When Trump Was in Delhi, Here’s What Was Going On in Kashmir
It is for the first time after 1990 that there was no hartal in Kashmir around the visit of an American President.
The moment US President Donald Trump’s Air Force One entered the Indian airspace on 24 February, 1.5 million students in Kashmir’s schools and colleges started their academic activity for apparently a promising season after a prolonged pause of nearly seven months.
“This is just a coincidence”, said Ghulam Mohammad Gulposh, a teacher at the State Institution of Education in Srinagar. “Opening of schools and colleges is in no way related to the US President’s visit. Schools would normally open after the annual winter vacations on 1 March. But the government seems to have advanced it by a week for two reasons: Firstly, unlike last several years, the harsh winter is already over. And, that the curfew and shutdown has wasted a lot of the students’ precious time”.
“We had, in fact, resumed the academic activity in October (2019) and subsequently conducted all the scheduled examinations. But during that time drivers didn’t dare operate the yellow-colour school buses and parents refused to send their children to school in uniform. Today, you see fleets of school buses and droves of students in uniform”, Gulposh asserted.
Kashmir’s Response to US Presidents’ Statements & Visits
Kashmir’s recent history is replete with influences of the US presidents’ statements over the conflict and their visits to India. For example, it was after the US State Department statement that the Government of India advised then Governor Jagmohan to permit publication of the vernacular newspapers after a month-long freeze in April 1990.
President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000 witnessed massacre of 36 Sikhs at Chittisinghpura in Anantnag district.
Both the Government and the militants held each other responsible, respectively for “bringing the Kashmir issue into sharp focus” and “discrediting the separatist movement”. That eventful week was marred by a series of shutdown enforced by separatists and militants.
Kashmir had passed through a four-month-long street turbulence and killing of around a hundred civilian demonstrators, arsonists and stone pelters in the Police and the paramilitary forces’ action, when President Barrack Obama visited India in 2010.
Yet again, there was a prolonged ‘shutdown calendar’ from the separatists who assured their constituencies that Obama would mention Kashmir in his ceremonial address at the Indian Parliament and force New Delhi to “negotiate” with the Kashmiris. To the worst of their disappointment, that did not happen. It ended a long spell of shutdown and clashes and, in sharp contrast to the year 2010 turbulence, authorities held the most successful Panchayat elections in 2011 with a massive turnout of 80-90 per cent.
Little to No Reaction to Trump’s Visit
Trump’s arrival inspired little expectation in the muted separatist camp. Remarkably, there was not a single reaction from any of the separatist or mainstream politicians who had, last year hailed Trump’s answers to the journalists’ questions in which he had stressed on reconciliation between India and Pakistan and offered his services as a “mediator” on Kashmir. Even parties like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party stayed silent.
Politics in Kashmir has changed drastically in the past six months. International media still calls it “lockdown” and “clampdown” but the only evidence of abnormality today is the confinement of around a dozen mainstream leaders—8 of them, including three former Chief Ministers, held under Public Safety Act (PSA)—coupled with the “house arrest” of 20-odd politicians. This is besides the detention of nearly 2,000 Kashmiris for allegations of arson, stone pelting, and mobilisation of violent demonstrations.
Criticism of politicians’ detention is subdued within the valley, as many Kashmiris seem to believe that hundreds would have died and the turbulence would have been unrelenting had political leaders all been left free. Notably, it is for the first time that no civilian has died from the gun of Police or armed forces in the last over six months.
Separatists Have Lost Hope that the US Might Help Them
“Many of our mainstream politicians used to outsmart even the separatists and militants in raising passions for azaadi and mobilising the crowds, including young students, for anti-India demonstrations and clashes with different forces. As these 2000 are in jail, seven million Kashmiris are free to move. There are uncertainties but a promising season for trade, tourism and education is now visible”, said a houseboat owner at the Boulevard, wishing to hide his name.
“This bloody internet shutdown washes away every semblances of peace and normality. Because of this, tourists are scared of bad days in Kashmir and they are not inclined to visit”, said the houseboat owner’s son Intisar. He said it was the right time for the authorities to restore broadband as well as 4G mobile internet services across Jammu and Kashmir. “Let them file FIRs and take action against those who misuse but why should the Government make us all suffer for none of our fault”, Intisar asserted. He pointed out that it was the first time after 1990 that there was no hartal around the visit of an American President.
“Had this Trump mentioned Kashmir or repeated his offer of mediation, we would have to bear with few more weeks of turbulence. But fortunately he didn’t and even the separatists have now lost hopes that America would persuade India to give something to the Kashmiris”, said a shawl dealer at Srinagar’s Polo View. According to him, Trump’s silence over Article 370 was “very much significant” as it was his first visit to India after “Delhi’s surgical strike on our Constitution”. “For us, it’s a closed chapter now. We don’t know if the politicians would spoil everything with their rhetorical statements after their release”.
Trump’s Concern About Terrorism Are Focused on US, Not India
A teacher at Department of Political Science at the University of Kashmir claimed that Trump’s public speech in Ahmedabad was a “balancing act” as he had counted Pakistan America’s friend and collaborator in fighting terrorism. “He spoke of radical Islamic terrorism which was an unmistakable reference to ISIS, its ideology of caliphate and Al-Qaeda that have been sponsoring the West-specific terrorism, not the one that has been India’s concern since 1980. He took pride in saying that America had finished ISIS and Al-Baghdadi. But he was conspicuously silent about the groups India has identified as terrorists and allegedly hiding in Pakistan”, said the University teacher.
“Did he mention Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahideen, Al-Umar Mujahideen, Hafiz Sayeed, Masood Azhar, Salahuddin, Mushtaq Latram? He didn’t. He knows the sensitivity of such references. He knows after such a reference, the US would not be able to rope in the Pakistani army to manage Afghanistan if a deal matured with the Taliban next week”, said the teacher.
He asserted that the West, particularly the US, had sustained moral support to Kashmir’s separatist movement and militancy and they had not changed their stance even after 9/11. “Their zero-tolerance is limited to only the terror that strikes the West. Only to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. In that game, Pakistan is their partner. We just have to see what price America pays to Islamabad in exchange for cooperation in Afghanistan”.
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