Dialogue  July-September  2008, Volume 10  No. 1

Kashmir : Roots of the Current Flare-up

  J.N. Roy*

More than sixty years down the line it would seem to be presumptuous to be suggesting to understand the roots of the current flare-up in J&K’s Kashmir Valley and its Jammu Region. The popular belief in J&K in 2008 was that the militancy was in terminal decline; the separatist and secessionist forces were with the change in Pakistan ’s approach scrambling to find a new agenda for their survival and above all people were tired of twenty year’s of violence and wanted peace and negotiated settlement. In an election year all were looking forward to yet another relatively peaceful poll which would in turn propel the secessionist/separatist groups to opt for a peaceful and negotiated solutions or atleast prolonged dialogue process ending the cycle of violence. An environment of optimism defined the situation in the state.

        Yet, come June and the issue of transfer of land to Amarnath Shrine Board engulfed the Kashmir Valley in a fire of popular upsurge, which must have taken even the separatists by surprise; fall of the Azad govt. and counter-agitation of substance in Jammu Region for restoration of the land to the Shrine Board. The result is that a patchwork peace has been bought in Jammu Region, and the Valley continues to be on the boil which threatens to last for sometime with the administration in a very difficult situation. Nothing describes the situation better than the claim of the National Security Advisor that the situation is not as bad as in 1990 and the National Conference President Umar Abdullah claiming its worse. What a fall from the rosy optimism of the early months of the year? Hence the justification to look for the roots which if understood would put the problem in perspective and help the protaganists towards a practical and reasonable approach if not early solution of the problem. Land transfer issue was used as an excuse both in the Valley and Jammu to give vent to the accumulated grievances and fears.

     But to do that and understand the reality of the present flare-up in the Valley one will have to remove the lot of hubris which clutters up the real understanding of the issues. For that we will have to go back in history a little and dismantle some myths which we have built around the Kashmir problem in order to sustain our belief that J&K issue is the litmus test of the secular foundations of our country and its Constitution. It reflects poorly on our faith and belief in an inclusive, and secular polity that a constituent state can sustain it or upset it. By implication 7 million muslims of J&K are more crucial and remaining 150 million muslims of the country mean nothing. It is this kind of myth-making which has been and is being exploited by valley based separatists.

      But, first of the Amarnath Shrine Board issue which is the immediate provocation for the trouble in the state. None has come out with credit over the developments, including the separatists who are leading the curent agitation in the Valley. On the pattern of Vaishno Devi Shrine Board an overactive Governor, who had no business to be heading a religious Shrine Board in the first place, tried to assume uncalled for role for the Board. He extended the yatra period from one month to two months in 2004, which Chief Minister Mufti rightly opposed, because of huge commitment of security forces for arrangements. But the Governor had his way disturbing the ecological and environmental balance resulting in melting of the Shivling every year. The Board gradully took over all the arrangements of the yatra, which, as in the past, is the prerogative of the state govt. and not of a Shrine Board. The Board should have confined itself to managing the shrine and its environs. The expanding role of the Shrine Board led to transfer of land to the Board for making arrangements for stay of Yatris –a  prerogative of the state govt. again, and the bubble burst.         

       Separatists looking for an issue, misrepresented it, and touched the raw nerve of demographic invasion of Valley by outsiders, and the pent-up emotions of valley muslims over the stalemate in finding a political solution to the Kashmir issue, found an outlet – howsoever unjustified. This paranoia over the transfer of land had surfaced earlier when the state govt. wanted to lease land in Gulmarg for tourism purposes. The  transfer of land issue had no substance but only a trigger and excuse for a larger purpose. First of all the Shrine Board was not an outside body, and, secondly land was for temporary use for a few months. The inanity of the whole issue is best defined by the statement of the hardcore secessionist SAS Gillani, Chairman (APHC (G) after cancellation of the transfer, that in the current agitation the land transfer to the Shrine Board is no more an issue – then what is the issue?

      Before we go in search of the real issue, let me state that the agitation in Jammu for the restoration of the land was uncalled for and the agitators had no locus standi in the dispute. It was more of a tit-for-tat for larger issue of anger over the perceived dominence of Valley muslims in the region. The Shrine Board land transfer was only a pretext – and it succeeded  in communalising the situation. The allegations of the economic blockade provided another excuse to the separatists to whip up the paranoia in the Valley. The agreement worked out in the Jammu Region is fragile and a patchwork which will only help secessionists in stoking the fires in the Valley. Only practical solution is that the state govt. manages, as in the past, all the arrangements, and the Shrine Board the Shrine. It is an issue of management and not-religious considerations. 

