KASHMIR AND A GENERAL WITH A HEART
A tribute by Adfar Shah to Gen Ata Hasnain, one of the finest generals contemporary India has produced
Thank God the ‘Afzal’ fallout did not cast any long-term impact on the ‘peace’ oriented booming tourist influx to Kashmir Valley this season, contrary to apprehensions of many columnists. Undoubtedly the issue of Kashmir is political and the turmoil continues; a bit depressed, but not uprooted. It may take a lot longer and a lot more sacrifices for peace to settle. The bloodshed continues as our vulnerability remains, especially the threat to security personnel themselves. The poor Kashmiri is even scared of its own local police for the past bitter experiences with them in the earlier unrests. Though things have improved compared to the past but; encounters continue day in and day out especially in a few sensitive places like Tral of Pulwama district or Sopore (that a few call Geelanistaan now) of Baramulla District.
A year ago, a brave Indian soldier named Hasnain (Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain) while holding the reigns of Srinagar based prestigious Chinar Corps tried and succeeded in making a difference to Kashmir, be it encounters, innocent killings, unaccounted arrests, redress of public grievances or Aaam Aadmi’s respect and freedom, etc,. The General had come with a vision for Kashmir. More importantly, he also brought with him a sincere heart as his chief weapon. The General proved his sincerity by his widespread fieldwork and outreach to the traumatised public. Under his leadership, the Awaam (Kashmiri People) heaved a sigh of relief and the Army earned a respectable public space.
In 2010-11, I viewed General Ata as a sociologist and now in 2013, as a newly trained anthropologist, I am viewing his contribution to Kashmir with a new lens of humanity and cross-culturalism. With either lens, I am full of admiration for his energy and enthusiasm in meeting the masses, irrespective of the local sentiments. Observing him, I learnt to appreciate his idea of multi socio-culturalism and passion for public outreach for the soothing impact it had upon Kashmiri Society.
I began to study him as a scholarly soldier who is an expert at his field, is adept at using his weapon(s) and is keenly aware of his target, and has no doubts on the impact he wishes to have on the target. I found him to be a well versed academician and administrator too because of his penchant for dialogues and seminars, which he conducted in Kashmir. In all such seminars he insisted on inviting and speaking to the youth and assuaged their anti India sentiments, if any. These dialogues and seminars were platforms for multi-cultural and multi-ideological exchanges on diverse topics from employment to Kashmiriyat and even Sufism, by the youth, local icons, subject matter experts, scholars, religious clerics, government officers and members of his Chinar Team.
General Ata walked the talk and made the entire Chinar Corps ‘Kashmir sensitive’ imbibing in each of his soldiers, respect for the Awaam, their culture, tradition and their religion. His passion led him to energise his contemporaries in the administration and other forces for a smoother alleviation of governance issues besetting the masses. Getting to know and study his dynamism, multi-dimensional scholar-soldier qualities and a wider than ‘just tactical combat’ focus (which none of his predecessors displayed), has been a privilege and an education. His mastery over fourth generation warfare strategies and, more importantly his healing touch endeared him to the Awaam, making him famous and a Kashmir favourite. The Awaam began calling him ‘The People’s General’, a title nobody preceding him earned or sadly, even attempted to earn.
His mission, as I understood, was not to simply complete his tenure and write a travelogue or an autobiography after being back but to enlighten the depth of his engagement by using ‘Heart is My Weapon’; his sole weapon and slogan. I am sure he had empathetically felt the local pain and well conceptualised the people’s suffering of decades.
The General beautifully maintained a balance as well. On one hand, he equally defended the need for much debated and controversial AF(J&K)SPA with olive green passion exemplifying it beautifully as the soldier’s umbrella to be used only if it rains, and on the other hand sympathetically listened to Kashmiri masses and solved local issues as a social worker, arranged free and fair dialogues and debates as an objective researcher, avoided bullets while spreading love as a peace-keeper and respected local traditions as an anthropologist, that hardly anybody had tried or done before.
Generals come and go but General Ata will be ever remembered for his efforts at winning peace using his heart. It is unfortunate that such skilled and legendry soldiers do not get more opportunities to stay in the field among the Awaam. I am sure that, higher offices of the Army can be maintained by any top soldier, but every one cannot be ‘Ata with a heart’ amongst the bruised and terrified Awaam. The Army as the Nation’s last bastion of defence and as its key institution has a significant social responsibility. Therefore, it has to choose the right soldiers and commanders for the field, especially for winning peace in the India’s vulnerable conflict zones.
Kashmir is today at a crucial juncture and needs Ata to get back in any capacity to contribute in curing its social epidemic and widespread chaos. I wish, like all Kashmiris, that the heart remains the weapon of all soldiers deployed in the bruised land of Kashmir and Hasnain’s magic and legacy gets institutionalised.
(Adfar Shah is a Kashmiri and currently the Doctoral Candidate of Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia Central University, New Delhi. Mail firstname.lastname@example.org).