Partners in Crime?

By Farooq Shah

ONCE during an interview, senior separatist leader and Muslim Conference chairman Prof Abdul Gani Bhat said the Hurriyat leadership has failed to ‘capitalize’ on the sacrifices of the Kashmiri people. Prof Bhat while referring to the 2008 Amarnath land row that claimed the lives of some 60 civilians described the separatist leadership as ‘weak, divided and unaware of the changes happening around them’. Likening the leadership to a ‘blind horse’, he cautioned the people to choose their leaders wisely lest “it would throw the rider off its back while injuring him permanently.”

After the outbreak of Amarnath land agitation, the loss of life in the subsequent phases of unrest claimed hundreds of lives in Kashmir yet the Hurriyat leadership which claims to be the sole representative of the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir could not succeed in evolving into a force potent enough to stand before the might of India.

The 2016 unrest in the wake of the killing of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of militancy looked exactly the carbon copy of what Kashmir had witnessed during the earlier agitations lending credence to what Prof Bhat had summarized with regard to the Hurriyat leadership.

The unprecedented events that eventually saw the killing of over 100 civilians in the 2016 unrest besides grievously injuring thousands proved too much for the Hurriyat to handle. The scale of public agitation that swept across the valley was so colossal that the entire Hurriyat leadership looked like a straw caught up in a whirlwind. With nothing substantial to offer, the only face-saving device that apparently resulted in the “unification” of the three of their leaders, not parties, giving rise to a new term on the separatist landscape called the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). It, however, couldn’t bring about a noteworthy change that could challenge the Indian hegemony on Kashmir effectively.

As the number of the dead climbed over the days, the frustration of the JRL in failing to put up a formidable front was obvious from its ill-thought out programs issued as ‘calendars’ which overtime became a thing of ridicule among the masses. A cursory look at those would suggest that JRL was attempting to put the horse behind the cart, or in other words it seemed it was far easy for it to pass the buck to the general masses than to take responsibility of the scenario emerging after the killing of young Burhan Wani.

In another such display of immaturity, the octogenarian separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was seen drawing a graffiti on a wall outside his residence in uptown Srinagar, something that caught the fancy among the youth who wrote slogans of every nature on the walls all across the valley. Al-Qaeda and ISIS would be drawn at daggers apart elsewhere in Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Middle East, but the funny slogans such as ‘AQIS’ probably suggesting an amalgam of Al-Qaeda and ISIS written on the walls here could very well explain the immaturity of the protester on the street. Asking youth to draw graffiti on the walls was one of the main directive principles in the JRL calendars.

The resultant chaos took uglier turns by the day with boys as small as eight or ten seen commanding the situation on the roads. Ironically, it was left for them to decide whether an ambulance or a private vehicle carrying a patient should be allowed to pass through their designated checkpoints. At occasions, these young vigilantes were seen checking the hospital documents of the patients needing immediate medical attention. The lack of remorse was so high that an expectant mother was asked to lift her clothing to reveal her bulge to the vigilantes that she didn’t fake her pregnancy as a pretext to be allowed to pass through such a checkpoint.

The only alibi the JRL offered was the authorities had put them under house arrest restricting their movements thereby disallowing them to assemble to devise a concrete strategy.

The absence of a ‘concrete’ strategy not only resulted in an absolute chaos on the ground but it allowed the vested interests who wanted to guide or control the movement of the public agitation towards their own gainful routes, to operate at free will. It was due to this mismanagement of the situation that despite the JRL’s distancing itself from the outfits such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, scores of youth would appear at different places with ISIS flags in their hands providing the much-needed fodder to some sections of the Indian media to drumbeat falsehood of all sorts before the international community. At many occasions, the bodies of those killed at the hands of the government forces were wrapped in the ISIS flag, against family wishes.

Many conflict experts opine the bloodletting in Kashmir is stage-managed or controlled by forces that want the pot to keep boiling as long as it suits them. For example, the security establishment in Kashmir every year issues the number of militants killed in various combat operations somewhere between 150 and 180. Excluding the ‘collateral’ damage involving the deaths of hundreds of civilians, the number of militants killed has strangely hovered around this figure. That the number of active militants in the valley remains somewhat constant despite an equal number eliminated every year suggests the conflict is being managed remotely from somewhere.

Slain militant Eisa Fazili’s father, Naeem Fazili, a serving principal of a school, lamented in his Facebook post he wrote following his failed bid to bring back son home: ‘Eisa, your innocence is being exploited by some vested interests.’  Quoting Quran and Sunnah, Fazili swore that his son was not on the ‘right’ track and implored him not to ‘play with fire’.

Does it not imply the Kashmir conflict has a frontend and a backend which do not necessarily complement each other truly? The experts say the bloodletting here suits not only the major players such as India and Pakistan but to the local parties as well resulting in a hugely complicated situation wherefrom an honourable exit for a common man seems highly unlikely.

According to Prof Bhat, people have to identify which horse to ride on. ‘Riding a wrong horse will lead them to nowhere,’ he said in the interview. ‘People have every right to grab me by my throat and demand what we did to their money, the blood of their sons and the honour of their daughters.’

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s cinematographer-turned-politician brother Tasaduq Mufti rounds it up aptly: ‘We’re all partners in crime.’

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