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Unravelling Jihadist Discourses in Jammu & Kashmir in Post-Article 370 Era

Photo for representation

The ongoing crackdown on secessionist remnants in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and their handlers in terrorist safe havens has yielded positive results, both intended and unintended. It has dealt a severe blow to the prevailing culture of anarchy, secessionism, and political ignorance that had permeated the majority population due to decades-long political propaganda and subversive politics. In the past, self-serving Jihadist ideologues and corrupt political elites manipulated sacred religious principles, doctrines, and institutions to pander to people’s basic emotions. Islam, which historically served as a force of social cohesion, tolerance, pluralism, and mutual coexistence, was intoxicated by radical and exclusivist interpretations.

In the aftermath of the Partition when the subcontinent was engulfed in communal riots, the people of Kashmir displayed exemplary commitment towards communal harmony and peaceful coexistence. The people rejected the tribal invaders in 1947 and mobilized local support to protect the neighbourhood minorities. However, all was not well with the political elite. They systematically groomed generations of subaltern Kashmiris to become pawns for their nefarious political designs and failed to unequivocally articulate the nationalist sentiments in their political communication. Vacillating between the Azadi and autonomy slogans, those political opportunists failed to represent the nationalist aspirations and, instead, used the internal autonomy provisions of the Constitution to bargain with, and sometimes blackmail, the Centre. They sabotaged political institutions, engaged in electoral rigging, and failed to deliver on the governance front. Their mismanagement of state affairs, inter alia, fuelled popular estrangement and caused legitimacy crises for New Delhi.

These patrimonial regimes served the interests of a coterie of party loyalists and marginalized the overwhelming population and political rivals. This misgovernance by the local ruling elite fuelled popular anger, dejected the mainstream dissident political formations, and allowed the demagogues and populists to thrive and flourish in such a poor state of affairs. Therefore, the abortion of democratic institution building by local political parties in J&K contributed to shaping the contentious politics of the region.

These historical circumstances provided the ground for the coming together of mainstream non-governing elites to form the MUF (Muslim United Front) and contest the 1987 Assembly Elections for a democratic regime change. The reported massive rigging shook the faith of the MUF in any democratic transition and, thus, we got the first batch of separatists in the robes of jihadists. Pakistan, which had ever since its humiliating defeat in the 1971 War been on the prowl, found this situation opportune to wade into the murky waters of Kashmir.

The Jihadists sponsored by the Pakistani deep state and harboured by the local religious extremists tried to damage the fabric of our syncretic, secular, and pluralistic Sufi way of life that had organically evolved in the region. Resultantly, Kashmir witnessed the painful exodus of its Pandit community in a fast-changing social environment. The traditional pluralistic political culture of the valley had become divisive, secessionist, and exclusivist. The Jihadist discourses promoted takfiri interpretations of the Islamic faith as the secular spaces were forcibly Islamized. The term, “Islamized,” refers to the process of purging traditional syncretic norms and instilling fanatical and intolerant religious ideals. The takfiri jihadist discourse embarked on a mission to strip the commonly practised Islamic faith of its Sufi (mystic) essence and transformed Islam into an ideology for insurrection against the nation.

This deliberate politicization of a pluralistic, inclusive, and non-belligerent Islamic faith sowed seeds of social disharmony among the population. This ideological shift unleashed a wave of death and destruction, where ordinary and expendable lives were lost while the merchants of death amassed their fortunes. The phase of bloodshed was pushed by those who exploited people’s political ignorance, using conveniently interpreted Quranic verses and Hadiths to lull ordinary people into believing that they could replicate the victories of Afghan Mujahideen against the former Soviet Union in Kashmir and drive out the mighty Indian state. The instigators of this violence fed some youth the illusion of Kashmir’s separation from the Indian Union. The state’s response to this ideological tectonic shift was largely reduced to asserting its military muscle to quell the revolting situation. It took decades to regain control over the informal spaces of Jihadist indoctrination and channels of political communication to have a narrative change in the valley. Previous governments narrowly attempted to neutralize terrorists in arithmetic proportion, only to allow them to re-emerge in geometric proportion in different spells and sub-regions. They lacked any effective ideological counter-narrative or a grand strategy to strip the jihadist ideologues of their popular appeal. It was not until the Modi Government addressed the root cause of the issue that progress was made. By dealing a decisive blow to the secessionist jihadists who mobilized people against the Indian State using religious sentiments and making local youths pawns in Pakistan’s “thousand-Cut policy,” the government finally took control of the dominant narrative. The Government’s policy of accommodating and empowering the elected representatives of local self-government institutions and law-abiding citizenry, on the one hand, and disallowing the dynastic mainstream politicians from expropriating the public, on the other, heralded the winds of a favourable change in the region. The present government ended the ambiguity and equivocality regarding Kashmir’s Constitutional status within the Indian Union and, thus, saved countless youths from falling for the illusory notion of “independence” possible to be attained through violent jihad.

Article 370, which promised a semi-autonomous status within the Indian federal system, was maliciously exploited by soft separatists – mainstream dynastic politicians – to emphasize Kashmir’s distinct identity in exclusivist and parochial terms and foster disaffection for the Union. A stretched phase of jihadist separatists’ historical waywardness and subversive politics that had caused the loss of human lives and material resources was finally put to an end. The indiscriminate and appeasing inclusion-moderation approach of the past governments had not increased the costs of terrorists and their nurturers; the present government’s naked iron fist policy for separatists and velvet glove for the law-abiding citizens turned the tables on jihadist discourses.

A new dawn of normalcy has already begun, and it manifests itself in the form of people’s disillusionment with the pointless and self-destructive insurgency. This reality may sound intimidating in the short run, but in the long run, it will dismantle the mental barriers that had prevented Kashmiri youth from engaging as equal citizens in the nation-building project.

At the time of Article 370’s revocation, the people rejected the hideous designs of separatists and terrorism apologists and distanced themselves from them when they refused to protest the abrogation. The new Kashmir is now a peaceful region, with its priorities shifting toward civil liberties, good governance, sustainable jobs, quality healthcare, and entrepreneurship. People are no longer swayed by the notion that a few hundred guerrillas supported by an enemy state can overthrow India from Kashmir. People have witnessed the failure of jihadist groups, such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, on the global stage and the havoc these groups wreaked in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

It would be misleading to argue that the lack of street violence and stone pelting following the abrogation of Article 370 was solely due to the massive security presence. The truth is that people themselves had realized the futility of such actions and have come to terms with the new reality, which was previously overshadowed by political expediency and poor governance. The incumbent government deserves praise for ensuring peace and improving the lives of ordinary people by tightening the noose around the terror sponsors and jihadist ideologues. The new reality is that Fridays are no longer used as a platform to incite violence and preach vandalism against state Institutions from mosque pulpits. Lockdown calendars are no longer issued by separatists to establish a parallel state. Opportunistic mainstream politicians are now left without the option to play both sides. In a nutshell, the era of anarchy disguised as a “freedom struggle” is over, and people are reaffirming their faith in the rule of law and constitutionalism.

The current phase in our history is critical as we commit ourselves to the greater national consensus and proudly become part of the Union with a united head and heart. This commitment is a true reflection of popular legitimacy and vibrant democracy. People have finally realized the futility of those bygone years after paying a heavy human and material cost.

The author is President Jammu and Kashmir Workers Party. He can be reached at junaidjawaidmir@gmail.com he tweets @MirJunaidJKWP. This analysis is part of unravelling jihadist discourses in Kashmir.