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The Kashmir conflict has evolved dramatically and traumatically since the tragic partition leaving the Kashmiri youth scarred. Three factors are primarily responsible for the enduring character of the conflict: Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir, India’s political mismanagement of J&K, and the emergence of a radical Islamic ideology in the state. Pakistan strategic objective of dividing India and controlling Kashmir has shaped its policy of supporting terrorism against India. Having failed to defeat India through conventional military means, Pakistan’s state and non-state actors has been supporting and financing the insurgency in Kashmir. Cross-border infiltration from Pakistan has complemented the insurgency being waged by local actors.  India’s own inept handling of the insurgency has further worsened the situation in Kashmir. A hollow rhetoric can never be a substitute for a successful Kashmir policy.

Shift from ethno-nationalist agenda to religious extremism

The Kashmir conflict also has its roots in radical Islam. The ideological aspect of the Kashmir insurgency should not be underestimated nor should it be reduced entirely to an accidental guerrilla syndrome, where local grievances need to be addressed. The newly resurgent Kashmiri insurgency has local roots, but there are concerns that it could get internationalized owing to links with transnational jihadist groups.  Unfortunately, the Kashmiri youth, joining militancy, is drawing inspiration from such groups.

An environment with pre-existing violence or political tension is an enabling condition of jihadism. Studies highlight, the “synergy between jihadism and violence, whether perpetrated by repressive regimes, militia rivalries, terrorist groups, sectarian differences, tribal tensions, criminal organizations, or foreign intervention. Jihadism exploits local tensions; it fuels and is in turned fuelled by these tensions.” A conflict zone provides jihadist groups with permissive environments to proselytize and recruit.

Kashmiri youth conned by rogues

For many years, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and many of his hardcore followers have sought to frame their struggle for ‘Azadi’ entirely in Islamic terms with very little success.  Kashmir’s conflict “is now on the verge of becoming religious extremism, which is not a political goal but a religious vision infecting the hearts and minds of youths”.

Geelani continues to befool people, the fact remains that his entire family including children and grandchildren enjoy government benefits. When the majority of the qualified Kashmiri youth is jobless. Anees who doesn’t meet the basic qualifications is appointed as Research Officer in SKICC, a subsidiary wing of the J&K tourism department drawing an annual salary of Rs 20 lakh and other benefits. Interestingly while Geelani wants people of Kashmir not to send their daughters outside for education, one of his granddaughters is working as a crew member in an airline. His elder son, Naeem, is a doctor and was earlier employed in government health services department. Naeem’s elder daughter appeared for school exams in October 2016 despite a boycott call given by Geelani against attending schools. Geelani’s younger son Nasim is a scientist at the SK University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. It is clearly visible that Geelani wants others children to die whereas his own family members live in safe heavens when Kashmir is burning. The irony is that despite knowing these facts Kashmiris choose to remain blinded and continue to wipe out their generations for touts like Geelani.

Similarly, Syed Salahuddin calls for all Kashmiris to take up armed struggle against India, but none of his own children have joined his movement. All his sons have distanced themselves from their father’s activities. His oldest son, Shakeel Yousuf, works as a medical assistant at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, second son Javed Yousuf works in the Education Department as a computer operator, while Shahid Yousuf is a Research Fellow at the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology. Shah’s fourth son, Wahid Yusuf, is a doctor at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. Mueed Yusuf, the youngest of Shah’s sons, is working at Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI), Srinagar, Kashmir. His daughter Naseema, wife of Nazir Ahmad Khan, is a government teacher at Dharmuna in district Budgam and Akhtara is an arts teacher at Soibugh. “Why is my name unnecessarily being linked with my father, I don’t support his ideology and have nothing to do with him.” This is what Salahuddin’s son Syed Mueed, who works as an IT manager in the EDI office said after he was rescued along with 100 others by SF when terrorists attacked the EDI office in Pampore October last year.

When Salahuddin has failed to motivate his own family members, how does he expect to motivate right thinking Kashmiri youth? Why is the youth getting misled by this self-proclaimed hero and symbol of freedom? What is his contribution? Living a cosy life sponsored by ISI in Pakistan and turning Kashmir into a graveyard with not his own, but the young innocent blood of Kashmiris.

Why does Kashmiri youth fall for it?

  • Lack of clarity on terminologies that are hijacked by extremists.
  • Lack of understanding of what a sound “Muslim identity” means.
  • Lack of balanced discourse on social justice.
  • Lack of avenues for positive engagement for young Muslims.
  • Natural need for a sense of belonging.
  • Inadequate positive role models for Muslim youth who are achievers.
  • The lone wolf phenomenon.

The above issues need to be dealt at ground level with positive engagement being the key factor to curb Kashmiri youth falling for extremist rhetoric and radical ideology.

Attack on Kashmiriyat

 This growing radicalization trend has replaced whatever little was left of the practices of Islam in Kashmir. The language of the recent mass protests has also been more religious than political. An organization called Ittehad-e-Millat has come into being, consisting of elements from religious organizations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Ahl-e-Hadith. Its leaders have been reportedly asking people, particularly in South Kashmir, to take an oath of turning away from mainstream political parties. All this indicates a larger political shift in the Valley.

