The escalation of the Kashmir crisis in recent times has led to the emergence of the misplaced belief that the government must stop using excessive force against the civilians in order not to antagonize them any further and should ‘engage’ with all the ‘stakeholders’ including the separatist organizations. Now this is a very short-sighted view, concerned only with the achievement of some immediate, selfish aims, and it is to the credit of the ruling party, the BJP, that the government is not doing any such thing. We have been treading this path of appeasement since 1947 and it has only made the problem of Kashmir worse.
What such so-called secular parties deliberately fail to realize is that it is simply not done to proclaim Kashmir as an integral part of India on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to negotiate with militants and separatists. This is called paying insincere lip-service to a cause, since you know very well that such an approach can never take you closer to a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem.
Indeed, the clamour for ‘engagement’ and ‘negotiation’ with the terrorists over the issue has been, and can only be a sheer disaster, since the real issue has been about the religious expansionism of Islam. And Islam, in its current nature, can never co-exist with anything external to it. As soon as it sees something external to itself, it treats it as an object of jihad which needs to be either swallowed up or eliminated.
And, make no mistake – the real issue is about the Islamization of the valley. Separatists who assert that they do not want to join Pakistan and are only interested in a distinct Kashmiri autonomy based on regional aspirations are misleading the people. They may not want to join Pakistan, but Islamization is something that runs in the blood of separatists and Muslim Kashmiris across all camps. While there are enough historical proofs of this, the most recent one has come in the form of the resignation of Zakir Musa from Hizbul Mujahideen on the ground that he had signed up to ensure the Islamization of Kashmir rather than simply ‘azadi’. Right now, the separatists are treading cautiously and that is why they will try to downplay their Islamic identity, otherwise it will weaken their claim to the argument of Kashmiri independence. But Islam is the main anchor that has fueled separatist tendencies since the 1930s, gaining more power after 1980s; for, if Kashmir were not a Muslim-majority state, this problem would never have arisen.
The Advent of Islamic Assertion and the Misnomer of ‘Kashmiriat’
It is a misnomer to think that the radical Islamic assertion in the Valley began only after the rigged elections of 1987. The process had started since the time of Sheikh Abdullah. From 1940s to the 1980s, when Sheikh Abdullah’s influence reigned, there were merely undercurrents of a distinct Islamic assertion – the Kashmir issue was merely shown to be a problem about a distinct Kashmiri culture. In reality, under the garb of ‘Kashmiriat’ and a separate Kashmiri identity – which ostensibly bound both Hindus and Muslims – the agenda of Islamization and radicalization of the Valley has been consistently attempted.
Even Sheikh Abdullah started out with an original Islamic agenda. Indeed, when he first floated his own party, in 1930s, to oppose Maharaja Hari Singh, it catered exclusively to the Muslims. But its ambition to expand into wider Kashmiri politics and the realization that Indian state will have to be engaged made Abdullah rename his party to give it a falsely leading nationalist overtone. But his entire politics for decades had catered to Muslims alone. His short-term camaraderie with the Congress was to advance his party’s (and his own) corrupt interests and to ensure that Muslims ruled the Valley.
This can be seen in the fact that after using the gullible Nehru-led government for signing the Instrument of Accession, Abdullah immediately reversed his position on accession. He began to state that the accession took place under dubious conditions, putting in place controversial and exclusivist constitutional provisions in Kashmir, and began to treat India and Pakistan as equal parties in the dispute. The reason is not difficult to discern. While Islamic radicalism and resentment against Dogra rule always ran in Sheikh’s blood, he never got along well with Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. It was only after Jinnah passed away and he had proclaimed himself the constitutional ‘Prime Minister’ of Kashmir that both he and Pakistan began to come close.
Like Sheikh Abdullah before, the other Kashmiri leaders of the present are living out the same principles – of fulfilling their selfish and corrupt interests by striking alliances with either Pakistan or the militants. Indeed, the National Conference – founded by Sheikh Abdullah – has been able to establish a family fiefdom in Kashmir over the decades.
