Kashmiri Muslims Caught in the
by Dipankar Gupta
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
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
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.
The Tribune, a Punjab-based daily, harps frequently on the
grievances of Kashmiri Hindus, both those who have become refugees and those
who have chosen to stay. A year ago, for example, it told the story of a
Hindu shopkeeper who refused to leave his home in a village in Kashmir
though most others had fled because "my roots keep beckoning me all the
time." On March 3, the paper argued that "any move that treats
these remaining Pandits [Hindu Kashmiris] in the valley as disposable pawns
in a political game is shamefully reprehensible."
The Tribune is extremely critical of militant APHC leaders and
does not scruple to link them to Pakistani jihadi groups. The Hindustan
Times has likewise been prepared to assert financial links between
Kashmiri militants and foreign jihadis.
While other dailies do not go so far, they generally support the National
Conference party, which is formally in power in the state of Jammu and
Kashmir. This spring both the Times of India and the Hindu, a
major daily based in Chennai, criticized the Indian government for not
taking the National Conference more seriously.
In fact, the National Conference, which supports greater autonomy rather
than independence, enjoys little credibility in Kashmir even though its
membership is almost entirely Muslim. All other major political groups
While there is no major Indian publication that favors a sovereign
Kashmir, a few are willing to permit its advocates a chance to express
themselves. The Hindu in particular stands out for fair treatment of
members of the JKLF and moderate elements in the APHC.
Thus, only the Hindu carried an interview with the JKFP’s Shabir
Shah condemning the March attack on Raghunath temple. And after 27 slum
dwellers were killed in Jammu July 13, apparently by jihadi militants, only
the Hindu carried condemnations of the attack by APHC leaders. When a
number of those leaders were arrested, the Hindu was likewise alone
in reporting that it was because they had sought to stage a march protesting
the killings. Other Indian papers merely reported that the men had defied
But overall, the tendency of the national press is to concentrate on the
jihadis and overlook the significance of the APHC. The general Indian reader
can only conclude that Kashmir has been overrun by Islamic militants. And
Indians continue to believe that there is a silent majority in Kashmir that
favors a peaceful settlement within the Indian constitution.
Differences within the APHC occasionally appear in the newspapers, as do
the JKLF’s differences with the others in the APHC—generally with the
slant that Islamic elements have gained an edge over moderates. In fact, and
to the contrary, tension now seems to be mounting between the APHC
(inclusive of JKLF) and jihadi groups outside.
This is evident from the strong and immediate APHC reaction to a recent
dictat issued by the United Jehadi Council in Pakistan to boycott the
elections in Jammu and Kashmir coming up in October. On July 4, the Hindu
reported that a group of militant APHC leaders had criticized the Council,
saying that it had no business meddling in Kashmiri affairs. As usual,
however, the Indian press did not see fit to comment editorially on this
In March, a member of parliament from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) allegedly declared that a famous relic in the Hazratbal shrine
in Srinagar was not a strand of the Prophet Muhammad’s hair, as Kashmiri
Muslims believe it to be, but that of a Hindu seer who migrated from Mecca.
Although he later denied making the statement, police had to be called in to
quell angry mobs roaming the streets of the Kashmiri capital.
It is important in this regard to recognize that the Islamic faith
practiced by Kashmiri Muslims is quite alien to the ways of the majority
Sunni community in both India and Pakistan. The very fact that they revere a
relic is anathema to Sunnis, who fiercely oppose idol worship of any kind.
The Hazratbal mosque is, moreover, attached to the shrine of Sheikh
Nurrudin, a Sufi with leanings towards a devotional kind of Hinduism. Such
adoration of relics and attachment to Sufism and Hindu spirituality has for
centuries made the Kashmiris somewhat suspect in the eyes of many Muslims on
the subcontinent. But I have yet to come across an editorial comment in the
press in recent years that notes this dimension of Kashmiri religion,
Also worth noting is the political distance between Indian and Kashmiri
Muslims. In the last week of February many Indian Muslims were killed,
raped, and their property destroyed by Hindu sectarian mobs in the province
of Gujarat—supposedly in retaliation for the torching of a train carrying
a large number of Hindu activists by Muslim militants. The killings lasted
for months, and reports of various independent tribunals concur that the
state government of Gujarat connived at, when it did not actively encourage,
the anti-Muslim attacks.
But when a strike was called by the APHC to show solidarity with the
Gujarat Muslims, the popular Kashmiri response was very lukewarm. As APHC
functionary Abdul Ghani Bhatt explained it to the Indian Express March
5, "Kashmiris no longer react to things that happen in India."
Bhatt went on to say that Indian Muslims "are Indian first and last,
that is why they have not reacted to whatever has been happening in Kashmir
over the past 12 years. We do not hold any grudges against them for that
because we see them as Indians."
In a word, Indian Muslims are Indians and Kashmiri Muslims are Kashmiris.
That the Muslims of India have not in any significant way supported the
Kashmiri cause over the past five decades is all the more interesting since
the issue of Kashmir’s freedom from India has been championed by Pakistan
from the very beginning—and, since the early 1970s, as an Islamic cause.
The forthcoming state elections in Jammu and Kashmir are very important
for prospects of peace in the valley. While the Indian government’s
commitment to an honest result is widely doubted, it is clear that many
groups within the APHC have not yet written off the possibility of
participating. Interestingly, the Karachi-based journal Newsline has
also given credence to the belief that perhaps this election might be fairly
conducted. In an article published in its June issue, Newsline’s
Delhi-based commentator took note of "a perceptible change in the
rejectionist stance of the ordinary Kashmiri."
Many newspapers and journals of opinion have urged the government in
Delhi to make the most of the opportunity. In their view, if the government
ensures a fair election this time it would undo the damage that its
reputation has suffered among Kashmiris from the notoriously rigged
elections of 1987, when the National Conference was declared the winner over
the Muslim United Front. Indeed, it is to those elections that the rise of
militancy in Kashmir today can be traced.
While the national press in India would like to believe that the majority
in Kashmir wants the tensions to end happily with a reconciliation with
India, they are all too aware that the government of India has not conducted
elections fairly in the past. On May 19, the Hindustan Times published
a boxed item under the heading "Poll of Shame" that showed how
political parties opposed to the National Conference and the then ruling
Congress were victimized in 1962 and 1972 as well as in 1987.
At the same time, there are right-wing Hindu groups within the country
that want a division of Jammu and Kashmir into three distinct provinces:
Jammu (Hindu dominated); Kashmir (largely Muslim); and the Buddhist region
of Ladakh. The federal government has so far rejected this demand and so has
the APHC. But the consensus between the government and the Kashmiris on this
matter has not removed the suspicions that each harbors of the other.
As for the newspapers, they remain cautious about editorializing on
Kashmir in any way, shape, or form. Afraid to take a wrong step, worried
about getting egg on their faces should their judgment be wrong, and
terrified of being accused of being anti-Indian, they keep their real
opinions to themselves. In the process, the ordinary citizen ends up ill
informed, if not actually disinformed.