In an email interview with Kashmir Reader correspondent, Junaid Nabi Bazaz, Hurriyat Conference(M) Chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, candidly talks about the nature of the 2016 uprising, people’s expectations, the resistance leadership’s dilemmas in the face of great odds and dwells on the long term strategy of the leadership.
KASHMIR READER (KR): The recent public uprising was unprecedented in the history of the Kashmir resistance movement. The resistance exhibited by people against the Indian state may have been a moral victory as you have put it, but many say practically nothing was achieved. A section of the society and many political commentators say it was a failure of the leadership. How do you respond?
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq(MUF): You yourself acknowledged the current uprising is unprecedented in the 70 year history of our resistance movement. What made it so? Basically there are two things, first the complete and comprehensive involvement and identification of the entire population of the Kashmir Valley- from Drass to the Chenab valley- with the resistance movement and second, the unequivocal and single clear cut message: the demand for Aazadi(freedom). The previous agitations of 2008, 2009 and 2010 were issue based, but the 2016 uprising was a revolt. It signaled the commitment and determination of Gen next of Kashmir to the ultimate goal, nothing less. It was a peoples uprising representing their aspiration for Azadi , not for fulfillment of some immediate demands which the leadership failed to achieve. And for the achievement of this lofty and just goal that people have set out to achieve what is needed is belief, courage, perseverance, patience , unity among all sections of society including the leadership and a well thought out and deliberated long term strategy.
KR: The people of Kashmiri and the resistance leadership echoed the demand for aazadi from Indian rule in unison. However, you say that the struggle for aazadi is a long drawn affair. But the people want their struggle to yield tangible results once for all. What do you have to say about this? And what did you learn from the intense public uprising of 2016?
MUF: We have to keep in mind that if we have decided that we want to be our own masters than it will not happen immediately. It’s not going to be a now or never situation. If you look at history of peoples struggle in the world-the subcontinent got its freedom after more than 200 years of struggle, Palestinians are struggling for decades even though they have so much world support, the blacks in America despite all the talk about equality in that country have to tell the world that ‘Black lives matter’.
India is a mighty power. For the past seventy years it has been ruling us. Our territory is under its control. It knows our character, our weaknesses thoroughly. Its power centers and institutions have taken roots here and got cemented .So it is not going to be easy for us to make it accept and respect our will and aspirations. This assumes significance in the current times when rhetorical excess and hyper nationalism are the order of the day in India. However, there is a silver lining: people’s resistance -despite great oppression perpetuated upon them through India’s powerful military- has definitely put Government of India (GOI) into a spot. Although, India knows it and won’t accept this reality in public, it will not be easy for them to maintain the status quo in Kashmir. Kashmiris will keep giving them a tough fight. The struggle for Freedom is a constant one and not a one off thing. Sacrifice, suffering and faith in the cause inhere in this noble struggle.
The overarching lesson that the leadership has learnt is that it will have to close ranks, work in earnest, formulate ways and means to sustain and carry forward the struggle. It has to keep upgrading skills and keep engaging with the world to make it take cognizance. The stakes are very high for us. We also need to educate people and make them understand that it is their struggle and each one of them has to play a role in taking it forward. The diaspora has to play a more active role too.
KR: It is often said that current geo-political environment is not conducive for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, be it through the direct intervention of world powers or through the United Nations. You know how they responded in 2016. How do you think New Delhi could be engaged beyond the street?
MUF: I do not think it is an issue about the geo political environment being conducive. The issue is about its willingness. If , the international community wills , the dispute can be resolved tomorrow but unfortunately will of nations is subservient to their self and strategic interests. And , alas, no one wants to stand for us at the cost of their interests, otherwise our just struggle based on the universal principle of self determination and the tremendous sacrifices and tyranny faced by us in the past six months would have generated more support and outrage globally.
As of now, it seems that New Delhi does not want to engage with the people except through use of force and constant assault. It wants to hem in Kashmiris from all sides. What we can do at this point is survive, sustain and keep up the pressure on all fronts.
KR: Nearly 100 Kashmiri youth are believed to have joined the ranks of armed rebels during the uprising, apparently because engaging India through the streets has resulted in no quantifiable gains for the resistance movement. Amid this unyielding situation how do you see the relevance of armed struggle? Is it as an effective option?
MUF: India does not recognize our political aspirations, it even does not engage with it, instead it crushes the aspirations with brute force, humiliation and indignity. Our youth can no longer take it and are getting pushed to a path which no one wants them to take and even they wouldn’t want to follow. It pains me to see that instead of holding books bright young fellows, the future of our nation is taking to guns. Today, the nation identifies with them. It sees them as heroes of the cause, as freedom fighters.
Ideally, peaceful and non violent freedom struggles provide a high moral high ground and recognition to those who are at the receiving end of state oppression. International support and endorsement to such struggles is greater than to armed resistance.
KR: During the uprising, when people were being killed, maimed and blinded almost daily, what was going on your mind?
MUF: It was making me restless sad and angry. I wanted to reach out to people, lead from the front to sympathize, support, and be a part of their grief and pain. It was more frustrating because I was caged at home and all communication lines were cut and then I was kept in solitary confinement. I felt it was my moral duty and responsibility to be with the people yet I was not able to do it.
KR: The resistance leadership is often blamed for repeating its mistakes. For example ,lawyers were not exempted from strike calls which caused a lot of trouble to the families of the incarcerated. Your programs only asked people what to do but most often didn’t show the way. You rode the public sentiment rather than channelized it for your objectives of aazadi. How do you respond to this criticism?
