The barbaric killing of Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, a young military officer from Kashmir and a devout Sunni Muslim, by jihadi bloodhounds will stir the conscience of every well-meaning Kashmiri across the ideological spectrum . The incident has triggered in me a horrific memory of the mid-1990s when four close relatives, including two women, were killed in Kishtwar, in the name of religion and so-called “azaadi.” They were innocent and simple Kashmiris who loved their land and people.
Over the years, one has learnt to live with this trauma of seeing loved ones being shot, intimidated and displaced from home and hearth. A feeling of helplessness is constant. Going back “home” evokes unease – so many of us don’t know what that word really means.
The heinous killing of Lt Fayaz has brought back that terrible pain. It reminds us, once again, of our immense incapability, our failure, our inability to forge another way that will allow us to visit families and friends with whom we grew up.
This feeling of victimhood can easily give way to a feeling of revenge. As an infantry battalion commander deployed on the Line of Control in the 1990s, commanding Sikh troops, one could have gone berserk thinking of loved ones shot and maimed…Or settle scores with many Kashmiri youth caught infiltrating and exfiltrating across the LoC…Or hunt those reportedly rendering moral and material support to militants.
A profound sense of personal loss could be a valid rationale for this senseless blood-letting and extermination. An eye for an eye.
But how could I forget the ethos of the Indian Army and the persuasive spirit of “Kashmiriyat” which guided us to follow the tenets of Dharma, to adhere to the law of the land and handle situations with empathy and compassion?
One cannot, or should not forget that unjustified killings or indiscriminate violence by a disciplined force – for example, incidents like Machil, when some unruly security forces shot dead three Kashmiri men for self glorification — can only tarnish the image and overshadow the good deeds that security forces perform.
The gun I picked up was to join the Army and defend the people, even those who were led astray. Through the years of outrage, I kept the belief that we are the same people, that the passage of time will allow us to reconcile and that we will soon live in peace and harmony in the true spirit of Kashmiriyat — our backbone, our DNA.
Regrettably, recent developments in the Kashmir valley belie that hope. I believe that the young and brave military officer, Lt Ummer Fayaz, as well as other Kashmiri security personnel who have been killed are the victims of “takfeer,” a virulent form of jihadism which declares that all those who don’t adhere to the extremist versions of Salafi ideology deserve to be beheaded or brutally killed.
The truth is that we permitted a genuine political moment to degenerate into an extreme radicalism. This is not going to stop, unless we take serious and strong measures. There are thousands of soldiers and paramilitary in the JKLI, Dogra, CRPF, BSF regiments and lakhs of policemen and if they now become targets of the jihadists like Lt Ummer Fayaz, then they too, like Kashmiri Pandits, will one day become strangers in their own land.
The spread of this radical ideology, if unchecked, will escalate brute violence against common Kashmiris and target the followers of Sufi and Shia Islam. Ordinary people will bear the brunt of the crackdown between the state and these jihadi terrorists. Kashmir could become another Syria.
Do we want our beloved Kashmir to become another Syria? Can we allow our great heritage buildings and Sufi shrines and temples to be at the mercy of Salafi jihadis like Mast Gul and other psychopaths?
Wake up Kashmiris. Be on guard. Protect your people and your invaluable heritage or else you will fail both your ancestors and your future generations.
For a moment let us detach ourselves from this whirlpool of cultivated hatred and think. Is this the same Kashmir where no communal riots took place during Partition when neighbouring Punjab was burning? Is this the same Kashmir where both Hindus and Muslims celebrated each other’s festivals and shared moments of joy and sorrow together? Should we allow a great civilisational state to regress into a primitive Sharia-based Caliphate that will never by in sync with the modern world? Moreover, how can such a culturally diverse state which shares frontiers with China, Afghanistan and Central Asia be defined by a bunch of self-serving radicals?
The people of Kashmir will have to decide which Kashmir they want. We have to stop being mute witnesses to our own doom and destruction. Kashmir is teetering on the cusp of a fragile moment with far-reaching consequences for the future. Allah has bestowed upon us a heaven. We cannot permit it to become a living hell.