Kashmir and the Burden of Freedom
Secular Muslims have lost
control of the struggle for independence in Kashmir, bringing the
talks between India and Pakistan to a dead end.
In a parallel development, the freedom fighters waging war against
India in the name of Kashmiri identity and self-determination have
been eclipsed by religious warriors who have vetoed the option of
In the last few years, the issue has moved from being the struggle
of Kashmiris, including some Hindus, who wanted to be free of Indian
rule, to an Islamic war which finds no sympathy post-9/11 in the
world community – the only forum where a solution could have been
forced on India.
The false promises made by India to the United Nations, such as
Nehru’s pledge for a plebiscite, have also been washed away and made
irrelevant as events in Kashmir have traced the arc that comes
naturally to Muslim struggle: towards jehad against the infidel.
Nehru not keep his promise?
Jawaharlal Nehru told the world that India would hold a plebiscite
to ascertain the views of Kashmiris on the two-nation theory.
His relations with the recognised leader of Kashmiris, Sheikh
Abdullah, were good enough for Nehru to have joined Abdullah in the
fight against the despotic ruler of pre-1947 Kashmir, Maharaja Hari
Nehru also counted Sheikh Abdullah among his friends. However, as
the issue heated up in the UN, Nehru and Indira Gandhi kept Abdullah
locked up outside Kashmir for 20 years.
During this time, they set up puppet governments in Srinagar that
were as corrupt as all Indian state governments are but had the
added stigma of being unremovable by the
Kashmiri voter. This is cited as the biggest reason for the Kashmir
struggle that exploded in 1989.
The question is: why did Nehru deny Kashmiris the plebiscite even
after Sheikh Abdullah’s assurance that he would be able to swing a
vote in favour of India?
The answer is that Nehru did not believe that if asked to choose
between a secular democracy and an Islamic state, Muslims would vote
for the former.
His response was shaped by the result of the 1945-46 elections, when
the Muslims of India voted in favour of the Muslim League and for
Partition (including in Bombay where Jinnah won all 40 seats).
It was his mistrust of Muslim interest in secularism that prompted
Nehru to interfere with democracy in Kashmir. He did not think his
friend Sheikh Abdullah, who was flirting with Ayub Khan, would
either be inclined or able to deliver the state to India.
progression of the freedom struggle
The secular JKLF first took up arms against the Indian occupation of
Kashmir. Its leaders Maqbool Butt (hanged in Tihar in 1984),
Amanullah Khan and Yasin Malik stressed on the inclusiveness of
Kashmiriyat and articulated their demand as independence from India.
They insisted on self-determination but did not accept the
interpretation of the 1948 UNCIP resolution that the choice for
Kashmiris was between India and Pakistan.
For them a third choice existed: that of independence. Yasin Malik,
tortured in Indian jails for four years when a very young man,
articulates his demand now in Gandhian terms and stresses
non-violence, believing that no power can forcibly colonise a people
who wish to be free.
The militant space that was vacated by the JKLF when it chose,
partly ideologically and partly because of being decimated by the
Indian army, to lay down its arms has since been taken over by
progressively fanatical Muslim groups.
The first big Islamist group was the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. The Hizb is
the militant wing of the modernist Jamaat-e-Islami, which propogates
the theories of the great Muslim intellectual of Aurangabad, Maulana
Maudoodi conceptualised a modern Islamic state which united the four
main Sunni sects and was centred around the concept of ‘Tawhid’, the
unity of god.
The Islamic state would be led by a devout and scholarly Muslim male
who from above would Islamise the nation and make better Muslims of
his subjects. Secularism was the enemy of the Islamic state, which
vested sovereignty in Allah, Maudoodi wrote.
Non-Muslims citizens of the Islamic state, if any, would exist on
Most local Kashmiri militants fighting Indian occupation are, as LK
Advani has noted, from the Hizb-ul Mujahideen.
As Kashmiri graveyards began filling with mujahideen shaheed through
the 90s, the jehad purified itself and threw up two other groups
that allowed urban Kashmiris to define themselves better against the
One was Jaesh-e-Muhammad, a group formed in the Binoori Masjid
complex of Karachi. Its ideology was crafted in the late 19th
century in the Darul Uloom seminary of Deoband, in Uttar Pradesh’s
Deobandi philosophy rejects the syncretic flavour of Indian Islam,
which includes Hindu practices like shrine worship and music, and
preaches a sterner form of the faith under the jurisprudence of the
great Sunni jurist Imam Abu Hanifah.
