Republic day and Kashmir The Excelsior 01 Feb 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Republic Day and Kashmir

Republic day and Kashmir The Excelsior 01 Feb 2022

          There were two heart-warming videos marking celebration of Republic day, which displayed a changed atmosphere in the valley. The first was a group of youth walking proudly with a 30-foot tricolour on Gupkar road, which has the residences of Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq and Omar Abdullah’s, in Srinagar. Mehbooba had stated in Oct 2020 that the tricolour would never be hosted in Kashmir unless Article 370 was restored. This statement of Mehbooba led to many of her party members quitting. Since then, she has been ranting and threatening the government. This defiance by local youth was a message that Kashmir will not be dictated by the old guard which had looted the state, and its youth are with the nation.

The second video was of activists Sajid Yousuf Shah and Sahil Bashir Bhat alongside dozens of supporters organizing flag hoisting at the clock tower of Srinagar. The last time the tricolour flew over the clock tower was in 1995. To achieve this, the activists had to utilize a hydraulic crane. This flag hoisting was done amidst singing of the national anthem and celebrations by locals including a demonstration by members of the Kashmir martial arts academy.

The flag was brought down in early evening, as post sunset, due to a weak rooftop, it would have been difficult to access the clock tower. It was mentioned that post the repair of the clock tower roof, this will be a regular recurrence. Omar Abdullah sarcastically commented that the flag should have remained for the day.

Reports also stated that in Srinagar, thousands of national flags donned the landscape, including public parks, to mark the occasion. In Shopian, a 150-foot flagpole was inaugurated in the premises of the local army goodwill school. Shopian, which was a major terrorist hub, is now an important trading centre in the valley. Educational institutions did not mark the event at the same level as last year’s Independence day mainly due to the ongoing pandemic. Their celebrations were restricted to limited staff. In Tral, part of Pulwama district, the flag at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School was hoisted by Muzaffar Wani, the father of slain terrorist Burhan Wani.  

Reports added that this was the first time that the national flag flew in such large numbers in Srinagar. In Kupwara there were large crowds at the event which also included a martial arts display. Similar reports flowed from Poonch and Rajouri sectors. Across the region small groups of people organized their own celebrations to mark the occasion. Republic day celebrations were held across the state with national fervour. The valley was peaceful, there were no untoward incidents nor were there any calls for boycott. There were no Pakistan flags anywhere in the state.  

As a precautionary measure mobile internet services were suspended for a few hours on the morning of 26th Jan. Phone services and internet connectivity through fixed lines remained functional.

Meanwhile in desperate Pakistan, protests were organized by the government in POK. It involved members of civil society and political activists. The protestors demanded right of self determination as also protested against human rights violations. A few local politicians spoke on the occasion. In the UN, Pakistan’s permanent representative, Munir Akram, raised Kashmir while discussing protection of civilians in an armed conflict. He also accused India of supporting terrorist groups. He stated, ‘India has funded and supported UNSC listed terrorist entities to carry out cross-border terrorist attacks against Pakistani military and civilian targets.’ As was customary, the same was countered by the Indian representative.

Prior to Republic Day, Pakistan attempted to rope in members of Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) to disrupt the event, but to no avail. In a video released a few days prior to Republic Day, SFJ founder Gurpatwant Singh Pannu and a woman speaker attempted to exhort the youth of Kashmir into violence. Pannu stated, ‘Now is the time people of Kashmir, you should reach Delhi. Block PM Modi from hoisting the tricolour. You are getting killed in fake encounters in Baramulla, Shopian, Anantnag every day and nobody knows in the world. When you reach Delhi on January 26, the entire world will watch that Kashmir and Sikhs wants freedom.’ They were backed by similar calls from Hizbul Mujahidin. However, reactions on the ground from Kashmir were the opposite.

None of Kashmir’s political parties organized any flag hoisting at their offices nor did they wish the nation on Republic day. They appeared to display their anger against the central government for removal of article 370. However, many of their cadre participated in events organized on the day in different parts of the valley. These political bigwigs failed to realise that Republic Day is a national event, and they are members of the nation as also swear allegiance to the constitution which became effective on this date.   

For Pakistan, a peaceful Kashmir is unacceptable. They made every attempt to incite violence attempting to keep Kashmir in global limelight. The response was the opposite. The fervour with which the event was celebrated was an antithesis to their attempts. The fact that there were no calls for bandhs or boycott projected that the pro-Pak lobby has lost its hold over the region. This sent a message that Pak’s attempts to project Kashmiri’s demand for self-determination as a right is false. Even support from the SFJ proved futile.

This is the same Kashmir where a few years ago the Indian flag was trampled. This year it flew majestically across the region. The failure to incite violence will compel Pak to push for terrorist strikes in the coming days. In Pakistan’s opinion, the positivity projected by the local population to the global community would need to be countered. Hence, security forces cannot let their guard down and would need to continue countering Pak’s futile actions while building bridges with the local populace.