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Is Kashmir struggle losing direction, falling to militant youth?

Mian Abrar

With Kashmiri protests – in response to the assassination of Burhan Wani – passing 130 days, it seems the militant youth is taking over the freedom movement, of sorts, as Hurriyet leadership appears without a roadmap regarding the future of the struggle.Over 120 Kashmiris have been martyred in the clampdown by brutal Indian regime while around 10,000 have been injured, mostly due to palette gun wounds. Over 1,000 children, women and youngsters have been completely or partially blinded due to the palette wounds while over 10,000 have been detained.Exclusive discussions and background interaction with the Hurriyat Conference leaders and journalists covering the Kashmiri freedom struggle suggest that the pro-freedom activists were worried about the fate of the movement which, they feared, was losing its direction due to the international ignorance and the unprecedented oppressive tactics by Indian forces. At a recently held huddle at Hurriyat Conference headquarters in Srinagar, the Hurriyat leadership sought suggestions from the public as the prolonged strike was hurting the poor and middle classes badly and they wanted the strike to be called off for respite of the poor. “During the recently held meeting, stakeholders from all walks of life including traders, transporters, manufacturers, schools associations, Kashmir university teachers association and many other religious and political organisations told Hurriyat to continue the strikes mode. But since many segments of the society live below poverty line, they have to be taken care of too,” a Hurriyat official who attended the meeting, revealed.He said the valley of Jammu & Kashmir depicts a situation where the young protesters have literally overtaken the Hurriyat Conference leadership and decision-making is largely being pushed by the furious youth.Asked whether or not the furious youth pressed Hurriyat leadership to continue with the protests, the Hurriyat leader admitted that the youth pressed them to continue with the strike. The source said the youth had gathered outside the meeting place and started shouting slogans in disapproval of Hurriyat’s plans of calling off the strike, terming it a “betrayal to the blood of the martyrs”. “While the meeting was going on, youth in large numbers assembled outside the venue raising slogans like “Souday baazi nahi chalegi”. But Hurriyat plans that the weekly protest calendar will be reviewed and there might be change in the calendar from the next week.
People have been suggesting to Hurriyat to give relaxation on alternate days so that every section of the society is able to earn something,” the Hurriyat official said. On the other hand, political observers and commentators, who over the years have observed the struggle, fear that the furious youth may hijack the political struggle. Ashiq Hussain Bhat, a senior journalist covering the struggle for decades, says Hurriyat will have to take independent decisions rather than making the same under pressure from youth. “Of course, they should have well thought out plans first. They should not bother about what furious youth or jihadists think. As long as Hurriyat takes good decisions based on proper analysis, the public will appreciate them. Hurriyat should know that jihadist mindset doesn’t constitute the majority in Kashmir and such elements become more visible now because they are adept at making noise,” he maintains.Bhat says Hurriyat will have to divorce the self-determination movement from jihadiism. “They should discourage people from raising hollow slogans like establishment of a caliphate. These slogans are counter-productive,” he added.He feared the Kashmir struggle was being confused with hollow slogans being raised by pro-militant youth. Asked to elabourate, Bhat said Kashmir cause is not about establishment of a caliphate or about sectarian or religious outfits.“The Kashmir dispute is to ensure whether Kashmir should be a part of Pakistan or India. Kashmiris have every right to vote for Pakistan or India. If they vote for India or for Pakistan, it would be their self-determination. Now the problem is that the Kashmir cause has been mixed with jihadism, caliphatism, etc.” Bhat says there is no need for emotional slogans like “Yehan kya chalega… Nizame-Mustafa”, etc. “As of now, people have forgotten the real dispute and they now tend to believe that it is about establishing Islamic rule and killing opponents,” he maintained. He said Hurriyat has failed to tell the people about the real objective of the Kashmir movement. “Of course, Geelani sahib sometimes says that Kashmir is a political dispute but that isn’t sufficient,” he says and adds that forgetting about the original dispute and turning the discourse to the so-called Islamism, somehow makes jihadism relevant. “People fail to understand that jihadism benefits Indian propaganda. Indian regime uses it to give a twist to the Kashmir dispute. They say there is no dispute except for cross-border terrorism perpetrated by jihadists. Moreover, Indian forces also stage false flag operations like Uri attack. Then they claim that terrorists use Pakistani territory,” he asserted. Bhat says Kashmiris have been fighting for their right to plebiscite since 1955. “There were no guns but still there was movement. Kashmiris only took guns in 1988 onwards when the Islamists crept in. Jihadism is used by Indian government to defame the freedom movement. Just as India used tribal invasion of 1947 to capture Kashmir. Without tribal invasion, India had no excuse to enter Kashmir,” he added.He said Kashmir dispute is a political issue yet it is the religious affiliation of a voter that will dictate which side he will vote for.“I am saying that if a Kashmiri votes for Pakistan, he will vote because he is a Muslim. Now tell me voting for Pakistan means that he wants Pakistan to become a caliphate? No way,” he argued. He said Kashmiris need to take cue from Afghanistan where despite winning freedom from Soviet forces, militancy did not end.On the contrary, young Kashmiri journalists tend to disagree with Bhat. Junaid Rather says the current uprising in Kashmir has moved beyond Hurriyat’s control. “I will not buy the argument that jihadists are overtaking the movement. The recent meeting at Hurriyat headquarters which was attended by representatives of several organisations including many locals who said they are determined towards struggle of Kashmir will not let Hurriyat call off strike. This can be considered an eye-opener for Hurriyat which is fast losing its grip on the movement,” says Junaid. He said the people were fed-up with the claim of the Indian government that Kashmir was an outcome of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. “It is a political issue where people of Kashmir are denied their own identity. Kashmiris have been denied justice and what not,” he added. He said the Kashmir resistance has reached the point where Hurriyat can’t afford to go against the will of the people. “The Hurriyat leadership is facing the existential threat. One of the reasons that united the Hurriyat leadership these days is that people are fed up with following individuals’ dictates.

