Saturday, February 7, 2009

Khalid Hassan is no more

Khalid Hassan is no more. He died of prostrate cancer in Washington DC on Friday. He was born in Srinagar, Kashmir.
He began his long career in journalism and writing with The Pakistan Times, Lahore as senior reporter and columnist in 1967. He was asked by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on taking office in December 1971 to join him as his first press secretary. He went on to spend five years in the country’s Foreign Service, with postings in Paris, Ottawa and London. He resigned in protest when the Bhutto government was overthrown by Gen Zia-ul-Haq and worked in London with the Third World Foundation and the Third World Media before leaving to join the newly-established OPEC News Agency (OPECNA) in Vienna, Austria, where he stayed for 10 years. He returned to Pakistan briefly in 1991 where he worked as a freelance journalist for the next two years. He moved to Washington DC in 1993 and worked out of there as US correspondent for The Nation, Lahore. From 1997 to 2000 he was in Pakistan as head of the Shalimar Television Network. He returned to Washington in 2000 as special correspondent of the Associated Press of Pakistan, which he left to join Daily Times and The Friday Times, Lahore in 2002. He continues to work as the correspondent and columnist of these two publications in Washington. Khalid Hasan is a prolific writer and translator. He has published over 40 books, in Pakistan and abroad.
I won’t claim I know him. But I used to read his articles about Kashmir polity in the daily Kashmir Monitor and the Kashmir Times. His pieces were always great read. In 2006, I think Khalid was in Kashmir and he wrote a poignant piece on Srinagar city. He wrote, “There isn’t a sadder city than Srinagar. I have a deep, almost mystical link with it, having been born there, and I have often dreamt about it in strange, disjointed ways.” His depiction of Srinagar city, its roads, omnipresent dogs, second hand clothes, troops and wretched condition of its people were really moving.   
His colleagues and friends say that Khalid sahib was many things to many people. Journalist, columnist, translator of Faiz and Manto, Kashmir chronicler, press secretary to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, international civil servant and poet. 

I reproduce his articles on Srinagar city and June uprising for all to read.   

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A Different View of Srinagar

