How India has contained terrorism in Kashmir but normalised the separatist ideology

Jammu and Kashmir has slipped into a state of uncertainty and ominous disquietude due to the unabated killings of civilians (including the m...

Jammu and Kashmir has slipped into a state of uncertainty and ominous disquietude due to the unabated killings of civilians (including the minuscule minorities) and attack on security force personnel by the Islamist terrorists.

Pakistan-sponsored violence, which is always aimed at destabilising India’s northern region, is occurring at two fronts — within the Kashmir Valley and near the Line of Control (LoC). This comes at a time when India and China have been locked in a standoff for more than a year on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

The latest additions to the killings were Touseef Ahmad Wani — a J&K police constable — on 7 November 2021 and Mohammad Ibrahim Khan — a Kashmiri Muslim who worked as a salesman at a store owned by Kashmiri Pandit businessman Dr Sandeep Mawa — on 8 November. Previously, in October, nine soldiers of the Indian Army were killed by terrorists in Poonch and Rajouri districts, near the LoC, in Jammu division.

Deep-seated separatism in Kashmir

Indian state has been fighting insurgency and terrorism in J&K for over three decades now in which thousands of people have lost their lives. However, the ideology of Islamist separatism, which forms the bedrock of insurgency and terrorism, has existed much before 1990.

The separatist doctrine — which suppresses the fact that Kashmir always had a civilisational connect with the rest of India and instead presents an insular identity of J&K with emphasis on its Islamic character — existed even when the princely state of J&K acceded to the Union of India in 1947.

When India lost to Pakistan by ten wickets in the T20 World Cup cricket match in Dubai on 24 October 2021, many Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir celebrated India’s defeat. Two incidents, the videos of which went viral, particularly caught attention in which students of two prominent medical colleges of Srinagar — Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) and Government Medical College (GMC) — were evidently exhilarated. They clearly exhibited their Islamic connection with the ‘land of the pure’ and chanted slogans such as “Pakistan Zindabad”, “Pakistan se rishta kya? La ilaha illa Allah", “Teri jaan, meri jaan – Pakistan, Pakistan”, “Hum Pakistani hai, Pakistan hamara hai”, “Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan” and “Nara-e-Takbeer, Allah-o-Akbar”.

Such slogans reverberated first in Kashmir in 1989-90 and were dubbed as a protest for rights of the people of Kashmir. Over the years, the slogans have remained in the local parlance just like the ideology behind it.

The zealous support for Pakistan, by many Muslims in Kashmir, happens only because of faith and not due to celebration of a mere sport. The slogans make that amply clear. Pakistan's interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed candidly described India's defeat as “victory of Islam”. However, Kashmir-based politicians/activists and the commentariat in Delhi (and elsewhere) would like us to believe that such supporters of Pakistan are mere students. In other words, they suggest, like always, that the state should turn a blind eye to the hatred demonstrated through cheering for Pakistan — the antithesis of India.

The J&K Police has registered cases against the students of medical colleges who celebrated India’s defeat. As soon as the state initiated legal action, a terror outfit came out in support of such students and threatened to kill non-Muslims in Kashmir. A medical student from Jammu, Ananya Jamwal, has received threats on social media after she called out Muslim students in Kashmir celebrating Pakistan's victory. It is this vileness which many have chosen to ignore and advocated leniency for such students.

Those alluding that the support for Pakistan in a cricket match is just anger against Narendra Modi government’s policy measures (beginning with the invalidation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India) are conveniently forgetting the first ever international match in J&K at Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium, Srinagar in October 1983 when India played West Indies. The crowd cheered for West Indies, booed Indian players, and displayed posters of Imran Khan. A group of young Muslims led by Shabir Ahmad Shah, Showkat Ahmad Bakshi and Mushtaq-ul-Islam dug up the cricket pitch. This behaviour outrightly reflected the inherent hatred against India much before 1990.

Thin line between mainstream and separatism

The duplicitous approach of turning a blind eye to anti-India hatred has normalised separatism in J&K over the last several decades. One should remember that there is a thin line between the mainstream and separatism in J&K and it gets blurred many a time. In fact, the mainstream fuels the separatist sentiment to satiate its political interests which eventually leads to competitive separatism.

In August 2021, Mehbooba Mufti, former J&K chief minister and president of People's Democratic Party (PDP), in a public rally in South Kashmir linked the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan with India's position in Jammu and Kashmir. Warning New Delhi, Mufti said, “People of J&K are brave and not cowards. You need more courage to have patience. People of J&K are enduring but the day they lose patience, you will also not remain — you will disappear. I say it time and again that don’t test us — mend your ways. Look what is happening in the neighbourhood (Afghanistan). Despite being such a big power, America has been forced to flee.”

Needless to say, Mufti is one of the key faces of the mainstream in J&K and her remarks have often reeked of separatism. Other political figures have also made statements from time to time echoing the language of separatists.

Anti-India hatred portrayed as dissent and freedom

When anti-India hatred is portrayed as democratic dissent and academic freedom, it only aggravates the hatred further and becomes a day-to-day part of the society. We have seen enough anti-India diatribe, based on distortion of history and obnoxious lies, under the garb of academic seminars in India and abroad.

On 21 October 2010, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani delivered a speech at the Little Theatre Group (LTG) Auditorium in New Delhi and openly advocated for the secession of J&K from India.

