The development of FATA was started under the Pakistan Army’s strategy of ‘Winning Hearts and Minds’ through peace, security and stabilization in the region. With massive efforts by the Frontier Works Organization (FWO), the once forbidden Frontier is opening up with a network of roads and improvements in water management and electric supply. Details regarding few of these projects are shared through these pages.
Khyber Pass – Revival of the Ancient Route Trade Trucks passing through Michni Post, little short of Pak-Afghan border at Torkham
Steeped in adventure, bloodshed and mystery, The Khyber remains the doorway of History!
According to the historians, each rock and hill along the Khyber Pass has a story to tell. Since centuries the historic route has seen the hordes of traders, invaders and explorers marching through its rocky terrain on the legendary Grand Trunk Road to reach the Indian subcontinent.
The expansion of Peshawar-Torkham Road (under progress) will greatly facilitate the landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian States towards trade and travel. Beyond the Pakistani border, the Torkham-Jalalabad Road was constructed inside Afghanistan some years back by FWO. Recently an additional carriageway of the road has been taken up by FWO to facilitate the increasing traffic between the two neighbouring countries.
Central Trade Corridor – Passing Through the Heart of FATA Khyber Pass and Quetta-Kandahar route via Bolan Pass constituted the two access ways to Afghanistan and Central Asia but now the two neighbours have a new land link through the Dera Ismail Khan-Wana-AngoorAda Road. Passing through the snowcapped mountains of Waziristan and traversing the historic Gomal Pass (which was closed by the British after the first Afghan War), the road not only showcases the amazing beauty of the once forbidden Frontier but has initiated significant economic activity all along.
Enhanced communication shall reduce internal rivalries by facilitating interaction amongst the tribesmen whereas law and order situation will improve through greater accessibility and logistic support available to law enforcers.
The Northern Prong of Central Trade Corridor constitutes the 80 km long Bannu-Miranshah-Ghulam Khan Road which passes through the prominent towns of North Waziristan Agency. Passing through the Tochi Pass, this was a preferred route between the two countries that was dotted by the heavy trade trucks plying between the two countries.
The ‘New Trade Corridor’ between Pakistan and Afghanistan reduces the distance between Karachi and Kabul by 400 kilometres compared to the Khyber Pass route. The traffic for the huge landlocked region of Afghanistan and Central Asia will conveniently pass through this quiet road to join the Indus Highway which is now set to become an international route of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor.
To Afghanistan and beyond on the Central Trade Corridor A significant development in our adjoining region is the 2200 kilometres long Afghanistan Ring Road which will connect prominent Afghan cities i.e., Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kabul, will further facilitate international trade and travel. The Central Trade Corridor is a vital socio-economic link between Indus Highway and the Afghan Ring Road. The biggest spin-off will be the livelihood revolution and economic prosperity for FATA region in particular and for all the neighbouring countries in general.
The North-South Connectivity Miranshah and Wana are the Headquarters of the North and South Waziristan Agencies respectively. Beyond Wana the road starts ascending and passes through the mountains of Suleman Range where several peaks are above 8000 ft. It is a typical mountainous area abounded by thick vegetation and known for its steep cliffs and sharp turns. Occasionally the road passes through some mountainous torrent or a small but swift river. These characteristics made it an ideal stronghold for Taliban and it was declared invincible. It was through the sheer bravery and determination of Pakistan Army that the area was cleared after many sacrifices.
The 75 km Wana-Shakai-Makeen Road completed by FWO links Wana – the capital of South Waziristan agency with North Waziristan Agency from where the 73 km Makeen-Razmak-Miranshah Road stretches till the Afghan border. Construction of a two lane carriageway on this route has significantly established the writ of the state and this beautiful area shall now be known for its natural beauty and not as a terrorists, den.
Through the Tunnels and Bridges Tank, the historic town, located a little before the South Waziristan Agency is indeed the gateway to FATA. It is from here that a path leads to the ancient Gomal Pass and another to Razmak, the beautiful hill station of Waziristan that was named as “Little England” by the British due to its ice capped peaks and salubrious climate. It was here that the first Cadet College of the Tribal Areas was established which is known for its high standards of education.