The misuse of social media by terrorists and insurgents has led to further radicalization of the people, posing greater challenges. The virulent protests of 2010 and the subsequent State crackdown caused much anger, resentment and widespread anti-India feelings in the Kashmir Valley. In the recent years, there has been a new surge in the incidence of Kashmiri youth taking up arms. The new phase of unrest that unfolded in 2016 is qualitatively different from previous scenarios in terms of intensity, scale, and the nature of mobilization. Violent incidents and fatalities in the Kashmir Valley have shown a substantial increase in this new phase.

Pakistan’s evil vendetta at the cost of  death of hundreds of Kashmiri youth

Pakistan’s cold-blooded and steeped in deceit propaganda where outsiders are shown as insiders continue till today. It will not be wrong to say that Pakistan has been successful in its attempt to keep the Kashmiri pot simmering and jeopardizing the state machinery. Popular discontent and local uprisings, fueled by the separatist forces, are being fully exploited by state and non-state actors in Pakistan. They are conducting aggressive intelligence gathering against Indian security personnel in Kashmir for accessing strategic information. Once again the ‘Azadi’ slogan is gaining popularity among the Kashmiri youth, mobilizing them in large numbers. No single factor can be attributed to this phenomenon. When constitutional rights are undermined and all forms of dissent are outlawed, the line between peaceful protests and armed resistance often gets blurred, radicalizing even the moderate voices. Pakistan’s dubious theory of good terrorists (who work for them against India and Afghanistan) and bad terrorists (who work against them) has misled the Kashmiris for long.

Home-grown militancy: Cause for concern

The two most alarming aspects of the current phase of Kashmir’s terrorism-driven insurgency are the rise in the number of homegrown militants, and the growing legitimacy of the militancy among the civil society and the educated classes of the Valley. It would be self-defeating to put the entire blame for Kashmir’s present predicament on Pakistan. Terrorism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir marked its arrival with blasts in Srinagar city in 1988 and subsequently expanded to other parts in a well-planned and organized manner. Initially, majority of the terrorists were locals who had crossed over to Pakistan in large groups in 1987 and returned after obtaining training, but gradually the foreigners, mostly Pakistanis, replaced them.  However, the death of popular Hijbul militant Burhan Wani in 2016, fueled the insurgency in Kashmir and since then a steep rise in local Kashmiri youth joining militant outfits is observed.

The homegrown insurgents that the government forces have been fighting in Kashmir are mostly small and loosely linked. Notwithstanding differences over tactics or goals, they have an alliance of convenience with Pakistan-based extremist and terror groups. Capturing territory or overthrowing the government may be the long-term goal of insurgents, but their immediate objective is to tie down the government and provoke it to take disproportionate measures that could further alienate the local population.

Cyber mobilization of Kashmiri youth

The battlefield is now a multidimensional one, encompassing both physical territory and cyberspace.Militants are systematically exploiting the Internet to generate moral support, recruit personnel, and transmit propaganda, leading to the further militarization of the Kashmiri youth. Cyber dimension has become prominent in escalating protests and political violence in Kashmir in the recent years. The most extreme and catastrophic expression of this trend was seen following Wani’s death. The government buildings were targeted as usual, but violence this time was not confined to government symbols alone; families of security, and civilians seen as ‘collaborators’ are also increasingly coming under attack which is an attack on Kashmiriyat.

Way ahead: We Kashmiris need to arm our sons and daughters with education, not guns and stones

We Kashmiris need to arm our sons and daughters with education, not guns and stones. The hypocrisy from across the border is unmasked, their own country is in doldrums struggling to maintain stability.  And we should no longer fall prey to rogues among us (reference made to separatist leaders) who want our children to die but their own children remain unharmed.

We need to understand that youth are vital, potential agents for positive societal change. But in Kashmir, the ability of young people to engage in socio-political transformation is hindered by the lack of safe space and continued political vendetta. There is a requirement of safe spaces for dialogue within and across academic and social institutions in Kashmir which will enhance a sense of ownership and confidence in political processes. But as it is said, it takes two to tango; unless we Kashmiris realize that there is a need to arm ourselves, our youth and gen-next with a clarity of thoughts,  sound education system and opportunities, only then will we be able to rebuild our lost paradise, our pride which is unfortunately soaked in a bloodbath of our own children.

J&K needs more of Majids to support their emotionally ruptured families. Only then can homegrown militancy fueled by Pakistan be effectively tackled. A forgiving and accepting society which would assist in rehabilitating the misguided youth by allowing them a fair chance to contribute sincerely towards their family and state would be a solid punch on the face of the perpetrators of jihad who have scarred many lives for an illusionary cause suiting their interests not the people of Kashmir.

29 Jan 18/Monday                                                                                                                    afsana159630@gmail.com

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