Organised by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, other speakers at the event included poet Varavara Rao, novelist Arundhati Roy, and Delhi University professor GN Saibaba.

Everyone knows that Geelani championed the cause of Islamism and advocated Pakistan’s line on J&K and yet he was allowed to speak in India’s capital. Once again, he was invited to speak at India Today Conclave 2011 in New Delhi where he demanded azadi for Kashmir. He exhorted separatism right under the nose of the Indian state while receiving special treatment from the state and intelligentsia. He died on 1 September 2021 at his residence in Srinagar. Whether Indian National Congress (INC) or Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), no government brought Geelani to the book for his wrongdoings.

Earlier, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik was given a platform at India Today Conclave in 2008. In an interview to BBC, he has himself admitted killing four Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel — including Squadron Leader Ravi Khanna — in Kashmir in January 1990. One of the first poster boys of terrorism in Kashmir, who received public support, Malik along with three others — Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Majeed Wani and Javed Ahmad Mir — formed the HAJY group. The same Malik was invited to talks by then Prime of Minister Manmohan Singh in February 2006. The image of the prime minister smiling and shaking hands with Yasin Malik is perhaps the biggest ever normalisation of separatism in India at the topmost level of the Indian state.

Subversive elements in J&K state machinery

It is well-known that the subversive elements have been part of the state machinery in J&K. While enjoying government salaries and perks by working in various government departments (including the police), they have participated in terror activities or supported such activities. This is one of the key reasons why the state machinery hasn’t been able to fully tackle separatism in J&K.

In April 2021, Manoj Sinha-led J&K administration constituted a Special Task Force (STF) for identifying and examining government employees involved in anti-India activities under Article 311(2)(c) of the Constitution of India. The five-member team is headed by Additional Director General of Police (CID). This is perhaps the first high-level committee tasked with investigating employees who pose a threat to the security of the state.

Since the formation of STF, the administration has dismissed over 20 employees for their terror links including Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin’s two sons and former Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s grandson. Very recently, on 2 November 2021, the administration sacked Feroz Ahmad Lone, Deputy Superintendent of Police (Jail), who worked in the J&K Prison Department. He was reportedly working for Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Riyaz Naikoo who was killed by the security forces in May 2020. The nexus between a Deputy SP-rank officer and a terrorist signifies how deep the structural rot is in J&K.

Skewed discourse over terrorism in J&K

The discourse over J&K is largely focused on Pakistan’s sponsoring of terrorism but the direct/indirect involvement of several sections of Muslim population in J&K is often overlooked.

Instead, we are repeatedly told that they have nothing to do with bloodshed and violence. Then one must ask questions: Who carries out killings in the name of Islam? Who provides socio-political cover to those who participate in violence? Who supports and funds the terror activities in J&K?

When insurgency started in Kashmir in 1989-90, those who picked guns and participated in violence were Kashmiri Muslims. They led the anti-India movement from the front and had no qualms about it. They forced the minority Hindus to leave their homeland. Pakistani terrorists emerged later into the picture. That’s the sheer truth of insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir which is largely glossed over for political correctness.

Thirty years later, we are still witnessing similar involvement of some Kashmiri Muslims in the recent killings. The Resistance Front (TRF), backed by Pakistan, is leading the Islamist terror movement in J&K whose members are predominantly young radicalised Muslims of Kashmir. Other terror outfits which pop up erratically in J&K are United Liberation Front, Geelani Force, Ghaznavi Force, Muslim Janbaz Force, Peoples’ Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), and Islamic State (JK). Importantly, over 100 terrorists have been killed by the security forces in J&K this year — many of whom were Kashmiri Muslims.

In an interview to an Indian daily newspaper in July 2016, Muzaffar Wani — father of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani and principal of a government school in Kashmir — said, "Azadi from India is not only the goal of Burhan. It is also our goal. In our religion, if a Muslim dies in this tehreek by the bullets of India, he gets transferred from this world to the other world. Islam reminds us that first and foremost Khuda, then Prophet Muhammad and Quran, and then son.”

Despite being educated and serving as a school principal, his mindset is an example of how separatism/terrorism is justified by the populace. The problem of indoctrination, although not openly talked about, is ubiquitous in the Kashmiri society which needs to be countered meticulously and effectively.

Ghazwa-e-Hind is the enemy’s goal

The recent killing spree may have emboldened the terrorists further whereas the Indian state looks visibly unable to thwart it. It has to be seen how the Modi government will tackle the emerging security challenge in J&K. Being gung-ho over semblance of normalcy in J&K while the terrorists execute their Islamist project — not just in the hinterland but also in the heart of Srinagar city — is alarming.

The current scenario may not be equivalent to the 1990s. India is now definitely much stronger, politically and economically, with significant defence wherewithal. Also, the state has operationally contained the insurgency in J&K over the years. However, truth be told, India has been soft on countering the separatist ideology in J&K. Islamist terrorists and their backers are clear about what they intend to achieve in J&K (and rest of India) i.e., Islamic conquest of India or Ghazwa-e-Hind. It is the Indian state which ought to up the ante against jihad and not dilly-dally over it because of political compulsions. India must prevail in J&K whatever be the costs or howsoever loud the outcry may be.

Varad Sharma is an author and political commentator. He is the co-editor of a book on Kashmir’s ethnic minority community titled ‘A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits’, published by Bloomsbury India. Views expressed are personal.

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