The Tank-Jandola-Makeen Road has been hailed as a landmark development for the logistics of Waziristan. The 110 km path was reduced to a mere dirt track but has now been rebuilt and upgraded by FWO. The narrow tunnels of Jandola and Ahmedwam and all major bridges were widened for the trade trucks to pass through.
New bridges have replaced the old ones. Further the Makeen-Razmak-Miranshah Road (73 km) provides a vital link between South and North Waziristan. The 9 metre wide road traverses through a difficult terrain. Adverse security situation in North Waziristan Agency made the construction activities difficult but the road picked up pace after the operation Zarb-e-Azb and was completed in a short time.
The Marble Road of Mohmand Mohmand Agency is known for its rich marble deposits but the steep inclines and the sharp turns of the mountainous area made its transportation difficult. The 45 km long Ghallanai-Mohmand Ghat road is being constructed to provide better logistics for the transportation of this precious mineral resource of FATA. The road includes a 751 m long Tunnel at Nahaki which will ease out the steep incline which was difficult for the heavy trucks to negotiate.
Nahaki Tunnel at the Ghallanai-Mohmand Ghat Road Further the road can be linked with Nawa Pass which is a historic passage leading to Afghanistan. It can also be further extended to Bajaur Agency for a short connectivity to Dir, Malakand and Chitral Districts.
Irrigating the Arid Zone The completion of Gomal Zam Dam is a big step for the peace and prosperity of South Waziristan. With its huge reservoir of 1.14 MAF water and a completely lined canal network of 260 km, the dam will irrigate 1,63,086 acres of Tank and/ D.I. Khan districts. The electricity generated from flowing water will be sufficient for 2500 households of South Waziristan. It has effectively controlled flash floods which caused large scale devastation in the past.
Gomal Zam Dam is located in an area that was once the epicentre of terrorism. The construction work was abandoned by the Chinese constructors when their camp was attacked by militants in 2004, it was then handed over to FWO and completed with great effort and sacrifices. Besides the socio-economic opportunities, it is a significant boost for environment and tourism.
The Dhana Irrigation and Water Supply Scheme, located few kilometres east of Wana will utilize the rain and flood run off to provide additional potable water for irrigation of 13,000 acres of farm land. It will also help in conserving and recharging the ground water table of the arid area. The scheme constitutes two main canals with an accumulative capacity of one thousand cusecs. Besides fulfilling the irrigation needs Dhana is set to become a superb picnic spot along the road and the lake overshadowing the green hills shall become an ornament in the overall arid scenario prevailing around Wana.
The author, surrounded by the happy children of Dhana The successful completion of Gomal Zam Dam prompted the government to take up the Kundiwam Dam project in South Waziristan agency which will generate 83.4 MW Hydel Power, store 1.2 MAF water and irrigate an area of 3,62,380 acres. Feasibility studies are complete and the dam is poised to bring opportunities of improved livelihood.
Lighting Up the Remote Frontier The people of Waziristan warmly cooperated for the construction of Gomal Zam Dam. To develop local ownership of the project it was promised that 50% of the electricity generated from the dam will be provided to the people of Waziristan but that required laying of a new transmission line and upgradation of Wana Grid Station which was severely damaged during insurgency. Both these projects were accomplished for providing power to these remote areas.
FWO workforce also rebuilt the 11 KV Feeder from Jandola-Sararogha-Jannata-Ladha and 33 KV Feeder from Jandola-Chaghmalai-Barwand.
Impact of FATA Development Projects • Development process has helped to improve the security conditions in FATA and militancy effect has decreased. • For the volatile FATA region where security situation is fast improving, as prominent institutions are involved in the development and progress of the region. • Travel and transport activities have greatly benefited by improved road network. • 80% of South Waziristan residents believe that development work has positively improved common man’s life and improved economic and business conditions. • The development projects created long-term employments in transport and communication sectors whereas construction of roads, bridges and dams provided short run employments. • School enrolment has increased due to better access and transportation. • FATA people are happy to see development and progress after many years of turmoil. • In the area that was once under heavy influence of militants a roadside café by the name of Pakistan Hotel symbolizes the relief and gratitude of FATA people for being out of militancy.
Maj (Retd) Husain Abdul Rehman is currently serving at the Frontier Works Organisation as Public Relations Officer.