       In retrospect, it will be seen that the whole Shrine Board land transfer issue and agitations in its aftermath only masked the larger issues of religion based ethnic template in the Valley and anger over conceding too much to Valley muslims and separatists in Jammu. Their conflicting templates go back in time and have roots in the history of over 100 years of Dogra rule in the state. The Valley ever since the Moghul invasion (1526) had been under the rule of outsiders with the Afghans (1726) Sikhs (1819), and the Dogras (1846) following the Moghuls. During the Sikh and Dogra rules, particularly during the latter, Valley muslims sufferered considerable oppression and deprivation. During the early muslim rulers, even during the oppressive Afghan period, the muslims, particularly the immigrant  Saiyyids and others from Persia and Central Asia , ruled the roost and the minority Hindus were oppressed and converted in large numbers  to the Sufi influenced syncretic Islam. During their hundred years of rule, Dogras conquered new territories like Ladakh, Gilgit etc., expanded the Kingdom to its present boundaries on the eve of Independence . However, Kashmiri speaking muslims of the Valley were on the margins and Hindus, particularly the Pandits, cornered land, jobs and business concessions, engendering anger, and deep resentment among the Valley muslims who were the erstwhile rulers. The efforts of the valley muslims from mid 1920’s to protest to improve their status was suppressed harshly.

     It is in this background that the movement of Valley muslims for betterment of their status and against the Dogra rule and outsiders has to be seen. From the petitions to (1925) sent to Lord Reading, setting of the Reading Room (1930) to protests against discrimination against muslims, brutal suppression (1931) of protesting muslims and formation of Muslim Conference (1932) demanding jobs for Muslims and reopening of mosques shutdown by the regime, and later its conversion into National Conference (1939) by Sheikh Abdullah to broadbase the agitation against the Dogra Rule, to the communist influenced Naya Kashmir Charter (1944) of the National Conference and the “Quit Kashmir” notice (1946) to Dogra Ruler forms one common thread of the rise and consolidation of the Kashmir valley muslims and articulating their aspirations.

       A number of factors contributed to the rise, consolidation and course of this movement. Initially it was against the Hindu (Pandit) domination of jobs/status and later acquired anti-Dogra rule, dimensions. The movement received help initially by pressure from the British on Maharaja for reforms, aspirations of educated muslims from Aligarh and Lahore universities, association of liberals and communists from Lahore and above all the general ferment in the sub-continent unleashed by the movement for Independence in British India.

     An article does not have the scope or space for a detailed account of a movement from 1930 to 1948, when the state acceded to India . However, its broad features can be described as:                                                 (i)     It started essentially as a protest movement of Kashmir speaking Sunni muslims of the Valley against the deprivation in jobs, businesses and subjugation. Cocooned in a lush Valley of 120×40 Kms, their ethnic religious and national identity was clear but suppressed for over a century. From the very begning (1930) Sheikh Abdullah dominated and guided it, outmanouvring his opponents. He turned it into a mass movement from its uppercrust and elitist beginnings.

   (ii)    Muslim Conference (1932) and later National Conference (1939) in its search for identity and national goals went through turns and twists and conflicts but in the course acquired certain attributes which abide till today and influence and bedevil the state as a whole. These trends and characteristics have been aptly described in following excerpt from “In Search of Future – the story of Kashmir” (page 37): by David Devdas.

        Quote “Although it had been born out of the anti-Pandit resentment ………The party had evolved since 1932 into an instrument for the advancement of Kashmiri interests. And packaged though it was as representative of all the people of the state, Abdulla’s party had become the tool of ethnic Kashmiri who lived in the high terraces in the middle of the valley…. Abdullah was trying to forge a unity that Kashmir ’s web of hierarchies had hitherto prevented. But the construction of every identity excludes others. If the muslim identity excluded minorities within Kashmir, the Kashmir identity excluded people of other parts of the state “unquote”

     Thus perhaps unconsciously Sheikh Abdullah was fashioning an imperialistic agenda of unstated but obvious domination and ethnic superiority – which in due course led to alienation of minorities and resistance from other regions of the state. It’s noteworthy that Sheikh’s call for “Quit Kashmir” in 1946 was for the Dogra ruler was to quit the Kashmir Valley and not the state. Even in its submission to the Cabinet Mission the National Conference claimed to represent the Valley and not the whole Kingdom.   

