Demystifying the “Armed Struggle” in Jammu and Kashmir
Col Nilesh Kunwar (Retd.)

The younger generation may not be aware, but when gun toting “mujahideen” [holy warriors] first appeared in J&K during the late 80s, they had assured the people that ‘azadi’ [freedom] was just round the corner. So, as the New Year unfolds, it’s time for the people of Kashmir to introspect on what the ongoing “armed struggle” has given them, because even after 34 years the ‘azadi’ that was promised is nowhere in sight.

Since the so called “armed struggle” in J&K has taken an unacceptably heavy toll in terms of human lives and caused widespread suffering to the hapless locals without achieving anything, there are many questions that need to be answered by those who are leading the “armed struggle” and those who endorse the cult of violence. However, since none of them have ever given any direct answers, the same have to be extracted from what terrorist commanders and separatist leaders have said from time to time.

The first and foremost question is that if those who ushered in violence were so confident that attaining ‘azadi’ through the gun was well within their reach, then why did they fail? Were they deceiving their own people, or is it that they themselves had been fooled into believing so by their Pakistani patrons?

Having served in the restive Kupwara district of J&K in early 90s, the author got a very good opportunity to interact with apprehended as well as surrendered militants, over-ground workers [OGWs] and ordinary village folk. Since all of them were quite forthright and uninhibited while expressing their views, what emerged from these informal discussions was indeed illuminating.

Militants were confident of achieving success, thanks to a very effective indoctrination programme run by Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] in camps it had in Pakistan occupied Kashmir [PoK] for imparting military training to Kashmiri youth. The virtual absence of troops in the hinterland also gave militants the erroneous impression that seizing control of Kashmir would be a cakewalk.

On the other hand, OGWs weren’t so enthused and their outlook ranged from cautious optimism to serious apprehension. However, since all that they were expected to do was ‘motivate’ [read lure] young boys to join militancy and provide logistical support to them on their return, their job was a cushy one with no risk of physical harm and it brought in plenty of money! So, with easy money coming their way, being an OGW was a dream job!

Having no say whatsoever in what was going on, the ordinary Kashmiris, despite bearing the brunt of the ongoing proxy war, had no other choice but to resign themselves to fate. Consequently, they accepted the sorry state of affairs as divine retribution for some unknown sins they may have committed in the past. This brings us to the second question- If Kashmiris are indeed disenchanted with the ongoing “armed struggle,” then how come people aren’t opposing this fruitless exercise?

The answer lies in the terrorists’ use of strong arm tactics to enforce their writ over the public through unrestrained application of brute force. For example, while everyone in Kashmir knows very well that the scourge of targeted killings by “unidentified gunmen” is actually the handiwork of terrorists, but no one dares to admit the same. What’s even more intriguing is that despite the fact that those thus murdered invariably turn out to be the ones who are suspected of working for security forces or questioning the propriety of their actions, reputed rights organisations and activists too feign ignorance.

Not surprisingly, terrorists have of late become more brazen and have no qualms in taking responsibility for summary execution of civilians, and the release of three graphic videos by Hizbul Mujahideen in 2018 showing cold-blooded murder of young Kashmiris [including a teenage girl] is just one such example.

Ultimate proof of public intimidation by terrorists in J&K is evident from perceptibly dichotomous public response to human tragedy. When terrorists are killed in gunfights or when civilians accidently get shot or injured in crossfire during encounters, there are wide spread protests and mob violence. However, leave alone condemnation, no one utters even a word of sympathy when innocent men women and children are killed or injured as a result of violence perpetrated by the so called “freedom fighters.” Even family members, relatives and close associates of unfortunate victims of such senseless violence have to supress their natural urge to express their angst due to the fear of inviting the wrath of terrorists.

Not only the common Kashmiri, but even separatist leaders fear antagonising terrorists. In 2011, former All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] chairman Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat made the startling revelation that senior separatist leaders like J&K Peoples’ Conference founder Abdul Gani Lone, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and JKLF ideologue Prof. Abdul Ahad Wani “were not killed by the army or the police; they were targeted by our own people.”