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die as well the minds which are preventing from changing their opinion.” (Nietzsche) Human society is governed by only one constant that is never-ending and ever spiralling: ‘the change’. Alvin Toffler in his book, The Third Wave defined the developmental stages of human beings, as the Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age and the present, the Information Age. The same third wave concept was later given by Samuel P Huntington who linked the concept to the rapid democratization of African, South American and Eastern European countries till early 90s.
There seems to exists a strange triad of things taking a cue from clash of civilization thesis of Huntington: there are three major religions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism which will define the course of history in 21st century. The political Islam, political Christianity and political Judaism, if we may call, are therefore misnomers, as long ago church has been separated from state, the method of governance is open ended in Islam and Judaism. The failure of one political form is not the gain of other. A country is also the interplay of three tangents: the people, the state and the government.
More so, in nation state system a country is defined by its borders which is managed through three techniques: the application of nationalism, the comprehensive Border Management Mechanism and the removal of welfare disparity level of population on both sides of border. If discrepancies in dealing these issues persists then these are bound to enhance in their manifestation and will eventually result in some form of insurgent tendencies. Again this can be controlled by checking the inflow of three vectors: the weapons, manpower and money (Terrorism can also be deoxygenated by curtailing these three). Defining the above mentioned analogy of these triads actually points towards a cardinal fact that the wars in 21st century will be governed, executed and won on the anthropological plane.
The military strategists and the doyens of international relations agree that the fourth thing or the fourth wave to all the already discussed triads will be the culture. The information age and the globalization will diminish the weak or fragile cultures but the prevailing will dominate the world in coming decades.
The new concept of world order given by Henry Kissinger in his recent book is therefore based on something more than the mere military and economic might. Anthropology, the study of human development, customs, culture and beliefs is the next strategic study of the resilient military minds. Fighting terrorism, extremism, obscurantism and fundamentalism through only one line of operations i.e. military is not the right approach to address a complex situation which is to be dealt along different lines; be it economic, sociological, political and ideological etc. The ever evolving concept of defence anthropology is therefore the likely scaffold upon which we can build on. Anthropological plane therefore is not the contrapuntal conundrum, and neither a immiscible concept, it is simple arithmetic of human aspirations manifested in physical forms.
In 21stcentury, warfare is already touching the non-linear curve to the umpteen. The biological vectors, the USA’s climate control programme, the Nano revolutions, the robotics and the miniaturization of computer chips to half the size every eighteen months, will lead us to El Dorado where scientific geeks will be popping vitamins and amino acid pills instead of food. This will probably not happen as every revolution has a counter revolution. The revolutions generally follow the five steps: first it is pronounced, sometimes with a visible leadership and many a times conversely the leadership emerges from the revolution; secondly, immediately the class of society which is the target of revolution tries to launch a counter revolution usually with unpopular means; thirdly, both the trajectories of revolution and counter revolution are formed, fourthly; the modifications of opinion occur in both the camps which may result into accommodation; and lastly; the forward momentum decides that which camp will eventually prevail. Revolution is the class struggle with a combination of politics, money and personalities. Revolution in military affairs, in information technology or high end non-linear concepts is also a class struggle between electronics haves and have nots. There ultimately comes the governing sense of anthropological dictates which, at the end, supercedes all advancement and imposes human nature upon everything else. That is why the Defence Anthropology is needed to study whatever is going on around us.
The advice of anthropologists, sociologists and manpower economists will be binding for the policy makers. Pakistan is today facing the worst form of terrorism rarely encountered by any nation in the known history of human beings. Holocaust, fall of Baghdad, Jallianwala Bagh etc. were all linear cruelties. The answer to Pakistan’s vows cannot only be sought through operational logic. There has to be a triangulation of mere logic, native logic and the operational one. Andre Beaufre was first modern strategist to pointout the same.