       (iii)   Sheikh Abdullah’s political goals and agenda evolved over a period from 1939 onwards. He flirted with communists which led to the Naya Kashmir manifesto (1944) rooted in social and economic reforms but he deviated from it as it did not suit the Kashmiri temper and realities. He weighed the options between the syncretic Islam of Kashmir and the newly assertive Deobandi sect favoured by Mirwaiz and the upper crust, but opted for the former as significant majority of Kashmiris followed it.  

      (iv)    As 1947 drew near Sheikh Abdullah though in dominent position was still ambivalent about the political goals of his party and the state, pitchforked between two rival claimants to J&K. He had developed close links with the Congress party and its leaders, but was also conscious of the pro-Muslim League winds blowing and supported by the revived (1940) Muslim Conference (MC), which wanted the state to accede to Pakistan. But MC had little influence in the Valley. Sheikh Abdullah first tried to woo Jinnah but failed. Jinnah advised Sheikh to join the Muslim Conference. With 77.8% (1941 Census) muslim population, Jinnah felt that the J&K was in any case “going to fall in his lap as a ripe fruit.” Jinnah did not account for a vacillating maharaja and a spurned popular and dominent Sheikh.

      (v) Rebuffed by Jinnah, Sheikh strengthened his existing ties with the Congress Party and Nehru. All the  while Sheikh’s political thinking and agenda was evolving and even his nearest colleagues were not privy to his thinking. However his core agenda was to ensure the dominence of the Kashmiri speaking Valley muslims in the affars of the state with maximum autonomy to govern and if possible an independent or near independent state. He felt that never again should an outside force rule or dominate the Valley and the state. The procrastination of the maharaja on accession issue and impatience of Pakistan with the ruler, only enhanced the clout of Sheikh with the govt. of India and Nehru. The inclusive secular template of India led by Gandhi and Nehru appealed to Sheikh where his agenda had a greater chance of success than the theocratic monoculture of Pakistan . Despite all his secular approach meant for the whole of state, muslim” domination in the Valley continued to be his unstated goal.

      (vi)    It must be said to the credit of Sheikh Abdullah that he never wavered from the core agenda of his political vision. Depending on circumstances and constraints he made temporary truces and compromises, but continued to test the limits to which he could push his agenda.

     (vii)    If one studies the course of Sheikh Abdullah’s political actions on eve of Independence the validity of the above mentioned formulation becomes clear. His letter of support and loyalty to the Dogra Ruler on eve of his release from jail in 1948, and after becoming the Chief Administrator and Prime Minister ensured his ouster; being part of and supporting the inclusion of Art 370 in the Indian Constitution and then chafing at its limitation and literally extorting the 1952. Delhi Agreement limiting Centre’s authority to specified subjects and still being dissatisfied with it, were all part of his political strategy. It is quite a different thing that in retrospect, the 1952 Agreement was a historical blunder on part of govt. of India .

       India’s promise to ascertain the wishes of the people in the covering letter of the acceptance of accession and the Security Council Resolutions in this regard; were unambiguously used by Sheikh to convey that the final settlement of Kashmir is still pending, - despite supporting the accession by the Maharaja in writing. The inaugural address (1951) to his hand-picked Constituent Assembly is a masterpiece of tightrope walking e.g., tilting in favour of India but keeping the issue of final fate of the state open. Meanwhile taking advantage of dispute with Pakistan and interest of USA in the matter; he continued to explore the possibility of a semi-independent status for Kashmir even while the Prime Minister of an Indian state. His discussions in this regard with the U.S. envoy Loy Henderson and the visiting Senator Adlai Stevenson are now matter of record and can be easily accessed. Ambassador Henderson’s report (1950) on his discussions with Sheikh would confirm that he was in touch with the Azad Kashmir leaders also to push the agenda for independence. All these developments leading to his ouster in 1953, helped in strengthening and firming up an anti-integrationist sentiments among the muslims of Valley which in due course acquired, anti-India hue. Thus the popular feeling in the Valley that Nehru’s promise of “self-determination” has not been fulfilled forms the core of the separatism and anti-Indianism in the Valley and is rooted in Sheikh’s vision of muslim superiority in the Valley. Thus any effort at integration in later years was resisted as subjecting the state to “outsiders” and the NC and others resisted Congress Party’s  electoral intrusion in the Valley as of an outsider’s party from Delhi . Even when Sheikh Abdullah made the ultimate compromise in the 1975 Agreement, endorsing the finality of the accession, he continued to test the limits of autonomy and resisted interference and influence of the Central govt. in its internal affairs.

