New Delhi, Feb 5 (IANS) India and Pakistan will have to talk to Kashmiris to solve the vexed issue of the state’s political and territorial identity as there is a feeling of being cheated by both the countries, says London-based Kashmiri journalist Mirza Waheed.
Waheed was here to launch his debut novel, “The Collaborator”, Thursday. Published by Penguin-Viking, it is a study of the angst of a young Kashmiri who counts and identifies corpses along the Line of Control at the height of insurgency in the 1990s.
“The solution involves India and Pakistan. Kashmir is a central party and it has to involve all Kashmiris. India and Pakistan have to talk to the people of Kashmir and the solution has to come from the people. There is a feeling of being cheated and betrayed by both the countries,” Waheed told IANS.
The writer, in his late 30s, grew up at Lal Bazar in Srinagar in the 1990s when “massacres and crackdowns were part of everyday reality”.
“I was 16 in 1991 when several people died in a crackdown in Srinagar. They were gunned down. The following day, I saw bodies along the way. One of them was not dead and his lips were moving. In my silence, I processed it as an act of asking for water. That image haunted me for years.”
As a novelist, Waheed “transported the image”.
“I wanted to explore what it must have been to be like that. I was obsessed with the border. The only thing we remember is a lot of people dying in encounters and battles between security forces and militants,” Waheed said.
The writer, who has been working as an editor at the BBC’s Urdu service in London for nine years, recalled that “he has been in several crackdowns as a young boy”.
“The security forces would surround the neighbourhood and gather us in a field. We would sit while they searched. We were subjected to identity parades, beaten up and tortured. Such atrocities were common,” Waheed said.
“I was one of the first generation of the separatist movement in the 1990s. Everyone was affected. Some of my relatives were killed, some injured, others arrested, caught in the crossfire and interrogated at the notorious interrogation centre Papa II, which was operated by the Border Security Force till 1996,” Waheed said, explaining the triggers for his novel.
“The notion was so compelling that it did not rest till it was written,” Waheed said, quoting American author Truman Capote.
That brutality of life in the 1990s dyed the consciousness of the average Kashmiri as a person, the novelist said.
“The violence was so banal. Initially, the feeling was one of shock, and then despair. And then, anger and retrospection. It changes you and one begins to wonder about the relationship between government and the state – in our case – between India and Kashmir,” Waheed said.
He says for the Kashmiri youth, the killings of the 1990s were “a political training – the decisive markers and landmark events”.
“Suddenly, we found ourselves talking geo-politics – discussing the conflict between India and Pakistan and of possible solutions.”
The personal fire of the Kashmiri youth, who grew up in the 1990s, comes through in Waheed’s book. The protagonist lights a massive bonfire of the “dead” at the end which it almost engulfs the river and the valley.
“The prospects are quite bleak in Kashmir. I have been thinking about Kashmir for the last 22 years. I have cleared the haze of complexities and competing narratives in my head — and concluded that India has failed to crush the will of Kashmir. And Pakistan has not been able to force a solution,” Waheed said.
The army’s role did not help either.
“The security apparatus cracked down brutally. There was speculation about pulling out, but it has not happened. It is the worst militarised region in the world with huge gaps in communication. Pakistan supported and funded the militants – and later propped up its own groups,” Waheed said.