Many photographs in newspapers and TV channels of 14- and 16-year-olds aiming bricks or stones at the security forces have filled our minds over the last few days as street violence in the Kashmir Valley escalates. A 14-year-old identified by the police as a regular stone-thrower during protests could not recall to the media why he was pelting stones and what the protests were about. Perhaps he was simply enjoying the fun, as street urchins do, especially when they find an expensive car parked on the village road.
But this was not adolescent fun. As the embattled Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said, these stone-throwers were trained and stationed to provoke and force the security forces to open fire. The resultant deaths provide enough fuel to provoke more protests and for the security forces to fire in self-defence and ensure law and order. Thus the cycle of protests and firings feed on each other. Significantly, many of the adolescent stone-throwers are seen wearing masks in the photographs of the events. They couldn’t be innocents caught in a protest flow.
The so-called “moderate” separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq almost gave the game away when he told newspapers that the issue was much bigger than law and order: “Eruptions in Kashmir are not a governance problem. The sources of Kashmir discord are rooted in the politics of the state”. These quotes from the Mirwaiz expose who really is behind these recurrent protests. The Mirwaiz wants the main political parties in the Valley, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, to “leave Assembly politics and join hands with the separatists to resolve the problem”.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s agenda exposes the core goals of these separatists: withdrawal of troops from Kashmir, revocation of “draconian” laws, end of “human rights violations”, opening all cross-border routes between the two Kashmirs, and permission to hold protests freely. This, of course, is a blueprint for the state government and the Centre to surrender to separatists and jihadists. The Mirwaiz, it should be noted, does not at any point talk about ending of infiltration, stoppage of attacks on the security forces, or indiscriminate killings by militants and suicide bombings.
The repeated violence through so-called protests, militant activities and regular communications that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other separatists hold with Pakistan should have indicated to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the futility of his soft-power approach towards them. Mr Omar Abdullah seems to be increasingly ineffective in stemming the tide of well-orchestrated “protests” even after he has taken strict action against security personnel who allegedly shot dead some people.
The separatists are using stray incidents of alleged wrongdoings by the security forces to good advantage by raising the cry of human rights violations; they, of course, do not raise their voice when militants indiscriminately kill civilians in the same Valley. Also, the Mirwaiz’s reference to human rights does not go beyond the Muslim residents of the Valley. He has never shed a tear for the pundits of the same Valley who have been driven out by militants and jihadists and are living as refugees in other parts of the country.
It has been a long story of deceit, well-planned stirring of communal passions and Islamic orthodoxy to hack at Kashmiri culture and convert it into a fully Islamic one, stripping it of any infusion from its ancient Hindu heritage.
The pandits were driven out of the Valley to strengthen this demography. That also explains the double standards adopted by the the Mirwaiz and Co. — no protest at killings by militants and infiltrators from across the border but orchestration of protests and stone-pelting against the security forces who are there to contain the Pakistani infiltrators.
It is time the Centre recognises that Kashmir separatism is directly linked to communal composition and the recent jihadi backlash in that community.
The Congress has much to answer for the continuing mess that is Kashmir today. Jawaharlal Nehru backed Sheikh Abdullah to the hilt, thereby provoking his traditional rival the Muslim Conference, led by the then Mirwaiz, to look for support from across the border. The Sheikh then ditched his friend Nehru and his policy. Indira Gandhi negotiated with the Sheikh for his return and in the process more of his rivals moved into the separatist camp.
We saw the strange spectacle of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, Union home minister under V.P. Singh, kneeling before the militants when his daughter was supposedly abducted by them.
The same Mr Sayeed is now leading the second-most powerful political party in Jammu and Kashmir and his party president, who is his second daughter, talks in two voices — she never dares to condemn the killings by the militants but is at the forefront of all protests against the state government. The Prime Minister fails to learn from the repeated failure of his call to the separatists for talks.
The situation in the Kashmir Valley will continue to be volatile so long as the Centre and nationalist forces there fail to recognise that Islamic jihad is the weapon that Pakistan is using to split the people of the state.
Religious extremism is on the prowl and seeking to gain ascendancy. Unfortunately, political forces have allowed themselves to be at its mercy in a bid to compete for votes.
The Congress is promoting this same extremism in other parts of the country as well and that is why it is unable to stem the tide of extremism in the Valley despite its considerable political following there. Nor has it come out to enforce the benefits that the Hindus of Jammu should get under the special plan for minorities as they are a minority in the state. The majority of Congress MLAs in Jammu and Kashmir have been elected from Jammu region. The war against fundamentalism cannot be won by sleeping with the fundamentalists.
Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org