MUF: Our adversary is very powerful and controls all means of communication. It plants the discourse that resistance leadership keeps failing people and adds to their misery. I am not saying that leadership is perfect and not fallible. But, we need to have clarity on certain fundamental facts. A war has been waged against us by a mighty force, for demanding our right to self determination. What are the means of resistance available to us for protesting against this continuous assault? No methods of peaceful methods were allowed. We were even disallowed to bury and mourn our dead who are killed protesting! The space for any kind of expression of protest is highly constricted. So what to do? Any one protesting and challenging the might of the tormentor is killed blinded and pelleted mercilessly, leadership is gagged and caged, strict curfew and restrictions are put in place; the entire valley turned into a vast jail. In such a situation which Kashmiri would want to do business as usual, who would want to send children to school , which hotelier would welcome guests? People are angry and resistant to this state dictatorship. How do we show resistance? In such a situation, the strike becomes the only and means of protest. The protest calendars are not some orders from us for people to follow, they are a reflection and represent peoples collective voice against the state’s highhandedness and oppression, especially when all other means of protest have been choked. They are also a means of channelizing the anger and sentiment of people in an organized way towards the end goal. The calendars did suggest other means of protests like occupying roads, freedom marches to district headquarters and UN offering nimaz on roads, sit ins, visiting the pellet victims, boycotting government offices, wall painting playing resistance songs, displaying banners and placards, reading collective pledges and so on. The question is not about us showing the way, everyone knows how to do these things, but the problem is that the state does not allow any space for these peaceful expressions of protest. It’s standard response to any kind of peaceful protests is the use of naked and brute force.
All essential services were exempted from strike calls and once curfew was lifted and situation slowly improved ,we did request lawyers to pursue the cases of the incarcerated in earnest.
KR: It has been said that no mighty state would ever set an occupied people free unless it makes that state weak. Your programs display no such intention. It appears the way resistance has gone on in Kashmir has consumed people more than the state. How do you think you can take on the Indian State’s seven decades long intransigence?
MUF: It is a fact that when the cost of a dispute is high for the state to bear, the state is compelled to seek a solution . But , India is a very huge and vast nation. It is not possible for us to take on its militarily might or drain it economically. So, the route of weakening it employing these means is not available to us. It is also a fact that we are constantly at the receiving end of oppression which has been part of any freedom struggle. The losses suffered by those seeking freedom through peaceful means outnumbers those suffered by the oppressor. Actually, there can be no comparison between the two sides.
The way we can challenge India is to hold it accountable to the commitments made by the country to the people of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 and sealed by the United Nations Resolutions. Our resistance has to be aimed at this end. Our route is based on justice and commitment and for that we have to speak in one voice and have to have a single narrative. We have to make resistance a way of our quotidian life. It is a people’s movement. As such, it is totally dependent on the people and everyone has to make a contribution to take it forward. Our protests programs and initiatives have to be a continuous feature. What is also important is to educate the people of India about the dispute in its historical and principled perspective. We need their help and support because they can pressurize their government to change its attitude and do justice with us. At the same time, we have to constantly engage the world community to take notice and support us to influence India .The diaspora has to play its role. We have to keep in mind that it is a long drawn battle where conviction in our cause, patience and perseverance alone can take us through. We must not get disheartened. History bears witness to the fact that no nation , however powerful it may be, can hold a people against their will by virtue of brute force. Truth ultimately triumphs and freedom is our destination.
KR: The united resistance leadership recently said in a statement that a ‘long term strategy is being worked upon’ and a long term program will be issued shortly. At the culmination of 2010 uprising, you had also said the same thing. That long-term plan of resistance never seems to materialize?
MUF: The current uprising has taken our movement forward and opened out the possibilities and widened scope of our struggle. It is now time to work upon these possibilities and deepen the scope of the struggle. The meaning and understanding of protest has to be extended, mechanisms for public participation in decision making and implementation have to be created. It is in this context that the united resistance is working on a long term sustainable strategy based on proactive initiatives, programs and sustainable modes of protest .The thrust area will be maximum public participation in the creation and implementation of these programs and initiatives with minimum costs for the people. While the movement is all important to us, it has to be balanced with the survival and sustenance of people.
With these objectives in mind, we are working on a plan of transition to a yearlong plan of initiatives and protest programs. Efforts are on to reach out to all sections of the society and ensure their participation in the process of decision making and implementation of these initiatives. Since we are mostly caged and hurdles are put in reaching out to people, it will take some time.
KR: Does the absence of any long-term plan have anything to do with differences among the resistance leaders?
MUF: Alhamdolillah, there is no difference of opinion among the leadership. There is absolute unity of purpose among us. As I said, the state machinery is engaged in sabotaging our every move, we are caged and not allowed to meet each other. Our communication channels are blocked, people not allowed to meet us and , our workers are rendered on the run. All these hurdles are delaying the announcement of the year long transition program. Besides, we are also simultaneously working on the blue print of a long term strategy.
KR: In 2004, your differences with Geelani Sahib split the Hurriyat Conference. One of the main reasons was Sajad Lone’s plans for contesting elections. While initially you differed with Geelani Sahib, but later he proved to be right. Almost 12-years later, you assert that unity is the way forward. Have the differences been overcome?
MUF: Unity always is the best way forward. As I already said the stakes are too high for us. The sacrifices are immense. Moreover, there never were any major differences amongst the leadership that could not be worked out.