A strange form of political correctness has been the bane of our policies in Kashmir. Ostrich like, we are failing to face the bitter truth that we have let the Valley be Wahabised and reduced to a vast, communal ghetto. We let its syncretic Sufi culture be destroyed by Islamist zealots funded by the ISI and Saudi Arabia. This has become a hotbed of the two-nation theory, which we had opposed so bitterly during Partition. The pattern could soon become a global phenomenon—create communal ghettos (Paris, Brussels, Kashmir), which become no-go zones for the police and law-enforcement agencies; then resort to terrorism and demand secession.
In the early 1980s, Sheikh Abdullah had accepted back some 3,000 Kashmiri refugees who had crossed over into Pakistan in the 1965 war. The ISI exploited this opportunity to induct trained agent provocateurs. Soon rabid tapes full of communal poison began to circulate in the mosques. Saudi and ISI money was pumped in to Wahabise the population. At the time of Partition, Kashmir was an oasis of peace and tolerance. We let all that be destroyed. The Iranian revolution had been a trigger for identity politics. What followed was a campaign of radicalisation. The Jamaat-e-Islami made a bid for political power via the ballet and lost the elections. The Khwaja-Trader combine was enraged. The National Conference was accused of large-scale rigging and the drift towards insurgency began.
Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and ISI had been carefully nurturing this radicalisation process. The head of the Jamaat-e-Islami had been whisked away to meet the general, who prodded him to stage an uprising. By 1989, Kashmiri youths began crossing over the LoC in large numbers to receive arms training. The initial banner of revolt was raised by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which largely comprised the Jammat cadres. To be globally accepted, they maintained the fiction of azadi as their goal. Yet their communal agenda became obvious when they launched a vicious ethnic cleansing campaign to kill and drive out 3.5-4 lakh Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. To maintain the façade of a secular state, a curtain of silence was pulled over the cleansing exercise.
Slobodan Milosevic, Rajevic and other Serb leaders had been tried by the International Court of Justice for the crime of ethnic cleansing. The Indian State, however, connived with this crime because of its failure to protect the religious minorities in the Valley. It was politically incorrect to talk of the massacre and ethnic cleansing of the Pandits. By 1995, however, the JKLF was wiped out by the Indian Army. The ISI now discarded this organisation and raised the Hizbul Mujahideen. All pretense of azadi was thrown overboard and the Hizbul propagated the two-nation ideology with a vengeance. The Valley, they said, had a Muslim majority and hence it belonged to Pakistan. Their street slogans said it all: “Pakistan se rishta kya? La-Ilah illilah (What is our relationship with Pakistan? Our faith, our creed).” Soon, the Hizbul Mujahideen was also decimated by the army.
The ISI deemed the Kashmiris flat-footed and unfit to fight the Indian Army. They were largely replaced by the Punjabi-Pashtoon jihadis of the LeT and JeM, who began to misbehave with the Kashmiri women and this resulted in resentment and major intelligence windfalls to the security forces. A record number of terrorists were killed in 2001-02. By 2005, the army completed the fencing and severely curtailed infiltration of men and munitions. Pakistan had been maintaining an average strength of 3,500 active terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. With trans-LoC movement curtailed, the back of insurgency was broken. Today the number of terrorists is down to around 150. The ISI realised it had lost the proxy war.
In 2008, it changed tactics and began pumping in money to incite jobless youths to pelt stones and create a Palestinian Intifada-type situation. The Indian human rights cottage industry kicked in to support this phase. The mobilisation was purely on communal factors and coincided with the Amarnath Yatra. It was repeated in 2010. The government response was confused. The HR cottage industry induced guilt and prevented use of deterrent force to check arson, mob violence and orchestrated attacks on security forces. A slander campaign to demonise the army was launched and it was forced to pull out from South Kashmir. This was where the third phase of Intifada began in 2016.
What we are seeing in Kashmir is the abject ghettoisation of the Valley and the revival of the two-nation theory. The 3,000 mosques there have been turned into centres of resistance and virulent communal propaganda. Friday prayer congregations are used for mobilisation. Droves of peaceniks are talking of more autonomy. The Hurriyat has asked for merger with Pakistan on the basis of religious identity. Can India jettison its core values of secularism and surrender to such communal forces?
The writer is a war veteran and strategic analyst