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October 7, 2019

Radical movements in Kashmir to harm self-determination struggle

Peshawar

October 7, 2019

The annexation of held Kashmir and the various forms of ‘collective punishment’ inflicted on the people over the decades are radicalizing the militants to the detriment of self determination struggle.

The scrapping away of its autonomy has fueled fears of plans to eventually establish ‘settler’ colonies through land expropriation by taking over ‘enemy property’. Decades of stringent muscular policy employed by New Delhi inflicted collective punishment on the Kashmiris for demanding their aspirations to be addressed. They were subjected to stringent Armed Forces Special Powers Act ritualizing colonization of the scarce water resources, destroying forests and instituting forced labour around their camps throwing the region into economic tailspin.

Scholars suggest centuries of ‘outsiders’ rule has crafted a historical sense of victimhood and betrayal among the Kashmiris. New Delhi’s inability to keep promises and growing religious intolerance has only validated and reinforced their oppositional psyche. Since 2004, the new generation who grew up witnessing everyday humiliation by the security forces, has taken up the streets as the stone pelting, stick wielding children and youth, called the sang baza, (the one who pelts stone) reminiscent of the Biblical David and Goliath duel being played out across the restive state Srinagar, downtown Baramulla, Shopian, Pulwama and even Kupwara almost on a daily basis. But besides optics, stone pelting and strikes are only helpful to highlight the popular resistance and human rights violations but at best it has a supplementary value to the overall political struggle. The nine lakh security forces deployed in every street and corner of Kashmir would brutally crush them without outside help and a sustained militancy.

Since 2014, the number of Kashmiri militants has multiplied into several hundreds from a mere 86. They are homegrown, belong to the civil society, willing to sacrifice their lives and sanctioned by a widespread and fervent anti-Indian sentiment legitimizing militancy. Culturally, a common Kashmiri is not known for his love for the gun, making the popular support for militancy a seismic shift in Kashmir. The militant needs to run when he cannot fight without high chances of assured victory, and to disperse and hide when it is not safe to move. Using Mao Tse-tung’s metaphor, the guerilla can always sink back into the peaceful population - that sea in which he swims like a fish. While the Kashmiris back militancy, some of the younger militants are frustrated with the moderate approach of the Hurriyat leadership and have begun to join more radical groups. The emergence of ultra radical and pan Islamic Daesh and al Qaeda franchises (Islamic State Jammu and Kashmir-ISJK and Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, AGH, the al Qaeda franchise) reflect the emerging dynamics. The ISJK began to assert control in Kashmir back in 2012 but has so far failed to draw any significant recruitment. It called out Mirwaiz led Hurriyat as part of the problem for its moderate and pro self determination policies. Being the Daesh franchise, the ISJK advocates establishing a Islamic state across India, as part of the larger Khorasan province (south, central Asia). Apart from the starkly different ideological and political objectives, the methods with ISJK are repulsive and brutal putting them at odds with the groups backing self determination who oppose mob violence.

The ISJK even propagated killing some women and children for being informers, early this year. Another pan Islamist group, the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind draws allegiance from Al Qaeda leadership, Aimen al Zawahiri who is strongly critical of both Pakistan and India. The AGH articulates its vision of jihad as “not for nationhood or nationalism.” Both are, however, using social media space to highlight their pin prick attacks against security forces.

A guerrilla fights with the support of the non-combatant civilian populace against the state that has failed them. By representing them he is simply leading their cause for the destruction of the existing order. Without the consent and active aid of the people, the guerrilla would merely be a terrorist force, a hideous monster, like Al Qaeda or ISIS who tried to impose a model on unwilling people and never succeeded beyond causing disruption and subversion across Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

While these radical groups may be of temporary tactical advantage to intelligence operators in New Delhi, traditionally sowing confusion, dissension and defections and stirring internecine conflicts, but there is no rosy picture for future. The militancy can expand to wider India. Replicating, the ISIS pattern of violence against other religious groups in Iraq and Syria, it could threaten communal violence in Jammu and other Hindu majority pockets which may become the unfortunate targets, given the hostilities since the attack on Amarnath Yatra in 2008. At present, both the Islamist groups do not seem to have sizeable militant ranks but they have the potential to hurt the credibility of the Kashmir freedom struggle. So while new and radical forces are trying to make their way it remains to be seen who makes the most of it.

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