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Tracing the terrorism trail

The lack of a Kashmiri identity led to the advent of militancy in the state, and the problem persists till date, writes Firdous Syed.

india Updated: Jun 18, 2006 01:53 IST

The flurry of militant activities in the run-up to the recent roundtable conference in Kashmir and afterwards is a reminder that the militants still possess a lethal capability and can go to any extent to prove their point. There was a lull. The initiation of the composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan helped build this notion. It was also the atmosphere after 9/11 (when international opinion turned totally against terrorism) that helped de-legitimise the militant organisations active in Kashmir.

This led to a period of hibernation and change of tactics for the organisations. Signboards were changed, social welfare causes were adopted, and the public face of terrorism became suddenly invisible. But the recent high-profile activities have forced one to believe that either they have been able sustain the onslaught, or a new space has become suddenly available for them to operate effectively as a war machine.

Although the survival as an ideology was never a problem, the reach of such a movement can never be gauged with the frequency of the violent incidents alone. For violence is merely a means of engagement for them.

This culture of violence is new to Kashmir; it is a foreign element, which has been allowed to seep into the local milieu. Militancy in the initial years had nationalistic underpinnings. The contour of violence in Kashmir has evolved through many phases: nationalist to ethno-religious, to total religious. This pattern of growth suggests that violence here now is linked with the rise and fall of the pan-Islamic

A politically alive and culturally vibrant Kashmirayat could have acted as a bulwark against this retrogressive phenomenon, but that Kashmirayat today lies in tatters. Kashmir has been posed with grave challenges on numerous occasions, but at least twice it was able to triumph. On one occasion it was Sheikh Abdullah who led his people against the tribal aggression in 1947, and again in 1965 Pakistan’s military incursions failed to evoke any favorable response. But then why Kashmiris in great numbers took up arms provided by the Pakistan in 1990, despite the fact that the Sheikh’s son, Farooq (who was Chief Minister of Kashmir then) crying from the rooftops about the futility of such a course of action. Why did people not heed his call?

In 1947, Sheikh Abdullah had tremendous credibility among Kashmiris. People relied on his decisions, whether it was his decision to rectify the accession with India, or to fight their co-religious tribesmen from across the border. In 1965, Kashmiris again rebuffed the military incursions from Pakistan. But then why was there 1990 militant uprising in Kashmir? The answer to this question mainly lies in the discredited institution of Kashmiryat and its leadership.

The post-Partition history of Jammu and Kashmir is a saga of betrayal, but two very significant events can be singled out as the harbingers of violence in the state; one was an event that took place in 1972, about which Balraj Puri writes in his book Kashmir Towards Insurgency (P 49): “For the first time after his dismissal from power in 1953, Sheikh Abdullah decided to take part in the elections to the state Assembly and he indicated his willingness for a dialogue with the Prime Minister for the settlement of the Kashmir dispute, but his entry to the state, along with his wife and Mirza Afzal Beg, was banned and the Plebiscite Front was declared unlawful.”

In fact, its members were also debarred from contesting elections. Sayed Mir Qasim, the then Chief Minister, admitted in his autobiography that to frustrate any further attempts by any group with support from Abdullah to contest the Congress, they enlisted the services of Jamat-i-Islami to fill the vacant political space and allegedly guaranteed its success in five constituencies. It was the first occasion when the Jamat-i-Islami received constitutional recognition and political legitimacy in Kashmir. Strange bedfellows! Nationalist Congress recruits fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami to fight sub-nationalism in Kashmir!

The second incident was the 1975 Accord about which Sumantra Bose has written in his book, Kashmir Roots Of Conflict, Paths To Peace’ (P 88): “In return for Abdullah’s release and appointment as IJK’s Chief Minister, his ever-faithful associate, Mirza Afzal Beg, signed another ‘Delhi accord’ with terms verged on capitulation to New Delhi and Indira Gandhi”. This accord led to the fissures in the Sheikh’s political clan, the young element of the nationalist outlook termed the accord as sell out.

Though Sheikh still had command over his people, his support system in the nationalist camp was no longer there. Sheikh’s loss of face and credibility, and the turn of events in the subsequent period, led to the radicalisation of a nationalist core. This was evident in February 1975, when the Jamat-i-Islami played a pivotal role in making the Kashmir bandh a success, which was called by ZA Bhutto, the then Pakistan Prime Minister against the 1975 Delhi accord.

The seeds for a future armed uprising bears in the1975 itself. Late PN Haksar while speaking in a seminar on December 23, 1992 at the India International Center, New Delhi, (the deliberations of the seminar were published in a book form, edited by Saifuddin Soz, Kashmir Crisis: Agenda For A Effective Dialogue) had said, “The other day… a few intellectuals from the Sikh community were sitting here in this very room and we carried out a dialogue. At the personal level we apologised to each other for whatever wrongs we had done and I would like to tell my children in Kashmir to forgive us, I am not one of those who say we have done no wrongs. We have done wrongs. The wrongs are done, but as you know, penance is very important. That is why in our tradition; a crime is committed: Mansa, Vacha, Karmana — in your mind, in your words, in your deeds. So it is that kind of multi-dimensional crisis of this last decade of the 20th century that we are facing, arising out of the very events of this century”.

(The writer is a former militant and now runs an NGO in Kashmir)