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Kashmir – Freedom Struggle or Religious Movement?

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Kashmir – Freedom Struggle or Religious Movement?

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Tuesday 15th October 2019

By Vinod Tikoo

The seed of self-determination in Kashmir (Read Jammu and Kashmir) has connections with the French Revolution and the independence of countries on the American continent. US President Woodrow Wilson, probably the greatest proponent of Self- determination in its nascent form, was primarily influenced by the idea of self-determination prevalent during these times, where the main topic was the relationship between an individual and the state. Wilson concerned himself with the opportunity for the people; considering also the people as a group of citizens; to choose their own form of government. He remained true to that idea of self-determination throughout. Wilson never used the term “national self-determination” in his speeches or writing. He spoke about the right of the people to choose through democratic means a form of government suitable for them.

Deeper examination of Woodrow Wilson’s concept of self-determination in light of Wilson’s own intellectual development and the evolution of wartime strategy & diplomacy establishes the idea that there was no prior consideration of ethnic or civic nationalism in his idea of self-determination and that the actual enunciation and application of the principle was deeply affected by considerations of wartime strategy and diplomacy.

The 20th century has been witness to some of the greatest ‘Self-determination’ and ‘Freedom Struggles’ movements of human-kind. The independence struggle of India from the British Raj, South Africa, Republic of Ireland, Singapore, Hongkong, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Ghana, Cyprus, Malaysia and many other nations was primarily based on the principles of ‘Self Determination’ of its indigenous people irrespective of their race, caste, colour or religion.

During the Cold-War era as the two Super-powers were at loggerheads with each other to establish race and nation superiority, the instruments of war and diplomacy were mis-used to fester an “us- and-them” ecosystem. The newly birthed nation states who were still trying to cure the wounds of detanglement from their umbilical cords and were learning to stand on their feet, were suddenly drawn into taking positions defining the post war alignment of the global-axis of powers.

Prior to this, the sub-continent was witness to history’s most brutal migration of mankind during partition in 1947. And even during the birth of Islamic Pakistan, its founding fathers envisioned a society which despite muslim in character, will remain tolerant to all race and religion. Over the years Pakistan, because of its military domination and radical Islamic indoctrination, dealt with its minorities much more ruthlessly than imagined by its creators and their population reduced from 12.5% during partition to around 3.5 to 4% of the overall population today.

After losing the eastern part of its territory with the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan rapidly re-engaged in radical Islamisation of the state, spearheaded by its military dictator General Zia Ul Haq.

Kashmir – Freedom Struggle or Religious Movement?

During this period Zia played a major role in the Soviet-Afghan war, backed by US and Saudi Arabia. Zia systematically coordinated Afghan and Pushtoon mujahidin against the Soviet Occupation throughout 1980’s. This culminated in the Soviet withdrawal and Zia was rewarded with the acceleration of Pakistan’s Atomic Bomb project (The “Islamic Bomb” as many choose to call it).

Kashmir (Read Jammu and Kashmir!) meanwhile was brewing since 1947, when Pakistan sent armed tribals into the region to force an annexation. India and Pakistan fought two wars on Kashmir (1947 and 1965) however both were indecisive. Pakistan did manage to wrest control of what is now called the ‘Azad Kashmir’ region and lines were drawn between India and Pakistan in J&K after the cease-fire in 1949. This LOC by and large continues to remain the working boundary between the two Nuclear armed nations till date. Even in the last 30 years both countries have been on the brink of war on many occasions and skirmishes have taken place in the hilly region a number of times including the Kargil and Siachen conflicts, however the status-quo has largely remained with respect to the LOC. The Pakistani deep state has felt cheated since 1947, since it felt that Kashmir was and remains the “unfinished Agenda of Partition” and in the mind of its Military dictators, it was un-imaginable that a Muslim majority border state can be part of Secular India.

Pakistan had tried hard during partition to claim title to most muslim dominated (or at least with sizeable muslim majority) regions including Bengal, Punjab and Hyderabad. Nevertheless, it had to contend with a split Punjab and Bengal. Hyderabad was wrestled out of Nizam’s fists by the feisty Indian home minister Sardar Patel and Kashmir played an “Elusive game” for a period of time before handing reigns to India when its Maharaja Hari Singh, Signed the Instrument of Accession, with the Dominion of India.

Zia wanted to capitalise on his victories in the Soviet-Afghan region and based on the support he received from the US both monetarily and militarily, conceived Operation Tupac”, the name inspired by the liberation of Peru from Spanish Rule, the key motto behind this strategy being to “Bleed India with a thousand cuts”.

