By Brig Anil Gupta*
Radicalisation in Jammu & Kashmir has three dimensions: regional, ethnic and religious. The theme of this article is limited to religious radicalisation because its growing influence is considered as a threat to national security. The disturbing trend is that Hurriyat, on the directions of its masters in Pak, is trying to spread Salafism/Wahhabism in the region South of Pir Panjal; a region which has been peaceful ever since the terrorism was rolled up the Pir Panjal into the Valley and was contained there by the security forces (SFs) more than a decade ago.
The youth in particular is being targeted. “If the youth in J&K become victims of new Salafised version of Islam, the consequences for entire India would be grave.” This warning has been sounded by M.K. Narayanan, a former National Security Advisor in his recent widely published article. He further goes on to say, “that radicalisation is gaining ground is no longer a secret. Radicalisation, rather than militancy and alienation, should thus be seen as the new threat in Kashmir. The danger is real.”
On the other hand the Indian Army commander in Kashmir, Lt Gen Subroto Shah, in an interview on the eve of his departure stated “radicalisation is getting unnecessary hype in Kashmir.” What is the truth? Is the situation critical as perceived by the former NSA or there is a ray of hope as seen by the former military commander?
Radicalisation is not new to Kashmir. Ever since the advent of Islam in Kashmir Valley, it has been through phases of radicalisation depending upon the attitude of the ruler. But the silver lining is that every time it emerged out of that phase successfully without causing immense damage to its social fabric. The major credit for this goes to the Muslim Rishis (a Sufi order in Kashmir) and Pirs of the Valley who preached pluralism and tolerance towards other religions. The net consequence was the emergence of Kashmiriyat, the backbone of the philosophy of co-existence in the Valley.
Sufism is the mainstay of Kashmiriyat. Kashmiri Islam, a variant of Sufism, differs from the mainstream fanatical Islam in that the former is based on the teachings of its famous Rishis. The Rishis were Muslim and the spread of Islam was their prime motive yet they raised their voice against political oppression by the tyrant Kings.
Kashmir is also known as Rishi Waer or Pir Waer (the land of Rishis and Pirs). Kashmiriyat is the confluence of its land and people following different faiths: Sufism, Shaivism, Sikhism and Buddhism. The current phase of radicalisation in the Valley has a few distinct features; Sufism is being replaced by Salafism, more youth is being radicalised, polarisation among the Sunni Muslims, encourages separatism, the free-flow of Wahhabi literature and petro-dollars and the proxy war unleashed by Pakistan through ISI sponsored jihadist terrorist outfits. It also coincides with the growing radicalisation internationally and growth of deadly global jihadist terror outfits like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Salafism, as the readers should know, is alien to Kashmir but is gaining ground in Kashmir at the cost of Hanafi school of thought, which is mainly a moderate version of practice of Islam with a tinge of Sufism in it. Drawing parallels, Salafism/Wahhabism is akin to Deobandi school of thought and is a more puritanical form of Islam practised in Arab world and Sufism is akin to shrine-going Barelvi school of thought.
The main cause of spread of Salafism, radicalised Islam, was the disenchantment of the younger generations with Sufism practised by their elders. The continued violence and finding no end to their political struggle, the cadre of jihadist terrorist organisations like LET and JEM were able to convince the educated Kashmiri youth that Sufism portrays an image of tolerance, meekness and pacifism taking the Kashmiris for granted.
As it is, the Kashmiri youth has been disillusioned with the state for a variety of reasons. Growing unemployment, perceived denial of political empowerment, alleged excesses of SFs, the fear of losing unique Kashmiri Muslim identity through engineered demographic changes, poor governance, frequent bandhs and hartals leading to long confinements, crumbling infrastructure, faulty strategies of the governments in Delhi, perceived neglect of the Kashmiris by the Centre and patronisation of Jammu and Ladakh regions by New Delhi, has fostered a sense of alienation among the Kashmiri youth; a feeling of them versus us, and which is doing nothing good to the Indian cause of unity and harmony.
Initial indoctrination of the youth took place in jails and prisons outside Kashmir where the captured hard-core Jihadist terrorists and the young Kashmiris were imprisoned together. A few of the disenchanted youth was attracted to Salafism by them on release from jails. Its further spread was also aided by free flow of petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia resulting in mushrooming of Madrasas espousing Wahabi ideology, easy availability of Wahabi literature, construction of new modern well equipped Wahabi mosques and the lure of free higher studies in Saudi theological universities. Printed literature, cell phones and social media, the main sources of Salafi literature, also attracted the unemployed educated youth who spent lot of time in confinement due to frequent Bandhs. Easy availability of Video clips featuring popular Salafi clerics and ISIS literature on YouTube is another contributing factor. Unfortunately, Salafi clerics did not confine themselves to merely spreading their school of thought but also launched a tirade against Sufism and Kashmiriyat thus poisoning young Kashmiri minds against pluralism and tolerance leading to radicalisation. Salafism became epitome of separatism.
Fortunately, the situation is alarming but not critical. Most Kashmiris and other Muslims still revere mausoleums and shrines and consider them to be part of their cultural heritage. “Kashmiriyat may be down; it is not out”, according to Dr. Vijay Sazawal, a Kashmiri writer. As evident, spread of Salafism has political, social and economic reasons. According to JamatAhl-e-Hadith, only 16% of Kashmir’s population is under its fold. There lies the ray of hope. Bulk of its 8 million Muslim-populations is still not radicalised.
To prevent any further erosion, the government needs to address the socio-political and economic concerns of the Kashmiris. Some suggested measures are: revival of Kashmiriyat and Sufism, creation and promotion of inter-faith tourist circuits(Shiv Khori-Shahdra Sharief-Buddah Amarnath-Gurudwara Nagali Sahib in Jammu and Mattan-Charar-i-Sharif, Kheer Bhawani-Shankracharya-Gurudwara Chatti Padshahi-Hazartbal in Kashmir), restoration of mutual trust, job creation, modernisation of Madrasas, application of “Prevention of Misuse of Religious places and shrines Act” in J&K, check free-flow of funds from Saudi Arabia, projection of Pakistan as a failed state and sell India’s success story, counter Pak propaganda through Kashir channel by its complete overhaul, female education and empowerment of women, return of Kashmiri Pundits, opening of IT parks, modernisation of police and develop it into a well-trained, equipped and motivated people-friendly force so that foot fall of Army and CAPFs can be reduced, prevent misuse of social media and empowerment of Panchayati Raj Institutions.
Tackling radicalisation is a battle of minds. Hence, a sustained effort with new approach and outlook to win the hearts and minds needs to be launched. De-radicalisation is like detoxification and would require a sustained and continuous effort. I am positive that true Kashmiriyat will return sooner than later, if the issue is addressed without any vested interests and gradually, Sufism will soften the followers of Salafism as well.
*Brig. Anil Gupta (Retd.) is a Jammu based political commentator and a security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at: [email protected].