Kashmir Separatists, Strategy of Defiance

By Kashinath  Pandit

The death of seventeen year old Tufail Ahmad Motto by tear gas shell fired by the security forces to disperse an unruly mob triggered large scale protests in Srinagar and other towns of the valley on June 11, 2010. This was the beginning of a four month-long chain of protests, strikes, and violence involving separatist organizations, their factions, and the youth against security forces.

Contrary to the claims of separatist leadership, protests were not peaceful but certainly the pattern had changed.  Pelting stones on police and security forces was the new strategy; profusely indoctrinated teenagers were made the vanguard. The objective could be manifold but more notably it was to give an impression that Kashmir separatism was an indigenous movement and not sponsored from outside the borders of the state as is repeated by the Government of India time an again. 

Masarrat Alam, of Hurriyat (G) faction, now under detention confessed after interrogation that “he received forty lakh rupees from Geelani, the chairman of APHC (G) from different channels to fuel the protests and incite stone pelting”, reported the Daily Excelsior (Jammu) of 15 December 2010. A truckload of stones brought from queries cost between rupees 1000 and 12000. Young boys were paid at rupees 150 each for pelting stones on security forces and policemen. Stone throwing was a low cost but high impact strategy devised by terrorist groups whose middle level leadership was liquidated over a period of time. The plan of stone throwing was the brain child of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hizbul Mujahideen think tanks. Operatives were drawn in groups, each group comprising a minimum of twelve persons, received five to eight lakh rupees, of which a part went to sub groups known as “initiators” who actually pelted stones, reported Jammu based The Northlines in a dispatch dated 7 September 2010.  The organizers stationed their activists in various localities. This was the pattern of stone pelting in a synchronized manner throughout the valley. The source added that the groups allegedly received funds from a particular regional political party as well.

Funding of insurgency by a political party with stakes or by social and political organizations with similar agenda is neither new nor surprising. They do so partly to identify themselves with the separatist cause, and partly to preserve their political constituency for themselves. The method is that political parties adopt ambivalent posture vis-à-vis the future status of Kashmir. In times of tension, mainstream parties have silently cowed into submission. They have come to know that the best way is to issue statements that lend themselves to pro-extremist or anti-India propaganda.  No wonder, therefore, that the mainstream regional political parties abdicate their responsibility and prefer not to take a reasoned stand. When armed insurgency surfaced in 1989-90 the ruling coalition led by the National Conference (NC) quit office without qualms of conscience that the challenge thrown to the solidarity and integrity of the State needed to be met with determination.

Discontent of Kashmiris with Indian presence in the valley and anti-India demonstrations are traceable to the days of State’s accession to India in October 1947. However, the reach and influence of State Muslim Conference and pro-Pakistan elements was neutralized by the towering personality of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, popular political leader from the valley.  Enamoured with the Sheikh’s popularity, his overt aversion of two-nation theory — the basis of Pakistan, and his deep obsession with Kashmiri identity, Nehru lent him not only his personal support but also of the Indian National Congress for his anti-monarchy movement orchestrated as freedom movement. Anti-monarchy movement had sprung from the mosques and not from streets, something which Nehru failed to realize.

What saddened Nehru was not the Sheikh’s demand of independence for the State and his threats of secession from India in 1953 but more by his shift of posture after he had cleverly managed deposition of Maharaja Hari Singh with tacit support of Nehru, stabilized his position, and found that threat from Pakistan had receded in the face of tough resistance by the Indian army. In 1973, this writer met with late Mulana Masudi, the NC General Secretary in Ganderbal , and asked him whether he had taken up with Pandit Nehru the issue of the Sheikh’s arrest and deposition on 8-9 August 1953. The Maulana responded as this: I met with Pandit ji at Tin Murti in his study and broached the matter. Pandit ji heard me with patience. After a while he raised his head and looked straight into my eyes.  He looked a sad person and then in a choked voice said, “ Maulana Sahib Sheikh Sahib has stabbed me in the back”. What a sad commentary on the erratic faculty of character assessment of India’s foremost statesman. But how could Nehru agree to replace an outlawed and castigated Maharaja with an ambitious Sultan intrinsically as autocratic as the Maharaja?

Dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 marks the beginning of separatist and secessionist politics in Kashmir. Opposition to Indian presence was formulated into Plebiscite Front, the new avatar of National Conference, covertly shored up by the Sheikh and overtly led by his lieutenant and chief operator Afzal Beg. The Front did more than mere indoctrination of Kashmir valley youth with anti-India and pro-Pakistan propaganda. It sensitized them to the paradigm of an armed struggle as the last resort of reaching the goal.  Its militant outfit, al-Fath, imitating the Palestinian resistant force of same name, unsuccessfully tried to assassinate senior NC leader Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq in a bomb blast in Baramulla in April 1963.  The chief minister, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad dealt with the Plebiscite Front activists with an iron fist in velvet glove, which forced its hardcore to lie low for quite some time though it could neither be uprooted nor liquidated.

With discreet support of Plebiscite Front, the Jama’at-i-Islami of Kashmir spread its tentacles in Muslim dominated regions of the State, the valley and district Doda in particular, through a network of religious seminaries. Under the mask of religious teachings, indoctrination of the Muslim youth in fundamentalist ideology and anti-India rage was undertaken on a massive scale in thousands of Jama’at-i-Islami seminaries (darsgah). This was the scenario in which Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani of Sopor, the leader of Hurriyat (G) made his debut. Sopor became a stronghold of the Jama’atis because the town with its fertile hinterland was the a prosperous Centerport for thriving fruit industry and brisk commercial activities extending as far as Lolab Valley, Karnah, Tilel,, Guraiz and beyond.

Theocratic discipline in these darsgahs was perfected by rabid Islamic missionaries from various parts of India, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and in some cases also from Pakistan. Apart from their low-key propagation campaigns in urban Kashmir in 1970s, they roamed freely from village to village in groups under the name of Allahwale, actually the Pakistani brand of Wahhabis.#

The Allahwale became popular and effective in Kashmir because their strategy was to propagate fundamentalist Islam not by getting bogged with acrimonious political discourses but by attacking such complex and neck-breaking social customs of Kashmir Muslim society as, according to them, ran counter to the simple teachings of Islam and the holy Prophet. They contended that these obsolete and redundant customs and the mindset supporting them were a baggage Kashmiris had inherited from their proselytized ancestors seven centuries ago. Thus a poor villager could  marry off his daughter over a cup of tea under Allahwale dispensation, These very healthy social reformative measures earned immense respect for the Allahwale and their teachings not only in rural but in wide urban circles also. There was hardly a Muslim youth in Kashmir who was not influenced by the socio-religious content of the Allahwale movement

We find that while Jama’at-i-Islami, Plebiscite Front and various Islamic organizations of Kashmiri youth focused on political aspect of Kashmir issue, Allahwale brought up the tail end by addressing social and moral aspects of the ummah. In combination, the conglomerate aimed at awakening the community to Kashmiri Muslim identity, whatever that meant, and Islamic personality. The rationale of socio-political uprising of later years rested on projecting India as an occupational power against the wishes of the Kashmiris. To them it meant an assault on Kashmiri identity and personality. The elements worked assiduously for decades till the time was ripe for launching Operation Topac#.

With Sheikh Abdullah still in detention, Nehru struggled with his conscience about the festering sore of Kashmir. He decided to address the issue and relieve his conscience of lurking compunction. The debacle in Sino-Indian war of 1961 had taken the wind out of the sails of his cherished brainchild— non-alignment —–, and he was feeling belittled in the eyes of international community. He would like to retrieve his dwindling popularity. The idea was of forging Confederation of India, Pakistan and Jammu, a political move with capability of bringing normalcy to Indo-Pak relations, banishing decades of mutual acrimony and conceding the independent status for J&K in accordance with the aspirations of its popular leader. However, the Sheikh failed in his mission because Pakistani President Field Marshall Ayub Khan rejected the plan and staked claim to entire State of Jammu and Kashmir.  Before the plan would be pursued, Nehru died and the Sheikh returned from Pakistan with empty hands.

In immediate post-Nehruvian period, a few things weighed heavy on the Sheikh’s mind. Whatever little hope he still nursed for Kashmir Sultanate was spoilt by the Bangladesh war of 1971. Circumstances forced him to sign an accord with the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Apprehension of repetition of 1953 inhibited the Sheikh from embarking on another misadventure.

Alarmed at the growing popularity of Z.A. Bhutto and the damage potential it could mean to the authority of Pakistan army, President Zia dealt with him what we all know.  For the reason of his rabid anti-India vitriol and lurid outpours like ‘Pakistan will fight Kashmir war for a thousand years’ or ‘Pakistan will eat grass but make the atom bomb’, he had immensely endeared himself to Kashmiri youth to the extent of a hero promising to throw out India from Kashmir.. In reaction to his execution, a frantic and violent anti-Jama’at wave spearheaded by NC core, namely Plebiscite Front, gripped entire valley, especially South of Kashmir. The reason was that Zia, a staunch Jama’ati was the chief architect of Bhutto’s execution. It was clear that NC cadres at this point of time had Pakistan closer to their heart than the Islamic teachings of which the Jama’atis claimed to be the sole custodians.

