Srinagar's Dal Lake | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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As India is caught between two conflicting narratives on Kashmir – ‘all is well’ or ‘tragedy is unfolding’ – I hark back to my first visit to the Valley more than 50 years ago.

As a Second Lieutenant, I was on my first independent assignment as an umpire in the annual counter-infiltration exercise conducted in the Valley. Infiltration in December 1968 meant 400-500 strong columns of Pakistani regulars/irregulars exploiting the vast gaps, due to paucity of troops, along the Cease-fire Line (CFL), now the Line of Control.

The CFL was manned by 19 Infantry Division and the interior of the Valley was the responsibility of the Victor Force – an ad hoc division size force consisting of one brigade and 5-6 BSF battalions. The director of the counter-infiltration exercise was none other than Brigadier Z.C. Bakshi (later Lt Gen) whose brigade had captured the Haji Pir Pass in August 1965. The duration of the exercise was 10 days. After the coordinating conference, Brigadier Bakshi gave us another four days for ‘rest and refit’ (Army jargon for a paid holiday) for sight-seeing. Impetuously, I requested for another week as it was my first visit, which was granted.

For the next few weeks, I explored Kashmir, from Verinag (source of Jhelum) to Kupwara and Sonamarg to Gulmarg. The experience gave me an insight into the life in Kashmir.


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The question of identity & autonomy

Kashmiris are very conscious of their identity. It has less to do with religion, and more to do with culture. My first impression was that Kashmiris perceived the ‘special status’ as a way to preserve their identity and culture.

At that time, there was a deep resentment among Kashmiris over the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 and the gradual dilution of the state’s autonomy.

Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir, a religio-political organisation which advocated Kashmiri self-determination, was fast making inroads in the Valley. The Plebiscite Front patronised by Sheikh Abdullah, which called for a referendum under UN, was also gaining popularity.

The corruption and misrule under successive governments in the state only fuelled the demand for self-determination.

Chance encounter with Sheikh Abdullah

During my exploration of the Valley, I had a chance encounter with Sheikh Abdullah. I was buying apples at a wayside shop close to Dal Lake when the tall, well-dressed Abdullah came and stood next to me. I greeted him and we soon got talking. I enquired about his health and we discussed the larger political situation in the Valley. In between his ambiguous remarks, one comment stood out – “fortunes keep changing in politics, but the resentment among the people is only increasing”.

I reminded him about a reception he hosted for 1 Patiala (now 15 Punjab) in December 1948 when my father was the second-in-command. He immediately remembered – “Sukhdev (Brigadier Sukhdev Singh) Shamsher (Colonel Shamsher Singh) and Hazura (Major Hazura Singh). How are they?” With great pride, he said, “hum sabh sath, sath lade the (we all fought together)”.

Even as a 21-year-old it was evident to me that Sheikh Abdullah was no separatist (unlike the general impression in India then) and that as a nation we had politically failed to consolidate the integration of the Valley with India.


Also read: Why an SC judge’s dissent 43 years ago is relevant to Kashmir clampdown today


No signs of fundamentalism

There were no visible signs of fundamentalism in Kashmir. The congregations at the Sufi shrines were as large as those at the traditional mosques, and I saw many Hindus praying there. Muslims visiting Hindu temples was also a common sight, and tourism was booming in the state.

Army enjoyed people’s confidence

Security was a non-issue in Kashmir and I could travel anywhere, in uniform or casuals, without carrying a weapon.

The volunteers of the Jammat-e-Islami and the Plebiscite Front never missed an opportunity to stage protests, but their numbers were still small to make an impact.

In the absence of pucca roads, the Army was the largest employer, and enjoyed the confidence of the people.

Once en route to Chinamarg Gali (located at a height of 14,000 ft above sea level on the Pir Panjal range), my radio operator and I lost our way. At sunset, we stopped at a Bakarwal hut for directions. We realised that the men had taken the livestock for grazing and only two young women were present. Taking note of the delicate situation, I apologised and started walking back.

Such was the confidence of the people in the Army that the women walked up to us and said, “Bhai, kya baat hai (Brother, what’s the issue?)”

I explained the situation and the two women volunteered to guide us. It was dark but they walked with us for a kilometre to show us the way.


Also read: Three sacrifices the BJP must make to ‘fully integrate’ Kashmir with India


Betraying the trust

It should be clear that it is the political leadership in the Valley and at the Centre that has betrayed the trust of the Kashmiris. And, we in the rest of the country are only compounding the problem by the linking the fate of an entire region with a couple of hundred terrorists.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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17 Comments Share Your Views

17 COMMENTS

  1. The basic problem is that people want a different policy in their states….on grounds of protection of culture/ identity / jobs. But at the same time equal rights in other states. Kannadigas don’t want outsiders in Bangalore. Maharashtrians don’t want outsiders in Mumbai. Those from the north east don’t want outsiders in their home states.
    Everyone feels his identity is special.
    I wish Gen Panag had brought out the example of the great leveller in India….the Army….no one is special. …everyone works, plays and eats together.

    • The attitude of Kashmiris of accepting Indian Taxpayers’ money and ‘maintaining their separate identity, is like a beautiful woman,who is being maintained by her husband,is in love with her neighbour and wants to live alone,without being questioned.Never heard people from valley refusing government help.Gen Panag,please remember Kashmiris have also responsibility of integrating with India and change their image with common Indian,which is of a Traitor.