The other group was the Lashkar-e-Taiba, linked ideologically to the
Ahl-e-Hadith group of Sunni Islam that rejects jurisprudence in
general and believes in the formulation of law based on the sayings
of the Prophet Muhammad, including the hudood punishments of
beheading, cutting off thieves’ arms and stoning adulterers.
The Ahl-e-Hadith are present in India and Pakistan and active in
building mosques funded by the Saudi government which shares its
All three of these groups have nothing in common with the practice
of Islam in Kashmir, which is syncretic and based on the best Indian
sufi traditions. However, in the war against the infidel, the
Muslims of Kashmir fell behind the groups even in contradiction of
their inclusive faith.
progression of the leadership
The JKLF, popular once, has been eclipsed because it no longer fits
into the Islamist style of the Kashmiri struggle. The new leaders of
Kashmir are not secular but the leaders of Muslims.
The two biggest are the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who
controls Sopore and the Mirwaiz Omar Farooq.
Mirwaiz means ‘chief priest’ and Omar Farooq is the hereditary
leader of the Kashmiri-speaking Sunnis of Srinagar.
These two men are the true representatives of the Kashmiri Sunnis
and without them an end to violence is not possible. Both are openly
inclined towards joining Pakistan because of his Maudoodist
orientation in the case of Geelani and because his constituency
demands this of him in the case of the Mirwaiz.
This difference has led to the articulation by the media of one as
being ‘hardline’ and one as being ‘moderate’. In reality there is no
difference in what they stand for.
A third leader is the good-humoured professor of Persian, Abdul
Ghani Bhat, who is also inclined towards Pakistan.
The Sunni Islamist orientation of the Huriryat was exposed when a
Shia, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, was made chairman in a show of unity a
few months ago but then sacked because he was not able to rally
support around a secular stand because the mood has turned Islamist.
A primary Kashmiri demand has been reunification of the state’s
families, but India’s offer of a soft border has been rejected even
by the moderates because the solution is not just reunification but
an Islamic state.
The myth of
the Islamic state
The experience of Muslims handling the sovereign state has not been
The Islamic state is intolerant to secularism and particularly hard
on the individual’s liberty and on freedom of expression.
In the subcontinent, Sunnis have been obsessed with purifying Islam
and purging it of apostates. The record of democrats has been
particularly appalling. Bhutto initiated a closed-door session of
his parliament in 1974 and all parties joined in to excommunicate
Even today, under the secularist Musharraf, though Pakistani Hindus
are part of a joint electorate, Pakistani Ahmadiyyas are not. They
are not allowed, on pain of three years in jail, to use words such
as Khalifa that are part of the Sunni ethos.
In India, three years ago, the Ulema of Deoband and Nadwa, passed a
joint fatwa demanding that Indian Muslims beat up Ahmadiyyas (who
come from the Indian Punjab town of Qadian) who showed up at their
door and deny them water and not respond to their greeting. Not one
Urdu paper wrote against this because the community supports
violence against Ahmadiyyas.
Around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Iran, the Muslim urge towards
an Islamic state has not been satisfied with delivery because the
Islamic state is a myth that cannot be delivered with credibility or
The Constitution of India is a universalist document that is
‘Indian’ only in name. It is a set of values which are eternal,
despite its loopholes — particularly the backdoor and regressive
attempt to ban cow slaughter and its inability to deliver the
secular civil code.
Can Kashmiris find their freedom in it? Is freedom a flag or a
It’s always Kashmir
Pakistani President Ayub Khan and Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur
Shastri met in Tashkent and signed an agreement, in January 1966, to
withdraw their forces to the 1948-49 ceasefire lines in Kashmir.
Prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met at Shimla
in 1971 and signed the Shimla agreement. It stated the two would
resolve their differences peacefully.
After the return of civilian rule in Kashmir in 1996, New Delhi
initiated secretary-level talks with Pakistan in 1997. Hardliners in
both countries opposed concessions. In India, PM I K Gujral was
criticized for being soft and naďve.
Between March 1997 and September 1998 foreign secretaries of India
and Pakistan met several times to work out a composite dialogue
President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee met in Agra in July 2001 for a three-day summit. The talks
fail to produce a joint statement on Kashmir.
Foreign secretary level talks were initiated this month, September
2004, but agreement on Kashmir still seems far away.
Aakar Patel is the Chief Editor of Popular Mumbai daily,
Mid Day. Kashmir Telegraph does not necessarily subscribe to
his views and opinions.