By Farooq Shah
Once during an interview, senior resistance leader and Muslim Conference chairman Prof Abdul Gani Bhat said the Hurriyat leadership failed to ‘capitalise’ on the sacrifices of the Kashmiri people. Prof Bhat while referring to the 2008 agitation in the wake of land transfer to Amarnath Shrine Board that claimed the lives of some 60 Kashmiris described the resistance leadership ‘weak, divided and unaware of the changes happening around them’. Likening the leadership to a ‘blind horse’, he cautioned the people to choose their leaders wisely lest ‘it would throw the rider off its back while injuring him permanently.’
After the Amarnath land agitation, the subsequent agitations (2010 and 2016) claimed hundreds of lives in Kashmir. Yet, the Hurriyat leadership, which claims to be the sole representative of the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, could not succeed in evolving into a force potent enough to stand before the might of India.
The 2016 agitation in the wake of the killing of Burhan Wani looked exactly the carbon copy of what Kashmir had witnessed during the earlier agitations, lending credence to what Prof Bhat had summarised with regard to the Hurriyat leadership.
The events that eventually saw the killing of more than 100 civilians in the 2016 agitation besides grievously injuring thousands proved too much for the Hurriyat to handle. The scale of public agitation that swept across the Kashmir Valley was of so colossal that the entire Hurriyat leadership looked like a straw caught up in a whirlwind. With nothing substantial to offer, the only face-saving device that apparently resulted in the “unification” of the three of their leaders, not parties, giving rise to a new term Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). It, however, could not bring about a noteworthy change that could challenge the Indian hegemony on Kashmir effectively.
As the number of the dead staggeringly climbed over the days in 2016, the frustration of the JRL in failing to put up a formidable front was obvious from its ill-thought out protest ‘calendars’ which overtime became a thing of ridicule among the masses. A cursory look at those would suggest the JRL was attempting to put the horse behind the cart, or in other words it seemed it was far easy for it to pass the buck to the general masses than to take personal responsibility of the scenario emerging after the killing of Burhan Wani.
In another display of immaturity, the octogenarian Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani was seen drawing a graffiti on a wall outside his residence in uptown Srinagar, something that caught the fancy among the youth who wrote slogans of every nature on the walls all across the Valley. Al-Qaeda and ISIS would be drawn at daggers apart elsewhere in Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Middle East, but the funny slogans such as ‘AQIS’ probably suggesting an amalgam of Al-Qaeda and ISIS written on the walls here could very well explain the immaturity of the protestors on the road. Asking youth to draw graffiti on the walls was one of the main directive principles in the JRL calendars.
The resultant chaos took ugly turns by the day, with boys as small as eight or ten seen commanding the situation on the road. Ironically, it was for them to decide whether an ambulance or a private vehicle carrying a patient should be allowed to pass through their designated checkpoints. At occasions, these young vigilantes were seen checking the hospital documents of the patients needing immediate medical attention. The lack of remorse was so high that an expectant mother was asked to lift her clothing to reveal her bulge to the vigilantes that she did not fake her pregnancy as a pretext to be allowed to pass through such a checkpoint.
The only alibi the JRL offered was the authorities had put them under house arrest restricting their movements thereby disallowing them to assemble to devise a concrete strategy.
During the 2016 agitation, the absence of a ‘concrete’ strategy not only translated into an absolute chaos on the ground but it allowed the vested interests who wanted to guide or control the movement of the public agitation towards their own gainful routes, to operate at freewill. It was due to this mismanagement of the situation that despite the JRL’s distancing itself from the outfits such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, scores of youth would appear at different places with ISIS’s black flags in their hands, providing the much-needed fodder to some sections of the Indian media to proliferate falsehood of all manner. At many occasions, the bodies of those killed at the hands of government forces were wrapped in the ISIS flag.
Many conflict experts opine that the bloodletting in Kashmir is stage-managed or controlled by forces that want the pot to keep boiling as long as it suits them. For example, the security establishment in Kashmir every year issues the number of militants killed in various combat operations somewhere between 150 and 180. Excluding the ‘collateral’ damage involving the deaths of hundreds of civilians, the number of militants killed has strangely hovered around this figure for many years now. That the number of active militants in the Valley remains somewhat constant despite an equal number killed every year suggests the conflict is being managed remotely from somewhere.
Who better than the slain militant Eisa Fazili’s father, Naeem Fazili, who is a serving principal of a school, can understand the machinations of the Kashmir conflict when in an attempt to secure his son’s homecoming he wrote on his Facebook: “Eisa, your innocence is being exploited by some vested interests,” suggesting he was being used as a ‘pawn’ or a ‘poster boy’.
Quoting the scriptures, Fazili swore that his son was not on the ‘right’ track and implored him not to ‘play with fire’.
Does it not imply the Kashmir conflict has a frontend and a backend which do not necessarily complement each other truly? The experts say the bloodletting here suits not only the major players such as India and Pakistan but to the local parties as well, resulting in a hugely complicated situation wherefrom an honourable exit for a common man seems highly unlikely.
According to Prof Bhat, people have to identify which horse to ride on. “Riding a wrong horse will lead them to nowhere,” he said in the interview. “People have every right to grab me by my throat and demand what we did to their money, the blood of their sons, and the honour of their daughters.”
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s cinematographer-turned-politician brother Tasaduq Mufti rounds it up aptly: “We’re all partners in crime.”
—Farooq Shah is a Srinagar-based journalist
This article was published in Kashmir Narrator’s June edition. To subscribe to print edition of Narrator, please call +91-7298102560 or mail at [email protected]