  2. My first impression was that Kashmiris perceived the ‘special status’ as a way to preserve their identity and culture.
    The special status had nothing to do with Kashmiri identity and culture. Every state in the union has an identity and culture which is being preserved without a special status.
    The Kashmiri Special status was that the money must be given to the state by the taxpayer across the country without asking questions and without being subjected to the laws that the taxpayers lived by.
    50 years ago the innocent taxpayer was not aware of this loot connived by the then Government and the Kashmiries under the garb of preserving their identity and culture with a special status. So Army enjoyed people’s confidence and there was No signs of fundamentalism. As the taxpayer became aware the terrorism was encouraged to maintain the status quo otherwise 370 & 35A would have gone long back.

  3. I grew up in Srinagar d could see hostility in the minds of shopkeepers even in the years 1955 to 57, they would refuse to show their goods to us and call us Bhahar ka log! Yes alienation was not as strong as we saw it in 1995 but it was there. The water port for the battalion was just a kid then and I saw him as a Mate in 1977, he was caught with a map showing our military deployment!
    Every politician played his or her cards to retain power and make money.
    The Govts from time to time failed to grasp the situation or merely used it for personal/ political gains.
    We are paying for our folies and so are those in Kashmir!

  4. Amazing that Gen. Panag never shared these thoughts while Nehru was demonized for Kashmir Problem! Panag says there was no Kashmir Problem in 1969 which was 5 years after Nehru’s death! This patriotic general just sat back and enjoyed as Nehru was demonized all these years. After the government plunged the nation into irrecoverable crisis by citing lies about Nehru and Kashmir, he remembers so many things!

  5. Obviously an emotional article by the General. While Kashmiris may indeed be having pride in their culture and valued their independence, the fact is they just could not be independent as they are sandwiched between India, Pakistan as well as China and Afghanistan. They had to be part of either India or Pakistan and within that, they could have worked out their autonomy. They had the best offer from India but due to vacillating behaviour and playing Pakistan card and in the recent years, terrorism, they lost all their goodwill with indian people. If India has to protect them and feed them, they can’t expect to clamour for Azadi. If we leave them free, it will be even bigger strategic and security issue for India. So India is left with no choice but to abolish Art 370 finally. Also, Ladakh was suffering as it was clubbed with it. And Jammu is stuck with them to maintain communal balance. Of course, now that Ladakh is separated, and J&K is a UT, we can now offer that the valley and the POK including Gilgit and Baltistan, can be made into a State of Kashmir under the India Union with original Art 370 restored!! That will give us direct access to Afghanistan, control over Chinese footprints and independence to Kashmiris. General would be happy to see Kashmiris enjoy their cultural and political freedom once again with separate flag, constitution and a Prime Minister!! ( And funded by Indian money of course!!

  6. This article doesn’t begin to explain the ethnic cleansing in the valley. The radicalization is part of an international trend that goes back at least 40-50 years, all the way to the oil boom era. There is also a 1000 year history that also won’t go away. Remember even Gandhi couldn’t make Muslims feel secure. After 70 years of reckless rhetoric by the separatists (they existed even during the time of Sheikh Abduallah) which was abetted by the mainstream leadership in the valley, the people of India are fed up. We need to stop telling falsehoods that the Central govt or the Kashmir govt lost the trust of the people, it is the Muslims in Kashmir Valley who lost the trust of Indians everywhere. The onus is on them to rebuild that trust and it isn’t going to come by demanding special rights.

  7. Gen Panag says that he felt Abdullah was no separatist . However in 1953, when Nehru was PM, he was arrested for encouraging separatism. We must remember that Nehru was a person willing to extend the greatest generosity to rebels or others, and even he had to agree to the arrest. We can only conclude that like many Kashmiris, Abdullah too went through different phases – separatism, independence, integration with India etc etc. Another example is Savarkar who went from anti British hero to promising that he would never oppose the British again.

  8. Marathi Manus, Gujarati Asmita, Telugu Atmagauravam, Tamil Pride, Bengal and Odia Culture, Punjabi Valour Rajasthan, MP, Chattisgarh and UP social and religious sentiments, Haryana Caste sentiment and Entire North East ethnic sentiments. If any of this gets effected there would be huge backlash. How Modi sat on Fast when his state got precivee step motherly treatment or over Narmada dam etc. Why Kashmiris cannot get hurt when their sentiments are attacked. We need to stand with them.

  9. The Singh – Musharraf talks showed that both India and Pakistan, respecting each other’s red lines, and keeping the interests and well being of the Kashmiri people, on both sides of the LoC, in mind, can find an amicable solution. From India’s point of view, that means no territorial changes. Reverting to a maximalist position will mean placing undue reliance on force.

    • And what happened when Singh-Musharraf talks were progressing ? Yeah, you got it right, backstabbing by Pakistan. Can we really trust Pakistani in abiding with any agreeement?

  10. Is the Kashmiri the only one in India whose “culture” is unique and the only one who is “proud” of their culture ?? Is the Tamilian living under “special status” ? Is the “Bengali” ? Or the Malayali ?

    What is so “unique” about the Kashmiri that he deserves a “special status” ? Kashmir is a dump – not switzerland. The people there are delusional as to their own importance or “specialness”. They are neither very industrious nor very good farmers. They are just fortunate to not face the ravages of hunger, poverty or large scale violence – this is the root of their “specialness”.

    • Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state that joined India, led by a Hindu king. That principle was not accepted for Hyderabad or Junagadh. There is a historical basis for its special status, no less compelling than the case the Nagas are making out.

      • But it was King’s property as it had brought it in 75 lakhs. And hyd, junagadh didn’t had border with our neighbor unlike jk. Princely state had option to join any of the two country but only if they were adjoining them.

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