It is important to recall these realities as we debate Kashmir’s future today. In our minds, we need to see that there is no such thing as Kashmiriat as far as the Muslim community is concerned. Going back to the history and culture of Kashmir, let us recall that Hindus were the original inhabitants of Kashmir and that it was the brutal Muslim rule since the 13th century which virtually wiped them out, although the subsequent Sikh and the Dogra rule too was the epitome of selfish and corrupt administration that often allied with the British against the interests of the local population. However, throughout history, Kashmiri Pandits, despite being in minority (in 1947, they formed just about 9% of the Kashmir Valley’s population and by mid-1990s they were virtually wiped out) exercised immense influence on the culture of the state.
They have always acted as a counter-balancing force to the always-existent separatism of the Muslims, thereby giving the misleading impression that the population of Kashmir was peace-loving and inspired by Sufi ideals. In reality, it was the Hindu community – which occupied all the major administrative and political positions and had a dominant culture – which formed the crux of a distinct identity of Kashmiriat, preventing it from being run over by Islamism. Otherwise, there was absolutely no basis on which the Muslims alone could have laid a claim to a Kashmiri identity first and foremost, since Muslim majoritarianism is, inherently and by its very nature, communal.
As has been aptly pointed out, “The secular façade, which Kashmir has worn all through the last forty-three years, has been provided mainly by Kashmiri Hindus. They have not reacted to Muslim communalism.1” This was exposed after 1989-90 with the rise of the terrorists in Kashmir and the brutal wipe-out of Kashmiri Hindus.
This raises questions about precisely what Kashmiri culture are these militants and civilians of today fighting for? They are neither the inheritors nor the contributors to any such culture, which has long been non-existent now. What has instead taken its place is unbridled Islamic terrorism to which the government needs to respond firmly.
What Should India’s Stand Be?
It is well-known that an “independent country” of Kashmir surrounded by India and Pakistan can never be a viable reality, so all this talk of ‘self-determination’ and ‘Kashmiriat’ is a hoax to put India under pressure. And those Indians who actually subscribe to the latter view are either living in a fool’s paradise or have a similar subverted ‘secular’ agenda to make India lose Kashmir to Pakistan. This being understood, the question of ‘negotiation’ with militants and their sympathizers simply does not arise.
Time and again, our parties have partnered with the separatists and prevented a resolution of the Kashmir issue. It is therefore fortunate that the present BJP government is ready to assume the burden of hatred and unpopularity in order to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir conundrum. The fact that Mehbooba Mufti has decided to stick along, despite her own party, PDP’s opposition, also shows the directions towards which the fortunes of Time are slowly turning.
Indeed, the big break marked by the ruling BJP government, in the Kashmir issue, has been their non-recognition of Kashmir as a dispute. They are simply not willing to concede that the Kashmiris’ demand for greater autonomy – tantamount to breaking away from the country – is something that can be recognized. And that is why the government has flatly refused to recognize separatist groups like Hurriyat and JKLF and to talk to them.
On the other side, the Kashmir uprising by the people has intensified to proportions never seen before in history, surpassing even the 1990s wave of militancy and insurgency. Even women are joining militant ranks and children are losing their humanity, joining ISI-funded stone-pelters and militants. There is no trace of Kashmiriat left in this population, which has, since the last four decades, been infiltrated by the enemy. And this time, the crisis is of such massive proportions that everyone, including the “population of Kashmir”, want a final closure once and for all because this time a war has been declared against the Indian state. Therefore, the Indian state must abandon all delusions of softness or political obligation and strike out and fight against these insurgents head-on.
