The end of the Kashmir jihad: Elections in Kashmir… By Aakar Patel

The end of the Kashmir jihad
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
By Aakar Patel

On Jan 12, 2002, President Pervez Musharraf banned Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. He promised that “no organisation would be allowed to carry out terrorism on the pretext of Kashmir.”

On Sept 17, 2002, Jammu and Kashmir went to vote. In the two months before polling, 570 people died, including 327 militants.

The average vote was 44 percent. The lowest turnout, 7.8 percent, was in Sopore, home to the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Geelani; the highest, 78 percent, was 10 times that, in Kargil, a stronghold of Shias, always more wary about Jihad. US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill acknowledged a dip in infiltration across the Line of Control and called the turnout “remarkable.”

On Nov 2, 2002, Mufti Mohammad Saeed and the Congress Party formed the government, agreeing to split the six-year term between the two parties with Mufti Saeed as chief minister for the first three years and Ghulam Nabi Azad the last three. They focussed on governance, not identity, for almost the whole of their terms. But then, in the manner of the subcontinent, identity appeared.

Amarnath, 90 kilometres from Srinagar, is where Hindus pray to a giant ice stalagmite, which they believe is a representation of Shiva’s phallus. The Amarnath shrine was discovered by a Muslim shepherd in the 19th century, and pilgrims walk 42 kilometres from Pahalgam in the Hindu month of Sravan (July-August) to worship there.

On May 26, 2008, the Jammu and Kashmir government agreed to give 100 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Trust, for the setting up of tents for pilgrims. In Srinagar, this was immediately shown as evidence of how Kashmir would slowly be taken over by India. (The Indian Constitution’s Article 370 gives Jammu and Kashmir separate status from the rest of the Union and Indians cannot buy land in that state.)

Kashmiri Muslims came to the streets to oppose the transfer; Jammu’s Hindus came to the streets to defend it. Hindu groups, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, blocked the road to the Valley from Jammu, threatening an economic blockade and alarming the country. The government cancelled the land transfer, but Mufti Saeed withdrew support from the Congress government, which resigned on July 7, 2008.

On Oct 19, the Election Commission of India announced Kashmir’s elections would be held from November 17 in seven phases till December 24. Few believed the elections would be successful.

The communist Yusuf Tarigami said “elections were no solution to the Kashmir problem.” The secular Yasin Malik said his group, the JKLF, would campaign actively for a boycott and that the elections would fail just as they had in the past. “To boycott the elections was every Kashmiri’s right,” he said. Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson Omar said his party, the National Conference, would contest but he worried that “turnout would be low.” Hurriyat spokesman Abdul Ghani Bhat said elections were a non-issue and, “whether or not they were held, would cause the Hurriyat no consternation.” The Jamaat’s Geelani said that the “so-called elections were no solution.” The JKDFP’s Shabbir Shah promised a “total boycott.” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq asked people to stay away from the elections “or face social boycott.”

On Nov 17, Bandipora, Leh, Kargil and Poonch polled 69 percent; on Nov 23, Ganderbal and Rajouri polled 68 percent; on Nov 30, Kupwara polled 68 percent; on Dec 7, Baramulla, Udhampur, Budgam and Reasi polled 59 percent; on Dec 13, Pulwama, Shopian and Kathua polled 58 percent; on Dec 17 Anantnag, Doda, Kishtwar, Kulgam and Ramban polled 66 percent; on Dec 24 Jammu, Srinagar and Samba polled 55 percent.

Why did this happen?

In 2003, there were 3,401 incidents of violence in Kashmir. In 2005 this fell to 1,415 incidents. In 2007 this fell to less than 900. Infiltration across the Line of Control also plummeted.

Without the leverage of the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s and Jaish-e-Muhammad’s guns, the Hurriyat showed it had little influence. In a democracy, there is no substitute to rallying people, other than through daily contact on daily issues. Leadership on one grand, emotional issue cannot be sustained.

Musharraf ended Pakistan’s jihad; Kashmiris have put a moratorium on identity issues. Kashmiris have damaged the credibility of the Hurriyat Conference, and made it irrelevant for the next six years.

The Mirwaiz is conservative, as religious leaders must be. But along with worrying about Bida’a, in the manner of all South Asian maulvis, he fought a political battle—but without ever fighting an election. He has lost. After the results were announced on Sunday, Dec 28, he said this was a “lesson for separatists.”

Who were the winners?

Thirty-eight-year-old Omar Abdullah will become chief minister. He is secular (married to a Hindu), intelligent and experienced. Exactly the kind of man the state needs. His grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, and Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather, Nehru, had a friendship that fell apart and Nehru jailed the Sheikh for a dozen years. This was after Nehru fought against Hari Singh before Independence to have Sheikh Abdullah released. Now, these two young men, who are also close friends, are at the doorstep of history.

The BJP was rewarded for its opportunism in inflaming Jammu and won 11 seats, 10 more than last time. But it has polarised Jammu from Kashmir in its recklessness. It says the issue is of discrimination against Jammu, not Hindu versus Muslim, but this is untrue. Where it has the opportunity to use bigotry—in Gujarat, and elsewhere—it does so without qualm.

The BJP talks tough to Indians, but in December 1999, Vajpayee surrendered to the Jaish-e-Muhammad after the Kandahar hijacking and released Masood Azhar and Omar Saeed Sheikh. This act of myopia under pressure from a few dozen middle-class families led to more terrorism in India, including the attack on Parliament in December 2001. It also led to the attacks on Musharraf, whose death might have led to a different story in Kashmir, and to the savage murder of The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl.

The Congress calmed tempers even at the cost of being hurt by angry Hindus in Jammu and elsewhere in India—and it is down three seats to 17. Under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, it remains the party that puts nation above self.

What about the separatists? They are fighting the wrong people.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s father was killed by the Hizbul Mujahideen in May 1990. Sajjad Lone’s father, Abdul Ghani Lone, was killed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba in May 2002.

I met Abdul Ghani Lone in his Srinagar house, and while showing me out he pointed at the Indian army soldiers protecting him and referred to them as “these butchers.” But I wondered who they were protecting him from.

Mufti Mohammad Saeed’s daughter Rubaiyya was kidnapped by militants in December 1989, when he was India’s home minister. The V P Singh government released five prisoners to get Saeed’s daughter back.

These people are the victims of militancy, but they became its champions. As it now fades away, they will become irrelevant, unless they separate their message from violence.

Yasin Malik’s young face bears testimony to the brutality of the Indian state, whose guest he has been for much of his adult life. He says elections are not the solution to the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

But India has no strategy beyond offering secular democracy and the recurring right to vote, which it has been begging Kashmiris to take—and which they have finally taken, at least for now.

Yasin Malik talks about Gandhian protest, but Gandhi did not fight for a theocratic state. In a truly Azad Kashmir, Yasin Malik will be stamped out by Mirwaiz, Geelani and the Kashmiri population that will get down to the mischief of Hudood, Riba, Zina. Pakistan thinks it inherited it from Zia, but that actually came from the Muslim League and Liaquat’s 1949 Objectives Resolution.

Having predicted that Kashmirs would boycott the election, Indian liberals are now urging the government to act to resolve the Kashmir issue with some sort of geographical solution. They are wrong.

Elections are the solution. Secular democracy is the only goal. It is what Jinnah wanted. Kashmiris already have that. (The News)

The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Email: aakar.patel@