The eventful week that passed by saw marathon meetings in two Houses of Parliament and an all-party meeting thereafter to discuss the serious situation prevailing in the Kashmir valley. Though there was unanimity on Pakistan’s role in the crisis and there was a collective assertion that Kashmir was an integral part of India, discussions on other aspects of the Kashmir impasse were on predictable partisan lines.
For the Congress party, the situation deteriorated in the valley the day the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) formed an alliance to govern the state of Jammu and Kashmir. For the two Communist parties – the CPM and CPI – and the Janata Dal (U), the valley is burning because of the “blood” of the “innocent” and “young” allegedly shed due to excesses committed by the security forces, which the “vulture” (Pakistan) is relishing on. For these three parties, the central government and the state government, not Pakistan, are the real culprits. The BJP highlighted the Pakistani factor the most.
However, for me, the most significant point was made by the PDP leader and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig at the all-party meeting on Friday. He pointed out how “a narrative of religious extremism” is witnessing “the revival of Khilafat which has taken the form of ISIS. It is bound to influence the youth of Kashmir." As I had argued once on this platform, the current unrest in Kashmir is not necessarily due to the so-called alienation of the people because of poor governance, lack of development, and violation of human rights. In fact, Kashmir is one of the “prosperous” states of the country in terms of per capita income. The conditions of the people in Indian hinterlands are more sickening than what one sees in Kashmir.
The unpalatable truth, which our bleeding-heart-liberals in the intelligentsia and parties like the CPM and JD(U) in the polity gloss over, is that in Kashmir, the youth is fast becoming radicalised, seeking total Islamisation of Kashmir. Aided and abetted by outside powers, the current phase of militancy is aimed at turning Kashmir into an Islamic state. They provoke security forces by throwing stones and burning police stations. They destroy schools, courts and bridges. And they fly defiantly the flags of Pakistan and Islamic State. No amount of concessions to these separatists and their leaders will ever appease them, their real goal being secession. They will never reconcile with a secular India. And that, in turn, makes any negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue almost impossible.
In a sense, the Islamic State-inspired youth in Kashmir may turn out to be the most difficult to handle in the days to come because India, and this may sound ironic, happens to be a democratic country. Let me explain this point in details.
As I had argued on this platform on another occasion, the Saudi-funded and Pakistani-supported Wahabism has been on a forward march in Kashmir ever since the Iranian revolution in 1979. Its primary purpose in the beginning was to stem the Shia uprising, but over a period of time, Wahabism with generous Saudi petrodollars gathered its own momentum. Let it be noted in this context the fundamental fact that the Islamic State (preaching the deadliest form of Wahabism or Sunni fundamentalism) has an anti-Shia genesis. It came into being during the post-war Iraq, when the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad and the US started the de-Baathification by removing from government positions of all those associated with Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party. This caused a significant backlash from those Baathists who were Sunnis; they now cooperated with Islamic extremists, led first by al Qaeda and now by the Islamic State. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam’s right-hand man, and Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, a former Iraqi Army general, assumed key leadership positions in the Islamic State.
Islamic State shows no mercy to other religions and is particularly brutal to Shiites. It is true that the Saudi establishment and even al Qaeda have distanced themselves from Islamic State, of late. But that is not due to any major ideological differences. There may be differences among them over the degree of savagery and barbarity based on a distorted interpretation of the Quran, but not in overall content of their ideology. The tussle among them is over who will be in control to lead “the Sunni-world”. And in this world, there is no question of pluralities and peaceful coexistence with other religions and even other sects of Islam like the Shias.
These radical Islamists (Wahabis) may be categorised into three distinct but connected groups. The first group is the main body that claims itself an ‘Islamic State’ controlling Northwestern Iraq and Eastern Syria. The second group is comprised of those based in the Islamic or Muslim majority countries, including Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and Pakistan. Here, one finds the above-mentioned tussles between the prevailing regimes and some outfits owing allegiance to more “puritan” organisations such as Islamic State and al Qaeda. For instance, the Pakistani Taliban and Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia have declared their support for the Islamic State.
The third group consists of radicalised Muslim immigrants in the Western democracies and indigenous radicalised (or radicalising) Muslims in democracies in Asia and Africa. Mostly, they are the disaffected Muslim youths. It is difficult to establish whether there is an organised chain of command between the Islamic State central leadership and the latter two groups. Rather, experts on terrorism believe that both the second and third groups attempt to opportunistically utilise the brand name of the first group in order to gain publicity. And this is precisely what is happening in Kashmir today.
Democracies are easy targets for terrorists due to their open, pluralist, and responsive systems. In democracies such as India, any attempt at controlling radicalisation of Kashmiris will not be allowed by the so-called secularists and liberals. For instance, it is well known how mosques in Kashmir valley are being misused to radicalise and mobilise the youth through their loud speakers day after day. But can any authority dare to stop electricity to these mosques?
Secondly, it is well-established these days that the cyberspace serves as a bottom-up recruitment tool for radicals and assists in the proliferation of their networks. Online recruitment and mobilisation play a vital role in this regard. But whenever the authorities suspend the internet and mobile services in the valley, the bleeding heart liberals in Delhi, not to talk of those in Srinagar, make a hue and cry in the name of the freedom of thoughts and expression.
Thirdly, in the name of democracy, these so-called liberals (in fact, politicians like Sitaram Yechuri, D Raja and Sharad Yadav made this point loudly in the Rajya Sabha the other day) argue that these radicalised youth may kill hundreds of security personnel, but the latter cannot use even pellets, let alone bullets, against them. For them, the blood of our security personnel from the rest of the country do not carry any meaning. They do not seem to consider that if the Kashmir valley is still a part of India, it is by and large because of the sacrifices made by our security forces over the years. Instead, they would like the security forces to be withdrawn from the valley as far as possible.
All this is not to belittle the argument that more than economic empowerment, long-term social integration of the Kashmiri youth is crucial to thwart their collective radicalisation. But then, in doing that, it must be borne in mind that the process will take a long time and require tremendous resources. And during this process, the Indian democracy will be forced to sacrifice some freedoms for the security, unity and integrity of the country. We cannot afford to make Kashmir another Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. We cannot let Kashmir turn into another hotbed for religious extremism of the Islamic State variety. All told, these misguided radicals may be targeting the security forces and the Hindus today, but time is not far off when they will start attacking the Shias, Buddhists and liberal women as well.
In a nutshell, the need of the hour is effective counter measures not only against the Kashmiri radicals’ friends and mentors like Pakistan and Islamic State internationally but also against their sympathisers in Delhi. In fact, these sympathisers in Delhi are the bigger threats than Pakistan and IS to Kashmir’s integration with India.