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l September '04 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 4, No 5 l


Kashmir and the Burden of Freedom

Aakar Patel

Secular Muslims have lost control of the struggle for independence in Kashmir, bringing the talks between India and Pakistan to a dead end.

In a parallel development, the freedom fighters waging war against India in the name of Kashmiri identity and self-determination have been eclipsed by religious warriors who have vetoed the option of independence.

In the last few years, the issue has moved from being the struggle of Kashmiris, including some Hindus, who wanted to be free of Indian rule, to an Islamic war which finds no sympathy post-9/11 in the world community – the only forum where a solution could have been forced on India.

The false promises made by India to the United Nations, such as Nehru’s pledge for a plebiscite, have also been washed away and made irrelevant as events in Kashmir have traced the arc that comes naturally to Muslim struggle: towards jehad against the infidel.

Why did Nehru not keep his promise?

Jawaharlal Nehru told the world that India would hold a plebiscite to ascertain the views of Kashmiris on the two-nation theory.

His relations with the recognised leader of Kashmiris, Sheikh Abdullah, were good enough for Nehru to have joined Abdullah in the fight against the despotic ruler of pre-1947 Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh.

Nehru also counted Sheikh Abdullah among his friends. However, as the issue heated up in the UN, Nehru and Indira Gandhi kept Abdullah locked up outside Kashmir for 20 years.

During this time, they set up puppet governments in Srinagar that were as corrupt as all Indian state governments are but had the added stigma of being unremovable by the

Kashmiri voter. This is cited as the biggest reason for the Kashmir struggle that exploded in 1989.

The question is: why did Nehru deny Kashmiris the plebiscite even after Sheikh Abdullah’s assurance that he would be able to swing a vote in favour of India?

The answer is that Nehru did not believe that if asked to choose between a secular democracy and an Islamic state, Muslims would vote for the former.

His response was shaped by the result of the 1945-46 elections, when the Muslims of India voted in favour of the Muslim League and for Partition (including in Bombay where Jinnah won all 40 seats).

It was his mistrust of Muslim interest in secularism that prompted Nehru to interfere with democracy in Kashmir. He did not think his friend Sheikh Abdullah, who was flirting with Ayub Khan, would either be inclined or able to deliver the state to India.

The progression of the freedom struggle

The secular JKLF first took up arms against the Indian occupation of Kashmir. Its leaders Maqbool Butt (hanged in Tihar in 1984), Amanullah Khan and Yasin Malik stressed on the inclusiveness of Kashmiriyat and articulated their demand as independence from India.

They insisted on self-determination but did not accept the interpretation of the 1948 UNCIP resolution that the choice for Kashmiris was between India and Pakistan.

For them a third choice existed: that of independence. Yasin Malik, tortured in Indian jails for four years when a very young man, articulates his demand now in Gandhian terms and stresses non-violence, believing that no power can forcibly colonise a people who wish to be free.

The militant space that was vacated by the JKLF when it chose, partly ideologically and partly because of being decimated by the Indian army, to lay down its arms has since been taken over by progressively fanatical Muslim groups.

The first big Islamist group was the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. The Hizb is the militant wing of the modernist Jamaat-e-Islami, which propogates the theories of the great Muslim intellectual of Aurangabad, Maulana Maudoodi.

Maudoodi conceptualised a modern Islamic state which united the four main Sunni sects and was centred around the concept of ‘Tawhid’, the unity of god.

The Islamic state would be led by a devout and scholarly Muslim male who from above would Islamise the nation and make better Muslims of his subjects. Secularism was the enemy of the Islamic state, which vested sovereignty in Allah, Maudoodi wrote.

Non-Muslims citizens of the Islamic state, if any, would exist on sufferance.

Most local Kashmiri militants fighting Indian occupation are, as LK Advani has noted, from the Hizb-ul Mujahideen.

As Kashmiri graveyards began filling with mujahideen shaheed through the 90s, the jehad purified itself and threw up two other groups that allowed urban Kashmiris to define themselves better against the occupying army.

One was Jaesh-e-Muhammad, a group formed in the Binoori Masjid complex of Karachi. Its ideology was crafted in the late 19th century in the Darul Uloom seminary of Deoband, in Uttar Pradesh’s Sahranpur district.

Deobandi philosophy rejects the syncretic flavour of Indian Islam, which includes Hindu practices like shrine worship and music, and preaches a sterner form of the faith under the jurisprudence of the great Sunni jurist Imam Abu Hanifah.

