Kashmir: Heaven on Fire

This article was originally published by The Nation on July 19, 2016

In my last article on these pages, I tried to raise academic question on the circumstances that lead to rejecting militancy as ‘terrorism’ or sanctifying it as ‘freedom struggle’. Much of it, I had argued, would depend on which political side you are. For the people who believe Burhan Wani’s militancy is terrorism, ironically consider Bhagat Singh’s militancy (despite him clearly stating from the prison that militancy would never win freedom for any nation) was actually his freedom struggle. For the people believing Dr. Allah Nazar’s and Mukti Bahini’s militancy as terrorism, Burhan Wani remains a freedom fighter. Based on these contradictions, one is pushed to look for a more comprehensive definition of terrorism for the broader benefit of world’s continuing struggle against the menace. As expected, it passed over the heads of xenophobes. The struggle of the Kashmiri’s is not in question, but the good or bad role of Pakistani terrorist elements is.

These theoretical debates aside, Wani is one manifestation of India’s smugness, brutality and gory atrocities in Kashmir. In Wani’s killing, a state that claims to be world’s ‘largest democracy’ not only exposed its true face – the one which is no different from any state that uses its might against citizens when they stand up for their rights and against the state oppression – but also its sheer inability to deal with a 21year old youth. That’s all it took to shake the might of Indian state – a 21 year old boy with a Facebook account!

One has to feel grateful to the Pakistani establishment for not having a direct part in the current intifada in Kashmir. For once it is purely indigenous struggle of Kashmiris in search of their independent identity and against the atrocities of Indian state. Kashmir that has been most thickly militarised part of the world – with one security personnel on every 10 Kashmiris at least – is rising once again after the largely imported militancy of 1990s, which kept simmering underneath the surface and had become mostly indigenous till the surge in 2008 and then 2010. After the new wave since the killing of Burhan Wani, this has turned in to complete and pure indigenous resistance.

What has changed since 1990s, is quite significant from the point of view of the Kashmiri resistance. Back then the militants who got killed by Indian forces in Kashmir were generally faceless and nameless people having little significance to Kashmiris for being mostly imported. No more. Today’s Kashmiri fighter prefers to remain leaderless but not faceless. He has amassed much larger indigenous support than the jihadis of 1990s could ever managed to get. As per the reports coming from the ground in Kashmir, massively attended funeral of Wani might not have Kashmiri resistance leaders, it had people pouring in from all parts of Kashmir especially the Southern Kashmir from where Wani hailed.

Another aspect of this struggle is its religious character that, unfortunately, our interventions have given it. The disgruntled youth angry enough to rise up against the Indian state’s subjugation (described as ‘occupation’ by many Indian Op-Eds last week), furious enough to take up arms against it and energetic enough to not let it go, has taken over the steering of the movement but could not keep it distinct from jihadism as opposed to being purely nationalistic. Turning it into religious shades has hardly done any favour to the Kashmiris.

Many ‘azadi’ enthusiasts in Kashmir do not take it very kindly and would bluntly tell you to leave them alone when you introduce yourself as a Pakistani supporter of their struggle. “Your country has done us enough damage, its high time that you leave us alone,” a young Kashmiri journalist told me when I asked him about the Kashmiri grievances despite all our support. “We turn on TV and watch Pakistani channels to see how Pakistanis are reacting to our fight but all we find is an irritating religious narrative that too as a passing reference at the tail end of all kinds of other political news seemingly far more important for Pakistanis than our blood,” he said.

Pakistan’s Geo, ARY, Samaa etc. are their favourite channels that every cable operator has to show in order to be operative in the valley. That is the level of expectations from Pakistan. And that is the level of disappointment when all we do is glorify religious shades, depreciating their national and political resistance that they are offering for their azadi.

Supporting groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e Tayyeba, Hizbul Mujahideen and United Jihad Council and jihadi characters associated with these internationally designated organisations, has gone to utter disadvantage and sheer loss of the indigenous resistance movement in Kashmir. The world has closed its eyes on Kashmir bloodshed meted out by the ruthless Indian state.

When Salahuddin of HuM/UJC claims the responsibility of terrorist attacks outside Kashmir, or when HuM flaunts its ‘achievements’ in Afghanistan, they alienate Kashmiris internationally and sequesters any favorable and supportive opinion that might have been there.

When these outfits together with the jingoist and Islamist characters within Defence Council of Pakistan hold a Kashmir rally (many of whom are internationally designated terrorists including those banned even by Pakistan itself), they alienate popular Pakistani support for the Kashmiris’ cause. That is one reason why many liberals would not raise an eyebrow on the blood and gore in Kashmir. Everything reported in Pakistani media about Kashmir sounds more like hollow propaganda to most progressives in Pakistan than the depiction of reality. That is in the backdrop of over-exaggerated and shady Kashmir coverage since decades. The slanted reports of PTV’s Kashmir desk have not done any favour either.

Those in the position of manipulating the narrative (and the media) in Pakistan need to think seriously about this. This is not what Kashmiris expect of us. This is not what helps Kashmiris. This is not what world approves of either. If you want to seek world’s attention, speak their language – language that doesn’t have jihadist underpinnings, nor does it sanctify terrorist instances outside Kashmir.

Pakistani leftists, who find themselves completely misfit while sharing roadside with the ugliness of unshaven (and now clean shaven too) xenophobia, are eventually isolated from the real Kashmiri narrative. There needs to be a substantive Kashmir policy with clearly put indigenous priorities of Kashmiris, which is not in the hands of rabid Pakistani (or Kashmiri) mullahs. Pakistani liberals have to embrace the Kashmiri narrative like Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky have recently reiterated. But this will happen only when the state of Pakistan evolves the orientation of its strategy from Islamic militancy to the real Kashmiri resistance for self-determination.

It is a pity that both India and Pakistan are trying to win Kashmir as a territory forgetting about Kashmir as a nation – as a people having an independent identity and national aspirations of their own. The religious militants or Difa-e-Pakistan xenophobes will not win a strong Pakistani resonance with the heart of Kashmir. For this you have to rely on progressive Pakistanis with a religion-neutral, non-violent, nationalistic narrative.

With a considerably plunged down cross-border infiltration in Kashmir, this doesn’t seem impossible. Current intifada gives Pakistan an opportunity to change the discourse. And the players too.