In the light of changed avatar, Sheikh Abdullah made a subtle shift in strategy and showed no aversion to the “mediatory” role of the Saudi intelligence agency in bridging the divide in Kashmiri Sunni society. Goaded by the ISI, the. Saudis would not miss an opportunity of stepping in knowing that the Iranian Shia clerics had made some inroads in Kashmir soon after the “export of Iranian brand of Islamic revolution” became the state policy of Teheran’s theocratic regime in 1979. Some Kashmiri Shia youth had undergone arms training in centres like Meshad, Iran.  The Iranian moles had even opened a branch of a Bombay-based bank in Rajbagh, Srinagar for money laundering.

Within the Sheikh’s knowledge and his tacit blessings, negotiations stretching over more than two months were conducted secretly by the sister of Shah Saud while hiding in the house of a prominent houseboat owner of Srinagar. The rapprochement resulted in warming up of relations between the Sheikh and the Saudis behind which the invisible hand of ISI was at work. Following this the Sheikh chartered a plane for his entire family, and pretending to be traveling via Iraq to do umrah actually landed in Riyadh. In a landscape of refreshed political tie up, henceforth in the body of NC the spirit of Jama’at-i- Islami reigned supreme.

During the Sheikh’s internment, his son Farooq Abdullah then in UK, came close to the PoK’s anti-India Diaspora and fraternized with Amanullah Khan, the Luton-based Liberation Front chief. It was this PoK Diaspora that ISI used as the instrument of armed insurgency in Kashmir. The story has been vividly told by Hashim Qureshi in his work Kashmir: Unveiling the Truth. After the Sheikh came back to power in 1975, he recalled his son. The Sheikh died in 1982 and New Delhi installed Farooq in .his father’s seat and thus helped cement the dynastic rule in Kashmir, a phenomenon vehemently abhorred by the Kashmiris. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) freely played this card with satisfying dividends. It sensitized people to the need of insulating Kashmiri identity which it said had been eroded by surrogate NC.   The two factors combined to become catalyst to sustained street mobilization. Other stakeholders aspiring political ascendancy, too, used this strong twin element of hatred against dynastic rule and erosion of identity as a lever to support and promote the culture of protests and rallies.

Dismissal of Farooq in 1984 and replacement by his brother–in-law G.M. Shah convinced people that their freedom was a misnomer. Farooq cashed on it. But three years later when the national government reinstated him and dumped Shah, New Delhi created one more rabid anti-India segment in Kashmir.  These events seriously jeopardized people’s faith in democracy and the intentions of the Indian State in Kashmir. There was also general discontent over economic backwardness of the region. It provided strong ground for all dissenting elements like the Jmaat-i-Islami, Plebiscite Front, Muslim Conference, pro-independence groups, Muslim youth organizations, and Islamic social organizations to forge what came to be called Muslim United Front (MUF), which fielded its candidates in the assembly elections of 1986. The MUF alleged that polls were rigged, their leaders manhandled, and jailed. After release, they fled to PoK and set up organizations which spawned the first separatist guerrilla force in July 1989.

Current Kashmir disorder is rooted as much in the long history of Kashmir as in its mis-governance. Protest rallies and street mobilizations are not the phenomenon beginning with 11 June 2010. But protest methodology has changed distinctively, which indicates forging of new separatist strategy. From 2001, there has been gradual decline in armed insurgency and terrorist strikes in Kashmir. Most of the middle cadres of terrorist outfits have been liquidated and fresh recruitment of local volunteers is drying up. Even terrorist funding sources and channels have been choked to a considerable extent. .

But more importantly, deepening domestic crisis in Pakistan, her double dealing about terror, and pressure brought by India in the wake of 26/11 Mumbai attacks are the constraints forcing Islamabad’s to salvage her position on these fronts.  Vacuum of sorts emerged in her Kashmir strategy that made political space for the pre-eminence of Islamic hard-line Jama’ati leader, Ali Shah Geelani as the chief spokesman of separatist ideology. Visibly he may not attract larger sermon attending crowds than his rival faction leader Omar Farooq does nevertheless he remains the prime source of street mobilization antics and stone pelting strategy.

