Slogans were raised at various stages last Saturday while the body of the slain militant commander Burhan Wani lay in Tral’s sprawling Idgah – before the burial late that afternoon. According to a reporter who was present, there was a lusty response to several of the slogans, but very few of the tens of thousands present responded when pro-Pakistan slogans were raised. According to the eyewitness, a few more responded, but desultorily, when the sloganeer taunted the crowd.
Far beyond that ground, a large proportion of youth across the Valley demonstrated their support for Wani that day – many vociferously, some violently. There is no doubting young Wani’s popularity, but it is a strategic blunder to view that popularity only through the prism of Pakistan. The angry responses on the streets do not necessarily translate into a mass pro-Pakistan feeling.
To be sure, Wani was designated the divisional commander for south Kashmir of Hizbul Mujahideen, which has been pro-Pakistan since it was formed in November 1989. But none of the other Hizb commanders, including its designated chief commander, Syed Salahuddin, is anywhere near as popular.
It might even be possible to view the popularity of this homegrown success and heroism as (at least subconscious) separation from the ills that affect contemporary Pakistan. The insistence of sections of the so-called national media to view the anger among Kashmiri youth over Wani’s killing through the prism of Pakistan is potentially counter-productive. For, it only serves to drive Kashmiris into the arms of Pakistan by placing Pakistan’s role front and centre.
These sections of the media have made much of the memorial prayers for Wani which were led by Salahuddin along with Hafiz Sayeed of the Dawat-ul Irshad and Lashkar-e-Toiba. Much time and energy has been spent on media channels to pan statements from senior Pakistani officials too.
It is counter-productive to get exercised over Pakistan’s stances over Kashmir. It is far better to do what PV Narasimha Rao did through much of his term as prime minister – ignore Pakistan. After all, Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir is not new. It continues since 1947, and will continue farther.
There is clear evidence that Kashmir’s militancy only got going after Pakistan started training, arming and funding the JKLF in 1989 and several other Kashmiri militant groups from the autumn of 1989. The ISI began to send Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar and Afghan-dominated groups such as Harkat-ul Mujahideen from December 1992.
In fact, during the second half of the 1990s and until troops were massed on the borders in December 2001, 'guest militants' as many Kashmiris called them dominated what had clearly become a proxy war. Lashkar men from Pakistan engaged in several suicide attacks between 1999 and 2001. No Kashmiri perhaps undertook a suicide attack.
There is nothing new in the fact that the Pakistan Army closely controls Hizb chief Syed Salahuddin, and other militants down the line. Nor is it fresh news that Pakistan funds a host of separatist leaders based in Kashmir with lucrative monthly stipends – or that it gives instructions on strategies and tactics.
In the latter phases of both the 2008 and 2010 stone-pelting agitations, which lasted over several weeks in both those years, Pakistani handlers were involved in command and control. Their role has been even more clearly established in the Mumbai attacks in late November 2008.
For what it might be worth, it is worth noting that at least Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s expression of 'sadness’ was the least provocative he could manage, given his domestic political compulsions. He and many of his colleagues in the political arena may not be entirely on the same page as the Pakistan Army, which dominates the country and dictates Kashmir policy.
Of course, it is unlikely that Nawaz Sharif will be able to influence policy as much as the more powerful Sharif (Pakistan’s army chief). India’s diplomats have won points in the world’s chanceries and at the UN over the past couple of days. While that is good work on the geopolitical stage, it would be a mistake to view Kashmiri youth too only through the prism of Pakistan. A very different set of initiatives are necessary on the ground there.