      (viii)  In retrospect the abiding trust of Nehru and govt. of India in him is rather perplexing. It is uncharitable to be wiser in the hindsight. But it would seem that Sheikh was feeding on the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of Govt. of India on the issue of ascertaining the wishes of the people and the Security Council Resolutions in this regard and his crucial role in any such exercise, to further his political agenda. Even while extracting one concession after another, including the ouster of Maharaja, at every stage he made Govt. of India look unreasonable as if he had done a favour by joining India and the country was in his perpetual debt and concede him more and more. Sheikh lacked democratic temper which would accommodate dissenting voice. As his power and popularity grew due to land reforms, he became authoritarian although an unelected Prime Minister of the state (1948-52). Even when he became Chief Minister again in 1975 and won elections in 1977, he asked all his colleague to swear personal loyalty to him – which led to ouster of Mirza Afzal Beg his loyal colleague who had spent nearly 20 years in Jail with him. 

       (ix)    With compliant Nehru and contacts with the USA an and hopes of its support for independent Kashmir he miscalculated the growing alarm in India and even among his colleague over his moves. I will again quote David Devadas (page 85), quote “The goal he had been working towards seemed too close to give up now. He looked for props to strengthen his grip on his people’s minds. Although he was pulling away from both India and Pakistan , he grabbed Islam as his bludgeon. His rhetoric peaked at Ransinghpura, close to Pakistan border, in April 1953. He railed against India ’s Hindu bigotry, saying he had committed a crime against the Quran and feared for his people’s future after Nehru was gone” unquote. He was deposed and arrested on August 9, 1953. 

        (x)    After his arrest and detention, Sheikh’s colleague Mirza Afzal Beg formed Plebiscite Front which became the main vehicle of Sheikh’s political campaign from the jail though he never formally joined it. With his popularity he continued to be a an imposing factor in Kashmir polity till his death in 1982. One thing must be said in his favour that he held steadfast to his belief in Kashmiri identity and its dominent role in the Valley and state and to provide, if, possible an in independent destiny to it. It is this legacy of his which forms the core of the separatist agenda. It is this mindset which is at the root of the current trouble and has to be factored in all dealings with Valley politicians of any variety. Many experts blame Nehru for not being honest in  avoiding the referendum in Kashmir but vis-à-vis Sheikh he was more sinned against than sinning. Sheikh had changed and Nehru failed to comprehend that in time, despite evidence to the contrary.  

       (xi)    In all his actions, while projecting his secular beliefs, Sheikh ensured that the Kashmir Valley and Kashmiri muslims dominated the public and political space. Whenever and wherever the Kashmir issue is raised only the Valley is visible making 120x60 km valley synonymous with the whole of the state and the remaining large areas and over 40% of population mean nothing. In 1989-90 when violent movement in the Valley started, the world at large was made to believe that the whole state was on fire. The Kashmiri speaking muslims of various hues, with their considerable social divisions must be complimented for sustaining this legacy even while deriding Sheikh for accession to India .

      The ouster of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 and installation of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad as the Prime Minister, ended an important phase in the quest of the Kashmiri muslims to forge and safeguard their independent identity. It has succeeded to a large extent, but foundered when Sheikh Abdullah misread and over-reached his political ambitions. This journey which began in the thirties, led by Sheikh, would continue till 1989 when frustrations of a new generation of youth and middle class would lead to an armed insurgency which still continues. The developments between 1953 to 1989 are too many to be recounted in any detail in an article. Only broad features can be mentioned in the following paragraphs. These were:



      (1) Politically the period after ten years of placid rule of Bakshi – progressively declined due to mounting socio-economic pressures due to aspirations of a new middle class and educated youth, and efforts of govt. of India to integrate the state more with the Union in form of extending its jurisdiction which led to allegations of erosion of autonomy under Art 370. Simultaneously with this integrative urges, the separatists urges also continued to thrive. Sheikh having formed the Plebiscite Front after his ouster kept the demand for self-determination and the issue of finality of the accession alive, though confirmed by the Constituent Assembly (1956). The last attempt to placate Sheikh by Nehru by sending him to Pakistan in 1964 failed after the death of Nehru. Under Sadiq as PM, after the Holy Relic agitation of 1963 and transformation of National Conference in Congress and shedding of the symbols PM as CM and Sadir-e-Riyasat as Governor, only added to the paranoia of erosion of autonomy and Kashmir ’s  separate identity. Anger and frustration led to formation of AL Fatah (1968) which was short lived and J&K National Liberation Front (later JKLF (1977) in Azad Kashmir to fight for Azadi. However, the separatist Valley muslims continued to clamour for self determination and Jammu and Ladakh Regions for integration.

