Even before the holy month of Ramzan could conclude and Eid spread its munificent blessings over the vale of Kashmir, a deputy superintendent of the Jammu & Kashmir police was stripped, brutally assaulted and killed on the premises of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar. Just as the faithful had gathered to mark the Shab-e-Qadr or the Night of Power, Mohammed Ayub Pandith’s body was dragged out of the mosque and dumped in a drain.
Only six weeks ago, on May 10, Lt Ummer Fayaz was abducted by militants and killed in Shopian district. Even as the pall-bearers carried the dead body of the slain soldier to a nearby orchard, the mourners talked in whispers about the marks of torture on Ummer’s back, his broken jaw, broken ankles, his missing teeth, and the bruises and cuts on his body.
The lynching and the gruesome murder of both these officers made the nation recoil in horror. Justified outrage and calls for retribution filled the airwaves.
Growing up on the front lines of another battle against terror, this time in Punjab in the 1980s, and having lost a parent to the depredations of that ghastly violence, the ongoing violence in Jammu & Kashmir is but a sickeningly familiar story of the brutalization and dehumanization of society’s psyche brought about by the cycle of violence.
Perhaps, we should try and imagine the mindset of a child who was born in 1990 in Kashmir and is today 27 years old. All that he has seen in his life are curfews, cordon and search operations, stone pelting, enforced disappearances, and torture and fake/real encounter killings. For him, violence is the new normal. The face of the Indian state is someone clad in olive green or khaki carrying an AK-47, kicking the front door down. This is the dominant narrative in any militancy-prone, terror-infested, freedom-struggle area –- give it the label of your choice.
In such an environment of fear, terror, intimidation, coercion and death lurking around the next corner, it is easy for the likes of Burhan Wani to become folk heroes and legends. As the ‘Washington Post’ said about him “Burhan Wani was just 22 when he died, but he was already a folk hero to many in Indian-administered Kashmir. The telegenic insurgent — a leader of a group designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the State Department — played his social media persona to the hilt, mugging for pictures with automatic weapons and posting videos on WhatsApp and Facebook exhorting other men to join the separatist cause. He also threatened attacks on police convoys and military housing.”
There were others after him. Sabzar Ahmad renowned as ‘SAB DON’, became the new poster boy of terror in the Kashmir Valley. Taking forward the cult of Wani, Ahmad guided Hizbul terrorists until the security forces neutralised him in an encounter on May 27. More such poster children will, unfortunately, emerge, the reason for which is not difficult to discern.
Some months ago about 40-odd young people from various districts of Kashmir, under the aegis of an organisation called Jammu Kashmir People’s Alliance that has an interesting tagline, “We serve, We settle,” came to meet a Concerned Citizens Group in Delhi. This is led by former finance and external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, who led two highly visible and successful outreach efforts to estranged sections in the Kashmir valley.
During the interaction these young boys and girls told us a very disturbing story. Apparently among the most wanted stone pelters in the valley is a gentleman called “DK” and he is all of SEVEN years old. If the average age of stone-pelters is between 7-17 years, irrespective of who is paying them, the Indian state is sitting on a volcano that is belching lava but has not really exploded. When and if it does, a lot of people entrusted with the remit of handling Kashmir both in the Centre and the state, will not have the time to say goodbye.
Then there is an international dimension to the Kashmir situation that has suddenly manifested itself. It has everything to do with the turmoil that US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia has plunged the Islamic/ Arab world into. The calling out of Qatar for its links with Iran and subsequent developments has further divided the already fractured polity of the Middle East.
On Eid, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran gave a very chilling address in Teheran. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly called for Jihad. “According to Islamic jurisprudence, when an enemy takes over Muslim lands, jihad in any possible form becomes everyone’s duty,” he said. “Palestine is the number one issue of the Islamic world, but some Islamic countries are acting in such a way as if the Palestinian case had been ignored and forgotten,” he added.
Then came the coup de grace. “Muslims the world over should also openly support the people of Bahrain, Kashmir and Yemen and repudiate oppressors and tyrants who attacked people in Ramadan,” Khamenei said.
Though Iran has earlier voted against India on the issue of Kashmir in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), this is the first time the situation in the Valley has been given a religious colour by Iran’s Supreme leader. Even those who are fighting against the Indian establishment in some districts of J&K have refrained from labelling their movement as “Islamic,” much less “jihadi.”
It is only one or two Hizbul Mujahideen “activists,” Zakir Rashid Bhatt among them, who have tried to give militancy an Islamic colour. In a video that went viral, he said, “When we pick up stones or guns it should not be with this intention that we are fighting for Kashmir (as a nation). The sole motive should be for the supremacy of Islam so that Shariah is established here.”
But Zakir Bhat was quickly denounced by the other separatist leaders.
However, the fact that a Shia religious leader of Iran has clubbed Kashmir, a predominantly Sunni area with causes like Yemen and Bahrain should worry New Delhi, because Iran backs up its rhetoric with logistical support, be it to the Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the Houthis in Yemen, to name but a few.
This support from Iran coincidentally comes at a time when the predominantly Sunni ISIS, or Daesh, is trying to strike roots in Jammu & Kashmir.
On his forthcoming visit to Israel, Prime Minister Modi would be well advised to ask his interlocutors about the activities of General Qasem Soleimani, the once reclusive head of the Revolutionary Guards and its elite Quds Force. General Soleimani has suddenly surfaced from an era in the dark leading clandestine processes overseas, to attain virtually iconic prominence in Iran. He and the Quds Force have successfully converted erstwhile territorial struggles into religious battles. One can only hope that Kashmir is not their next frontline.
The government should abandon its excessive reliance on hard power in J&K. Hard power should only be used to soften the recalcitrant so that soft power can take over. Jammu & Kashmir is crying out for the healing touch. All the leaders of the state cutting across the political divide, including chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, are urging the Central government to initiate an outreach to the alienated.
The Prime Minister will ignore their sage advice at his own peril. Terms like “final solution” do not help, as that may mean very differently from what the Central government has in mind.