The Indian Army captured Syed Moinullah Shah, a militant of Pakistani origin, after an encounter two Saturdays in the Kashmir valley. Hailing from Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, Shah is only the second militant of Pakistani origin to be captured alive by Indian armed forces. The other, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was taken in to custody during the attacks in Mumbai last November and is now facing trial at a special court in India.
Shah's capture is significant as he revealed vital information regarding militant training camps and procedures in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. There has been a recent surge in infiltration of militants belonging to banned outfits such as the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba (the group thought to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks), Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Pir Panjal Regiment, into Kashmir. Being allowed to speak at a press conference in Srinagar, Shah explained that about 120 people had crossed over the Line of Control that separates Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, out of which 30 were terrorists and the rest were guides.
The captured terrorist insisted thatthe Taliban were not involved in operations related to Kashmir. He told members of the press that no commanders of the above mentioned terrorist groups had crossed over in recent months. He and his peers were meant to receive details of future operations from commanders already in Kashmir or in India's hinterland. In the last week some forty militants have been killed in encounters along the Line of Control, claimed the Indian Army. The killing and capture of these operatives led the army to discover and confiscate a large cache of weapons from militant hideouts. The list of weapons uncovered included 48 AK-47 rifles with 13,000 rounds, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with 14 shells, 445 grenades for under barrel grenade launchers, 6 Chinese grenades and 32 kilograms of explosives.
A surprising and significant message from Syed Moinullah Shah came when he revealed why he had chosen to co-operate with the Indian Army. The 24-year old who underwent intensive training at a militant camp in Pakistan remarked, "I was told by Kashmiri preachers who come there (Pakistan) that they are being tortured by the Indian Army. Their houses have also been taken away besides not being allowed to do the namaaz. They also said their women were being raped. When I came here, I did not see any kind of torture. Everybody was busy doing their own work. I felt there was no need of jihad in Kashmir and hence wanted to go back."
Reports of the recent surge in infiltration from across the Line of Control pose a serious challenge to domestic security concerns in not just Kashmir, but all across India. Yet, the above declaration by a militant claiming to have been recruited for jihad in the Kashmir valley will hopefully add a new dimension in the efforts to bring peace to the region after decades of violent conflict.
A grand election with no agenda
Harsh Pant laments how frivolous elections in India have become in his opinion piece in The Outlook magazine. What is being celebrated as the largest democratic exercise the world has ever seen is "one of the most banal exercises the country has undertaken", according to him. A comical show on the outside, the worry is that this is really a very important election for the country.
Pant's reasons for calling the ongoing elections banal are numerous. Firstly, it seems like the next government will be formed by default, depending on which group of parties reach the desired halfway mark. A simple adding up of numbers rather than a coming together of ideas is dangerous for the world's largest democracy as it prevents innovative policies from taking shape and makes governing difficult. Secondly, every crisis is used by rival parties to hurl blame and abuses at those in power. No serious debate on national issues exists and no leader can be seen on any side who has stood up with clear policy ideas. Thirdly, political parties are closed up to opinions from the outside and governed as fiefdoms rather than platforms for national or ideological discourse. The lack of an open, democratic, party set-up stifles fresh policy debates.
Pant analyzes why the two major national parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have failed to excite the Indian voter and in turn allowed regional parties with no national agenda or perception to hold an important say in general elections. In such a dark hour for Indian politics, the only solution seems to be the rise of a strong leader who can galvanize the country. However, as Pant points out, there seems no one of such caliber in sight.
Disappointing voter turnout in Mumbai
The city of Mumbai had witnessed large-scale voter awareness campaigns in the run up to this year's election. NGOs tied up with private corporations, the media and celebrities to push "get out the vote"-style campaigns in India's premier metropolis. Rising public frustrations with the government, especially after the city's elite were targeted last November by LeT terrorists, indicated that a city usually apathetic to elections and electioneering would see its educated classes coming out to vote. On 30 April, when Mumbai went to the polls voter turnout was not just disappointing; it was recorded at 40.33% in south Mumbai (the focus of voter awareness campaigns and where terrorists struck in November). In 2004, a larger percentage of eligible voters turned up to exercise the franchise.
The Indian media has been abuzz with debates over the continued apathy of the citizens of Mumbai. P. Sainath wrote in the Hindu that it was futile to expect a high voter turnout in the first place. Firstly, the election date coincided with a long weekend. Hence, better planning on the part of the Election Commission could have prevented people from choosing a holiday over standing in line to cast their vote. Secondly, voter awareness campaigns were noble but did not have any clear agenda to keep voters motivated. Simply asking people to get out and vote with celebrities in tow was not enough.
Rahul Bose, a popular actor, wrote an opinion piece in the Hindustan Times expressing his disappointment at the continued apathy of fellow citizens. He recalls the outrage in Mumbai after last November's attacks and how the subsequent low voter turnout represented a missed chance to harness that outrage.