It’s not Geelani or Mirwaiz’s freedom, it is about every individual of Kashmir who has directly or indirectly suffered,” he added. Muhammad Affan, another young journalist, said that since there was no outcome of prolonged protests, the Hurriyat leadership wanted to change gears, moving from strikes to some other mode of protests. He also disapproved of the notion that jihadist youth wanted to take-over the struggle from the Hurriyat leadership. “There is nothing like jihadists overtaking the movement. Hurriyat is still in control though the people have started moving and there is considerable movement of traffic from Hurriyat to other stakeholders. Strike politics seems to have failed and people want something concrete out of the protests,” he added.

He said that he personally believed that strike is not going to get Kashmiri people freedom. “Hurriyat doesn’t have a roadmap. But this is a fact that they have no option other than going for the strike call either,” he added.

Asked if the jihadists were pressing the Hurriyat leadership, Affan said there were people from jihadist organisations who said they would impose the strike forcibly but that was rejected by a majority at the meeting.

He said some vocal activists including human rights activist Khurram Pervez have been detained under PSA — a draconian law under which police can detain a person for a period of six months without trial. But in Kashmir, people are detained for two years without trail under this law, he says.

Asked to elaborate upon the new strike calendar, Affan said people in the streets say that there should be only two days’ strike in a week while Sunday should be a working day.

“People say resistance should be made a way of life. We have to fight, but it is not possible to fight with an empty stomach,” he concluded.

It seems that the emotional youth are being tricked by the Indian establishment to lure them towards militancy. The Hurriyat leadership would have to keep the struggle on track disallowing the militants overtake it and also making sure to take along the youth which are the harbinger and flag bearers of the struggle.

With the freedom struggle witnessing unprecedented sacrifices, the Kashmiris need to carry forward the sacrifices rendered by their forefathers with the same resolve and commitment. The journey should continue with protests while the political leadership may be allowed to decide a new schedule for the strike.

There is a need for saner elements among Kashmiris to evolve a strategy to help ensure that the resistance goes unabated without fail and the youth also be taken forward with the same zeal.

Kashmiris need to fail this attempt the same way they had failed an effort by Indian intelligence to launch Islamic State in the valley some months back.

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