Fighting insurgency is not an equation of Law of Diminishing Returns, if it is, then you are not fighting. Disparity in technology is usually advantageous for the stronger side but in case of Pakistan, this disparity is creating a crisis instability between Pakistan Armed Forces and the Taliban and their cahoots. Taliban edges away on the non-linear curve and hoon upon the advantage of submerging in the ethnic and social hues of Pakistani society. If you want to kill the beast, you have to drain the lake first so that the alligator is turned turtle. The lake of forbidden water is the political economy of the terrorist. This can be easily countered, need not to ask Thomas Piketty of “The Capitalist” fame to give a solution. It is simple logic, we have to jump start the local economy of the people who are being made hostage en masse by the fifth columnists. Diffusion of amenities has to take place with a pace which should commensurate the modern era, why leave societies at the mercy of mountain squirrels, conifers and the westerly winds. There is a dilemma, National Security Policy of country deals with hardcore military policy efforts to curtail the menace, it hardly covers the anthropological negative space, the actual hiding place of the terrorist. This dilemma can be addressed by identifying the communal, municipal and legal departments of the state and then lining them like spooks in a wheel. Dilemmas are there to be circumvented, the solution to these are sometimes very simple and straight forward. All the law enforcement and municipal departments have to create a common currency to address the issue, only the intelligence agencies can’t pull the cart any longer.
Pakistan has never addressed this issue under the dictates of sociology and anthropology. The present crisis also revolves around the need to define and then making sacrosanct the borders between Pakistan and its neighbours. Pakistan can follow any model of border management – USA-Mexico, the cohesion one; Russia-Central Asia, the deterrence based; and Indonesia with its neighbour, the cooperation one. Indonesia with hundreds of islands was used to be called as the geographical absurd, but due to excellent border management and mitigation of snags one by one it is enjoying the peripheral buoyancy.
Trans-border illegal movement of people and goods is an international phenomenon. Here at international border it is different; since centuries the nomadic people, pawindas and merchants cross these borders to reach the regions of their destination. A mechanism of border management rather than the barricading or creating walls is required to be initiated immediately. You can fight anything but not the sociology or centuries old anthropology at play, in and around the border. As per Barry Buzan, the regional security complexes are bound to emerge but probably this might not happen in South East Asia and around Indian Ocean as it is already at the conflux of many regions and has implications for Pakistan. Pakistan even being part of different regional organizations has to address its security challenges independently as these are sown, grown and harvested in the sociological plane. Modern wars are surely going to be limited, non-linear and most of time non-kinetic. Low intensity has to reap more on lying low than the squelching of intensity. Whatever is going on at Pakistan-Afghanistan border and inside is driven by non-state actors and proxies. Such actors and state confront each other, whereas initiative most of the time lying with the non-state actors. Three things – the tactics, the technology and the paradigmatic metaphor decides the result of this warfare.
In Afghanistan, Allied troops were technologically very advanced but never had a paradigmatic metaphor and were also inferior in tactics; that is one of the reasons the order is not restored despite so many years down the road. While fighting the menace of terrorism, Pakistani state has to achieve the ascendency in all three, which can be done when the people are ideologically, socially and culturally invested. Winning hearts and minds should not be unleashed as a campaign rather it should be generic concept of any state’s dispensation toward its people. Joseph S Nye’s ‘Soft Power’ is exactly poised towards the anthropological and cultural manifestations. The strategy to deal the terrorists comprehensively should be based on this new emerging trend. Let prudence be Pakistan’s smart power and operational perserverance, bonhomie, ethnic assimilation, social development be its war stamina for the times to come.
Whether or not a global clash of civilizations, a la Huntington, is likely, we in Pakistan, seem to be in the throes of something similar. Currently, the cause for which so many gave their lives... a democratic Pakistan comprising free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, guarantee of individual rights and equal status of minorities... is pitted against the Taliban's version of the Sharia imposed by force. In other words, Taliban, who believe the prevalent (Western) system of government is a sort of an infection and the cause of the nation's ills are battling against those, who believe in the constitution, democracy and freedom. Few leaders in the past had also attempted a similar 'top-down state sponsored Islamization' that surely caused negative consequences for the state and society.
This fight has divided the country and fuelled the visceral loathing the protagonists have for each other and, what is worse, has also dangerously exacerbated shia- sunni differences.
