What is it that we, the people in Kashmir, are violently trying to seek? Is it greater political rights for better governance in Kashmir? The answer is a simple 'no' because in a democratic republic, legislation and institutions provide huge room for such political aspirations. Indian democracy has not only allowed such ambitions; it has also encouraged them in the last seventy years. From the right to information to the right to food security, a whole range of political grievances including demands for new states within the constitutional framework, have been addressed. Clearly, this is not what our agitated youth and militants in Kashmir are seeking.
Their violent means are given ideological and political articulation by the Kashmiri separatist leaders who claim to represent them. So what has been our separatist leadership in Kashmir asking for, for the last 27 years of the violent conflict? Their fundamental demand is the right to self-determination, that is, either merger with Pakistan, which has its roots in the Partition of the Indian subcontinent or 'azadi' (independence), which is only a latter-day politically correct addition. All these choices, in effect, mean rejection of the Indian state and its established political framework.
However, they fail to account for the fact that an overwhelming majority in Kashmir participates in the Indian political process. Barring a few odd elections where voter turnout has been low, a phenomenon induced by fear of the gun post-1990 militancy, majority in Kashmir has always shown its confidence in the democratic system. Even the separatist leaders at some point had been active participants in that process.
The ones who picked up the guns first were the ones who had faced electoral defeat in the 1987 elections, which many claim to be the turning point in Kashmir history. The separatist argument is that since 1987 elections were rigged, their disillusionment with the Indian democratic system forced them to pick up guns.
What they do not tell their followers is that the manipulation of political processes and rigging of elections has not been unique to Jammu and Kashmir. NTR, for example, faced it in Andhra Pradesh but he fought it politically to emerge triumphant in the end. So why did our Kashmiri youth pick up the gun and what was its defining nature? A purely political issue, common sense suggests, should be kept free from religious invocation. However, Kashmir insurgency was driven and dictated by religious zealots from day one. If Kashmir was a political issue then why did we need to use religion to mobilize youth to join militancy? Had Kashmir been an issue merely about our local governance and political rights, would a foreign mercenary from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and Middle East be interested in fighting and sacrificing his life for us in Kashmir?
Though majority of muslims in Kashmir may not have consciously supported it, the fact is Kashmir militancy is essentially a religious cause with a veneer of politics. It is focused exclusively on Muslim identity and demographic of the valley, which wishes to see itself as an extension of the larger Muslim world. Foreign mercenaries have been fighting in Kashmir not for the love of Kashmiri ethnicity or our governance issues but for a religious cause. Our militants along with foreign terror groups are fighting a war against India in the name of Allah. It should be, therefore, no surprise to anyone that many among us welcomed the foreign mercenaries as our guests and heroes. It is the foreign mercenary who took it beyond the fight for Kashmir and made it a part of the global fight for establishment of an Islamic Caliphate.
Some of our own youth joined militancy to settle personal scores, a few for money, some for other allurements but the larger bulk acted on the fantasy that Kashmir was going to be part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. So our youth,in the late 80s, willingly joined a grander Pakistani conspiracy to bring violence to the valley that ironically had rebuffed Pakistan even in the 1965 war. After the 1971 war that led to the division of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, Pakistani ISI and Army avenged its defeat by bleeding Kashmir and thus India too, with Islamic jihad propagated by groups like Hizbul, Lashkar and Jaish.
Both the mainstream politicians and the separatists in Kashmir today claim to seek a political resolution of the problem. But they differ in their means. The separatists tried using violence as a means to resolve the issue. It has benefited a few and brought misery to most. The last 27 years have been of gloom and doom.
Use of violence as a means to achieve any end is regressive. Violence breeds more violence and ultimately destroys the perpetrator. The argument that nonviolent means have failed and, therefore, left the oppressed with no option but to pick up guns is flawed. It demonstrates either the weakness of the case or lack of conviction on the part of people. Though the separatist leadership has time and again stressed on peaceful resolution of the issue, they have continually justified armed "struggle" and use of violence.
We have, willingly or unwillingly, sanctioned and accepted use of violence as a means to resolve issues. Violence and its use are now central to our lives. It doesn't take us much to come to blows even on petty matters. Unless we reject the use of violence in strong, unequivocal and no uncertain terms and without attaching any preconditions we would go deeper and deeper in this quagmire with no chances of redemption. We are at a stage, where this violence is taking a serious radical turn. The time to stop it is now.
Use of sound argument and unwavering commitment to nonviolence, despite the gravest provocation, is a difficult but the only path to success. It is time to make a new beginning. Let's improve our argument and lower our tone. We need not wait for the other side (Pakistan or India), to make a beginning. Let Kashmir take the first step. Since we are followers of the most peaceful religion in the world, let's stop invoking the same religion for justifying use of violence.
(Syed Javed Mujtaba Gillani is an IPS officer of the J&K cadre)