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Part 2: Arundhati Roy & Sanjay Kak on Context for Kashmir Unrest After Hanging of Afzal Guru

Web ExclusiveMarch 18, 2013
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In part two of our conversation with acclaimed author Arundhati Roy and New Delhi-based journalist Sanjay Kak, they discuss the case of Afzal Guru, who was hanged last month for his alleged attack on the Indian parliament, and the push by the United States and Europe to sell weapons to Pakistan and India as unrest continues in the region.

See part one of this interview, A New Intifada in Kashmir? Arundhati Roy & Sanjay Kak on the World’s Most Densely Militarized Area.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined by two guests. Arundhati Roy, the great writer, renowned global justice activist, has written many books, including The God of Small Things, for which she won the Booker Prize, among others. Her other books include Walking with the Comrades and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, among others. And we’re joined by Sanjay Kak, who is a Delhi-based documentary filmmaker. His most recent film is Jashn-e-Azadi, or How We Celebrate Freedom. He’s also the author of Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir.

I wanted to start with Arundhati Roy, talking about the hanging of Afzal Guru. Can you talk about who he is—certainly not a well-known name in the United States—and his significance, when we’re talking about the politics of Kashmir?

ARUNDHATI ROY: In 2001, there was a very sort of radically right-wing Hindu government in power in Delhi called the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP. And when 9/11 happened here in the U.S., it sort of segued beautifully into this anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim, religious fundamentalist rhetoric that had been unleashed in India. The nuclear tests had just happened. The whole language of nationalism changed in India after those tests. And there was this attempt to suddenly, you know, shift into saying that India, the U.S. and Israel were natural allies. India, which had been traditionally non-aligned, suddenly became the natural ally of the U.S.

And then in December 13th—on December 13th, 2001, there was this very botched, really rather corny attack on the Indian parliament, where five terrorists drove in in a white car, with a sort of banner—like a poster stuck on the windscreen saying “India is a very bad country, and we hate India,” and so on. And the car was stopped, and people got out, and they shot something like five security guards and a couple of gardeners. And then they were shot, all these terrorists. And then began this frenzied, you know, thing about democracy has been attacked by Muslim terrorists, Kashmiri terrorists, and they arrested four people. The mastermind, they said, was this young professor of Arabic called SAR Geelani from Delhi University, and Afzal Guru and his cousin, Shaukat, and Shaukat’s wife, Afsan Guru, were the sort of foot soldiers. And they began this big media trial, and it was very, very ugly.

And a lawyer called Nandita Haksar very quickly realized that there was something terribly wrong here, especially because SAR Geelani was someone whom many people knew well. He was a well-known person in Delhi, and nobody thought he could have done this. And she put together a committee for the fair defense of Geelani. I was on it. Sanjay was on it. There were a few of us. At that time, the atmosphere was so ugly. And the trial court basically sentenced Geelani, Shaukat and Afzal Guru to death. But Geelani was subsequently acquitted by the Supreme Court.

But the trouble is that Afzal Guru, who was a person who was from Kashmir, not from Delhi, not a Kashmiri living in Delhi—Afzal Guru never had a lawyer at the trial stage. And when Geelani was acquitted, the courts and the media and everybody just decided to make Afzal the fall guy. But in the final judgment of the Supreme Court, the shocking thing is that, you know, it said quite clearly that “We have no direct evidence to say he belongs to a terrorist group; the evidence can only be circumstantial.” But then the judgment goes on to say that “But in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, we’re sentencing him to death.” And then, in some strange way, you know, like the Nazis used to document the things they did, the court very meticulously documents how the evidence doesn’t stand up, how the confession cannot be considered a legal piece of evidence, the custodial confession and so on. And yet, they decided to hang him.

And then, the man was in solitary confinement for almost 12 years. And last month, when a case was pending in court asking that people who had already spent 12 years in solitary confinement perhaps have their death sentences mutated, before the court could come out with its judgment, the government just hanged him, because elections are coming and because the Congress government is trying to show, like the Democrats here, that they are harder than the hard right, because they know that, you know, the Indian economy is also sort of frozen in time, the middle class is at the gates. So, the political parties are trying to get back into a situation where they could have a little war, they can kick Kashmir around, they can polarize Hindus and Muslims. They know that when U.S. leaves Afghanistan, the whole politics of the region is going to change, and everyone is sort of gearing up for how to position themselves. And Afzal was just thrown like a piece of meat to the gladiators.