By Khalid Hasan
SRINAGAR, May 24: There isn’t a sadder city than Srinagar. I have a deep, almost mystical link with it, having been born there, and I have often dreamt about it in strange, disjointed ways. 
The last time I was there was in 1983. Another 22 years were to pass before my stars would take me there again. It is less than three weeks as I write this since I was there and though I have spoken about what I saw of it and what I experienced, this is the first time I am trying to write about it. 
One of the most eerie experiences I have ever had was being driven in a car through the streets of the city at around 10.30 at night and finding them utterly deserted. 
Srinagar had turned into a ghost town. The city shuts its doors soon after nightfall. All one came upon in the streets were packs of howling dogs that chased the car for varying distances and then gave up. 
The inside lights of the car had been kept on, that being the regulation laid down by the Indian security forces that patrol the streets night and day. A darkened car runs the risk of being fired on. There was no sound at all except the noise the tyres made on the metalled road and the dogs which barked dementedly. And why were there so many stray dogs in the streets? Because the security forces let them prowl around as an early warning of intrusion. 
When I went to Srinagar in 1983, which was six years before the uprising, even then the city was practically crawling with Indian soldiers. There were bunker-like structures everywhere. You couldn’t walk a hundred yards without running into Indian military presence. 
This alone, it occurred to me then, was enough to debunk the myth that the Kashmiris had reconciled themselves to living under Indian rule or being an integral part of India. If you need armed troops to keep control over people you call your citizens, then you might as well let them go. All nation states in the end are the result of a social contract. 
There never was any social contract in Kashmir and there is not going to be one. It is not true, as India maintains, that but for Pakistani interference, the Kashmiris would be happily living as happy Indian citizens. 
Srinagar is a ravaged city. It is also one of the most dusty cities that I have been to, which makes no sense because it is a city that lies beside one of the world’s most beautiful lakes and on either side of the meandering Jhelum river. But the city has crumbled. Fifty-seven years of conflict have taken their toll. 
There is no road in the Srinagar that is whole. When I mentioned this to Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister’s daughter and a member of the Indian lower house, she said that was because of the snows, but it is not true. People told me that even before the snows came, it wasn’t much different. 
The Dal Lake is overgrown with weeds and seriously polluted. It needs to be dredged and there have been efforts to do so but their impact remains minimal. Some people said a great deal of the money for this gigantic project had disappeared into the pockets of dishonest officials and politicians. Perhaps. 
What is sold on the streets of a city tells you a great deal about that city and its people. In Srinagar I found seller after seller of second-hand clothing, their none-too-attractive wares placed on the footpath. Most people you see on the street look harried, ill-at-ease and tense. 
There are few signs of prosperity. Unemployment, especially among the educated, is said to be high. The shops are poorly stocked and what they stock is of poor quality. The two main bookshops of the city have more old books than new. There are no more than a couple of proper restaurants that you can eat at, the best, I suppose being the old Ahdoo’s overlooking the once elegant Bund. 
The old houses, of which Srinagar is full, look as if they are about to fall. Anywhere else they would have been pronounced unfit for human habitation. The once picturesque bridges over Jhelum look ramshackle. Srinagar no longer is a city of gardens. The trees of Wazir Bagh and Gol Bagh have made way for urban ugliness. The Nagin Lake, one of the world’s most beautiful, is a cesspool. 
The grand maples of Nasim Bagh still stand but there used to be far more of them than there are today. Next to it stands the University of Kashmir and not far from there lies Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in a marble grave. He is gone but the Kashmiris believe he it is who is responsible for their misfortunes. 
Kashmiris are deeply suspicious of the India-Pakistan peace process. They are not sure where it will leave them. They feel that some kind of an understanding or arrangement has been made between the two countries over their heads and, once again, as in their long and sad history, they are going to be bartered away without being asked. 
The Hurriyat is fragmented and people hold the ubiquitous ISI responsible for that. They say the ISI wants to control the movement as it controlled the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Everyone believes that Abdul Ghani Lone was killed by the same outfit because he wanted the Kashmiris to be “left alone.” 
The alienation with India is total. No Kashmiri sees himself as an Indian. When I say Kashmiri, I mean the Muslims of the Valley. Nor do they want union with Pakistan as they once did. There is great disillusionment with the policies followed by Pakistan at their expense. Everyone you talk to wants “Azadi”. What that means is not quite spelled out. They are realistic enough to know that neither India nor Pakistan will even entertain such a possibility. 
I asked one Kashmiri if he would spell out what he wanted. He said what he and what the people of the Valley wanted was simple. They wanted to be demilitarized. All troops, all fighters no matter what side they belong to, should quit Kashmir. Normal life which the Kashmiris have not known for over half a century should be restored. Kashmir should be rebuilt and rehabilitated. 
As you stand on the streets of what was once a paradise on earth, you wonder if that would ever come to pass. No matter how it is to be brought about, it is time that the sufferings of the Kashmiris came to an end. The Kashmiris have been crucified over and over again. Whatever it takes, it is the first moral duty of the governments of India and Pakistan to bring this tragedy to an end and let the Kashmiris live without the barrel of a gun staring them in the face, every time they step out of their homes. 
The reality of Kashmir today is the graveyard of the martyrs where almost all graves are those of young men cut down in the first flower of their youth. It is a shattering experience. In one corner, there stands an empty grave but it has a headstone that says this is where “Shaheed-e-Azam Maqbool Butt” will one day find rest. 
Right now he lies in the compound of the Tihar Jail in Delhi where he was hanged. How many more graves do the Kashmiris have to dig before their persecution comes to an end, I keep asking myself. 

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Kashmir: azadi, azadi, azadi

The Vale of Kashmir has risen in revolt once again. Scenes being witnessed in Srinagar are reminiscent of 1953, when the moo-e-mubarik, believed to be the Holy Prophet's hair, mysteriously disappeared from Hazratbal, where it had been kept for hundreds of years. The second time the Kashmiris of the Valley rose as one was in 1989, when their peaceful march to the Srinagar office of the United Nations was fired upon by Indian security forces without provocation. This was the beginning of the uprising, which eventually assumed a militant character and which has remained alive from that day on, sometimes up, sometimes down, but always there.

And now the Kashmiris have risen again. In the words of the admirable Arundhati Roy, "For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world." Pakistan's leaders, caught in their power squabbles, have done no more than issue the odd, cliché-ridden statement or two. The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, whom I had thought capable of better, and who should have seized this moment to press the issue at the United Nations, instead was seen moving a resolution in the National Assembly calling for the repatriation of Afia Siddiqui, who, as events unfold, will come to be seen as quite different from what she is being projected as.