    The next phase began in 1975, when Sheikh Abdullah after three years of tough negotiations signed an Accord to return to power conceding the finality of the accession, and accepting vague assurances of restoration of autonomy. This caused set back to demand for self-determination, but Sheikh because of his stature and sacrifices (20 years in jail) managed to dominate even having diluted his life-long stand. However, after his death in 1982, his successors in National Conference could not effectively manage his legacy of fighting for autonomy and identity of Kashmiris, and the political environment unraveled; which contributed significantly to the armed explosion in 1989-90. Farooq Abdullah, who succeeded his father as the Chief Minster in the beginning tried to carry forward the legacy of Sheikh by refusal to accommodate Congress in the Valley in 1983 elections. This led to a bitter communally polarised elections which the NC won. Myopic congress leaders took it as personal pique against Mrs. Gandhi and unseated Farooq in 1964 by arranging defections, thus reinforcing the perception that the Centre was unwilling to honour the wishes of the people. Manipulated elections in the past by NC leaders added credence to the accusation; though the centre had nothing to do with it. But what followed was the worse. In 1986 Farooq Abdullah was coerced into an agreement (Rajiv-Farroq Accord) which led to a coalition govt. of NC-Congress, thus finally burying  the Sheikh’s  legacy of no accommodation of outsider parties in the Valley.

       It caused a political vacuum and credibility gap which was hurriedly filled in by an alliance of separatist and Islamic forces under the banner of Muslim United Front (MUF) to contest the 1987 election. It was, however, the ideological space vacated by the NC which was to prove disastrous. Infact, the ideological successor of Sheikh after 1986 was the JKLF with its agenda for Azadi and not the compromised NC led by his son. Therefore, there was no surprise when allegations surfaced in 1990 that JKLF had the support of NC cadres when violence broke out. The allegations of rigging in 1987 elections against the MUF candidates in the Valley, eroded the very legitimacy of the NC-Congress Coalition. Other socio-economic and geo-political factors contributed to the beginning of a violent movement for Azadi and self-determination in 1989.


Socio-Economic Factors


       (2) Socio-economic factors contributed considerably to the alienation and frustrations in Kashmir along with the separatist political aspirations. Land reforms of Sheikh Abdullah and its deepening by the Bakshi in his own characteristic style in providing jobs, professional and educational opportunities to hitherto deprived classes of the society have catalysed the muslim society in the Valley. This had resulted in creation of a middle class and new generation of youth, looking for jobs and opportunities. However the growth had not set up industries and other related infrastructure, and thus govt. jobs became the main avenue of satisfaction. Higher percentage of Pandit employees caused social/communal tensions and even resulted in anti-Pandit communal riots in 1967 in the Valley. Pandits resented the hostility against them and the muslim youth looked at them as usurpers and identified them increasingly with the Hindu India as communal fault lines widened in the eighties. Efforts of the govt. to restore balance by resorting to informal quota system could at best be a palliative and not a solution. In the absence of varied job opportunities and everyone wanting a govt. job and in the Valley as far as possible, led to widespread nepotism and corruption adding to frustration in the new generation of youth. Separatist and Islamic elements channelised this discontent into anti-India sentiments and alienation. Fears, of Hindu revivalism in the country due to communal riots, and Babri Masjid dispute radicalised the youth who fell in the separatist and communal trap, packaged as a quest for self-determination and separate identity of the valley muslims.


Rise of Islamic Forces 


   (3) The period of political and socio-economic frustrations, simultaneously coincided with the rise and consolidation of the Islamic and Communal forces in the Valley. It become an explosive cocktail of frustration, alienation and urge for liberation of the Valley from perceived injustices. Jamaat-e-Islam (JEI) led the muslim revivalism in the valley, followed by equally successful foray by Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadis later. The former a puritanical deobandi group and the later a conservative reformist group, achieved considerable salience in the seventies and eighties. JEI’s and later Ahl-e-Hadis main support and influence was among the displaced Sayyid landlords due to land reforms, business-men and the govt. servants. JEI, had also considerable following in rural areas, but its adherents still shared the space with the syncretic shrine-oriented Sufi-influenced Islam. JEI movement as everything else in the Valley, has been a divided house over its mission. Its first President Hakim Ghulam Nabi emphasised moral and the religious aspects, while its most dominant leader SAS Gillani chafed against compromised religiousity of the rural masses and avoidance of the political agenda by his colleagues. While this internal feud peresisted, it was the Gillani group which prevails. Technically of late, he remains outside JEI for his political activism but he leads the secessionist movement for accession to Pakistan and primacy of Islam in the Valley. He has played a leading role in radicalising the educated youth and in sustaining the insurgency in favour of Pakistan . He opposes any dialogue and settlement with India and is leading the current flare-up in the valley which he considers as his Islamic duty.