Though what Prof. Bhat revealed was already known to the public, APHC’s failure to repudiate this assertion, left no doubt in anyone’s mind regarding the authenticity of this assertion. Yet, neither Mirwaiz Umar Farook [son of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq Shah], nor Sajjad Gani Lone [son of Abdul Gani Lone], or for that matter, JKLF president Yasin Malik dared to denounce these killings!

The third question is that since the “armed struggle” in J&K hasn’t made any headway in more than three decades, and it’s abundantly clear that it won’t succeed in the future too, why is it still continuing? Syed Salahuddin, who is the chief of HM and heads PoK based ‘United Jihad Council’ [UJC], an umbrella organisation created by ISI for coordinating terrorist activities of various terrorist groups in J&K. In an interview to Gulf News, he has himself given the precise reason for the same. He has admitted that “we are fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir,” leaving no scope of doubt as regards the real objective of the “armed struggle” in J&K!
The last question is- why are militants still fighting and getting killed when they know the “armed struggle” won’t succeed? Once again, the precise answer has also been given out by the UJC chief way back in a 2016 interview published by ‘The Telegraph’, which seems to have somehow escaped New Delhi’s notice.

In this interview, Salahuddin made it clear that “The Kashmiri movement was Islamised from day one,” and supported his view by a very practical argument that “Why do you think an educated young man, who has a bright future otherwise, is willing to die? Is he mad? ‘Azadi’ is not his objective. What will he do with ‘azadi’ if he dies during the struggle?”

Then he went on to explain that “He [the terrorist] is into militancy because he knows that if he dies for a noble cause, he would become a martyr, as per Islam. We tell him that he would get into the "real life" after this death and he would get peace. Khuda use raazi hoga [Allah will be happy with him]. So, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to conclude that the terrorist in J&K today isn’t a simple misguided youth but a highly radicalised killer obsessed with the fatal attraction of seeking worldly ‘after-life’ pleasures in paradise!

Therefore, it is patently clear that the “armed struggle” in Kashmir is nothing more than a flourishing business, in which terrorist commanders of Kashmiri stock living a lavish lifestyle in the safe environs of PoK so inured to luxurious living that they don’t want to upset the apple cart by refusing to fight “Pakistan’s war in Kashmir.” Furthermore, since none of their own kith and kin are engaged in fighting security forces in J&K, they have nothing to lose even if their cadres are killed and the “armed struggle” doesn’t achieve anything.

It’s no secret that the wealth and assets of APHC leaders as well as other groups and individuals espousing secessionist agenda have increased manyfold ever since terrorism raised its ugly head in J&K. So, they too have no reasons to change the existing state of affairs and thus forfeit the largesse that comes from across the LoC. Perhaps that’s why despite publicly admitting that "We have already seen the results of our fight on the political, diplomatic and military fronts…which have not achieved anything other than creating more graveyards," Mirwaiz Umar Farook still defends the “armed struggle.”

So, while terrorists, separatists and OGWs may keep shouting from rooftops that the so called “armed struggle” is meant to “liberate” Kashmir and better the lot of its people, the truth is just the opposite.

In this murky power and money game, the most unfortunate part is that on the one hand, those who are participating in or supporting terrorism in J&K are being handsomely rewarded by Pakistan, while on the other hand the Kashmiri people remain divided and have been subdued into stoic silence by terrorists. Hence, while the center’s outreach to build bridges and mend fences, laudable but for normalcy to return to Kashmir Valley, it is essential that to ensure four things.

one, strictly implementing effective curbs on those misusing freedom of speech to propagate secessionist ideology [Pakistan has already done so through Section 7[3] of AJ&K [Pakistan occupied Kashmir] Interim Constitution, 1974, which states “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.”

Two, choke illegal receipt of funds being used to finance disruptive activities. Three, undertake a sustained general awareness campaign to highlight the duplicity of terrorist commanders and separatist leaders. For example, isn’t it surprising that while Salahuddin proudly talks of how he tells another person’s son that “he would get into the "real life" after this death and he would get peace,” he doesn’t want his own sons to enjoy this eternal bliss!

Lastly [and most importantly], devout clerics and erudite Islamic scholars should be incorporated to run a campaign to counter religious radicalisation by highlighting how Islamic teachings are brazenly being distorted to lure impressionable youth into terrorism.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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