Kashmir: Militancy vs. Peace

While India and Pakistan are trying to promote peace and stability in a conflict torn region of Kashmir, the vested elements like the United Jehadi Council leader Syed Salahuddin emerge as new headaches for Pakistan.

Kashmir is a clear case corroborating that in the conflict transformation process arise myriad obstacles. Besides, it also brings forth that despite the willingness of states to promote peace and stability in a conflict torn region, there will always be vested elements opposing such moves. The recent pronouncements by the United Jehadi Council (UJC – a conglomeration of terrorist organizations, based in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan controlled Kashmir) leader, Syed Salahuddin, indicate that peace in Kashmir will really be a difficult enterprise. The earlier theory that it is the people who are deeply embedded in the culture of peace but the states play havoc in the path towards peace has almost been challenged by the recent developments. While Indian state at times accused Pakistan as an obstacle to peace in the subcontinent and the Pakistan state returned the accusations in the same coin, it appears that even when both the rivals are interested in peace and stability in Kashmir, there will be radical elements who will be interested in the continuation of instability in the region, and in the further escalation of hostility between the two neighbours.

Speaking to Arab News this week, Salahuddin expressed ‘desperation,’ ‘agitation’ over the recent Pakistan policies, termed by him ‘concessions’ to India. His argument has two main components: First, Pakistan which supported the militants in Kashmir in their fight against Indian state politically, diplomatically and morally cannot now step back and promote trade relations by granting most favoured nation status, because the core issue of Kashmir has not been resolved. He criticised Pakistan’s moves to “bestow the title of Most Favoured Nation to India, open several trade routes along the Line of Control and along the settled boundaries.” Second, as he argues, such ‘concessions’ will provide India opportunities to “gain more and more time to implement its own design for the region.” Salahuddin alias Mohammad Yusuf Shah, a Kashmiri, turned to militancy in late 1980s as he perceived the Indian policies as oppressive. There may be some justification over his anger against India’s policies, but his method of violence has in no way contributed to peace and stability in the region. Salahuddin later shifted to Pakistan controlled Kashmir and led Hijbul Mujahideen and played an active role in promoting militancy in the Indian part of Kashmir. In his pursuits he was fully supported by Pakistan in terms of arms and ammunitions and other resources. The apparent shift in Pakistan’s policy has made Salahuddin jittery, and his distaste of Pak policy is understandable as his support base will be substantially shrunk. In Kashmir, it needs emphasis that there are various shades of militants: some groups want Kashmir’s accession with Pakistan, some want to make Kashmir an independent state, and in between there are also militants who are purely opportunistic and for them militancy is a profession.

In the past few days the peace capital generated in India-Pakistan relations is really phenomenal. This has drastically shrunk the space for militancy and its champions, Salahuddin, Hafeez Saeed, Masood Azhar and their ilk. The post-cold war developments and the impacts of globalization, and also the rise of peace constituency around the world, have played deterrent against methods of violence for conflict resolution. And particularly in the context of India and Pakistan, the arch rivals with huge piles of arms including nuclear ones, the realization that peace must be the appropriate method for resolution of contentious issues has gained increasingly currency in recent years. Hence, despite setbacks, some even severe ones like the Mumbai attack of 2008, the peace process initiated in late 1990s and early 2000s has paid back, and been termed ‘irreversible.’ As a natural corollary to all these developments, the earlier phase of alienation and frustration in Kashmir has been moderated and in that place has emerged a new spirit of harmony and reconciliation.

The militants and their leaders perceive these developments as antithetical to their ideology and goal. Understandably, steeped in radical ideology for years and practising violence for decades, it will take time for these militant leaders to appreciate the value of peace and peaceful methods. But, for the time being, they will be staunch opponents of the peace efforts, whether by India or Pakistan. In his interview to the Arab daily, Salahuddin criticized the recent initiatives of India and Pakistan including opening up border for intra Kashmir trade and commerce, allowing people to cross border and meet family members separated earlier, or to promote trade relations. These measures have actually helped in reducing violence in recent years, but to militants these are all just eyewash to avoid the core issue of Kashmir. They have neither offered a feasible solution for the conflict, nor have they given a clear roadmap how to achieve their goals, nor have they proposed ways and means for a resolution which addresses the concerns of all parties including theirs. They preach violence and only violence. And in the 65 odd years of Kashmir conflict, the region has witnessed nothing positive but death and destruction. Thousands of people, mostly civilians, have lost their lives, and the ‘paradise on earth’ has in fact turned into a ‘dangerous place on earth.’ For militants who hold a rigid prism before their eyes, it may appear worthless as they understand and glorify violence, but it is the common people who have suffered the most in the Kashmir conflict, and now they have become most vocal advocates of peace and stability in the region.

Salahuddin does not stop here. He says to the daily, “We are fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir and if it withdraws its support, the war would be fought inside Pakistan.” In the context of Pakistan, it is like the closest friend turning most dangerous foe. The boomerang effect of supporting the militancy has already been felt in Pakistan as other militant organizations like the Taliban has turned their ire on Pakistan, which ostensibly under global pressure has attempted to maintain a distance from these organizations. While cautioning Pakistan that it must stop all such manoeuvres, the tone of Salahuddin appeared more threatening than of a plea. It will be interesting to see how the Pakistan establishment counters such threats, and tames the monster which it nourished. The positive point is that the civilian administration of Pakistan has apparently, at least for the time being, shunned its policy of using ‘terrorism as a state policy,’ and harped more on democratic methods to develop friendly relations with countries like India. However, the elements like Salahuddin will emerge as new headaches for Pakistan.


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