THE threat to Sikhs for conversion to Islam has upset the Hurriyat leaders, both the Geelani and Umar Farooq factions. They have conveniently blamed the Indian intelligence agencies for this new development in the political discourse of Kashmir.
It may be recalled that when two Sikhs, Jaspal Singh and Mahal Singh, were beheaded in Peshawar by Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP) in February this year, the Pakistani leadership had blamed the Indian intelligence agencies for the incident and alleged that there was deep linkages between TTP and R&AW.
The truth, however, inconvenient to the Hurriyat leadership is that the threats issued to the Sikhs is a progression of the Islamic agenda of the Kashmiri leadership and Pakistan’s ISI over the years for their objective of weaning away Kashmir from India into the folds of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the Hurriyat leadership is upset because the intimidation to Sikhs in Kashmir, for the moment runs contrary to the overall designs of the ISI. The ISI, as can be evidenced from the recent arrests in Punjab, is desperately trying to revive the Khalistan movement.
Use of religion or any ‘ism’ invariably gives rise to multitude of radical streams out of control of the main leadership. This is what has happened in Kashmir because a whole generation has been brought up in a culture of religious fundamentalism and intolerance of other faiths. Even in Pakistan, the ISI, the benefactor of various Sunni jehadi groups has not been able to restrain them from targeting the Shias and Ahmedias.
This new development has left the moderate separatist leadership worried regarding the so-called ‘freedom movement in Kashmir’, as it dents its credibility and international support, especially at a time when Obama is to visit India shortly. The threat to Sikhs for conversion of Islam raises serious questions about the very moorings and character of the movement. It only vindicates the contention of the sizeable constituency, which since the eviction of Hindus from the Valley, has been harping that the movement in Kashmir is not about Kashmiriat, but is impelled by religious agenda.
In the ISI’s scheme, manipulation of Sikhs sentiments is an important part of its strategic agenda. The grant of commission to a Sikh officer in the Pakistan Army has a strategic design rather than any change of heart in favour of secularism or with regard to the religious character and composition of the Pakistan Army.
The threat to Sikhs to convert to Islam is not a new development. On July 28, 2010, one Harmeet Singh, an employee of the Border Road Organisation (BRO), was subjected to the worst kind of humiliation by radical Islamists at Malangopra (Pulawama district). He was asked to raise pro-freedom slogans and beaten up in full public view. Allegedly, his hair was then chopped off. It may be mentioned that there are more than 60,000 Sikhs in 120 villages in the Valley. The incident was reminiscent of early 1990s, when the Kashmiri pandits, while they were still part of the valley and very much part of the Kashmiri fabric, were forced to fly Pakistani flags on the Independence Day. Even earlier, militant groups in their religious zeal indulged in activities, contrary to Pakistan’s Kashmir script. On March 20, 2000, 34 Sikhs were massacred in Chittisingpora village of Anantnag. The Hurriyat on the instructions of the ISI did then go out of the way to placate the Sikhs and assured them every kind of security.
The separatist or pro-Pakistan leadership has now been passed on to radical young leaders. The Islamic radicalism was clearly discernable in the recent well orchestrated stone throwing ‘agitational terrorism’. Syed Geelani, who is 83 years old and indisposed, is now only a father figure. The new Islamist movement is now being led by Masrat Alam Bhatt (fugitive), Asiya Andrabi and her husband Ashiq Hussain Faktoo. These leaders are young, products of privileged education and much more steeped in global Islam than their predecessors. Bhatt and Andrabi are 38 and 48 years respectively.
The computer savvy Bhatt, who speaks perfect English, is a product of elite Cecil Earle Tyndale Biscoe Memorial High School. He joined the jehadi movement in the late 1980s. As a representative of the Muslim League in Hurriyat, he never deviated from the League’s objective of “to fight socialism and secularism… and uprooting Western ideology”. In his speech, which can be accessed on ‘youtube’, he clearly speaks about ‘Islam ka bol bala’ (the complete writ of Islam) in Kashmir. He issues strike calendars from time to time for conduct of Kashmir insurrection. He has been in and out of jail, at least half a dozen times, and is presently a fugitive from Law.
The 1963 born Andrabi heads the women’s organisation Dukhtharan-e-Millat (daughters of the nation), which not only supports but participates in the activities of the jehadis. The primary objective of the organisation is to impose Sharia Law in Kashmir as well as freedom from ‘Indian occupation’. Andrabi is the daughter of a prominent doctor Syed Shahbuddin Andrabi. In 1982 she set up a network of religious schools, whose fundamental thrust is religious education. She is rabidly against most other forms of education and entertainment for Muslim women and is in the forefront of enforcing Islamic dress code amongst them. Andrabi is on record to say: “I do not believe in Kashmiriat, I do not believe in nationalism, I believe there are two nations – Muslims and non-Muslims”.
Both Bhatt and Andrabi played an active role in the movement against the grant of land use to the Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008, and in the latest ‘agitational terrorism’ in Kashmir. It was Andrabi, who rallied the women with their children to the forefront and as shield to the stone throwers.
Andrabi’s husband Ashiq Hussain Faktoo was at one time a top commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and was allegedly involved in the assassination of Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq, just because he was a moderate. Faktoo is presently serving a life-term for killing a human right activist HN Wanchoo.
The threat to the Sikhs in the valley is therefore a manifestation of the new radical Islamic movement in Kashmir guided by new radical leaders. It has got nothing to do with development or problems related to governance. In this regard, an article by Syed Rafiuudin Bukhari, ‘Pro-Pakistan Geelani’s Hurriat writ runs in Kashmir’ (in the backdrop of Dr Manmohan Singh’s speech on Independence Day), is telling: “While the unrest had become the reality of politics in today’s Kashmir, he mixed it with the usual rhetoric of creating more unemployment opportunities. This many took as an insult to “genuine aspirations” being given vent on the streets. Giving the name of lack of employment avenues to the upsurge on ground surely complicates New Delhi’s problems in Kashmir. In past over a decade lakhs of people have been given employment in the state and billions of rupees have been pumped to rebuild the infrastructure. Kashmir has grown as a prosperous place with human development index showing an upward trend. Businesses have shown excellent results with more employments coming through private sector, though slowly. But all these positive economic developments have not changed the political mindset of average Kashmiris…”
(The writer is a former R&AW officer and writer of many books. He is presently Associate Editor of Indian Defence Review)