By Arshad Alam*
Since the killing of Burhan Wani, Kashmir has seen a fresh wave of militancy. What marked out the post Burhan agitation in the valley was increasing participation of common people from all strata, particularly youth. The funerals of militants today have been attended not just by the local village community but also by armed militants. Some of these militants are masked, and have indulged in sloganeering eulogizing the Islamic state. Zakir Musa, the current face of the IS in the valley, is a much remembered name amongst such sloganeering. Despite the state media telling us that militancy is under control in the valley, latest figures tell us that more number of youths have joined the ranks of militants over the past three years.
The simple common sense is that if more militants are being killed then this is only possible when more youths are joining the ranks of the militants. What has also happened over the years is that local people have been preventing the security forces from carrying out successful operations. Thus it will be safe to say that over the years, militancy has been become more broad based and is now having popular support. Whatever the famed TV commentators have been saying every night, serious security watchers must be worried at the prospect of deepening support for the militants.
Over the years, the ground has shifted from the organizations like the Hurriyat and we see a new language of radical Islam being spoken in the valley. The Ghzawat Ansar al Hind has been arguing for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate which is certainly new to the valley in terms of its political aspiration. Religion has always been a part of the militancy, but Islam always operated within the hegemonic trope of nation-state.
Organizations like the Hizbul Mujahidin have always had Islam as their cornerstone, but they were clear that their future lay with Pakistan. Supported by the Jamat e Islami, the option for the majority of the militants was either joining Pakistan or proclaiming independence. The nation state was therefore the endpoint of their struggle.
What we are witnessing now is perhaps more troubling: there is no conception of the nation-state in this new breed of militancy. All struggles are for establishing the glory of Islam. Pakistan is no longer the ideal: rather the idea is to establish the rule of true Islam in Pakistan also. It is no wonder then that for this new crop of Islamic militants, leaders of the Hurriyat are seen as posing obstacles to the path of establishing Islamic caliphate. Zakir Musa’s open threat to behead those who talk in terms of nation state was only a pointer of things to come. The popularity of this youth icon threatens the established status quo of the security paradigm in the valley.
There is yet another entrant to the politics of the valley. China is now an international player ranked next only to America. Moreover it is an established hegemon within much of Asia. Its security footprint is seen from Maldives to Pakistan to Bangladesh. Of course, the Indian state cannot be oblivious to its presence.
Today, through the CPEC, the security concerns of Pakistan and China vis a vis Kashmir have become one. Attacking the interests of Pakistan now automatically becomes attacking the interests of China. As a regional player, China is looking at an increasing role in South Asia and Kashmir situation provides it with a ripe opportunity to intervene in the region. All hegemons like to intervene, and there is no reason to believe why China would not like to do so. Already, the Chinese position on Kashmir and groups like Jaish e Muhammad is very different not just from the Indian position, but also from large sections of the international community. It is the recognition of growing power of China and its willingness to intervene in Kashmir which has prompted New Delhi to go for certain conciliatory measures.
The cancellation of the talk by Dalai Lama in New Delhi was one such example of trying to please Beijing. Over the past months, the Indian position on Doklam has also undergone significant changes. Gone is the chest thumping which New Delhi had become used to in the last four years. Now the response on Doklam has been much more subdued and diplomatic. Far from telling the Indian public that New Delhi is ready to face any challenge from China, what we are witnessing can only be called as subservience to China. Kashmir must be weighing heavily on the mind of Indian security establishment as well the realization that the sinister use of Kashmir to leverage Indians to vote in a particular way will eventually backfire.
The sudden release of Geelani therefore is not so sudden. It must be seen within the backdrop of the changing nature of militancy and the increasing role of China in the valley. Freeing Geelani from house arrest might have a number of results.
First, he might be used to control the youth on the streets of Kashmir who are increasingly becoming restive of the Indian position.
Secondly, it gives an impression that something is happening on the ground: that New Delhi is seriously considering the option of talking to the separatists in the valley. This will ward off some of the international criticism which India has faced recently on Kashmir due to its reluctance to engage in a dialogue process. It might also be designed to offset the increasing role of China in the region through initiating some confidence building measures. If Geelani can be released without much pre-condition, then it is to be expected that young boys who are behind bars just for throwing stones would be free very soon.
However, New Delhi must realise that this time, its efforts must be serious and sincere. Many a times, we have seen New Delhi making overtures to the valley and announcing a slew of measures to win back the confidence of the people. However, as soon as there is a semblance of normalcy in the valley, New Delhi goes back to its old ways of neglecting the aspirations of the valley. This mistake should not be repeated. So far, New Delhi has been successfully repelling the militants of the valley and their handlers across the border. The situation has now changed. China’s subversive potential far outweighs that of Pakistan and for this reason alone, India must tread the path of retaining Kashmir within its ambit of influence very carefully.
*Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist, where this article was published.