali Mohammed, a contractor who works at the Pentagon, raising his hands to his face as he chanted the call to prayer. "Allahu Akhbar."

While politicians across the country in an election year may be debating the appropriateness of building a Muslim center, including a mosque, two blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York, there's no such debate at the Pentagon.

Instead, roughly 400 worshipers, including Muslims, attend prayer services every week in the chapel, a non-denominational facility built over the rubble left behind when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon.

Opponents of the New York mosque, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, say it would be disrespectful of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, to allow Muslims to pray near the World Trade Center site.

That's never been an issue at the Pentagon, where 125 people who worked there died that day. Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon's 9/11 chapel since 2002, gathering every day at 2 p.m. around the time of the second of five prayers Muslims are supposed to offer daily.

In the chapel, it's impossible not to think of the terrorist attack. A memorial leading to it lists the names of the victims. Light streaming through a stained glass memorial illuminates the congregation. The memorial reads, "United in memory, September 11, 2001." A poster of a flag with the names of all those killed on Sept. 11 hangs on the wall on the other side of the room. The chapel's windows look out over a much larger 9/11 memorial outside.

Worshippers trickle in, placing their Pentagon badges in their shirt pockets as they walk toward the front, open the palms of their hands and begin to pray.

According to Army statistics, of the more than 1 million serving in the Army, there are 1,977 active duty Muslims, 603 Muslim reservists and 464 National Guardsmen. But there are only six Muslim chaplains to serve them.

To provide an imam on Friday, Islam's holy day, the Army Chaplain's office contracts an imam to speak to worshippers. On this Friday, it was Imam Ghayth Nur Kashif, leading 17 worshippers during the 40-minute service.

"We are challenged to do the best we can during Ramadan," Kashif told the congregation, referring to criticism of the proposed New York Islamic center. "It's not pleasant, but listen to some of the complaints."

The chapel, which was dedicated in November 2002, allots time for nine faiths to worship, including Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus.

Army officials said no one has ever objected to Muslims worshipping at the Pentagon chapel. Before the chapel was dedicated, those of any faith who wanted to pray at the Pentagon gathered in various conference rooms because there was no chapel.

On 9/11, 184 people were killed at the Pentagon, 64 of them on Flight 77. More than 2,700 were killed at the World Trade Center. At least 27 people killed in New York were Muslim. Pentagon officials don't think any Muslims, other than the hijackers, were killed at the building.

Officials say that more Muslims have been worshipping at the chapel during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month marked by fasting and abstention from smoking. On Tuesday, the Pentagon held an iftar, the banquet that marks sundown, when the daily fast ends.

Worshippers Friday said that Muslims are routinely under fire and the latest controversy saddened them but didn't surprise them.

"Obviously I have my own bias. I am Muslim," said Mohammed, the Pentagon contractor. "But if I had heard that Jewish organizers wanted to build there, I would be equally open to that."

Mohammed said he finds he can't help but think of where he is when he prays at the Pentagon chapel. He said he tries to focus on why he's there.

"It's just you and God," Mohammed said. "That is why you are there."

After the service, the men picked up their rugs, moved the altar back to the front of the pews, and put the podium back at the other side of the room for the Christian worshippers who'd follow them.

(Courtesy: McClatchy)

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