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Kashmir: Where ‘Freedom Fighters’ Kill Innocents – OpEd

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In 1990, the indigenous Kashmir Pandit [KP] community which had been living in Kashmir Valley for centuries was targeted by so called ‘freedom fighters’ [a euphemism for indoctrinated Kashmiri youth trained and armed by Pakistan army’s ISI to let loose a reign of terror in Kashmir] and forced to flee their ancestral homes. Instead of condemning this brazen act of ethnic cleansing, the separatist lobby attempted to camouflage the despicable role of the so called ‘freedom fighters’, the pro-Pakistan camp came up with some rather bizarre explanations. 

One such weird claim that tops the list is that the KP community was supposedly taken into confidence by the then J&K Governor Jagmohan and asked to ‘temporarily’ shift out of the Valley so that the center could freely use brute force to quell the so called “armed struggle” that had erupted in Kashmir. However, what All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] led pro-Pakistan lobby has not been able to explain till date is that if its claim was indeed true, then instead of living like refugees under squalid conditions in refugee camps outside J&K, why didn’t the KPs subsequently return to their native land? 

Yet, rather than providing credible answers, Pakistan’s proxies in Kashmir keep airing this absurd narrative. So much so that even more than two decades after KPs were inhumanly brutalised and forced to flee by the so called ‘freedom fighters’, senior APHC leader SAS Geelani continued to peddle this brazen lie throughout his life. Speaking at the India Today Conclave in 2011, he said, “They [KPs] were asked to leave as part of the conspiracy. [They were told that] ‘you usually go to Jammu or Delhi during winters, so go there for two-three months so that we can crush the movement. Then you can come back’. So, this was a conspiracy.” 

The separatist lobby isn’t the sole proponent of the ‘conspiracy’ theory. Even some ‘mainstream’ politicians have been toeing this phantastic line for a host of reasons, ranging from an attempt to avoid personal responsibility to using this humongous tragedy for drawing political mileage. The pro-Pakistan lobby on its part, keeps talking about the historical communal amity in Kashmir, saying that Kashmir is incomplete without KPs and making emotional appeals for them to return. These apologists also maintain that the threat of bodily harm to KPs and non-locals in Kashmir is a falsehood being perpetrated to demonise the so-called ‘struggle’ in Kashmir.

The APHC deserves full credit for working overtime to project Kashmir Valley as the fountainhead of communal harmony. In 2005, APHC leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farook, former APHC chiefs Abdul Gani Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari met more than 25 Jammu based KP leaders to [in Ansari’s words], “re-establish communal harmony and composite culture of the Valley that existed earlier.” In 2019, APHC leader Mirwaiz Umar Farook also met a five-member KP delegation and discussed the issue of their return. However, when a plan to accommodate KPs in clusters for security reasons was mooted in 2015, APHC outrightly rejected this proposal. 

Democratic Freedom Party chairperson Shabir Shah defended AHPC’s decision by saying, “India is bent to sow the seeds of discord among various communities in Jammu and Kashmir and I wish the Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims foil such designs and uphold the communal harmony and brotherhood.” He went on to say that “we have been living together since centuries. We are the guardians of the minorities and to secure and safeguard their lives, honour and properties is our obligation.” Coming from the then General Secretary of SAS Geelani led Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, Shah’s grandiose vision of inter-faith harmony in Kashmir and commitment to ensure safety of the minority KP community sounded extremely reassuring.

However, by adding, “It is [the] Indian authorities who are exploiting the cause of [Kashmiri] Pandits to secure their own vested interests and as such are trying to create communal disharmony among the communities,” the APHC leader betrayed his motivated agenda. And statistics have since proved beyond any doubt that Shah’s “We are the guardians of the minorities and to secure and safeguard their lives, honour and properties is our obligation” remark was mere rhetoric. As per data released by the center, more than 34 people belonging to minority communities have been killed by terrorists in J&K in the last five years. Yet, APHC didn’t even consider calling for a token shut down call to protest and condemn the despicable targeted killing of defenceless civilians by so called ‘freedom-fighters’

There’s definitely a method in the madness of targeting KPs and non-locals in Kashmir. After its abysmal failure to garner world opinion and compel New Delhi to rescind its decision of abrogating Article 370, it became abundantly clear to ISI that Pakistan’s Kashmir bluff had finally been called. With APHC and its other proxies in Kashmir Valley failing to orchestrate protests against abrogation of Article 370, a desperate ISI chose to ‘manufacture’ unrest within Kashmir in a bid to peddle the pathetic narrative that targeted violence against KPs and other non-locals was due to public anger against Article 370 revocation, but there was a problem.