A recent positive step in this direction has already come from General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Army Staff, when he gave an appreciative commendation to Major Gogoi, who used a Kashmiri civilian as a ‘human shield’ by tying him to his jeep. While the incident triggered a mini-national debate, several people, including Punjab’s CM, Amarinder Singh, came out in support of the Major, arguing that it is high time that army is given an upper hand in dealing with such conflicts.
The Direction of a Solution
The direction of a solution to the Kashmir issue lies in recognizing, first of all, that India has made a mistake by appeasing militants, separatists and the local Muslim population and corrupt politicians, and that this mistake she cannot afford to repeat. This soft policy, ironically, has not only made India look like a villain with its baggage of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and PSA (Public Safety Act) but has also made it lose face globally due to its soft and uncertain stand. Consider this – will anyone dare to raise questions about China’s brutal and firm handling of Muslims in its backyard of Xinjiang, or the fact, that China recently launched a DNA profiling mission to keep track of Muslims?
India’s treatment of Kashmir has been entirely defensive and with bleeding-heart behind as compared to China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims, Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish Muslims and Pakistan’s treatment of Shia majority in Gilgit-Baltistan. And yet, the fact that India is villainized shows just how much harm the false secularism has done to our national interest.
Thus, not only has the past experience proved appeasement and bleeding-heart to be futile, but it should also be recognized that India has nothing to lose and everything to gain by dealing with a firm hand. And if the government were to provide – as it should – modern defense equipment and technology to the soldiers, then India will have a far superior hand in facing the terrorists.
Naturally, many of the civilians may revolt and there may be a little destruction. But this will only reveal the true colours of Islamic intolerance and its quest to treat everything non-Islamic as an object of jihad. Therefore, the Indian state needs to accept the challenge of the war declared on it by the Kashmiri insurgents and meet them head-on.
Therefore, the solution to the Kashmir issue needs to encompass three steps:
First, recognize that the current conflict involved only two groups – army and the people infected by Islamic intolerance. Therefore, protecting its national interest, the government should fully empower and upgrade the army and give it full control of Kashmir. We must not repeat the past follies of Nehru – Kashmir would have been undivided today had Nehru and Mountbatten not conspired, in 1947, to stop the advance of the army into Gilgit-Baltistan by insisting that the UN will resolve the issue and then further compromising the national interest by promulgating Article 370. As history showed, the Article was nothing but a way of giving immense powers to the Abdullah family and closeting Kashmir off from the rest of India. Therefore, to correct these historical wrongs, a strong beginning needs to be made.
Second, since Kashmir forms only about 10% of the area of Jammu and Kashmir and yet wields such immense power, this power needs to be curbed at once. The government should not hesitate to ruthlessly control the unrest within the Valley and should ensure that other parts of the state are well isolated from the Valley to check the spread of terrorists. For that, the government should no longer delay giving a Union Territory status to Ladakh and integrate Jammu firmly within the Union – this has been a long-standing demand of all communities in these regions, including the Shia Muslims of Ladakh.
Third, once Kashmir is firmly under India’s control, the government can take the final step to permanently merge Kashmir by abrogating Article 370. India should abrogate the Article, change the regressive property and citizenship laws enshrined in the Article and ensure that all the Indians who care to can come to Kashmir and live there in safety as in any other part of India.
These solutions are completely opposed to the dominant misconception that has gained credence – the illusion of peace viz. something can be changed by ‘engaging’ in talks with a hostile, terrorist-infiltrated and alien population or with separatist groups who get funding from Pakistan’s ISI, and, at their heart, have sympathies for outfits like ISIS whose core Islamic philosophy is to wage jihad and destroy all that is non-Islamic. The government needs to recognize and disperse this reality in the public. The only thing left by the way of a solution, in the Kashmir crisis, is to display a strong political will, as all the answers and courses of action are already in front of us.
- Kaul, Utpal. 1995. “‘Kashmiriat’: A Hindu Heritage” p.725, In The Story of Kashmir: Yesterday and Today, by Verinder (ed.) Grover, 722-726. New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications