By Inam ul Rehman
Having an advantage of hindsight to assess things is a blessing. The agitation of 2016 came up with various outcomes, but some offshoots were already taking roots, and a few of them fructified after the year ended. To assess 2016, I will go for a nonlinear narrative to sum up how that particular year was significant for the Kashmir movement.
Problematizing post 2008 militancy
It has often puzzled me how come a bunch of 200–300 militants will throw out an army with the fourth largest global firework from Kashmir. What do these guys think when they take up the arms in pursuance of their dream? It is unbelievable and insane to think that despite seeing the highest militarisation in a small place Kashmiri guys think of taking gun in their hand and challenge the might of the State. Do they think that having gun in hands will force the State to buckle under pressure? Why do these guys take up the gun when the world opinion is not in favour of it?
How does one rationalise the fact that a population of seven million is up against a population of 1.3 billion? How does one rationalise that to save an armed militant youths rush to face bullets on their chest?
Emergence of Al-Qaeda, ISIS in Kashmir
When in July 2008, during the agitation against the granting of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani said that the ‘tehreek’ in Kashmir would be non-violent and without any backing from Pakistan, it should have signalled a shift in the movement. Three successive summers saw the Kashmiris on the roads shouting “Go India go back.” All these protests were for local grievances. The Pakistani media hardly covered it.
In 2013, when the flags bearing Kalima were unfurled, and graffiti welcoming the Taliban appeared, it was curtly dismissed. Since Kashmiris believe in their own propaganda, people started to say that unfurling of flags bearing Kalima was only done to irritate the Indian State. By 2014, waving flags of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and even Islamic State became a normal in some parts of Kashmir. No amount of condemnation, or labelling youths as agents of Indian agencies by pro-resistance parties deterred them. The waving of Tawheed flags, graffiti praising Taliban in Kashmir were signalling an ideological shift, but hardly anyone paid heed to it. No one cared to notice that an ideological base on Islam was gaining ground in which everyone would be seen in the prism of Islamic perspective. As the internet penetration reached to the remotest corner of Kashmir it opened an Islamic world that was kept in wraps.
In the jungles of north and south Kashmir, militants were able to surf and see for themselves that fighting for Islam means rejecting nationalism, patriotism, and proxy war.
Then in 2016 Burhan Wani was killed along with his two aides. Before that, hundreds of top commanders, some of whom were household names were killed in Kashmir, but no one appealed the Kashmiri youth like him. Why?
Unlike the 2008 agitation, 2009 protests against controversial killing of two women in Shopian, or 2010 agitation against the custodial killing of three youth in Machil, the agitation of 2016 was unique. It was in favour of militants. Here the people came on streets to protest the killing of Burhan, the ‘most wanted’ militant. And it should be kept in mind that this support for militants came primarily for their stand with regard to Islam.
When Burhan Wani released his first video in 2015, it was unprecedented. His message was a tectonic shift of ideology among militants in Kashmir. He made it clear that his endeavour was to fight for the establishment of Khilafat not only in Kashmir but in the whole world. The ideological seeds in Kashmir for Khilafat were sowed in the ‘90s. But once the 9/11 happened, the Pakistani State changed its policy. The Pakistani establishment also forced Kashmir-centred militants to toe its line or face extinction. Like the United Jihad Council, Burhan could have faxed his statement to the media, but he did not. Why? Here was a militant commander announcing his freedom from the influence of Pakistani State, Hurriyat, and the UJC. His videos were bereft of the Hizb or Pakistani flags. He could have easily put the flag of Pakistan, like the Hizb commander Riyaz Naikoo does, but he did not. And in the same video he placed himself in the middle of guns. Which obviously hints that for the establishment of Khilafat weapons are important. He separated himself from the rhetoric of UN resolutions, conflict between India-Pakistan, international community’s help, and peace talks. He was for the globalisation of the ‘tehreek’.
Burhan never said a word about Pakistan, Hurriyat, or the UJC. He was clear in his speeches what he was fighting for. Yet, when he was killed, all of them try to appropriate him. Of course, he was in the Hizb, but it was just an operational compulsion (since then many militants belonging to the Hizb after being killed have been draped in Tawheed flags). He was following his cousin Aadil Mir’s example. Mir used the façade of the Hizb to wean out his own group free from political pressure and criminality. It was Mir who made his group a pan-Islamist. He carefully recruited youth in his group (Kashmir Narrator, August 2017).