In a civilised world, nothing can justify extinction of human life, more so when ethnicity or religion becomes the sole criteria for the same. Since all terrorist groups fighting in J&K are based in Pakistan, their involvement in such targeted killings would invite global condemnation and as such ISI fell back on its age-old stratagem of creating non-existent entities to take responsibility for such murders, being committed by known terrorist groups. This is an extremely dangerous trend as it not only nurtures intolerance but also promotes a fundamentalist ideology that can tear apart Kashmir’s social fabric.

So, it’s high time that the people of Kashmir, especially the youth see through Pakistan’s sinister gameplan. One has to just look back and it will become absolutely clear that the real aim of the so called ‘armed struggle’ is solely to wage a proxy war against India, and has nothing to do with ‘azadi’ [independence] or ‘self-determination’. When it started, Kashmiris were told that the Kalashnikov would get them ‘azadi’ but Pakistan sponsored terrorist groups subsequently changed the aim to ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ [Kashmir will become part of Pakistan]. This was done arbitrarily without taking Kashmiris into confidence or even seeking their views. 

Now targeted killings of KPs and non-locals has become flavour of the day and God alone knows what will be the ISI’s next move. The Kashmiri youth of today were either not born or very young when terrorism erupted and so, they may not be fully aware of the gory side of the much glorified ‘armed struggle’. To make matters worse, rather than disclosing the truth, APHC has been busy blaming the security forces and police for horrific and unpardonable acts of violence committed against eminent Kashmiris by Pakistan trained terrorists. And considering them to be a truthful and God-fearing lot, the people of Kashmir readily accepted whatever was told to them by APHC.   

The bubble finally burst in 2011 when former APHC chairman Prof Abdul Gani Bhat publicly admitted that separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone, Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq and JKLF ideologue Prof Abdul Ahad Wani “were not killed by the army or the police. They were targeted by our own people.” The fact that neither APHC nor any family members of the victims named by Prof Bhat have contested his revelation, clearly establishes its truth! 

The pro-Pakistan camp may have its own reasons for covering up the misdeeds of the so-called ‘freedom fighters’ and eulogising them. However, even though a strong proponent of separatist ideology, Prof Bhat is known to be a man who firmly stands by his convictions. He has honestly summed up what was happening in Kashmir during the nineties by saying, “wherever we found an intellectual, we ended up killing him,” and by throwing the poser “Let us ask ourselves-was Prof Wani a martyr of brilliance or a martyr of rivalry?” rightly highlighted the importance of introspection on a issue bedevilling every peace loving Kashmiri. 

Hence, the people of Kashmir need to be more discerning and not let killings on the basis of religion or ethnicity transform the ‘paradise on earth’ into a veritable hell, because any apathy on this issue will open the floodgates of misery. Public silence on killing of people only because they belong to a different faith or ethnicity is tantamount to acceptance of this vile trend. Since fundamentalist ideology can easily overwhelm rationality, if such killings are not opposed by the people of Kashmir, be rest assured that sectarian killings will follow soon. 

Prof Bhat has aptly summed up the situation by saying, “… my problem is my own people who kill my own people, and this is what is aching each thinking Kashmiri. Whether or not he speaks out is a different story.” 

The people of Kashmir have allowed themselves to be driven like a flock of sheep by Pakistan’s proxies for too long, and it’s time they became more discerning and speak out against the scourge of targeted killings in order to save their own and their children’s future. Remember the old saying ‘God helps those who help themselves! 

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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