So, it’s going to have very serious repercussions. Pakistan—the Pakistan government passed this rather stupid, stupidly worded resolution calling him a freedom fighter, when he wasn’t. He was just an innocent man, really, at least innocent of the crimes he was accused of, being hanged. But Pakistan is trying to use him. India is condemning Pakistan. Both sides are saying there can be a fight to the finish. These are both nuclear-armed states. Of course, Europe and the United States would be happy, because they’ll again sell weapons to both sides. The situation is extremely difficult, and this hanging is going to have very, very, very serious consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: A curfew was declared in all 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley after his execution. Cable [television] and mobile Internet services were shut down in most parts of the region, most local papers not available Sunday. Greater Kashmir, an English-language newspaper, said on its website police went to the printing presses of most local newspapers and asked managers not to publish Sunday’s edition. Showkat Ahmed Motta, the editor of another English daily, Kashmir Reader, said that his paper published Sunday’s edition, but that police seized the copies. Sanjay, you have written this book, Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. Why now? And talk about how this latest—what has taken place, the hanging of Afzal Guru—fits into the struggle of the people of Kashmir.

SANJAY KAK: Amy, the trouble is that this is basically the ground reality of Kashmir, which is that periodic upsurges, the crackdown on newspapers, the shutting down of Internet and mobile services, this happens through the year. What happens is there is consistently an attempt to paper it over with what they call normality, which in the case of Kashmir is really sort of measured up by how many tourists arrive in Kashmir. And this year, the claim is that more than a million tourists came to Kashmir, so everything is normal. But actually, the ground reality remains unchanged. And Until My Freedom Has Come documents or, you know, tries to illuminate perhaps what happened in 2010 and 2009 and 2008. But it’s not as if the struggle on the ground or the resistance to this occupation has ever dissipated. So it happened in 2011 and in 2012. It’s just that the level of police and state security pressure on the people is so enormous that people just are forced to lie low 'til the pressure becomes intolerable or an incident like the hanging of Afzal Guru comes up, because, in a sense, many, many more young people are killed in utterly reprehensible ways every month and every year in Kashmir. But in the case of Afzal Guru, he's an innocent man who became symbolic of the complete travesty of justice.

So, anything can be a trigger, any injustice. It can be a small one, it can be a large one. Sometimes it’s the rape and murder of two young women in a small town outside of Srinagar. Sometimes it can be a 13-year-old schoolboy coming home from his maths tution, who’s hit on the head with a tear-gas shell and he dies. So, we are looking at a situation which is really a tinderbox, and therefore anything can provoke it. And then, everything that you listed, the kind of—kinds of complete curbing of civil liberties and the control on the media, this is a continuous and continuing process in Kashmir. There’s nothing—unfortunately, for us, for all of us, there’s nothing new to report. It’s been going on.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Amy, can I just say something?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Arundhati Roy.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, I just want to say—I mean, for an international audience—that the fact is that, you know, the Kashmir issue, which is not an issue—it’s the military occupation of a people. But really, the trouble in Kashmir is seen as not a problem, but as a solution to the problems by both India and by Pakistan. And the reason that it’s important for the world to look at this issue is that there are two nuclear powers on either side, both of them becoming increasingly radicalized, increasingly out of control. India may sound as if it’s in control, but it’s not. If anyone on the ground sees what’s happening, India too is becoming increasingly militarized, not in Kashmir, outside of Kashmir. The army is going to be deployed in all kinds of places in India. So the international community needs to look at Kashmir, because it could be the buffer, the zone of peace, between these two very belligerent powers, or it could be the cause of nuclear war. So, this is why it is—it is something where, both in India and in Pakistan, there’s this maddened rhetoric by people who actually profit from it. So, this is something which isn’t just a small, forgotten place that nobody needs to take very seriously. It’s really becoming a very serious problem connected to the withdrawal of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2014, and the whole region is going to be on the boil.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanjay Kak, you write in your book, “Today the Kashmir Valley has the highest concentration of soldiers in the world—more than Afghanistan, [more than] Iraq or Burma.” I remember seeing President Obama interviewed before he became president.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan. And we’ve got to work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says terrorism is now a threat to you, extremism is a threat to you. We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis, so that they can stay focused not on India, but on—on the situation with those militants.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Obama, or presidential aspirant Obama, you know, not talking about every country in the world in this interview, but talking about Kashmir. Sanjay Kak?

