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Open Space

Bhuttos and changing Kashmir

Haroon Mirani

When the youth of Nowhatta in old city of Srinagar armed with their favorite Stone Age weapon came out on streets on December 28, 2007, police thought they will express their anger over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, instead a pitched battle followed with anti-India and pro-freedom slogans.

Hardly a slogan echoed in favour of late Benazir Bhutto. It was entirely different than the situation in 1979, when entire Kashmir was paralysed amidst the worst ever riots that followed the hanging of Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto.

The only slogan remotely associated with the present situation was Long Live Pakistan - a regular among protests in Kashmir. One wondered whether the protestors really knew anything about Benazir or it was just an excuse for them to show off their sentiments.

The protestors were more concerned about their own freedom cause than Benazir's killing.

Kashmir experts say that the three decades have seasoned the psychology of Kashmiris with last 18 years of violence changing their outlook.

Not many people, me included, knew what happened in 1979. One of the elderly persons I talked to narrated some of the most tragi-comic events of that time.

During that fateful year of mayhem, entire ire was directed at the Jamaat-e- Islami (JI).

People perceived the then Pakistan president Zia-ul-Haq as deeply affiliated with JI of Pakistan, hence anybody attached with this party in Kashmir had to bear the brunt of popular anger.

The houses and other property of JI workers and leaders were ransacked, looted and torched.

The rioters even burned the religious books, the holy ones included. The reason given was that these are JI holy book, so blind ransacking followed.

The rioting took place almost everywhere in the valley. A small mosque constructed by JI workers in Ganderbal was burned with people terming it as a Jamaat Masjid.

There were also some big poplar trees in its courtyard. Accusing these trees of being Jamaat trees, the rioters axed them and burnt these wet trees, of course with the help of large quantity of Kerosene oil.

In another such incident a person had written a letter to BBC urdu service, in which the poor chap had called for punishment to Zulfikhar Bhutto, if he is proven guilty.

As the luck would have it, the letter which was posted long ago, was broadcast on BBC radio on the very same day of rioting.

It was more than enough for agitating people to brand entire Arwani village as JI hub. The thirst was quenched by burning this beautiful hamlet, which largely comprised houses of non JI people.

People in hordes went to the place and torched the entire village.

Besides loss of property worth crores, some precious lives were also lost. Nine civilians were also killed in police firing in front of the UN Military Observers Group headquarters during that time.

Most people think that the situation at that time would have been controlled, had Sheikh Abdullah, the then Chief Minister taken some stringent steps. But according to them, the CM remained silent and let the situation go out of hand.

Most of the political commentators are of the opinion that Abdullah opted for a mute response, in order to settle his old scores with JI.

This was Abdullah's way to deal with his adversaries.

From that hellish situation in 1979 following senior Bhutto's killing to one and a half day anti India protest in December 2007, lot of water has flown down Jhelum.

Of course there is a change.

It is sort of a transformation from acute sentimentalist to something like practical protestors?

There can be many reasons to it. Some attribute it to the rising education level, others perceive it to be the result of increased world contact and many more cite the last 18 years of violence as the rationale behind their changed perception.

It is not that people have become immune to death, but nowadays almost every protest gets entangled around Hum Kya Chahte Azaadi (we want freedom), a sort of root cause for every happening.

Traditionally Kashmiris had emotional attachment with Pakistan and the country was (is) seen as a bulwark to India by majority Muslims.

But the generation that was sticking to that point has either passed away or is too depressed to voice any opinion. Generation X of Kashmir-the dominating force at the present moment-are of the 'Kashmir First' attitude.

Their primary concern is Kashmir, and they seem to be wise enough to navigate through the ocean of religious and cultural emotions.

Besides Benazir was never a favourite for the people here. Her brash and often changing statements regarding Kashmir issue made her a politician that can never be trusted.

Her corrupt reputation only added alienation among the people of a state, who are struggling to survive in this second most corrupt place in India.

The brazen revelation of Benazir about her role in ending Punjab insurgency was also music to the ears here.

And above all the frustrating alienation towards Pakistan culminating from their continuous turmoil is just like an icing on top.

No matter Benazir died with a crude intensity including civilian damage, and it has lot of similarities with the two decade old event.

It is indeed big news that emotional Kashmiris were largely unconcerned at this time.

Now is this any new change or is it the part of materialism that has crept in Kashmir just like the world populace. Only time will tell.

haroon@kashmirnewz.com

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2006 Kashmir Newz Communications
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