     Ahl-e-Hadis, a late comer, after, its failure in an earlier attempt in 1925, has fast acquired considerable influence over the educated, and middle class of the Valley. According to Praveen Swami (Hindu 21.8.08) it has 1.5 million followers, 600 mosques and 120 schools, and may have eclipsed JEI in numbers if not in influence.

    In brief while the syncretic Islam still has the largest number of adherents in the Valley but its the reformist and the separatist JEI which wields the socio-political clout. Together with Ahl-e-Hadis it has played main role in radicalising the youth and fanning alienation over alleged fears of Hindu India endangering the ethnic identity of Valley muslims. Growth of Islamic influence has received fillip from a perception of Hindu revivalism in India reinforced by communal riots in the 80’s, Babri Masjid dispute and its demolition in 1992, Mumbai Riots in 1993 and the 2002 Gujarat riots. The fusion of sentiment of asserting the ethnic muslim identity with the anti-Indianism and communalism was the reason behind the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, that also at the hands of avowedly secular JKLF.

    The beginning of the phase of armed militancy in the Valley from 1989, which later spread to Doda and other muslims majority districts of Jammu Region, was a result of a number of factors described above. A cocktail of political, socio-economic and communal (Islamic) influence helped by the visions of pan-Islamic fervour by the Iranian Revolution and successful Jehad in Afghanistan and breakup of the soviet union, were the factors which combined together with the existing separatist urge for self-determination. These ignited the armed militancy sustained by help from Pakistan . It continues till to-day, but is on decline due to the change in Pakistan ’s policy, differences with in the separatist ranks in the Valley and above all fatigue and desire for normalcy among the populace. The passage of 19 years of violence has been well chronicled to bear repetition. It will suffice to observe that it has been a traumatic experience for the valley muslims, and the Kashmiri Pandits who have been driven out of Valley on economic and communal considerations. There is no family in the Valley which has not been affected one way or the other by this passage of arms. Heavy handed, but perhaps unavoidable, actions of the security forces has only added to the sentiments of separatism and alienation. The failure of the armed movement was mainly due the usual divided approach towards common goals, individual ambitions and outsourcing the control of the movement to Pakistan , whose agenda was in conflict with the dominant sentiment for Azadi in the Valley. 

     Then the question arises why the present flare-up since June 2008, over the issue of Shrine Board land, which has all the semblance of a popular upsurge? What course is it likely to take and why? And above all what should the govt. of India be doing about it?

      The answers are not easy, particularly in respect of Kashmir , where historical factors are jostling with complex factors of recent origin for attention. Difficulties are also inherent in the fact that the armed insurgency which began in 1989 has only weakened and not disappeared and attitude of Pakistan which had controlled it till recently, will also be a factor. Experts are also struggling to define the character, content and direction of the present flare-up in the Valley.

      There is a feeling of déjà vu in the present flare-up with the situation in 1990. There are similarities no doubt but these are only on the surface in physical terms of the problem but quite different in substance. Only thing of substance which is common is the root, which was alluded to in the beginning of the article, viz. the assertion of the ethnic muslim identity and search for the of means to protect it against perceived threat. The rest of the objective conditions are radically different. 

    The 1989-90 was a period of euphoria, with the radicalised youth backed by  popular support for its slogan of Azadi preferring the passage of arms to assert its identity, having failed to get it through the process of Self-determination. All this in an environment of favourable geo-political developments, with former soviet republics and satellites becoming independent entities by popular upsurge and being applauded. This formed a heady brew with favourable air wafting from pan-Islamic successes of the Iranian Revolution and Jehadis in Afghanistan . A demoralised state govt. and initially a hesitant and clueless govt. of India groped for an appropriate response. Pakistan readily helped the separatist cause completing the picture of elation, optimism and hope in 1990. The separatists were also hopeful of external intervention from the UN and USA in their favour, an ever present ingredient in the separatist formulations from the Shiekh Abdullah days.

