If Al Qaeda Is Coming, Relax

We are being told by the media that Al Qaeda has announced a new organisation, Jamaat Qaidat al-jihad fi’shibhi al-qarrat al-Hindiya, or Organisation of The Base of Jihad in the Indian Sub-Continent. We are also being told it will wage jihad in Kashmir besides India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Theorists-cum-fantasists like Praveen Swami see in this announcement the vindication of their obnoxious understanding of the Kashmiri freedom struggle: it is nothing but a religious war waged from across the border. They are going about town raising fears of an imminent invasion by jihadis, ostensibly to justify the perpetual presence of half-a-million soldiers on the ground.

While there is little we can do about the propaganda of Indian theorists and the media, the purported declaration of jihad by AQ commander Ayman Al-Zawahiri should alert us to the dangerous effects of the knee jerk reaction of the opponents and supporters of such views that follows.

Rather than whipping up passions on the Facebook for reasons like gathering a bunch of ‘likes’, those who reside on social media platforms should leave the coming or not coming of Al Qaeda to the resistance leadership who have the means to reach out to the organisation and convey to its leadership the reality of the situation on the ground. A Hizb operative sitting across the border is better equipped to deal with the subject than those who get a bad stomach sipping a bad cup of tea at a restaurant and then feel the need to spew their noxious burps on Facebook.

An Ayman Al-Zawahari is not going to halt his march by the moderating rhetoric of some exuberant Facebook hack who talks about everything from the circulatory system of ants to mystery behind Mehbooba Mufti’s annoying fiddling with her scarf. Nor is an Al-Zawahiri going to decide his strategy on Kashmir from the seemingly welcoming landing sites that the Facebook walls of some users have become. Despite the glut of information on Al Qaeda, which we have accessed second or third hand, we in Kashmir can achieve nothing by making inane analyses on the Al Qaeda’s coming or not coming. Most of us are poorly equipped to do so and we end up responding to propaganda.

In the past, such attempts have only ended in failure and fatality. A formidable leader like Abdul Ghani Lone and many other people have lost their lives to the mishandling of this question. Fratricidal killings over the secular-nationalist-independence versus pro-Pakistan-Islamic-pan-Ummah debate have only led to the biggest schism in the resistance movement. Today, when Yasin Malik shares the stage with ideological opponents, and even attends Hafiz Saeed’s rally to put his point across, we realise what a colossal folly it was to fight over non-issues at the peak of the struggle.

Besides, even Zawahiri, who remains untraceable to the most powerful country in the history of the world, will not approve of enthusiastic Facebook users who expose themselves to one of the most brutal surveillance regimes in the world and risk everything for no great contribution to the resistance movement. Police officers who roam around with a bevy of journalists only have to scan Facebook pages to mark and brand someone as a potential Al Qaeda recruit.

I anticipate a question that asks whether by not critically examining the role of foreign militants or the fallout of the coming of Al Qaeda on the nature of our struggle we don’t risk adopting an ostrich-like approach. It is not that these questions have been asked for the first time, or that the questioning will stop.

Does this question not come to the minds of people in the villages who every now and then risk bullets to demand the bodies of ‘foreign’ militants killed in gunfights, and then march in thousands for their funeral? A poor household will have just lost its dwelling under whose rubble the same militants are buried by bombing the house. The owner has no hope of ever receiving any compensation for it. In fact, he would now be marked for life by the state and subjected to all forms of harassment. People in the village may not agree with the slain militant’s beliefs, but despite the discomfiture caused by his presence, only one among them has probably given him away. The villagers haven’t accepted the militant’s political or religious beliefs. But one thing that can be said with certainty is that they have accommodated him. They bid him the last farewell befitting a co-religionist, albeit of radically different beliefs.

 Do they have a choice to do otherwise? Can they deny a gun-carrying man shelter? One might ask these questions. And these are important questions. In fact, one can very well say these are contradictions in the larger politics of the masses. But then, every freedom struggle is riven with contradictions, divisions and disputes. If we look back at the factors that have weakened the struggle, it won’t be a surprise to find that much of the mess has been created by pedestrian discussions about issues which were best left to the leadership alone.