The sentiment is alive, the strategy isn't outdated. Our movement is on firm footing, don't fall for the canards
Our enemy can set us back repeatedly but we will always have another chance. But when we defeat them, it will be for good. That's what the history of freedom struggles tells us. It also tells us that no such movement can be put out with military might. People who think it can be are living in a fool's paradise.
Some people are telling us that 26 years of struggle have achieved nothing tangible and the pro-freedom leadership must devise new strategies to keep the movement alive.
Yes, we have made mistakes and we must learn from them. But we can't let past mistakes bog us down, and divide us. Indeed, the pro-freedom leaders need to join hands and think up new ways to take the movement forward. Our situation it, the collective wisdom of our people demands it. Seeing a united leadership would rejuvenate the people and, thus, the movement. But unity can't be held hostage to undue compromise. If we can't find like-minded fellow travellers, perhaps it's better to walk alone.
That we need new ideas, however, does not mean that nothing has been achieved in the past quarter of a century. The sentiment is as alive as it ever was, despite all the oppression. Kashmiris have had to make great sacrifices, yet they remain steadfast in their resolve to defeat the enemy and achieve their freedom.
Let's put the record straight. In the past 26 years, we have made every effort to impress upon India that the Kashmir dispute is a human tragedy, one which has cost us four generations. But it has remained rigid and insisted upon J&K being its "integral part". So, it's the rulers in New Delhi who are the biggest obstacle in settling the dispute. In fact, the current regime of Narendra Modi, instead of taking a cue from former the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, has hardened the stand further. They want to hold talks with Pakistan on every issue except Kashmir. They want to keep Kashmiris and Kashmir out. I pity their thinking. They shut their eyes like a pigeon that has spotted a cat and pretends that "all is well". New Delhi must understand that any dialogue with Pakistan that doesn't include the question of Kashmir serves no purpose.
In 1994, the JKLF renounced the armed struggle in favour of a non-violent democratic movement on the assurance of the world community, particularly the United States and Britain, that they would prevail upon India to settle the Kashmir dispute. In retrospect, I see that the Americans just used us. They covet the Indian market for their businesses, so they have turned a blind eye to the suffering of Kashmiris. In fact, they have exploited political disputes across the world for commercial and strategic gains. The instability that has resulted – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine, Somalia and several other countries – has virtually turned the world into a giant powder keg that's ready to explode and destroy everything.
So, if anybody needs to change the strategy to resolve the Kashmir dispute, it's the international community, especially America, which has let us down, and India, which has chosen to brazen the whole issue out.
We, Kashmiris, are their victims. Yet, we are not even allowed to raise our voice. Our transition from armed resistance to a non-violent struggle was dealt with force. In 2008, more than 70 unarmed young men were killed by the Indian security forces for raising their voice peacefully; in 2010, another 120 youth fell to their bullets. So, it wasn't just the JKLF which had changed its strategy, the ordinary people of Kashmir also tried the non-violent way of reaching out to the world and seeking Azadi by taking to the streets. But they were showered with bullets and, through curfew, imprisoned in their house.
It may seem like the easy way out, giving up armed resistance for non-violent struggle. It's anything but. When I announced the unilateral ceasefire in 1994, I lost 600 of my colleagues in the JKLF, and six attempts were made on my life. My colleagues and I still have to endure beatings for staging peaceful protests, while jail is practically our second home. Yet, despite such hardship, we remain committed to the non-violent democratic movement and believe it'll get us our victory one day.
However, even non-violent expression of dissent has become increasingly difficult since the PDP-BJP regime took over. It has choked the space for political activism and is using all power at its command to suppress even a hint of dissent. Young people who take part in Azadi demonstrations or take to the streets to mourn their countrymen killed by the Indian security forces are identified and arrested. The situation is a grim reminder of the late '80s when young men like me were arrested for daring to raise their voice and sent to the notorious Red 16 torture centre. Such atrocities back then forced the youth to take up arms, thus sparking a new revolution in Kashmir's long history of struggle.
This regime seems to have forgotten the 1980s and apparently believes that pushing the youth to the wall will break their resolve. Most police stations in Kashmir have turned into Abu Gharib prisons where our youth are humiliated and tortured. Often, even their parents are summoned and humiliated in front of their children.
The youth who stage peaceful protests are attacked with teargas, pepper gas and, often, bullets. And when the excessive use of such lethal force triggers a violent reaction from the youth and they retaliate with stones, they are called "trouble mongers" and arrested and usually tortured. Instead of breaking their will, this often has the opposite effect. Scores of youth arrested for taking part in demonstrations since 2008 and beaten and abused in police lockups picked up the gun after coming out.
Today, some people are spreading the canard that Kashmiris are fed up with the pro-freedom leadership and their calls for hartals, which they claim have lost relevance. I disagree. Hartal is the strongest way of expressing dissent, not just in Kashmir but anywhere in the world. That said, the leadership need to realise that frequent strikes inconvenience the people. A hartal must be called only when no other option is left.
Rumours are also being spread that the pro-freedom leadership wants to join the mainstream and contest elections. This is the handiwork of a few people who have been tasked to create confusion among the people. Let me assure you that the pro-freedom leadership, particularly the JKLF, won't ever betray the great sacrifices that every Kashmiri has made for the movement. We are determined to take the struggle to its logical end. However, we have to work harder to strengthen the movement at grassroots and diplomatic levels. Also, we must dispel such notions as Kashmiris are tired, that elections may be an option, that we are ready to accept the status quo as a solution. Let's resolve to strive harder in the new year to achieve our goal.
AS TOLD TO JAVAID MALIK
(First published in the special new year issue of GK Magazine Kashmir Ink)