     The current flare-up is also a concoction of several ingredients. Only thing common is the issue of Kashmiri identity (muslim). Only difference is that in 1990 the separatist mood was to uphold it in 2008 it is to defend it. The optimism, hope and euphoria of 1990 have been replaced by sullenness, anger and frustration, even desperation. Before we talk about the course, direction and consequences, let us note how this situation has been reached. Once again the obtaining ground realties have combined with the geo-political factors to bring the situation to the present pass. Once the surprise element of 1990 passed the govt. of India cobbled up a response to the armed insurgency of an incremental attrition neutralising the militant advantage by the end of 1992. By then Pakistan had sidelined the pro-Azadi JKLF and established the dominance of pro-Pak groups led by JEI – Hizbul Mujahideen combine. Attrition Forced Pakistan to take greater control, fashion coordination among militant groups (UJC) and the separatist overground (APHC) and again to introduce foreign Jehadis from 1993 onwards to bolster the local militants.

      However, following certain developments starting with 1998 nuclear power status of India and Pakistan, 1999 Kargil war and 9/11 terrorist attack on USA, the geopolitical situation started becoming favourable to India, and Pakistan came under pressure for terrorist links. Besides, India ’s efforts since 1999 to befriend Pakistan started yielding results, and by 2004 acquired substance with President Musharraf distancing himself from the UN Resolutions. Another compelling factor was that the nuclear status of both the countries had frozen the status quo in Kashmir and other issues as neither could alter it by force. The resultant thaw encouraged greater intercourse with Pakistan of mainline groups like NC and PDP and India inviting Mirwaiz led APHC(M). Hardliner Gillani lost favour with Pak establishment, though retained support of LET, Jaish and Pak JEI.

   By the beginning of 2008 the militant violence had declined considerably. Kashmiris were not part of the Indo-Pak dialogue despite demands for the same, and India was unwilling to accommodate and engage the separatists in any meaningful dialogue for a solution. They were apprehensive that they will be faced with a fait accompli decided by India and Pakistan . With the decline of President Musharraf since the middle of 2007 the position of moderate faction of APHC(M), which was his ardent supporter, became uncertain. Meanwhile the approaching elections by October of 2008, found separatist groups, except hardliner Gillani, in a difficult situation. It was clear to them that India was following a status quoist strategy and was unwilling for the time being to accommodate even the demands of autonomy of NC and self-rule and demilitarisation of the PDP. Any hope that military operations and presence will be scaled back was also not materialising.

      There was an all round despondency and anger in separatist ranks. The internal crisis in Pakistan also moved Kashmir away from the limelight. Zardari’s statement to keep Kashmir on the backburner angered the separatists and militants. Anger and frustration made the position of APHC(M) vulnerable. They were in the danger of losing their constituency to the hardliners, with Gillani accusing them of betraying the cause. Gillani and his supporters went on the offensive, since 2007, building up support among the frustrated youth without jobs and middle class feeding on their fears of loss of identity as muslims. In his addresses to the congregations Gillani was creating paranoia over alleged efforts of India to convert them into a minority by settling army personnel and their families etc. He also consistently harped on the sacrifices made and not to compromise it. With decline of President Pervez Musharraf, APHC (M) and Mirwaiz were getting isolated and reportedly on advice of the ISI to accept leadership of Gillani; he joined hands in June 2008 for a United Front on the land issue to the Shrine Board. According to a secret agreement as referred to by Praveen Swami (Hindu 10.9.08), the APHC(M) dropped the option of direct talks with the India as demanded by Gillani and to continue its political struggle for self-determination, which is to be achieved only through tripartite talks. In effect the leadership of the current phase of agitation has passed to the hardliner Gillani and he is calling the shots. Gillani is getting support of LET and the ISI in his hardline stance. Considering the paranoia regarding the threat to the muslim identity of Kashmir , moderates and even NC and PDP will have to take a backseat for some time.

       For India , it’s a major setback to its efforts to stabilise and normalise the situation in the Valley and in the state. October elections would have put the secessionists in difficulties. Shrine Board land issue was a god sent opportunity to scuttle it. For the time being India is faced with a seemingly popular upsurge for self-determination to preserve Valley’s identity in religious terms. It has no choice, but to ride the storm with determination as it tackled and overcame the armed militancy for 19 years. India will have to factor in the Pakistan response to the situation. Even if the political leadership in Pakistan follows the Musharraf line, the ISI and LET and its leaderships is already engaged in deepening the crisis. It will be prudent not to rely on Pakistani goodwill and do your own thing. Official neutrality of Pak govt. will mean nothing. Meanwhile the negotiations and agreement with agitators in Jammu has only deepened the communal and regional divide between the valley and Jammu Region. The land issue should be pushed to the background.

