Post Imran’s UNGA Speech, Kashmiris Split Over Pak’s Action Plan

Here’s what Kashmiris had to say after watching Imran Khan and Modi’s speeches at United Nations General Assembly.

Updated
India
5 min read
Image of India and Pakistan’s flags (background) and Kashmir map used for representational purposes.
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In international diplomacy, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s fiery speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday, 27 September, may be dismissed as a travesty of statesmanship, but in the epicentre of Kashmir’s political turmoil, it has scored a bull’s eye.

Euphoric crowds gyrated in different neighbourhoods in downtown Srinagar till late in the night, while waving Pakistani and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir flags, shouting slogans for Azaadi and bursting firecrackers.

“As soon as India will lift the siege, there will be bloodbath,” Imran warned in his UNGA speech, while “predicting” street demonstrations and violent clashes between the Kashmiris and the security forces.

Ehtisham Hussain of Khanyar in downtown Srinagar, told The Quint, “As soon as his speech, which was blocked by all the Indian TV channels but telecast live by Al Jazeera English, ended, we heard firecrackers, youths gathering on the streets and shouting slogans.”

None of the senior officers responded to repeated phone calls but many of the residents maintained that Imran’s speech stimulated thin but animated demonstrations which went on till midnight. A middle-rank officer in the CRPF confirmed “a number” of such demonstrations, but asserted that he was not authorised to speak.

Has Pakistan ‘Lost its Game’ in Kashmir?

However, presenting a different picture, Abdul Rashid Vaida (name changed), a businessman in Bijbehara, said that Pakistan had “lost its game” in Kashmir due to a host of reasons. “They had no road map to achieve freedom. They have neither strength, nor resources, nor any support all over the world. India has successfully labelled Pakistan as a terrorist nation. Over one lakh people have died in Kashmir. Many of them have been killed by militants themselves who claimed to be ‘freedom fighters’. We believe this chapter has been closed with the abrogation of Article 370. Imran Khan was a popular cricketer but he should learn that politics is a different ballgame. Only war can now change the situation,” he said.

A Kashmiri physician in the CRPF, Dr Suneem Khan told The Quint after Imran Khan’s UNGA speech: “Khan Sahab seemed to be addressing a ‘jihadi’ gathering in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Someone there should have pulled him out of the delusion, when he began glorifying terrorists and arsonists and doling out threats of a nuclear war and bloodbath well on the UN floor”.

Dr Suneem Khan dismissed Imran’s speech as a “farcical bunch of lies, juxtaposition of facts and self-invented statistics of so-called human rights abuse”. He also added, “They have a long history of this kind of behaviour. Remember, once (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto tore his papers in UNSC and threatened to wage war of 1000 years with India. But, it is after a long time that someone has blatantly eulogised belligerence and radicalism at the UNGA”.

Imran Khan at UNGA: Throwback to Zulfikar Ali & Benazir Bhutto?

Speaking of Zulfikar Ali’s daughter, Ghulam Jeelani Zargar, a shopkeeper in Zainakadal area of downtown Srinagar, likened Imran’s speech to Benazir Bhutto’s address to a massive rally in ‘Azad Kashmir’ in 1990 or 1991.

“Much like Benazir assured the Kashmiris that Pakistan would stand by them firmly, Imran thundered at the UN that India’s stubbornness could lead to war and bloodbath in Kashmir. This will surely have an impact on the (Kashmiri) youth who have seen no political leadership for long,” the shopkeeper told The Quint.

Zargar expressed fears that some of the defiant youths could turn to militancy and some could become stone-pelters.

“We know that in either case it will be our loss, but these days a few youngsters listen to their elders and parents. Their schools and colleges are closed; their jobs have been frozen; their phones and internet are not working. Their savings are depleting and their liabilities increasing. They have nothing to do.”

Reports of Infiltration & Movement of Armed Militants

An official heading a government department, said that he and his family had already stopped visiting their home in South Kashmir, as reports of infiltration and movement of armed militants were flowing in daily. “It appears that Pakistan’s new policy is to keep both the channels hot. The number of militants may swell, and fresh stone-pelters may be mobilised to clash with the forces. They just need a trigger, like a religious issue,” he asserted.

The 59-year-old official also sought to link two of Saturday’s encounters to “fresh infiltration”, and said that the Valley could witness a ‘hot’ winter.

According to preliminary reports, three militants had a chance encounter with troops in Batote area of Ramban, on Srinagar-Jammu highway, and two to three militants were believed to have died in another encounter on a high altitude ridge between Kangan and Gurez in the northeast part of the Valley. Significantly, the first hand grenade after 5 August was thrown in Nawakadal area of downtown Srinagar, hours after Imran’s speech.

Apprehensions About Militancy on a Large-Scale

A senior journalist, working for a leading Indian TV channel, claimed that the demonstrations and the civilian clashes with the police would be “short-lived”, but expressed apprehensions about the revival of militancy on a large scale. “Imran Khan has actually distanced himself from any terror attack, when he said that Modi’s rigidity and arrogance could lead to havoc. But precipitation to insurgency is clear enough. I’m afraid our three years of subdued militancy are over,” he said.

The journalist pointed out that the security forces’ counterinsurgency operations had also frozen completely with the telecommunication freeze. “On the other hand, the government is hugely preoccupied with the state’s transition to the two union territories and the annual Darbar Move from Srinagar to Jammu”. Obviously, he said, the other side could exploit such a situation.

“We Didn’t Watch Modi or Imran”

Mohammad Irshad, a fruit grower and exporter in Sopore believes that the government’s “reluctance or incompetence” to reach out to the people could be exploited by Pakistan to sustain uncertainty. “It’s understandable to impose curfew and to freeze telecommunication and internet for some days, but the authorities must know that there’s a limit to everything. While over seventy lakh Kashmiris continue to be in trouble, officers seem to be totally unconcerned. They have no idea of the damage done and no connect with the victims of the situation they have created,” he said.

Most of the farmers and apple growers, currently busy harvesting across the Valley, maintained that they had no idea of how Imran Khan’s speech would impact the situation in Kashmir.

“We didn’t watch either Modi or Imran Khan. We haven’t time or interest in such things,” Ghulam Hussain Bhat of Ichhigam, Budgam, said. He recited a stanza from the 14th century iconic poetess Lal Ded, explaining that the trouble in Kashmir would persist, irrespective of what India or Pakistan would do.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)

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