The reader may say we know all this, so why repeat it? The answer is because few believe we will be able to find a compromise... the usual fudge... between two very contrasting beliefs and somehow muddle through. Well, we won't. There is no possibility of communication and accommodation between them because the values, concepts and principles they embrace are profoundly different. Their respective national visions which were always irreconcilable have become unbridgeable with the addition of violence to the lethal brew which already divides them. Anyway, to try and persuade the opposing sides to agree to democratic rules of political participation, or to get the Taliban to commit to pluralism and respect for equal rights for all, must fail as they are contrary to the Taliban's version of the Sharia. In any case, the Taliban (and their sympathizers, too) often get divided by personal rivalries, ideological differences and disputes over turf and money. At the last count, there were over fifty different militant groups in the country and not all know what they want.
There is little point in trying to retrace our steps and ask why or what went wrong; and certainly none in assigning blame. Such a debate will only intensify feelings of frustration, resentment and victimization. But, alas, to some extent that's unavoidable or else confusion, already rife, will become rampant and deplete our fighting morale.
If the Taliban were an organization bent only on robbing and killing for money by now they would have provoked a wave of resentment in the populace and been destroyed. But that's not the case. In some parts of the country, the Taliban are viewed by the poor and disaffected populace as the panacea for decades of misrule. Many are happy to accept the Taliban's offer of prompt, albeit, rough justice in return for obedience. Hence, the challenge that the Taliban pose to the state is more compelling, and the danger they pose greater than that offered by a mafia-like organization or local warlords.
The Taliban is a formidable foe with an extensive local and regional intelligence network. Its followers have penetrated just about every segment of the society and even in few cases, the state. That was evident in the attacks on Pakistan Army, Pak Navy and Pakistan Air Force installations and Headquarters. The assassination attempts on former President Musharraf; Mehran Base; GHQ, Kamra Base, Benazir Bhutto's murder and most recently that of SP Chaudhry Aslam are but few examples. In each case intelligence was crucial to the success or near success of the attacks by the terrorists and their abettors.
It's no secret that few men of the Taliban's ilk, and of the same political and religious persuasions as them, are to be found in every nook and corner. Therefore, the battle against them would not be won unless they are ferreted out, with the verve, gusto, determination and spirit the venture requires; a premonition bolstered by the faltering Karachi operation.
If that was not bad enough, what's infinitely worse is that in the victims' eyes, the state is viewed by few as not a credible deterrent. An anemic, ineffective response; far too few enemy corpses have all demonstrated that though the rhetoric may be loud, the bite is somewhat toothless. So much so that in the minds of the Taliban, the state hardly possesses a deterrent.
As a society, we have overdone the appeasement. We have bent over backwards to accommodate the extremists; we have allowed them to flourish and expand, and given it virtually free access to the media. Those militants sentenced to death are not being executed although the TTP continues their killings of our armed forces personnel without any similar self imposed restraint. Worse, the apathy in effective response led to an easy and merry-making escape of Taliban terrorists from Bannu and DIK jails. Earlier we appeased the Taliban by not only adopting their version of the sharia in Swat, but allowed them to take control of daily administrative functions.
There was, in truth, only one option for the country and that was for the political leadership, the Army and various Governments in the provinces to stick together and resist this extremist religious zealotry by extending as much modern-ization, democratic rights and fruits of economic development as they could to the people of the FATA. That was always a far preferable option to an annihilating military response.
In case of dialogues or operation, we will have to achieve a definitive edge; and one that is clear to the world and is irrefutably so in the minds of the enemy. The fact is that we must leave the enemy in no doubt about the heavy cost it would pay for hosting our enemies, let alone killing our soldiers. Once this lesson has been learnt, talks are likely to produce the results each sides can live with.
In the inheritance in our possession... Pakistan... we have a great treasure to guard and which represents nearly a hundred years of sacrifice both on and off the battlefields. We not only have a great treasure, we have a great cause. And now, surely, the time has come to ask ourselves: Are we taking every measure within our power to defend that cause?
Are we? I am sure a true answer would not appear far fetched! We must protect our country, our people, our values and our future.
The writer is a former member of Pakistan Foreign Services and contributes regularly for print & electronic media. Besides his stint as an Ambassador, he remained Special Secretary to Prime Minister for foreign affairs and national defence.
India had two excellent opportunities over the past seven months to show the world that Kashmir has finally entered the Indian fold after seven decades of resistance.
