For the last few weeks, the issue of radicalization among the Kashmiri youth has reemerged in various debates. Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s two-day visit to Kashmir was linked with concerns about a new brand of youth joining militant ranks, and waving of ISIS or Pakistani flags after Friday prayers in Srinagar has almost become routine.
A section of the Indian media that is bound by its habit of seeing Kashmir through a particular lens has its own theory. For them, everything comes from Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence. For certain sections in the Kashmiri society, it is akin to blowing things out of proportion, and according them it serves the “Indian purpose” to defame and discredit the “genuine freedom struggle”.
Whatever the reason, the truth in Kashmir has always been overshadowed by vested interests – on all sides.
Regardless of whether it would be appropriate to call it radicalization, or in this case Islamic radicalization, the fact is that those who resort to waving the ISIS, or for that matter the Pakistani or a green Islamic flag, are only demonstrating an element of anger pent up for long time. For a majority of Kashmiris, the ISIS with its barbaric actions cannot be too much of an attraction. The way the stories of their brutality have been going around, an ordinary Kashmiri would never approve of them. That is why Kashmiris summarily dismiss ISIS and its likes as the “handiwork of Israel”. Such attributions have been the hallmark of the Kashmiri psyche and if they want to dismiss or disprove anything with logic, this is the way they do it. On the top of that, the head of his faction of Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Geelani –who undoubtedly wields more influence over the people than other separatists – also dismisses the actions of ISIS, TTP and Boko Haram as un-Islamic. Perhaps leaders such as Geelani also know that in case there is even a whiff about these ideologies taking roots in Kashmir, they would make all others irrelevant.
To say that ISIS has attracted the Kashmiri youth is to stretch it too far, though there has been a drastic change in the thought process of an average Kashmiri Muslim youth. There is no denying the fact that more and more youth are on the path to become devout Muslims, and the influence of a particular setting is taking roots. This is the trend that is being witnessed for over two decades since their interaction with the rest of the world through new technology reached a new level. The fact is that a majority of the Muslims in Kashmir still have a traditional orientation, but those who want to follow the pan-Islamic structure are also increasing in number. That, however, does not become the launching pad for the new phase of militancy in Kashmir. In the last 20 years, more Madrassas of various orientations have come up across the valley. But again, they are unlike the Madrassas in Pakistan, which are accused of being “Factories for Jihad”. There is hardly any evidence that could suggest that a Madrassa in Kashmir produced or influenced any militant.
The radicalization that is now being seen as a concern as it manifests in the new breed of militancy needs to be seen in the local context. Kashmir saw the worst period of violence in recent history that began in the early 1990s. That was perhaps the culmination of a long drawn political struggle and non-resolution of the dispute that has existed since 1947. Those who lead this struggle are now in denial that large-scale rigging in the 1987 assembly elections was not a trigger to the armed rebellion. But the fact is that it surely was a turning point, as losing the faith in Indian democracy pushed hundreds of Kashmiri youth towards militancy. Before that, Kashmiris were not prepared to embrace violence. After 1987, the new generation fancied it, and the changes that were taking place in the neighbouring Afghanistan after the USSR invasion made them believe that violence could help achieve political goals.
But Kashmiris soon realized that this might not be the only way to get the dispute resolved. They renounced it when Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front was pioneering it and its chief Yasin Malik announced a unilateral ceasefire in 1994. Not that the others followed suit, but it was a sign that violence was not the only way forward. The transition from violence to non-violence did take place, the peace process did flourish for sometime, political negotiations did take place, but the process did not end positively.
Cynicism prevailed yet again, and with a huge turnout in the elections, an emboldened Delhi thought that status quo was the “best solution” with the slogan of development replacing any intent to resolve the issue politically. Since a vacuum was left after the failure of the peace process with Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks, this had to be filled by the element of frustration that was running deep in the mind of a new generation. Mindful of the fact that the status quo was becoming reality, the youth in Kashmir felt alienated, to a greater degree than the previous generations. So the radicalization, which many see as trigger to a new phase of militancy and fresh recruitment, is not necessarily something that has to do anything with the extremism that is prevailing across the globe. Obviously, Kashmir is a Muslim majority state and a sense of desperation may lead to what is prevailing in the rest of the Muslim world. But for that, the only responsible factor is the absence of political engagement. If the youth are pelting stones or waving flags, which are not connected with Kashmir’s political problem, they are trying to demonstrate their anger against the Indian state.
Unless there is acceptance of the reality on the ground, this anger may grow further with greater danger in the coming days and months. Looking at Kashmir purely through the lens of a law and order problem created by a few disgruntled young men has always been a problem with New Delhi, which looks more at “managing” Kashmir rather than resolving it. Kashmir’s tryst with Sufi Islam has not ended, but the delay in a political resolution is surely paving the way for other ideologies to occupy the empty space. As of now, the anger of the youth is the manifestation of a political reality. Cynics in Kashmir believe that a new phase of militancy is what New Delhi wants. When it comes to Kashmir, sometimes even the conspiracy theories are right.
The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir