Knocking on the wrong door
Speaking to the media on the all-party delegation meeting in Srinagar, Union Home Minister criticised separatist leaders for refusing to hold talks with them, saying it showed that they did not stand for "Insaniyat (humanity), Jamhuriyat (democracy), and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s pluralist ethos)". It is hard to disagree with the above statement. But this fact should have been long evident to the Government of India and PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s strategy to include the likes of Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani in the recent round of talks was bound to fail. Any illusions that the likes of Geelani and his supporters in Kashmir can espouse the ideals of humanity, democracy, and its plural ethos should be consigned to the dustbin.
These elements had forfeited their claim to these values in the early 1990s when they facilitated and actively participated in the spread of jihadi terror through militant groups like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The nature of militancy has indeed changed. Some have called it the “ISIS-isation” or the arrival of a deeply reactionary strain of Wahhabi Islam in the Kashmir Valley. The origin of the clamour for “azaadi” was indeed secular and trans-religious.
However, the movement has morphed into the desire for an Islamic state. Geelani has reiterated this fact time and again. Last year, he had claimed that Pakistan flags would "continue to be hoisted" in the Kashmir Valley, adding that "people here love Pakistan". Such notions are not in sync with the larger conception of Kashmiriyat. The persecution of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 1990s laid bare this fact. Despite sharing a unique culture, their only perceived fault was that they subscribed to a different faith. Rabid elements in the Hurriyat led by Geelani, who have managed to overshadow those representing a less reactionary version of Islam, such as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, have also lost any claim to protecting the ideals of democracy.
Dissenters against this reactionary line have been killed for merely talking to New Delhi and little surprise that these elements never condemn such atrocities. As argued, the concept of Kashmiriyat has always been about religious harmony and brotherhood. It goes beyond maintaining the special Constitutional status (Article 370 of the Indian Constitution) for the state. In a recent interview, Adonis, the legendary Syrian poet, was asked about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in West Asia.
In response, he said: "Nothing will change unless there is a separation between religion and the state. If we do not distinguish between what is religious and what is political, cultural, and social, nothing will change and the decline of the Arabs will worsen. Religion is not the answer to problems anymore. Religion is the cause of problems. That is why it needs to be separated. Every free human being believes in what he wants, and we should respect that. But for religion to be the foundation of society? No." One can condemn reactionary elements within the Kashmiri insurgency and the ideologues of a Hindu Rashtra with the same logic. The Indian state should not engage with separatists who double up as Islamist terror ideologues. It must shun tolerance for such rabid elements. But the Indian state must also make concerted efforts at regaining the trust of its own citizens in the Kashmir Valley.
Draconian laws, human rights abuses and the proliferation of the Indian military at the cost of a functioning civilian government are as responsible for the continuing state of turmoil. One act of violence feeds into another. The likes of Geelani are a mere front for the Pakistani deep state's attempts at fomenting conflict in Kashmir. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) recently summoned Geelani’s elder son Nayeem Zafar Geelani for questioning in connection with a probe into suspected terror funds. The bond shared between the wave of militancy that has crippled Kashmir since the early ‘90s and the Pakistani military and state establishment has been well-documented.
The key to the Kashmir stalemate lies with the Pakistan state, military, and intelligence establishment despite the NDA government’s insistence to the contrary. All-party delegations, interlocutor groups and engagement with separatist elements can find a place in the larger Kashmir discourse. But it is the Pakistani state, military, and intelligence establishment that have sustained the insurgency. Interference from rabid elements from Pakistan in the Kashmir Valley cannot be condoned.
Nonetheless, sustained periods of peace in Kashmir have always been a result of better ties with Pakistan. In November 2003, India and Pakistan agreed to a formal ceasefire along the International Border, the Line of Control and the Actual Ground Position Line in Jammu and Kashmir. This agreement not only saved countless lives, both civilian and military but also ushered a period of sustained peace in the region. The ceasefire across the border was further strengthened during the Manmohan Singh era until the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Both sides had come close to a resolution, which would have initiated a certain degree of autonomy and demilitarisation to the state. Unfortunately, both sides lost their nerve and since 2008, Kashmir has entered a new phase of civil unrest.