“Kashmiri baighairat qaum hai” (Kashmiris are a dishonorable people) is what I came across in recent days during one of my interactions with a hyper-nationalist fellow countryman in Pakistan. To be honest, I was appalled, but as a non-Kashmiri, I cannot even imagine the immense insult a Kashmiri would feel in my place. Having been given an opportunity to work in Kashmir, I have come into contact with people at ground level, and in their simplest, modest ways they always welcomed me with their bright smiles; but their eyes always silently told me tales of the beauty of their land, haunted by cries and blood. This is more painful when we hear cries from the Valley under Indian control. So many curfew nights the locals have suffered, the cross fighting, and inhumane treatment they have to endure more often now because of the suspicion and distrust the military have of Kashmiri residents.

Kashmir, through ancient times, has been full of fables and myths, magic and mesmerizing beauty. This is the land that enjoyed and experienced the historical diversity, mysticism and inspiration. A place where a poet’s heart lies, and the music for the lovers. The romanticism that attracts people from far away lands whom the Kashmiris love to host. Influenced and shaped by the Hindu, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims, Kashmiri traditions and folklore are rich for anthropologists and explorers. However, there has been a streak of invasions in Kashmir recorded throughout centuries. Though under popular or oppressive rulers, especially since Mughals invaded the land, Kashmiris were not allowed to have a say on matters relating to the rule of their land. However, in the modern age, being denied genuine democracy surmounts to the worst form of persecution of the Kashmiris, and to a greater degree, in Indian Held Kashmir.

Today Kashmir has become lore of treacherous political ambitions, covert militant/separatist operations and violence. At the time of Partition the princely states of India were given an option to either accede to India or Pakistan. The Muslim majority states opted to accede to Pakistan and the Hindu majority, to India. Kashmir was a Muslim majority state, ruled by a Dogra prince Hari Singh who at first abstained from acceding to any of the two newly established countries, for the fear of losing his position as a ruler of the state. However, clashes erupted in Kashmir when the Kashmiri peasants rose in revolt against their landlords, and were then supported by the people in North West Frontier Province (present day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) which helped them liberate a part of Kashmir, which we now call  Azad Kashmir. To contain the revolt, India sent in its forces in Kashmir and persuaded a reluctant Prince Hari Singh to give accession to India in return of India’s military help in fighting off the rebellion. Quaid-e-Azam tried to send in two brigades in aid of the Kashmiris, but the then Field Marshall Auchinlek persuaded him not to, leaving Jinnah with no option to confront  the military occupation by India. The then Prime Minister of India, Jawarhalal Nehru justified India’s military presence in Kashmir by saying this as an important step  to “restore” law and order before the Kashmiris are safe to determine their future for themselves. However, he never withdrew the forces from India, and always delayed or refused talks on plebiscite, an inalienable right of the Kashmiris. Nor could he ever justify the brutality meted out against the Kashmiris by his army.

Pakistan’s militant involvement begins with the then Foreign Minister Bhutto’s disastrous and miscalculated adventure in Indian Held Kashmir under operations notoriously known Operation Gibralter and Operation Grand Slam in 1965, which ended in full blown war between India and Pakistan. Whatever background work Bhutto had done to cash in on his assumed global support, the war backfired for Pakistan and as a consequence, its later calls for a peaceful solution to the dispute have been ignored by the world doubting its credibility as broker for Kashmir settlement. It was a war about which many Kashmiris were skeptical, mainly because being civilians, they had been more prone to be violently targeted for aiding the infiltrators and were not ready to risk the lives and safety of their families, nor were they well prepared or convinced to facilitate the infiltrators. In fact, the infiltration of the militia caused damage to the genuine Kashmiri struggle—it has obscured it. The jihadists believed in more staunch Salalfist principles, and were more violent and indiscriminatory, as compared to the local separatist group JKLF (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) that is struggling for an independent Kashmir. The infiltrators  also brutalized the local Kashmiris whom they thought were pro-India. They also terrorized the minority Hindu Pandits, thousands of whom had to flee Kashmir and continue to live in abject poverty in the outskirts of Jammu.

While Islam has been used to give legitimacy to jihad—India has sent in support to the militant parties that it could use as counter-insurgents to the separatists. Ikhwan ul Muslimeen is one of those groups that cannot be held accountable for their excesses because of the military’s backing. The Ikhwans have exploited their position to settle scores of personal enmity with blanket impunity. This is perhaps one of the most vicious moves designed by Indian army which will have disastrous consequences in years to come, when the renegades become double agents to gain their exploitative powers which will then be too late for the state to undo their nuisance. The political and religious use of militancy has obscured everything—it makes it difficult for one to know who could be trusted for protection.   

Considering Burhan Wani a terrorist or a freedom fighter will make no difference because both terms are interchangeably relevant to a particular political stance. However, any tyrannical act which is directly targeting civilians for intimidating them is no less than an act of terrorism. Clearly, a person pelting stones at the Indian soldiers is not a militant, but pays a heavy price by either getting killed by a bullet or getting incapacitated by pellet firing (3,000 people have received injuries from the pellet firing that has caused permanent blindness in them in their recent clashes with the police).

Not all freedom fighters of Kashmir believe in violence to be the only answer to state tyranny— a Germany based Kashmiri activist Riffat Wani, the founding member of the United Kashmiri Youth, has a different philosophical outlook on freedom. She strongly believes that any armed struggle without a collective conscience of the Kashmiris would always be suicidal for Kashmir cause. In her view the only way of making the Kashmiri struggle effective is by bringing Kashmiris from both Azad Kahsmir and Indian Held Kashmir on the same page for demanding their legit right to democracy and self-determination, and for this, she is reaching out to the Kashmiri mothers, daughters and sisters to come forward and join her in the cause. Her stance carries weight because it is the women who have remained persistent in their cause, and have highlighted in the world the brutalities of the invading army in IHK through their vigorous activism. If there is hope in Kashmir, it certainly lies with the women of Kashmir. Whether it is the wailing of a rape survivor of Konan Poshpura, or of a mother whose son has gone missing, it is the conflicted valley of Kashmir that resonates painfully with their tales of blood.