Beliefnet
Reprinted from the Summer 2002 issue of Religion in the News with permission.

Almost all disaffected Kashmiris are Muslims, and their opponents are almost all Hindus, but that does not mean the Kashmiri struggle for independence is entirely fueled by religious passions. The leading indigenous pro-independence movements, including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), believe in militancy but are against the entry of militant Islamic "jihadi" groups from Pakistan into the region.

Abdul Ghani Lone, the highly respected figure in the APHC who was assassinated May 21, time and again criticized the involvement of "jihadi" groups in Kashmir. On January 4, 2001, he told the Kashmir Times that the Pakistan-based jihadis "are not for azadi [independence of sovereign Kashmir]. They are for international jihad and they have their own global agenda."

That is the position of most members of the APHC, the 23-party conglomerate that is spearheading azadi. For these activists the demand for Kashmiri sovereignty has little to do with Islamic precepts, nor do they follow orders from religious leaders operating out of mosques, whether in India or in Pakistan.

Newspapers from the Kashmir valley like the Kashmir Times, Greater Kashmir, and the Kashmir Monitor carry news items and sympathetic interviews demonstrating that important Kashmiri militants are against terrorism. They also publish at length the many atrocities committed by the Indian security forces in Kashmir. For example, the Kashmir Monitor has looked at how the army conducts "late night sweeps" only to "brutalize" innocent people.

It is widely speculated that Mr. Lone's assassination was the handiwork of jihadi mercenaries operating in the Kashmir valley. Even the normally non-committal Times of India commented June 22 that the government of India had been lax in providing security to Lone even though it was clear that he was being targeted by extremists.

On June 27, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, the APHC's single theologian of substance, told the Times of India, "Today Lone sahab was a victim, tomorrow it could be someone else, even me." Farooq has made it clear that he too finds the jihadis very objectionable.

The vast majority of news reports on Kashmir are about terrorist attacks, failed peace talks, and the Pakistan connection. Almost every day there is something gruesome to report.

Attacks on temples and Hindu pilgrims by Islamic militants feed the image of the diehard Kashmiri Muslim fanatic. In March, newspapers reported on an incident in Jammu in which six "foreign ultras" stormed the Raghunath temple, shot the man who attends to the shoes that are checked in before devotees step inside, then killed a woman pilgrim from Gwalior, and entered the wing that houses a transparent statue of Lord Shiva. One militant exploded a bomb strapped to himself after his gun jammed when he attempted to kill a priest who was praying. The priest later told the Indian Express (the largest circulation daily in the county) that it was Lord Rama who had punished the man.

Also in March, a little known terrorist group calling itself the Lashkar e Jabbar shot into brief prominence when it warned women in Kashmir that acid would be thrown at them if they did not wear the head-to-toe burqa. In addition, it admonished parents to guard their daughters closely and make sure that they did not mingle with strangers. The Hindustan Times, which has a strong readership base in Delhi and has traditionally been associated with the conservative mercantile class, gave this news item a lot of attention, accompanying the story with a boxed column entitled "Jabbar's Jabs."

When militants take over mosques, no matter how insignificant or remote they may be, national newspapers are always very interested. Such incidents give credence to the popular belief that the Kashmiri movement is principally religious in character. The presence of militants in a mosque in distant Shangus village earned space in national dailies. When jihadi militants captured a mosque in Redbug village in March, the Tribune and the Indian Express reported that they had huge amounts of arms and ammunition with them. The fact that such confrontations always involve jihadi supporters of the Kashmiri cause needs to be highlighted.

To the extent that they editorialize about Kashmir at all, most mainstream Indian newspapers and journals do not emphasize the fact that the overwhelming majority of APHC members are not motivated by religion. That would be tantamount to admitting that India's vaunted secularism-designed to enlist the patriotic commitment of citizens of all faiths-had failed. The response in the rest of India to Kashmiri militancy has been jingoistic, as if flag waving and clichéd nationalistic slogans could satisfy the longstanding and deeply felt desire for self-determination in the valley.

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