In an earlier article, I had written about the battle of perceptions and the difference correct wordings can make. There, I had emphasised the need of winning the battle of perceptions in J&K. Building an appropriate counter-narrative to the mischievous and false narrative spread by the power brokers of Kashmir is essential to view the entire issue in its correct perspective. Generally, the power brokers confine themselves to the views and wishes of a few districts of Kashmir and ignore the aspirations of the vast majority of the other two regions as well as the frontier districts of Kashmir. Just because they are vocal and have enjoyed the control of the levers of power in the state since long, they strongly and loudly advocate their narrative resulting in creating a misperception about the actual reality of trouble torn state of J&K.
The narrative built by the power brokers has gained acceptance in the rest of the country under misguided notion that the nearly 2000 square kilometre of the Valley represents the entire state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; that the aspirations of the people in the state are identical or nearly identical and that the contradictions among them are only region specific. Their narrative hovers around the theme of Kashmir being a “political problem” and needing nothing else but a political solution. The narrative does not enjoy universal support in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Some saner Kashmiri voices like that of Haseeb Drabu and Muzaffer Hussain Baig have dared to challenge the narrative, but the bullies have succeeded in cowing them down.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is like a bouquet comprising of many religions and ethnic groups. However, the political aspirations and needs of the peoples of Jammu and Ladakh, who constitute more than half of the state’s population and inhabit about 90 percent of its land area, and Kashmiri pundits and Muslims are conflicting.
The largest region of the state is Ladakh. It has a land area of 96,701 square kilometres. The region’s population is split roughly in half between the districts of Leh and Kargil. 76.9 percent population of Kargil is Muslim (mostly Shia) while that of Leh is 66.5 percent Buddhist. The Jammu region is next in size. It has an area of 26,293 sq. kms and is predominantly Hindu (63 percent) with 32 percent Muslims and 5 percent others including Sikhs. The Kashmir province, having a land area of 15,853 sq. km is predominantly Muslim with a sprinkling of minority Hindus and Sikhs. While majority Muslims are Sunni, Shias constitute 15 percent of the state’s population.
The state of J&K is, in fact, a blend of several ethnic groups. Some of the social and ethnic groups in the state are: Kashmiris, Dogras, Gujjars and Bakerwals, Paharis, Baltis, Ladakhis and Gaddis, etc. Dogras are spread all over the Jammu region. Paharis, Gujjars and Bakerwals inhabit the mountainous regions of the state. The Muslim population of the state can be broadly divided into Kashmiri Muslims inhabiting the southern portion of the Kashmir region, Shias, Paharis, Gujjars and Bakerwals, Balti and Dard Muslims.
The composition of population is indeed an important factor and cannot be easily overlooked or ignored but the apologists of “political problem” just do that. For instance, Shias and Gujjars and Bakerwals in the state in general and in the Kashmir region in particular, vehemently oppose the concept of “Azadi,” merger of the state with the theocratic, feudalistic and medievalist Pakistan and pre-1953 constitutional position. They perceive that they would be treated no better than the Muhajirs, Shias, Ahmediyas, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians in Pakistan. They fear that fundamentalist Muslims spurred by Wahabi ideology will not let them co-exist equally and peacefully.
Three-time CM of J&K and a former Union Minister both in UPA and NDA led governments, whose party has directly or indirectly ruled the state for about five decades, Dr. Farooq Abdullah continues to harp, “Kashmir is a political issue and it cannot be resolved through economic packages or other concessions. This crucial issue can be resolved only through political means.” Ironically those who enjoyed the fruits of power since October 1947 and filled their coffers with the liberal funds received from the Central government are spearheading the campaign of alienation from India, feel cheated by the secular and democratic ethos and are in the forefront of challenging India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity. Even the Sunni Muslims, votaries of “Political Problem,” are a divided house with four different voices of azadi, merger with theocratic Pakistan, autonomy/self-rule and complete integration with India. This shatters the myth of “political problem” to the extent that it is a mere tool for sustaining the political survival of the power-brokers.
Another plea often quoted in support of “political problem” is the UNSC resolution and the plebiscite. It is an established fact that it was Pakistan that refused to comply with the provisions of the UN resolution 47 which required complete vacation of occupied areas by Pakistan and total pull out of its army. Pakistan not only avoided plebiscite but later also illegally ceded a large portion of territory of the state to China. To complicate the matter further, Pakistan changed the demography of POJ&K, particularly the Shia dominated Gilgit-Baltistan. Thus, plebiscite and UN resolution have become redundant and the issue is similar to flogging a dead horse.