Some political thinkers ascribe current turmoil in Kashmir partly to the fallout of Amarnath shrine land row of summer 2008, a manipulation of PDP to whip up communal and hence anti-India sentiments. Professor Rekha Chowdhury rightly infers that Amarnath land agitation was a defining moment that gave new life to separatist politics then facing crisis of fragmentation. PDP hijacked the separatist agenda and brought it to mainstream space. Now all issues close to the heart of the separatists came to be openly raised in public rallies and the floor of the assembly.# Stakeholders whipping up anti-India passion without being explicitly seen left the street mobilization almost leaderless. They caused the stir but meticulously avoided to own it.  Leaders became followers of ever shifting mood of the directionless agitating masses. From June to September 2010, life in Kashmir remained hostage to hysterical mass mobilizing conductors motivated by blind hate-India obsession and intermittent protest calendars issued by the self-righteous source.

No less important a factor catalyzing separatism in Kashmir is the rising crescendo of Islamic resurgence movement world wide. Theocratic forces in Pakistan highlighted geographical centrality of Kashmir to the concept of Islamic Caliphate. Chemistry of cultural harmonization has yielded place to radical Arabism of the days of missionaries, and the banishment of a small Hindu minority in 1990 from the land of their ancestors is scripted as major achievement of modern Islam reprehensibly conceded by secular Indian Union.

In a bid to douse the flames of disorder in Kashmir and reverberations of a cry against alleged human rights violations, —- the new lever of separatists —– New Delhi made a couple of efforts to mollify the agitators. The PM offered to talk to dissidents; Home Minister made a couple of jaunts to Kashmir pontificating “unique solution for unique problem”, and sent a 39-member All Party Parliamentary delegation to hear the rhetoric, New Delhi offered 8-point formula to put an end to the crisis and then constituted a 3-member Panel of eminent Interlocutors to sympathetically hear the story of stone pelting mobs and the handlers of street politics. To what extent are these peacenicks historically adepts in understanding and analyzing Kashmiri psyche is a different matter. What should be least expected of them is their ability to undo the current logjam, leave alone their tall claim of finding a lasting solution to Kashmir problem. Geelani has already called their effort as eye wash. Trust deficit marks the jurisprudence of interlocution

New Delhi’s vital failure in Kashmir is its inability of promoting national agenda at grassroots levels. Its Kashmir policy remained confined to curing the symptoms but not the cause. Mainstream political parties miserably failed to promote features and contours of a growing secular democracy. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has been more misused than used. In national discourse moderate middle class and urban elite with some sprinkling of secular-democratic ethos remain sidelined.  The policy of ‘a bit to the barking dog’ has brought no good to Kashmir but only intensified the sentiment of intifada of sorts: more sops more blackmail, more appeasement more hatred.

In conclusion, we find that it was mere intellectual bankruptcy to believe that two-nation theory, the basis of dividing India along religious lines could go without an impact on Kashmir, a region with Muslim predominance. Current disorder is not an isolated or ephemeral event but continuation of ongoing anti-India mission overtly supported by the separatists and covertly cherished by almost all political parties whatever the nature of their public postures. New Delhi’s inability to reach grassroots levels in Kashmir emboldened the ruling class to resort to blackmail and bullying.  How can economic prosperity dawn on Kashmir when investment of private capital for economic and industrial growth is cynically blocked and discouraged by characterizing it as dilution of Kashmiri identity? How can unemployment among educated youth be overcome when private sector is kept out of the matrix of State’s development framework?

The solution of logjam in Kashmir lies in taking some bold and decisive steps, political as well as economic like asserting the imperative of a shift of existing political chemistry from fortified sub-regional to broader and resilient national agenda. There is great need of synchronizing social formulations in the background of rural – urban relationship, universalizing developmental philosophy, replacing cash doles economy with accountability- oriented investment, and frugal encouragement of private investment with due guarantee of proper work culture.  It is important to engage Kashmir civil society in a brain storming discourse on the freedom of expression and faith in a multi-religious and multilingual society of Indian Union. The row on centre-state issue has to be tackled in the background of broad national interests and not the interests of isolated entities.  That J&K’s accession to Indian Union is final and irrevocable is a message which the Kashmiri mainstream leadership is required to disseminate and broadcast most vigorously particularly among the dissident segments. The people in Kashmir want to get rid of intermediaries who want power more than the welfare of the people they rule over.
(The author is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, at Kashmir University).

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