SANJAY KAK: You know, and I do remember that when he made—President Obama—or the presidential candidate Obama made that statement, it was received with a great deal of excitement in Kashmir. And I think some of us who are a little more cynical about it would have liked to have reminded people in Kashmir that this was entirely tactical and strategic. And, of course, from the very moment that he was elected, that same—the complete silence on Kashmir descended once again on the U.S. administration—and even the U.S. media. I mean, you know, if you—if actually you were to analyze coverage of Kashmir in the U.S. media—and I’m talking about the mainstream U.S. media, such as The New York Times and the establishment media—it completely mimics the sort of cynical and—the usage of the Kashmir issue when it’s needed to leverage something with India, and the moment India begins to fit into, say, the U.S. plans for Afghanistan or vis-à-vis Pakistan, then so Kashmir is used as a pawn, you know, something like a commodity on the stock market, in order to get a better deal. But, unfortunately, there isn’t an ethical or a moral position, or even an attempt to understand what it is that is going on there and what is it that the people of Kashmir are talking about. And so, by and large, the official American response has been to continue to see it as a dispute between India and Pakistan, which completely invisibilizes the people of Kashmir. And the kind of book that I’ve put together, the anthology, tries to make visible the quite coherent and, I should say, morally and ethically and intellectually argued positions from which Kashmiris are making a stake for freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanjay, what would be the—

ARUNDHATI ROY: When President Obama came to—

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead, Arundhati.

ARUNDHATI ROY: President Obama came to India—I was saying, after he became president, President Obama came to India to try and make a Boeing deal, and kept extremely quiet about Kashmir. So you know where the bargaining happens.

AMY GOODMAN: What would be the impact on Kashmir of U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan, though we’re not seeing that in the near future, all troops leaving, to say the least, but in 2014, the troops that President Obama is talking about removing, Sanjay?

SANJAY KAK: I think it will have a very, very serious impact. I think that the region is going to see very, very serious tremors coming out of Afghanistan. And for people in Kashmir, who historically and culturally sit on this bridge between India and then Pakistan and Afghanistan, we are going to see a very—it’s very, very probable that the kind of armed conflict that—you know, the bloodying of the streets, which had sort of been—seen some respite, I think we might see a ratcheting up of that. I think that the—with the American troops withdrawing from Pakistan, there is going to be a floating population of armed men, who have traditionally been, you know, deployed wherever their handlers found most profit.

And I think that people in Kashmir are extremely worried because 2014, when the troops, U.S. troops, are meant to withdraw from Afghanistan, is also an election year in India. And you can—and Arundhati has already talked about it—the cynical use to which the Kashmir issue can be put to in an election in India are very, very enormous. I mean, it’s not just the right-wing BJP, but the more centrist Congress Party, which would—could not—would not be averse to using the trouble in Kashmir once more in order to kind of solidify a national consensus. So I think that all of us who stare at Kashmir and stare at it all the time are extremely anxious about what 2014 will bring to the valley and to the subcontinent in general.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanjay Kak, Arundhati Roy, what do you think actually needs to happen right now to resolve the Kashmir issue?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think, first of all, truth needs to be told. You know, one of the greatest successes of India’s position in Kashmir, it has managed to obscure what’s really going on—as I said, you know, the numbers of disappeared, the mass graves that have been found, the military occupation, what it means to live like that, the fact that—you know, the tens of thousands of dead already. Once the truth is put on the table.

And the other thing is that there really needs to be a situation where there is a withdrawal of India’s military presence there, so that people can at least think about what they would like to see. I mean, I think it could be a wonderful opportunity, not just politically or geopolitically, but for the whole world, to rethink a way of configuring societies, of configuring the idea of the nation state, of configuring what it means just to save ourselves from the horrors that come out of this kind of way of thinking. Kashmir could be an—even intellectually, a very exciting place for all of us to think about how it could be worked out.

But first of all, Kashmiris need to be given a voice, and they cannot be given a voice unless they are not being jailed or tortured or killed. And the only people who are allowed to speak for Kashmiris are people who the Indian government allows. You know, even people who are seemingly dissenting are people who the Indian government allows. Anyone who’s really a serious threat is in jail.

SANJAY KAK: The other thing, Amy, is that—

AMY GOODMAN: Sanjay Kak, would you like to continue this point?

SANJAY KAK: Yes. You know, I think the other thing is that, because of the huge sort of blanket of silence around Kashmir, what you hear most often is that, you know, it’s not clear what Kashmiris want, you know? Do they want to be absorbed into Pakistan? Do they want an independent country? What do they want? I mean, in India, this is a question that is always thrown at anybody who speaks about Kashmiris: What do Kashmiris want?