On the back of a successful Mujahideen experiment in Soviet-Afghan theatre and emboldened by the huge cache of US arms and ammunition, cash flows of billions of dollars of military aid and using the fanciful ideas of ‘Self-Determination’ as a tool for mobilisation of masses, Pakistan embarked on implementing this new strategy, realising fully well that it could never overcome its aspirations to annex Kashmir with a conventional war, and therefore Proxy war was the only way forward in Kashmir.

The nascent principles of ‘Self-Determination’ were extracted from Woodrow Wilsons textbook, amalgamated with the radical Islamic indoctrination using instruments of Jihad and served to the majority Sunni Muslim population of Kashmir valley who over years of relative mis-rule from selfish political families propped by subsequent Indian governments found a safe refuge in aligning with this ideologically and so the idea of ‘Azadi’ in Kashmir valley was born.

The real intent of the sponsors of this proxy war was carefully and craftily encapsulated under the framework of the principles of Self-Determination. Slogans like ‘We want Azadi’ and “Azadi ka Matlab Kya La Ilaha Illallah” were used to build consensus and indoctrinate the people of the valley using extensive network of Mosques, Religious schools, institutions and by the over-ground political workers and activists. The movement was complimented by infiltrating armed terrorists both foreign and locally recruited to create panic, confusion and a state of anarchy.

The Indian state was initially caught by surprise and was at its weakest during late 1980’s as a result of economic slowdown, internal strife over caste politics and political instability. It’s lethargic political and administrative machinery took some time to get to grips with the onslaught, but slowly and steadily over years it managed to control the militancy by dominating the conflict zone with heavy “boots on ground”

India has also paid a heavy price with body-bags returned to all corners of the country as a result of fighting a debilitating guerrilla war in the valley over 30 years.

Nevertheless, the narrative of ‘Azadi’ in Kashmir valley built and nurtured over last 30 years using the framework of Self-Determination has fundamental structural flaws:

➢  The failure of the architects of this ‘Azadi’ narrative to prevent the extermination and genocide of Kashmiri Hindus, the mass killings of Sikhs in Chattisingpora (a small village in Kashmir) and the general intolerance to any religious minorities including Gujjar’s, Bakarwals, Christians, West Pakistan refugees, Shia community and other minority communities has meant that the movement has by and large remained a One religion One sub-sect movement.

➢  In addition, the ‘Azadi’ narrative has found very few takers in various regions of the state including Jammu, Leh, Ladakh, Udhampur, Rajouri, Poonch and pockets of north Kashmir.

➢  The overt use of radical Islamic instruments of Jihad and using the slogans of Holy War has meant that there is no cross-community support to this narrative.

➢  The region of Jammu and Kashmir is fiercely multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi- lingual and the hegemony of Kashmir-centric muslim first policies over 70 years have side-lined the other communities of the region and they feel dis-enfranchised from the valley centric separatists.

All of this has meant that although Pakistan has been relatively successful in festering the sentiments of soft-separatism to a sub-set of the Sunni Muslim population of the valley it has largely failed in turning the idea of ‘Azadi’ for Kashmir into the Woodrow Wilsonian principles of ‘Self Determination’ for its people.

India’s temporary constitutional provision to provide a special status to Kashmir region with Article 370 (perceived as “Bastardisation of the principles of devolution”) had prevented the mainstreaming of its population further alienating the Kashmiris from rest of India.

If one were to draw parallels of the Self-Determination movement of Kashmir with the rest of the world, unlike Kashmir:

➢ India’s freedom movement remained largely cross-cultural and cross-religious in nature and therefore managed to turn into a successful Nationalistic movement against the Raj.

➢ South African fight against Apartheid was ultimately successful powered by the determination of its people rising above the discriminations of cast and colour.

Ordinary Kashmiri (Read Jammu and Kashmir people) and its intelligentsia are at the cross- roads of history today. It is time for them to introspect and reflect on the lessons of history and decide their future for themselves. The great opportunity presents itself in front of its people to join the millennial story of progress and success and it is well within the power of Kashmiri’s to decide the course of their future destiny.

Either continue to be driven by a False idea of ‘Azadi’ or use this opportunity to integrate with the mainstream and reap the dividends’ of social and economic upliftment.

The recent change of circumstances in the region present a great opportunity to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to either decisively join the bandwagon of the millennial success story of India or continue to be driven by a religious fault lines driving the False idea of ‘Azadi’ (Freedom). Whichever way the Kashmiri’s ultimately choose to go, Woodrow Wilson would only likely turn in his grave if his idea of true Self Determination by empowerment through democracy become the real grounds for progress of people across the region

About the Author

Vinod Tikoo is a Digital IT leader and a community activist based in London. A Kashmiri Hindu, born and brought up in Kashmir, Vinod represents the Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre, UK. The Centre is an advocacy and think tank on J&K. Vinod is also associated with the Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society, UK; a leading voice of Kashmiri Pandits in the UK.

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