Recent trends emanating from the State of Jammu & Kashmir have been ominous. There was a terrorist attack on a Police post and an Army Officers Mess in Sambha District, which resulted in the loss of lives. This was followed by a deliberate bid by the militants to infiltrate across the Line of Control (LoC) in Keran Sector in Kashmir Valley, what was more surprising was that the infiltrators decided to dig in and fight the Indian army for over two weeks, rather than disappearing towards their safe sanctuaries across the LoC. This sort of an attempt has been unprecedented. This resolve shown by the infiltrators baffled the security forces and there were reports about the presence of Pakistani Special Forces amongst them, but even after giving credence to the presence of the regulars, the resilience exhibited by the militants was unprecedented.
There is therefore a need to evaluate the causes of this change and analysis of the prevailing landscape in Kashmir Valley will give away the reason. A cursory visit to the valley will show that the number of Wahabi mosques and institutions has increased in recent times and as a result, the traditional syncretic Sufi Islam, which was the dominant faith in the Kashmir Valley has been over shadowed by the hard-line Salafist Islam, at least as far as the urban youth are concerned. What has given it a fillip is the general disillusionment amongst the youth with the provincial government, absence of viable local governance mechanism and large scale external funding being received by various Salafist organisations. At the same time there is a widespread discontentment with the happenings in Pakistan, consequently, Islamabad has ceased to be the role model and the disillusioned youth is looking at global Islamic organisations for utopian solutions.
As a result the youth in urban centres in valley is now not identifying himself with Pakistan, but is looking for solutions towards an elusive global Islamic emirate. This also automatically leads to their greater cooperation with global Islamic organisation and higher level of motivation and consequently, there has been a rise in home-grown militants in Kashmir in recent times. This also explains the growing intolerance in the society, whereby music and freedom of women, traditionally the pillars of Kashmiri society are being frowned upon and there is a growing visibility of both veils and beards. Kashmir’s all women band was forced to close down and restrictions are being imposed on how the women must dress.
There is growing intolerance of the minorities. Many Christian schools, churches and institutions across the valley have been attacked. A Christian pastor was arrested for allegedly proselytising Kashmiris. An investigation into these incidents indicated that many of these attacks were instigated by organisations with Wahabi links. The Sharia court of Kashmir gave a ‘Fatwa’ against Christian schools in January 2012 and asked the Jammu & Kashmir Government to take over their management. As Christian schools are popular and are considered a major impediment to the spread of radical ideology being propagated by the Wahabis, they are being specifically targeted. Moreover, growing proximity with global Islamic organisations makes Christians a favourite target; consequently, there have been attacks on foreigners living in valley in 2013, accusing them of conversion.
However, the biggest victim of the Wahabi onslaught has been the Shia minority of the Kashmir Valley, where they have been living in peace for centuries with their Sunni brethren under the Sikh and Dogra rule. Even after the independence and Kashmir’s accession with India, there was no victimisation of the Shias. However, the growing cult of Wahabism that is growing amongst the Islamic society across globe has disturbed the peaceful existence of Shias. The ideology of hate that justifies violence against Shias in Iraq or Syria also gives rationale for eliminating Shias from the Valley. The hate literature, which is being circulated by various ‘Taqfiri’ outfits, paints Shias as apostates and encourages majority community to indulge in violence against them. Some of them even advocate their expulsion from the Kashmir Valley. Shias, who number over 1.2 million in the province constitute a majority in Kargil Region of Ladakh and parts of Kashmir valley, live in all the three parts of the state, namely, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; however, they are persecuted only in Kashmir Valley. Despite having a substantive population, Shias in Kashmir have not been allowed to take out their procession during Muharram, making Jammu & Kashmir, the only province where this is not allowed. Sectarian violence, which has been endemic in Pakistan, permeated across the Line of Control (LoC) into Kashmir Valley and made its presence felt in Budgam District, where in July 2013, sectarian conflict led to the burning of over dozen houses. Situation could only be controlled after the Army was deployed as local administration is perceived by the Shias to be biased.
Not only Shias but the tiny, peaceful and non-violent Ahmadiyya community in the valley also lives in fear. Grand Mufti of Kashmir in May 2012 asked the state legislature to pass a legislation declaring the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslims, on the pattern of Pakistan. Similarly the Noorbakhshis, an Islamic sect unique to Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), and has its adherents in Turtuk region and parts of Kargil, is being threatened by the Wahabi proselytisers. The Wahabis and Sunni clerics are converting the Noorbakhshi youth to Wahabi and Sunni faith.
The pro-Pakistan separatists, who have lost the local support in valley, are trying to take the insurgency to Jammu and Ladakh. Their special focus has been on Poonch, Rajauri and Doda in Jammu region and Kargil in Ladakh. In Jammu region, they have been challenged by the Village Defence Committees (VDCs), primarily comprising of ex-servicemen. VDCs have for long been a thorn in the flesh of the separatist and consequently, they have been trying to provoke communal clashes in the Jammu region and have been using these as a pretext to disarm VDCs. Separatists also perceive religious tourism, which brings in millions of pilgrims from all over India to various shrines in Jammu & Kashmir as an impediment to their separatist agenda and have been trying to organise protests against it. They have however, not succeeded in generating popular sentiments against these pilgrims, as they generate employment and provide fillip to the local economy.
In order to marginalise the separatists, it is essential that all the religious and sectarian minorities must be provided complete protection. Although, internationally the discourse on Kashmir has already shifted to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) from the valley, the people in Jammu & Kashmir are not adequately aware of the happenings in PoK. There is a need to have seminars to disseminate the information about PoK as well as the developments in the larger Islamic World, so that the populace understands the perils of radicalisation. The Railway link to the Kashmir valley and the opening of Mughal Road will enhance the integration of the province with rest of India. However, there is a need to develop new townships along these routes. Some of these may be used to rehabilitate the displaced Kashmiri Pundits from the valley. Similarly tourism to remote villages must be encouraged, so that the benefits accrue to all the corners of the state and not remain confined to Srinagar.
It needs to be appreciated that the US and the NATO forces will pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 and in case of a Taliban victory, most of the foot soldiers of global Islamic emirate will move to newer battle fields in the region including Kashmir. It is therefore essential that the security environment in the province be strengthened and nationalist elements be given complete protection.
(The writer is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)