And the fact of the matter is that with the complete absence of all democratic rights—I mean, the fact that elections are held, the fact that there is an elected government, cannot be confused anymore with the existence of democracy. So, what we are seeing is a space in which the intense militarization is accompanied by such an abrogation of all democratic rights that I think those of us who look at it from the outside do not have the right to say that, “Oh, we don’t understand what the Kashmiris are saying,” because you can’t hear what the Kashmiris are saying because their mouths are gagged, you know? There is no democracy there.

So I think that, you know, to break the silence on Kashmir and to make the space in which we begin to hear what people there are saying, then I think we’ll all be very surprised by the possibilities that might emerge. You know, Arundhati just spoke about the possible utopian space that Kashmir could be, and it can. You know, here is a tiny, little place which sits at the trijunction of these, you know, three great civilizational impulses. You know, there is sort of Buddhism to its east; there’s Islam to its west; there’s Hindu India, in some senses, to its south. And this buffer could actually be a place of great hope, you know? And that—such a place is desperately needed in South Asia right now. But instead, everybody is being boxed into these narrow categories of will it have its own navy, and, you know, where do they have a port, and so on. So there’s a—I think that someone like myself is very interested, both politically and intellectually, in seeing just how idealistic we can be about what possibilities Kashmir holds, and not be bogged down by pragmatism, which—you know, which is a stunting of our imaginations. I mean, I think that we have to wrest the Kashmir issue away from the pragmatists and begin to think of it as an ideal space. And I think that Kashmir has all the possibilities for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you, Arundhati Roy, about drones. The U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, issued a statement Friday saying the U.S. drone campaign “”involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent, and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” From 10 years ago, the U.S. invasion of Iraq under President Bush to the drone strikes of today under President Obama, your thoughts?

ARUNDHATI ROY: I think that what we are seeing is the tearing apart of Pakistan because of the drone attacks, you know, not just because of the people that are being killed, but because it’s obviously creating a radicalization of people. And then the Taliban, who is a reprehensible force, you know—I mean, none of us can remotely support the ideas or the beliefs of the Taliban—are pushed into a position where they are the only people who are resisting this occupation. So then the elites of Pakistan, many who support the drone attacks because they fear the coming of the Taliban, and yet the drone attacks are creating more and more Taliban. Then the U.S. is saying, “Should we have good Taliban or bad Taliban?” Meanwhile, the Pakistan army is being torn apart. And Pakistan, you know, has been in such a difficult position for so many years. I remember when 9/11 happened. The first essay I wrote, I said there will be a civil war in Pakistan, because they are being asked to garrote the pet that they reared in their own backyard. So, the drone attacks, I think, would be—it’s very, very important to stop those drone attacks.

And unfortunately, what we are seeing is that even countries like India are considering using unmanned vehicles in wars in central India against their own poor. We’re going to see a breakdown of every kind of order with this new kind of war, you know, where really what is happening, the numbers of people that are being killed, the numbers of countries that are being pushed into chaos—you know, on whose account is the chaos that’s caused? Not just the deaths, but everything, as I said, in Libya, in Iraq, in Syria. What are these kinds of attacks doing to the world? You know, almost—it’s almost more frightening than nuclear weapons, because nuclear weapons are not being used. But this kind of targeting is going to destroy the world as we knew it to be, in completely new ways.

AMY GOODMAN: As you point out—this is from The Times of India in February: “With an eye on both the western and eastern fronts with Pakistan and China, the Indian armed forces are slowly but steadily building a formidable arsenal of spy, target acquisition and 'killer' drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).” Final comment, Arundhati?

ARUNDHATI ROY: And I think that, you know, even looking at the economy, America has sort of outsourced its manufacture of everything to China and to other countries, but it continues to manufacture weapons. And in order to keep its economy going, it needs to sell these weapons. And in order to sell these weapons, it needs to create instability, it needs to create a warlike situation. So, in India, for example, you have a situation where we know that there are people who are analysts and strategic analysts working in foundations and in the media, who are talking up war, who are talking up the buying of these weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy and Sanjay Kak, I want to thank you both for being with us. Arundhati Roy, the great writer from India, renowned global justice activist, among her books, The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize. Among her other books, Walking with the Comrades and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. We’ve also been speaking with Sanjay Kak. Sanjay Kak is a documentary filmmaker based in Delhi. Most recent film is Jashn-e-Azadi, or How We Celebrate Freedom. He’s the author of a new book called Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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