Religion and Kashmir’s Modern Political History

Religion and Kashmir’s Modern Political History
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By Ashiq Hussain Bhat

1984 was a turning point in Kashmir history. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India ousted on 2 July Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah through a court intrigue hatched by Governor Jagmohan and Congress Chief Mufti Sayeed with Ghulam Mohammad Shah (Gul Shah), brother-in-law of the Chief Minister. Kashmiris resented what they saw as New Delhi’s unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. Therefore, they protested vehemently. As a result, Kashmir had to be placed under a month-long curfew.
Chief Minister Gul Shah (now called Gul Curfew) was soon out of favour. Old king makers turned king breakers. Through another conspiracy with Congress Chief, the Governor ousted Gul Shah from office on 6 March 1986.
After years of power political wilderness, Farooq Abdullah entered into negotiations with Rajiv Gandhi who had succeeded his mother as Prime Minister subsequent to her assassination on 31 October 1984. By August 1986 everyone knew that Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah were going to sign a power sharing deal which would cut down Farooq Abdullah to size and bring Congress to power as a coalition partner. Kashmiris resented their proximity more than they had resented Farooq Abdullah’s dismissal two years ago because they thought Farooq had let them down.
At this time Kashmir’s rightwing organizations Jamaati-Islami, Umati-Islami(Qazi Nisar), Anjumani-Itehadul-Muslimeen(Moulvi Abbas), Islamic Study Circle, Muslim Welfare Trust, Muslim Welfare Society, Islamic Jamiati-Tulba, Shia Rabita Committee and Idara Tehqiqati-Islami formed a joint platform called Muslim Mutahidda Mahaz – Muslim United Front (MUF) – to unite Muslims against exploitative opportunistic politics of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference and Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress.
The MUF adopted a green flag (considered to be the colour of Islam!?) emblazoned with a book. Kashmiris (read Muslims) had for some time watched with interest two outside events: Afghan jihad and Sikh militancy. Sikhs had taken New Delhi head on. Kashmiris also wanted a confrontation because they blamed India for non-resolution of 1947-Kashmir dispute.
The Afghans were involved in a bloody war against Soviet Union. It so happened that Sardar Daud Khan overthrew King Zahir Shah (his cousin) in 1973 with the help of the Afghan military. He declared the country a republic, and himself it’s President. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Afghanistan opposed his rule. PDP was set up by Afghan Communists in 1965. It split in 1967 into the Khalq(the people) and Parcham(flag) factions.
In April 1978 military officers sympathetic to Communists killed President Daud, his family and his bodyguard squad in a bloody coup. They installed Noor Taraki of Khalq faction. The Afghans soon launched an armed uprising against the Communist regime. In September 1979, Noor Taraki got killed. He was succeeded by Hafizullah Amin, another Khalqi. On 25 December 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan, executed Hafizullah and installed Babrak Karmal of Parcham faction.
The Afghans fled to Pakistan (and Iran) in droves. There were apprehensions that the Soviet Union actually intended to capture Baluchistan’s coastal line to establish supremacy over the Indian Ocean. So the whole world led by USA converged in Pakistan to stop the Communist “onslaught”. However, in order to involve the whole Muslim world in fighting against Soviet Union, they organized anti-Soviet resistance in the name of Islam rather than in the name of the ousted King Zahir Shah or simply in the name of an independent Afghanistan.
By the time Kashmir’s rightwing ganged up in MUF, the Soviet Union had been thoroughly bruised. But, Kashmiris could not be expected to fight like Afghans or even like Sikhs because by nature they were inherently pacifists.
So, the MUF declared its intention to contest elections against the NC-Congress coalition. Elections were due in March 1989. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah advanced elections to March 1987. Soon the atmosphere in Kashmir vibrated with Islamist slogans: Aawa, Aawa, Aawa, Aawa, Aawa Inqilab (Revolution has come); Rehbaro-Rehnuma, Mustafa Mustafa (the Prophet, peace be upon him, is the guide); Muslim Mutahidda Mahaz Ka Matlab Kya, La Ilaha Ilallah (MUF means Islam); Assembly Mein Kya Chalega, Nizami-Mustafa (there will be Islamic rule); and Qalam Dawat Ko, Vote do (Vote for Pen-Inkpot MUF symbol).
Soon after, events took a different turn as some young men took to the gun. On 31 July 1988, they inaugurated liberation war by exploding a powerful bomb in the Indian Telegraph Office (Exchange) in Srinagar. It was now bombs and bullets in Kashmir. These youth claimed that they belonged to the nationalist outfit JKLF and that they stood for “azadi” – in the sense of complete independence of the former Princely State of Kashmir. Yet, the slogans were Islamist: Hum Kya Chahte, Azadi(We want independence); Azadi Ka Matlab Kya, La Ilaha Ilallah (Azadi means Islam); Yehan Kya Chalega, Nizami-Mustafa; Aey Zalimo Aey Kafiro, Kashmir Hamara Chhod do (Infidels, get out of Kashmir);and so on.
Till then, the JKLF had been an oganisation in Kashmir in name only. The execution of its icon, Maqbool Butt, in India’s Tihar Jail on 11 Febaruary 1984 did not ruffle Kashmiris while as Farooq’s dismissal that year did. In 1988-89 JKLF and their “Azadi” slogan caught the Kashmiri imagination in spite of stark contradictions like continuing with MUF-type Islamist slogans and demanding implementation of UN Resolutions on Kashmir which, by the way, did not give Kashmiris the option of ispar-uspar Azadi(complete independence).
Subordinating politics in Afghanistan to Islamist rhetoric turned the Afghan war into a global Islamist affair which served the immediate purpose of defeating the Soviets with the active involvement of Muslims from around the world. However, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan , in 1989, followed by the fall of Communist regime of Najibullah in 1992, Afghanistan descended into mayhem and a civil war.
In Kashmir, instead of conducting politics in the name of historical Kashmir dispute, all the militant outfits that mushroomed in quick succession in the early 1990s relied on rhetoric of Islamic emirate/caliphate without knowing how that emirate/caliphate would be established. Although concurrently they talked of UN Resolutions, yet the original Kashmir cause got lost and common Kashmiri got thoroughly confused. In a different permutation and combination Kashmir looks like heading the Afghan way. If that happens, Kashmir will not be the only sufferer; Pakistan too, as also India, will suffer for their respective Kashmir policies.

—The author can be reached at: [email protected]

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