The other group was the Lashkar-e-Taiba, linked ideologically to the Ahl-e-Hadith group of Sunni Islam that rejects jurisprudence in general and believes in the formulation of law based on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, including the hudood punishments of beheading, cutting off thieves’ arms and stoning adulterers.

The Ahl-e-Hadith are present in India and Pakistan and active in building mosques funded by the Saudi government which shares its religious orientation.

All three of these groups have nothing in common with the practice of Islam in Kashmir, which is syncretic and based on the best Indian sufi traditions. However, in the war against the infidel, the Muslims of Kashmir fell behind the groups even in contradiction of their inclusive faith.

The progression of the leadership

The JKLF, popular once, has been eclipsed because it no longer fits into the Islamist style of the Kashmiri struggle. The new leaders of Kashmir are not secular but the leaders of Muslims.

The two biggest are the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who controls Sopore and the Mirwaiz Omar Farooq.

Mirwaiz means ‘chief priest’ and Omar Farooq is the hereditary leader of the Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis of Srinagar.

These two men are the true representatives of the Kashmiri Sunnis and without them an end to violence is not possible. Both are openly inclined towards joining Pakistan because of his Maudoodist orientation in the case of Geelani and because his constituency demands this of him in the case of the Mirwaiz.

This difference has led to the articulation by the media of one as being ‘hardline’ and one as being ‘moderate’. In reality there is no difference in what they stand for.

A third leader is the good-humoured professor of Persian, Abdul Ghani Bhat, who is also inclined towards Pakistan.

The Sunni Islamist orientation of the Huriryat was exposed when a Shia, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, was made chairman in a show of unity a few months ago but then sacked because he was not able to rally support around a secular stand because the mood has turned Islamist.

A primary Kashmiri demand has been reunification of the state’s families, but India’s offer of a soft border has been rejected even by the moderates because the solution is not just reunification but an Islamic state.

The myth of the Islamic state

The experience of Muslims handling the sovereign state has not been good.

The Islamic state is intolerant to secularism and particularly hard on the individual’s liberty and on freedom of expression.

In the subcontinent, Sunnis have been obsessed with purifying Islam and purging it of apostates. The record of democrats has been particularly appalling. Bhutto initiated a closed-door session of his parliament in 1974 and all parties joined in to excommunicate Ahmadiyyas.

Even today, under the secularist Musharraf, though Pakistani Hindus are part of a joint electorate, Pakistani Ahmadiyyas are not. They are not allowed, on pain of three years in jail, to use words such as Khalifa that are part of the Sunni ethos.

In India, three years ago, the Ulema of Deoband and Nadwa, passed a joint fatwa demanding that Indian Muslims beat up Ahmadiyyas (who come from the Indian Punjab town of Qadian) who showed up at their door and deny them water and not respond to their greeting. Not one Urdu paper wrote against this because the community supports violence against Ahmadiyyas.

Around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Iran, the Muslim urge towards an Islamic state has not been satisfied with delivery because the Islamic state is a myth that cannot be delivered with credibility or success.

The Constitution of India is a universalist document that is ‘Indian’ only in name. It is a set of values which are eternal, despite its loopholes — particularly the backdoor and regressive attempt to ban cow slaughter and its inability to deliver the secular civil code.

Can Kashmiris find their freedom in it? Is freedom a flag or a Constitution?

It’s always Kashmir

Pakistani President Ayub Khan and Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri met in Tashkent and signed an agreement, in January 1966, to withdraw their forces to the 1948-49 ceasefire lines in Kashmir.

Prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met at Shimla in 1971 and signed the Shimla agreement. It stated the two would resolve their differences peacefully.

After the return of civilian rule in Kashmir in 1996, New Delhi initiated secretary-level talks with Pakistan in 1997. Hardliners in both countries opposed concessions. In India, PM I K Gujral was criticized for being soft and naďve.

Between March 1997 and September 1998 foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met several times to work out a composite dialogue formula.
President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari

Vajpayee met in Agra in July 2001 for a three-day summit. The talks fail to produce a joint statement on Kashmir.

Foreign secretary level talks were initiated this month, September 2004, but agreement on Kashmir still seems far away.

Aakar Patel is the Chief Editor of Popular Mumbai daily, Mid Day. Kashmir Telegraph does not necessarily subscribe to his views and opinions.

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