       In practical terms the govt. has no choice but to wait out the current storm, as like all storms it must wane. Meanwhile govt. should not make any efforts to either divide the supporters of the movement or offer talks or negotiations in the short run. It will be counter-productive. Govt. should continue to deal with the mainline political parties and encourage them. Despite all the doomsday forecasts, the objective conditions are neither very bad nor the separatists have any extraordinary surprise in store, valley media’s strident rhetoric over iniquities of Jammu agitation not withstanding. The root of the issue is the quest of Valley muslims to assert their ethnic identity and to dominate the agenda of public discourse with help from the Valley media and some bleeding hearts from Delhi seminar circuit and odd Arundhati Roys and Navalakhas. This agenda had been at the forefront from the 1930’s and had adopted various twists and turns but has never been diluted having support of all political groups whether mainline or separatists.

    The issues at stake are fundamental and India should not blink. Apprehensions of demographic change by the separatists may influence some in short run, but with the fact of 98% of muslim population of Valley the truth will prevail. No compromise on whipped up communal paranoia should be made and the Jammu people should not be made to pay, although they had no business to agitate over the land issue. They have paid enough price by playing host to lakhs of Pandits forced out of Valley in 1990 and migration of Hindus from the North of Chenab by terrorist strikes killing hundreds. Similarly the drive of Valley muslims to dominate by weakening regional identity of Jammu and Ladakh by suggesting reorganisation based on communal divisions should not be conceded as these are divisive and meant to weaken the regional identity. These have been suggested in 1999 autonomy report of the NC and some others like Wajahat Habbullah, which would ensure domination of Valley muslims and is unacceptable to Jammu and Ladakh.

    To sacrifice the Regional Identity of Jammu and Ladakh to placate the Valley chauvinists will be short sighted and thin end of the wedge to broaden their hold. In this quest there is no difference between the separatists and the mainline political parties of the Valley. Valley holds its land as sacrosanct, but Valley muslim elite can buy land and businesses and settle in Jammu in droves after the trouble, as a matter of right. But can a Jammu businessman buy an orchard in Sopore and settle there? Technically yes, provided he is not killed or spark an agitation in the Valley over their land going to outsiders. The hypocrisy and hubris surrounding the ethnic identity issue and superiority of Valley muslims, must be challenged as they are running away with lot through blackmail of alienation of valley muslims for too long.

      Despite the prevalent anxiety over the situation in the Valley, there is no reason to panic. The objective situation on the ground and otherwise do not warrant drastic measures. The demographic and religious identity centric issues and that of self-determination being whipped up by the separatists led by Gillani have no basis, therefore cannot stand for long. Reality and ambivalence and divisions in Kashmiri society over the issues will take over eventually. Any effort to back the demands by violence will be counterproductive – as had been for the last 19 years. As Umar Abdullah has rightly pointed out neither Azadi nor accession to Pakistan are possible. Therefore, though it may sound harsh, but it is for Kashmir Valley muslims to decide to lead a life of dignity and self-respect or wallow in suffering and self-pity. There is no threat to there identity or existence. This has paid political dividends sofar, but beyond a point may invite countervailing demands from the Jammu and Ladakh regions.

      Issues like validity of accession to India and the UN Resolutions on plebiscite no longer interest the international community. Even Pakistan has started looking beyond it. It is time Valley faces the reality that they cannot look beyond India for solution of their concerns. They have nothing to fear, as even the BJP led NDA govt. respected their identity and concerns. False hopes and expectations are only going to prolong the pain and suffering. The way out is to build a consensus within the Valley first as the main problem is there. And then with the other two regions. In such on exercise they will find the govt. of and people of the country with them.

      A part of the present problem is the style of functioning of govt. of India . It functions in an understated manner without articulating its position on issues or clarifying the terms of engagement. It does not say anything harsh but at the same time does not concede anything to its opponents. That’s how it has and is handling Kashmir, and had handled similar militancies in Punjab and North-East in the past. It is difficult to change its style, but it unnecessarily encourages unrealistic expectations and prolongs the pain. That is the tragedy of Kashmir . Unrealistic fears, religion based political agenda of Gillani and hopes of separation and Azadi have fed on expectations generated by the style of functioning of Govt. of India.

Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati