Much as the debate over the ongoing stand off in Kashmir Valley which has taken over 60 young lives now is stretched over a spectrum of issues ranging from frustration of youth, unemployment, separatism vs nationalism, failure of the Central and State government and anti Pakistan jingoism, radicalization of the separatist movement has received limited attention. Given propensity of external analysts to seek answers in the obvious and a tendency for avoidance of confrontation by local leadership due to fear of the gun, radicalization of the separatist movement which has seen marginalization of moderates as Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and even hard line Geelani has been largely ignored.
The separatist movement has clearly passed on from those who were seeking political solutions to those who are seeing Islamist extremism as means to achieving the same agenda leading to a new phase of violence in the Valley. There is increasing evidence that extremist elements from the separatist lobby which have made truck with violent Islamic radicalism are taking hold of the agitation in the Valley and therefore this is attaining a different tone and tenor.
While moderate leaders have been continuously emphasizing that minorities will not be harmed and the Valley is safe for all, actions of the radical elements with terrorists groups catalyzing the same have been evidently striking at the minorities regularly and raising the Islamist flag from time to time.
The moderate Islamic leaders in the Valley are also being systematically eliminated. If this trend continues and Kashmir moves away from the traditional path of liberal Sufi Islam this will be a major shift in the socio religious landscape in the Valley and therefore would have to be viewed with caution not just by the Indian state but also by the international community. Do we want a Talibanised Kashmir as an extension of the extremists in Af-Pak?
The trends are pretty ominous. Leaders as Ms Aasiya Andrabi of the Dukhataran e Millat, Ghulam Muhammad Sumjhi and Masarat Alam Bhat are in the forefront of the present phase of violence and have marginalized Mr Geelani in whose name they are now operating. The triumvirate is skillfully using the current wave of protests to advantage and thereby giving a different twist to the entire stone pelting agitation. Their supporters in the Jamaat hotbeds of Sopore and Down Town Srinagar provide the foot soldiers for the attacks on police posts some of which are led by militants.
This new wave has not subsided as the triumvirate is also issuing public appeals and weekly programme of bandhs and strikes. Ghulam Muhammad Sumjhi has reportedly been arrested but Bhat remains underground. Aasiya Andrabi on the other hand was allegedly attempting to get a passport for her son to go to Malaysia for education. Thus the commitment of these leaders is shallow but vitriolic.
In the latest revelations the radicals are reported to have threatened Sikhs in the Valley numbering over 60,000 to leave else face the consequences. Moderates as Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have denied any threat to the Sikh community but knowing the way other minorities as the Kashmiri Hindus had to leave in a hurry in 1990, there is fear. “We do realise this could be the handiwork of vested interests and the intention of the hate campaign undoubtedly is to drive a wedge between the majority Muslim and minority Sikh communities, but it has created a fear psychosis among the people,” Jagmohan Singh Raina, a Sikh community leader was reported by the media.
To his credit Mr Farooq clearly indicated that, “Kashmir’s struggle is not about Muslim versus Hindu or Muslim Kashmir versus Hindu India,” Mirwaiz said. “But some forces are trying to give a communal colour to the freedom movement. I urge Hindus, Sikhs and other minority community members to not pay attention to such letters or warnings.”
It is now claimed that the threat to the Sikhs is through letters written by “mysterious” elements and intelligence agency sleuths to undermine the unity in the Valley. But the deed has been done and there is widespread fear amongst the minorities. Clearly radical elements are undermining Valley’s syncretism.
It is time that political leadership in the Valley both separatists and mainstream introspect and work together to defeat the nefarious designs of those who are totally against the tradition and culture of tolerance of Kashmir. The designs of these radicals have led to innocent youth falling victims to rabid elements who are using them as cannon fodder given lack of capacity of the police in India to meet the challenge emanating from stone-pelters in the Valley.
Therefore tackling radical elements would remain one of the biggest challenge to the state apart from improving police capacity to handle law and order and public protests by using non lethal means. While the former will precede the latter and would have to be achieved politically the latter will be a measure of capacity building. Both can be undertaken simultaneously, when remains the question?