While Haseeb Drabu sees the problem as social, veteran PDP leader Muzaffer Hussain Baig sees it as a fight to choose between “hell and heaven,” a religious movement. “It is an ISI sponsored religious war in Kashmir. It is not a fight for political freedom or choice between India and Pakistan but between heaven and hell,” Baig is reported to have said while speaking during a discussion “Kashmir: the way forward,” organised by a Delhi-based think tank. Though, Geelani had long back defined the struggle as “Azadi barae Islam” the power brokers were reluctant to accept the same. Undoubtedly, what Kashmir is facing today can easily be defined as a “religious problem.”
Terrorism and Islamisation are two sides of the same coin in the present day Kashmir. Zakir Musa does not mince words when he says that the struggle is not for azadi but for establishment of Shariat and Islam. For the young terrorists who call themselves Mujahideen, the movement is essentially Islamic and the political part is secondary. They are determined to retain the monolith character of modern Kashmir and hate the word secular and the concept of composite culture sounds very alien to them. The jihadis are motivated by ISIS ideology which believes in barbaric elimination of those who dare to differ with them. The aim is to make Kashmir an exclusive Islamic state and they abhor the idea of “inclusivity”. “Islamism and Wahhabism are the only ideologies that promise paradise towards killing and butchering other people in the name of Islam,” says Imam Twahidi, a progressive and modern Muslim cleric. This is what Muzaffer Baig is referring to as choice between “Heaven and Hell.” It is this ideology that drives educated Kashmiri youth towards militancy and terrorism, the desire to attain ‘jannat’.
It is the fear that prevents the saner people from expressing themselves freely and accepting the presence of the elephant in the room. Growing radicalisation is the root cause of all the problems in Kashmir today. Effort is being made to spread the arc South of Pir Panjal as well. There are enough indicators to confirm the theory of “religious problem.” One cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that there is resistance to the return of Kashmiri Pundits who were forced to leave their hearth and homes under the shadow of gun in early nineties, coerced by the slogan of “Hum kya chahte Azadi, Azadi ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah” (What we want ‘azadi’, what does azadi mean? There is no God but Allah). Having succeeded in hoarding out the Hindus, Sufism was gradually replaced by hard line Wahabism. The other indicators are waiving ISIS flags from the ramparts and minarets of mosques and during funeral of terrorists, proliferation of radical madrasa education, non-condemnation of killing of innocents by terrorists, frequently labelling the J&K police personnel as infidel, blaming Indian agencies for Sunjuwan attack just because the soldiers killed there were Muslims, mourning the deaths of terrorists but not condemning killing of Indian soldiers, opposing the grant of land for raising structures for smooth conduct of Amar Nath Yatra, not condemning barbaric killings of non-Muslims by Muslims like ISIS and opposing removal of Article 35A but supporting Rohingyas to live in the state.
Salafi-jihadis dream of converting Kashmir into an Islamic State and then use it as a launch pad for their final assault termed Ghajwa-e-Hind. Unfortunately, the two Kashmir based political parties fighting for the political space in J&K are also using religion to enhance their political survival. Though they claim to be secular, their actions and deeds are nothing but communal. It is pertinent to mention here that though the word secular was included in the preamble of the Constitution of India in 1977, it has yet to be included in the J&K Constitution due to the reluctance of these parties. The recent proposal of NC backed by PDP and Congress for granting regional and sub-regional autonomy is also an attempt to divide the state on religion and regional lines. It is a sure shot recipe for disaster and disintegration of the state as it furthers Musharraf’s plan for division of the state on basis of religion and formation of a Muslim-majority Greater Kashmir.
Thus, the counter-narrative is obvious. Kashmir is not a political problem but a religious problem. Islamisation of Kashmir is not acceptable to the other two regions; Jammu & Ladakh. J&K is known world over for its composite culture and multi-religious society. Like the Muslims live happily in Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist majority Ladakh, there is no reason for denying the same to Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir. Even all sections of Muslims in Kashmir are not in favour of a monolith Kashmir but want a heterogeneous, composite Kashmir. Fear of gun and terror of Jammat-e-Islami and Ahle Hadith prevents them from airing their views openly. There is an urgent need to smell the coffee and accept the problem. Sufism is the soul of Islam in Kashmir and its replacement by alien Wahabism cannot be granted permanency. Peace cannot return to J&K till Sufism returns.
Brig Anil Gupta is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org