The first opportunity came in May when the world watched New Delhi bask in the glory of one of the largest electoral voting exercises in terms of population. The other opportunity came in November, when the entire state machinery of India – the election commission, the federal government, Indian political parties, media, police, and the military – all shifted national focus to Kashmir elections to elect a pro-Indian legislature (No country in the world recognizes this assembly but it serves a domestic purpose: to show the Indian public that Kashmir is part of the union). These two opportunities came amid growing signs that the new Indian Government is suddenly obsessed with Kashmir to the exclusion of all other important and urgent issues and problems that a large, populous country like India is grappling with. Narendra Modi, the new Prime Minister, made several visits to the occupied territory; where New Delhi deploys more than half a million Indian soldiers to suppress a largely anti-Indian population.
This attention to Kashmir by a newly elected Indian government would have been positive had Modi reached out to Kashmiris and to Pakistan to settle the oldest dispute on the agenda of United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Instead, it is evident now that India’s right-wing Prime Minister is sowing the seeds of a fresh and accelerated conflict in Kashmir, and increasing regional tensions as a result, not lowering them.
Those frequent visits confirmed the suspicion that Modi saw Kashmir as a question of ego. He represented religious extremists and nationalists, and won the election on a paranoid agenda of Pakistan-bashing, and what better way to appease his constituency, win new voters, and fulfil a religious destiny than by conquering Kashmir for good (In contrast, no Pakistani politician or party mentioned India in the run up to the May 2013 elections in Pakistan. Unlike India, voters in Pakistan have shown little interest in India-bashing as an election-rallying cry). Modi appeared to believe he could finally achieve a resounding Indian victory in Kashmir, permanently integrate the occupied territory into India, and give a historic and final snub to Pakistan.
He did what no other Indian Prime Minister could: hold electoral rallies in Srinagar, occupied Kashmir’s capital, amid threats from Kashmiri freedom fighters and activists who are resentful of Indian presence. Most Kashmiris stayed away, so Modi brought in busloads of minority Kashmir Hindus from nearby Jammu to fill the space in Srinagar rallies.
So desperate was Modi for an electoral victory in Kashmir that he even resorted to criticism of Indian military and admitted it has been involved in arbitrary killings. Indian Army is hated and despised in Kashmir for mass graves, torture, sexual harassment and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Indian soldiers have been committing rape with impunity in Kashmir for quarter-century. Many Indian women activists believe that Indian soldiers carried this rape culture back to India, and that this has been a contributing factor in India’s current ‘rape epidemic’.
On Dec 8, 2014, Modi startled his army commanders and soldiers when he appeared to be offering the Indian Army as a sacrificial lamb to win over Kashmiris. He referred to his government putting on trial five Indian soldiers for killing three Kashmiris in 2010. The three were found guilty a month earlier in November. This was the first time since India invaded and occupied Kashmir in 1947 that India had admitted to such a mistake. “This is a wonder of the Modi government,” he told the audience in the Srinagar cricket stadium. “This is the proof of my good intentions before you.” This frenzied focus on Kashmir came with an orchestrated campaign in Indian media predicting a large Kashmiri voter turnout because of Modi’s personal interest in Kashmir elections.
So, how did India’s political investment in the two elections – India’s general election of May 2014 and the Indian-controlled election in Kashmir of November 2014 – pan out?
Put in simple words, both exercises backfired. India’s ruling elite was surprised to see a consistent and admirable Kashmiri refusal to play along even after nearly seven decades of Indian efforts to woo Kashmiris to participate in the Indian political process. Of course, if one scans the Indian media, and the reports written by Indian journalists and reporters, most of these reports adhere to the official Indian line on Kashmir and show little effort on the part of the writers to scrutinize and question the official version.
The Kashmiris almost entirely boycotted India’s general elections in May. Kashmiris inside the Indian-occupied part, in Azad (free) Kashmir, in Pakistan, and in Middle Eastern and Western diasporas echoed the national Kashmiri mood of not recognizing the legitimacy of Indian elections. The international media, which generally ignored the Kashmir issue, paid attention this time. For example, in a April 2014 report filed by Biyojeta Das, the Indian correspondent for Aljazeera English, from “Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir,” the headline said brazenly, ‘India elections fail to inspire Kashmiris: Low voter turnout and boycott mar parliamentary elections in India-administered Kashmir.’ Das interviewed 24-year-old Kashmiri cartoonist Mir Suhail, and started her report by quoting him: Four politicians dressed in crisp white khadi tunics and caps hold ballot boxes with the words "vote for me" – but they have only one shadow, a towering gun-toting soldier with a malicious smile.
"This is why Kashmiris don't vote," said Mir Suhail, 24, a political cartoonist, who created the image to sum up the mood of detachment towards the ongoing parliamentary elections in Indian-administered Kashmir. Suhail said his memories are punctuated with gory images of rifles, blood, barbed wire and army boots. "People are in a limbo. Elections don't change anything," he declared, sipping tea along the Jhelum River.
This was Kashmir’s verdict on the May 2014 general elections in India. But what about Kashmir-specific elections of November and December 2014 in which Modi was certain that his personal charm and wardrobe style would totally sway Kashmir for the first time since the Indian occupation of 1947? The election in Indian-occupied Kashmir was a military exercise par excellence, a vote under the barrel of the gun. Thousands of Indian intelligence officers and soldiers were entrusted to making Modi’s push in Kashmir successful. With political and military focus and money, India initially succeeded in forcing voters out in a couple of Kashmir districts. There was euphoria in the Indian media, and inside Modi’s office in New Delhi. Indian anchors came out to say Kashmiris reject Pakistan, that Islamabad’s claim that Kashmiris consider themselves Pakistanis had been proven wrong and that history has been made.
These Indian cries of victory proved premature, however. One or two districts of Kashmir showed high voter turnout in the first day of balloting in November 2014, but the images of voters clamoring to participate in elections organized by Indian Army and intelligence stopped coming after the first day. Social media circulated dozens of pictures from polling stations across the Indian-occupied territory showing empty polling booths and Indian election officers waiting for Kashmiri voters that came sparingly or never showed up.
As in any military-controlled ‘election,’ Modi’s party, the BJP did manage to come out second. But the biggest story was this: Kashmiris refused to give the political parties taking part in the Indian-controlled election mandate to form government. No party secured enough seats to form government, and no coalition was possible.
In the end, within the first week of 2015, India had to dismiss the election and declare Governor’s Rule in Indian-occupied Kashmir. This effectively meant that Kashmir would be ruled from New Delhi, directly by Modi, as the state has always been. India’s ‘Military Election’ in Kashmir exploded in New Delhi’s face, and Modi’s dream of writing a new chapter in Indian history, where he could claim that Kashmiris have finally integrated with India and rejected Pakistan, had been defeated for now. Following India’s latest failure in Kashmir, Indian media tried to put on a brave face. A headline by an Indian news site, firstpost.com, on Dec 23, 2014, read, “J&K results 2014: BJP's Mission 44 failed but Mission Kashmir won.” (The ‘Mission 44’ alluded to Modi’s attempt to win a majority in Kashmir’s Indian-controlled assembly).
Why India Failed
There is a simple answer for the question: why India failed to impress Kashmiris despite committing massive resources in Kashmir elections? India can do tricks to hide the fact that Kashmir is an Indian-occupied territory, and annexed by force, but everything that India tries to do there glaringly reinforces this reality. Take for example Modi’s repeated visits to Kashmir. Every time he came in, supposedly to urge Kashmiris to stop boycotting elections and vote for India, the occupation army would put the state in a lockdown, shut down the internet and cell phone services in most parts of the territory. When Modi addressed secured rallies in Srinagar, every Kashmiri man, woman, and child who dared to come out on the street anywhere in the city would be a suspect in the eyes of Indian occupation soldiers, and would be harshly treated and thoroughly searched before being let go.
Even those few Kashmiris who recognize Indian rule, like the state's last Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, now ridicule India’s actions that prove it is an occupation force. Abdullah made fun of the busloads of BJP supporters that were transported from Hindu-majority to Srinagar in November and December 2014 for Modi’s rallies. "Why not just have the rallies there?" he tweeted.
The writer is a journalist who regularly contributes for print and electronic media. Twitter : @AQpk