The peace that Qadiry saw in Kashmir
A second batch of 25 foreign envoys visited Jammu and Kashmir to assess the ground situation in the Valley. Among them was Afghan ambassador Tahir Qadiry.
Among the 25 envoys who visited J&K on Wednesday and Thursday, Afghan ambassador Tahir Qadiry made for a conspicuous presence. He sent out a series of tweets during his time in the Valley, which not only served as the ready commentary on the envoys’ activities in the union territory but also gave a sense of his own excitement about the visit. But in the process, he riled a lot of people in the Valley who trolled him for enjoying himself at their expense. Among them was Iltija Mufti, the daughter of the detained former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
When Qadiry tweeted about buying “a beautiful Kashmiri ring from a boat serving as a shop,” Iltija’s response was scathing: “Your excellency please do enlighten us Kashmiris about which VPN you are using to tweet. We will also download and tweet freely.”
Upon our arrival, we enjoyed a #Shikara ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. Beautiful lake and hospitable people. I bought a beautiful Kashmiri ring from a boat ????♀️ serving as a shop. @MEAIndia pic.twitter.com/NH5BljrNXQ— Tahir Qadiry طاهر قادرى (@tahirqadiry) February 12, 2020
However, Qadiry didn’t just provoke people with his tweets, the statements he issued to the media attracted trolls as well. In an interview to ANI, he said he saw “shops open and children going to school”. Although shops were open, he could not have seen schoolchildren as schools are closed for winter vacations since mid-December and will only reopen in March.
But acting at variance with the dominant public sentiment in Kashmir also brought Qadiry more media attention. He became a favourite with Kashmiri photo-journalists. He turned out to be the most photographed envoy. In some pictures, he is seen walking smugly along the Boulevard with a spring in his step.
At the same time, Qadiry wasn’t way off the mark in his observations. Kashmir did hold its peace for the two days that the envoys were there. That was despite the fact that, on the day before their arrival on February 13 and also on February 9, the Valley had observed a complete shutdown due to the death anniversaries of the JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat and the parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. This was largely because the call issued by the JKLF did not get enough publicity, with the local media blacking out the news under government pressure.
However, the anniversaries saw no protests or functions as has traditionally been the case. Though the government had put in place security restrictions at sensitive places, it has been a routine on these days and thus doesn’t explain the absence of public mobilisation this year.
This brings up the question as to how New Delhi ensures and perpetuates normalcy in the Valley. This can be explained partly by the way the government dealt with a journalist when he wrote a story on the statement by the banned outfit JKLF which called for a shutdown on Bhat's and Guru's death anniversaries. He was summoned to a police station for questioning and detained for several hours. The message from the government that so far has been implicit was explicit now: it didn't want the journalists and the media to carry statements from separatist organisations.
And this is something that has not happened since the revocation of Article 370 in August last: no local newspaper or portal has dared to publish stories on separatist groups which otherwise used to be a part of their regular coverage. The comprehensive communication blackout that prevailed for six months - now only partially eased - had already made it impossible for the separatist groups, or for that matter, even the mainstream political parties to communicate or issue statements, let alone hold an activity.
And to further bar any organised political response, the government arrested all the major leaders across the mainstream-separatist divide. Similarly, major civil society actors who presumed to mobilise public resistance were also put behind bars.
This has had a chilling effect, breaking the organising capacity of Kashmiri society. There are no leaders active on the scene, no functional political or social organisation which could do this. And even if there were, they wouldn’t be able to communicate: for example, such as the militant leaders who used to use social media to convey their messages.
More than six months on from the withdrawal of Article 370, Kashmir still has nothing remotely resembling a working political and social organisation which can either articulate the sentiment of their people or formulate a response. The consequent leaderlessness has forced the situation to go on regardless and lapse into a fake, uneasy normalcy. This is probably what the Afghan ambassador Qadiry saw in Kashmir, making him exclaim that everything is fine and hallucinating about children going to school during their winter vacations.