Arundhati Roy, who really and truly is the conscience of India, nowhere in evidence otherwise, writes, "Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people swarm around places that hold terrible memories for them. They demolish bunkers, break through cordons of concertina wire and stare straight down the barrels of soldiers' machine guns, saying what very few in India want to hear. Hum Kya Chahtey? Azadi! And, it has to be said, in equal numbers and with equal intensity: Jeevey Jeevey Pakistan. That sound reverberates through the valley like the drumbeat of steady rain on a tin roof, like the roll of thunder during an electric storm." Who knows where it will end but one thing is certain: the fear of Indian military might no longer holds sway in the Valley.

It is not only the Kashmiris who have died by the thousand under Indian occupation; the fabled beauty of Kashmir has been under more relentless an assault by the occupiers. Kashmir's beauty was the first to be raped, its women, a close second. The world has cared for neither the former nor the latter. God made Kashmir more beautiful than any other place on earth, but, ironically, also the most tragic. Iqbal wanted to shake away the hand that oppressed the Kashmiris. He died with that hope unfulfilled; so did the Quaid, and Ghulam Abbas and KH Khurshid.

Twenty years of conflict and the hated presence of half a million Indian soldiers have played havoc with Kashmir's beauty. Some 10 years ago, a study by Christopher Duvall stated, "The civil war in Kashmir has had a devastating effect on the Dal Lake ecosystem – the Dal was like a pearl surrounded by mountains. Central to the Dal Lake problem is the semi-legal slashing of moutainside forests by the military factions and their opponents." He pointed out that the Dal was being overrun by weeds, choked with silt and saturated with pollution. When I was in Srinagar in 2005, it looked even worse. A rare species of red deer that used to flourish in the Dachigam national park outside Srinagar is also gone, as are many of the birds and fish. What value can poor animals and birds have for those who have no value for human life?

This is no longer the storied Kashmir of yesteryears. About the Dal Lake, Sir Walter Lawrence wrote, "The mountain ridges which are reflected in its waters as in a mirror, are grand and varied, green tints of the trees and the mountain sides are refreshing to the eye, but it is perhaps in October that the colours of the Lake are most charming. The willows change from green to silver gray and delicate russet, with the red tone on the stems and branches, casting colours on the clear water of the Lake, which contrast most beautifully with the rich olives and yellow greens of the floating masses of water weed. The chinars are warm with crimson, and the poplars stand up like golden poles to the sky. On the mountain sides, the trees are red and gold and the scene one of unequalled loveliness."

Lawrence's description of the colours of Kashmir and the quality of light, which is unique to the Valley, has become a classic. He writes, "It would be difficult to describe the colours that are seen on the Kashmir mountains. In early morning, they are often a delicate semi-transparent violet relieved against a saffron sky, and with light vapours clinging round their crests. The rising sun deepens the shadows and produces sharp outlines and strong passages of blue and lavender, with white snow peaks and ridges under a vertical sun; and as the afternoon wears on, these become richer violet and pale bronze, gradually changing to rose and pink with yellow and orange snow, till the last rays of the sun have gone, leaving the mountains dyed a ruddy crimson, with the snows showing a pale creamy green by contrast. Looking downward from the mountains, the Valley in the sunshine has the hues of an opal, the pale reds of the karewa, the vivid light greens of the young rice, and the darker shades of the groves of trees relieved by sunlight sheets, gleams of water and soft blue haze, give a combination of tints reminding one irresistibly of the changing hues of that gem. It is impossible to do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the mountains of Kashmir, or to enumerate the lovely glades and forests, visited by so few."

The Kashmir that cast such a spell on Lawrence now exists in his chronicle more than it exists on the ground. What remains of its beauty will become extinct unless, as Iqbal dreamt, the cruel hand that has done Kashmir violence is shaken away. If the world stands aside in unconcern, watching death and destruction consume the Valley and its people, all that would be left of this "white footprint set in a mass of black mountains" will be ravaged earth, haunted by the spirits of its martyrs. 
(Friday Times)

This entry was posted on Friday, September 5th, 2008 at 3:23 pm .

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