Bring politics back into Kashmir

Bring politics back into Kashmir

A durable solution can only be found when the people of Kashmir work out something practicable with GoI.

Political Islam or Islamism, which is distinct from the Islamic faith, is an entirely modern phenomenon. Its principal target is the existing Westphalian secular order of sovereign states to be replaced by an Islamic one. Whenever the vocabulary of political Islam is deployed to speak the language of resistance, it is chaos and mayhem all around. Offensive words in themselves are not evil. The danger lies in politicised religious rhetoric that fosters intolerance and victimhood.

In an atmosphere character-ised by bureaucratic inefficiency, political machinations, securitisation of social life and an overwhelming sense of neglect, bet-rayal and marginalisation, many frustrated Kashmiri Muslims often use the language of Jihadism for their political struggle, but it has proved an extremely self-defeating exercise. And within the framework of self-victimisation, Jihadism soon degenerates into Jihadist terrorism.
The impression that I got after a recent visit to Kashmir is that the religious passion is one of the major factors for joining the insurgency for new recruits. The attempt to change the wor-ldview and vocabulary of Kashmiri Muslims to suit the fundamentalist, puritanical Wahhabi mentality is not only disturbing but also precludes the prospects for peaceful coexistence with people of Jammu and Ladakh.

The fact that the issues of Islam, Jihad and ‘azadi’ have been brought together in cyberspace is nothing new. What is new is that Hizbul Mujahideen’s iconic commander Burhan Wani gave a new dimension to them. His psychological warfare tactics were aimed at attracting more youth into insurgency, partly because 60% of the Valley’s population is below the age of 30.

There was nothing random or irrational about Wani’s social media activity; his photographs and videos were carefully and strategically circulated to inspire dissent and sow chaos in the you-nger population. The new wave of insurgents, primarily from Pulwama, Anantnag, Kulgam and Shopian, are mostly educated and come from reasonably good socio-economic status.

Burhan Wani’s death continues to reverberate across Kashmir, which seems to be in the gr-ip of an enduring state of siege. And given the complexities involved in the Kashmir conflict, it is inevitable that the fight aga-inst Jihadism would last a long time and present many controversial policy choices. What is not inevitable is that this would also produce a major shift in the worldview and behavioural pattern of the separatist leadership.

Those who want to capitalise on the emotional outpouring of anger and sympathy that Wani’s killing was expected to provoke are responsible for more than 30 lives lost. Unsurprisingly, the separatist leaders and pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir are deploying exaggerated and illusory rhetoric, turning a debatable counter-insurgency policy into a utopian Jihadist clash.

Political link with India is still seen as a powerful corrosive of the values that form the existential anchors of ‘Muslim’ Kashmir. Aspirations for freedom or ‘azadi’ were strong in Kashmir when the insurgency started in 1990s. But the meaning of ‘azadi’ has become very complex over the last two and a half deca-des, and it would not be wrong to say the new slogans during protest demonstrations are mo-re anti-India, if not pro-Pakistan.

Therefore, unfurling of Pakis-tan flag during anti-India pro-tests should not be interpreted as reflection of genuine pro-Pakistani sentiment. But the biggest challenge is the fanatical fascination for Jihadism: insurgents claim to be prosecuting a ‘jihad’, geared exclusively to getting India out of Kashmir. On the ideological battlefield, sincere efforts are required to delegitimise Wahhabi-Salafi Jihadism.

Conflict resolution
It has been rightly argued that the most challenging feature of conflict resolution process in Ka-shmir is to think beyond the constricted conceptions of three parameters – ideology, nationalism, and self-determination – along which this conflict has been traditionally viewed. From the Indian point of view, Kashmir’s political fate cannot be decided on ideological ground of two-nation theory. Since its accession to the Indian republic, Kashmir has been assigned a central place in India’s nationalist narrative.

Would India allow Kashmir to secede? It has demonstrated that it’s absolutely capable of defending the territorial status-quo in Kashmir at whatever cost. Mo-reover, no idea can be as absurd as holding a plebiscite in a region whose tolerant and vibrant Sufi tradition has been ruthlessly destroyed by gun-wielding Jihadists, bent on attaining martyrdom through armed jihad.

A durable solution, therefore, can only be found when the people of Kashmir Valley work out something practicable with the Government of India, which allows Kashmiris the maximum political space they need to enjoy their freedom. Indian nationalism must accommodate the assertiveness in Kashmir’s ethno-nationalism. Given the complex-
ities of geopolitical considerations, Pakistan will have no role to play in this scheme of things. 

Having said this, the Narendra Modi government’s strategic vision for Kashmir’s new security environment should place less emphasis on hard tools of counter-terrorism, tipping the balance toward a creative political solution of the seemingly intractable conflict. We need to bring politics back into Kashmir. In the end, the side that will prevail will be the one most willing to continue the struggle.

(The writer is Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sardar Patel University, Jodhpur)

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