Burhan followed pan-Islamism. That is why he came out independently. Remember his first video wherein he vows to establish Khilafat. It came at a time when even the Hurriyat Conference was applying for an Indian passport.
Militants create an atmosphere of collapse
Once Burhan was killed along with his two aides, Kashmir came in support of his ideology. No matter what the Hurriyat, UJC, and Pakistan says, Burhan’s video message for Khilafat (removed from youtube) would stay.
People pelting stones at soldiers during encounters with militants has become a norm now. But how did this trend develop? Who and what made it possible for the fearless youth to gather and attack government forces? During the 2016 agitation, the youth used trucks, JCBs, and other heavy vehicles to raze the strong buildings of the SOG of police. The youth also tried to storm the army camps. What made 2016 agitation dangerous was the youth mapping many policemen, SOGs, Kashmiris working in Indian army, and other officials. The military intelligence does this kind of mapping. Here the common people were doing it. Burhan preached this idea openly, while other guerrillas may have been pitching this to the youths over years. These bunch of militants created an atmosphere of collapse for their opposite numbers. Numbers did not matter for them. The history of such militants starts with Islam, and it is this Islam that they find inspiration of having less numbers but defeating world powers.
The people coming out to rescue militants is not because, as many in Kashmir would like to believe and hear, for nationalism, or secular democratic independent nation. It is for Islamic values. It is the teaching of Islam that is prompting youths to come in between the bullets of government forces to help rescue militants. Because in the audio-visual, written materials militants extol youth that saving a militant is equal to participating in jihad. The Islamic ideology kept in wraps for years for fear of “defame” burst open in 2016.
‘Sharia or martyrdom’ slogans
The other notable thing of the 2016 protests was that one no longer heard the slogan of “Kaun karega tarjumani? Syed Ali Geelani.” In every agitation before 2016 it was a popular slogan. But it has been relegated to the dustbin. It is a severe blow to the prestige of Geelani and his party.
Although Pakistani flags saw an uptick in the same year, it was the beginning of downslide for Pakistani support in Kashmir. In April 2017, a group of militants in Pulwama district asked people not to wave or raise Pakistani flags. It signalled what was apprehended for a long time. The ‘tehreek’ in Kashmir finally became what its founders envisioned. Today, the religion of Pakistan in Kashmir has waned.
The increasing acceptance of ‘Sharia or martyrdom ideology’ has now worried the Pakistani State, forcing it to activate its cadres and propaganda machinery to counter this ideology. This support of Pakistan may buoy up a section of people in Kashmir but not the majority of people, and certainly not those with guns fighting against the might of the Indian army.
The coming up of al-Qaeda, Islamic State in Kashmir is not a strange phenomenon. Unlike in Palestine where the resistance movement is nationalist in its outlook, in Kashmir it was from the beginning driven toward Islam. Only when the 9/11 happened did the Kashmiri resistance parties like the Hurriyat, along with Pakistan’s foreign policy changed it from pan-Islamism to nationalists. The coming up of al-Qaeda, and IS in Kashmir has now changed equations. And it has found some acceptance in Kashmir. Nowhere in the world does one find people associated with al-Qaeda, or IS, getting such grand funerals as in Kashmir.
The ideological war in Kashmir between ‘Sharia or martyrdom’, merger with Pakistan, or independent secular democratic nation has finally been brought into the public debate. If history is any indication (like Kashmiris converting from Hinduism to Islam en masse without any compulsion) then for sure Kashmiris will take up the first option.
A silver lining for peaceniks
But there is a silver lining for peace lovers and status quoists of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. What could not be fostered in the past 70 years, the coming up of al-Qaeda and Islamic State may see India-Pakistan join together to fight against their common enemy. Already the joint army drills between the two nations have got a green signal, and this year Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff invited the Indian military attaché and his team to the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad. These unprecedented developments may seem disjointed, but in a protracted conflict things do not move in a linear way.
—Inam ul Rehman is a political analyst
This article was published in Kashmir Narrator’s June issue. To subscribe to Narrator’s print edition, mail us here: [email protected]