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Valley unrest is not about Kashmiri nationalism

Geelani and his protégés like Masrat Alam Bhat as well as the teenaged stone- pelters have successfully subverted Kashmiri nationalism and Azaadi.

By Aditya Menon

FROM the Islamist ideologue Maulana Abul ala Maududi to the Irish- American rapper Everlast, a varied set of figures and symbols have become part of the resistance discourse in Kashmir. The excesses committed by the security forces and the ham- handed handling of the unrest by the Centre and the state government have led to the convergence of these diverse resistance symbols against a narrowly- defined antagonist — the Indian state. Though the call for Azaadi echoes in the valley like never before in recent times, scratch the surface and one finds that there is little clarity as to what it entails.

In fact, the octogenarian Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his protégés like Masrat Alam Bhat as well as the teenaged stone- pelters have successfully subverted Kashmiri nationalism and Azaadi.

From the beginning of the insurgency, Geelani and the Jamaat- i- Islami which he has represented for much of his career have criticised Kashmiri nationalism. In fact, he has steadfastly maintained that ethno- nationalism of any kind is antagonistic to Islam. In Geelani’s political worldview, which is determined by the ideas of Jamaat founder Maulana Maududi, Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan accompanied by the Islamisation of Pakistan is a transitory stage for the establishment of an Islamic state worldwide. Time and again Geelani has stated that Kashmiris are Pakistanis as Islam binds them to Pakistan.


The main agenda of this section of Islamists, in line with Maududi’s vision, is the Islamisation of society. A leader like Asiya Andrabi is a case in point. She cut her political teeth, not in pro- Azaadi demonstrations, but by mobilising support on issues of social morality. Her outfit, the Dukhtaran- i- Millat, had supported the little- known terrorist outfit Lashkar- i- Jabbar’s diktat ordering women to wear the veil. Andrabi’s supporters are known to have thrown acid on some women for not veiling themselves. Separatism, for this section of Islamists, is nothing more than a tool to gain legitimacy and extend their influence over society.

A testimony to their questionable commitment to Azaadi is the fact that in both the 2002 and 2008 assembly elections, large sections of the Jamaat had thrown its lot behind Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party ( PDP). Many former Jamaat cadre even joined the PDP. It is no coincidence that the PDP’s election symbol was the pen and the inkpot — the same as the symbol used by the Muttahida Muslim Mahaz ( Muslim United Front) in the heavily rigged 1987 elections.

On its part, the PDP has abetted if not encouraged Islamism in general and Jamaat in particular at the local level.

Localised Islamist indignation on issues of moral corruption helped the PDP undermine the National Conference, which was seen to be upholding immorality in the valley. It also helped the PDP knock the wind out of the sails of separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik as local level religious radicalism was perceived to be less threatening than separatism.

The subversion of Kashmiri nationalism was in the interest of both the Islamists and the PDP. This Islamist mobilisation reached its true potential in the Amarnath agitation in which both Hindu and Muslim extremists went into a xenophobic frenzy and took to street violence and blockades as a means of protest. It was then that stone pelting first came into prominence. The discourse in the present unrest seems more communal than nationalistic. In much of the propaganda material the chief minister is referred to as Omar ‘ Singh’ Abdullah and it is the Abdullah family’s Islamic and not Kashmiri credentials that are questioned.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his Islamist protégés have a vested interest in ensuring that there is no space for dialogue.

Keeping the street as the main field for political contestation serves the cause of Islamisation and radicalisation of society very well. In contrast, Azaadi — defined as either freedom from the oppression of the security forces or even full- fledged independence — can be achieved only through a political process involving negotiations.


It is this aversion to negotiation and the centrality of the street that brings Geelani close to the stone- pelters who are probably younger than his grand- children. This is a generation which has gone through their formative years during the militancy.

They have witnessed the most brutal violence from both sides. In fact, they haven’t seen a Kashmir that is free of militancy and the overwhelming presence of the security forces. They lack a frame of reference for a concrete political programme and desire a complete break from their existing reality. There is, therefore, little space for political negotiation in their blind rage. As it is, in the post- 9/ 11 world, radical Islamism has emerged as the main anti- establishment ideology in the world.

It is no surprise that these young stonepelters fancy themselves as some sort of Islamic Che Guevaras. A video posted by the “ I am a Kashmiri stone- pelter” group on Facebook uses the song Stone in my hand by the rapper Everlast as the background score. Attached to the same video is a translation of the Surah al- Fil — a chapter of the Holy Quran which refers to birds sent by God pelting the enemies of Islam with stones. What Mr Geelani or Ms Andrabi would have to say about this fusion is beside the point. The use of both these symbols, completely out of context, for the sole aim of justifying rebellion shows the failure of Kashmiri nationalism to capture the imagination of these youngsters.

These protestors are far removed from the niceties of Kashmiriyat that lie at the heart of the politics of separatist leaders like Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Shabbir Ahmad Shah.

Far from leading the protests, these separatist leaders have been forced to join the bandwagon in order to remain relevant. In addition to the protests’ subversion of Kashmiri nationalism, they pose a greater threat to the Mirwaiz in particular. The mob- Islamism of the Andrabi- Masrat Alam variety threatens the traditional and hierarchical religious linkages that lie at the basis of the Mirwaiz’s authority. The two versions of Islam as well as their respective power structures are at complete variance. It is therefore no surprise that both the Mirwaiz as well as the leader of the Jamiati- Ahl- i- Hadith Maulana Shaukat Ahmad Shah have condemned stone- pelting , with the latter going to the extent of terming it un- Islamic.


The separatist leaders must recognise that their basis of power lies not on the streets but in their ability to negotiate the interests of the people of Kashmir vis- àvis the Centre. The cause of Kashmiri nationalism and Azaadi can be best negotiated through this process and not on the streets. It is therefore important that these leaders, sooner rather than later, dissociate themselves with elements like Geelani. The JKLF seems to have realised this as can be seen from its statement criticising Geelani for saying that an independent Kashmir is not viable. It has also taken on Pakistan- sponsored terrorist groups like the Lashkar- i- Tayyeba for “ subverting the indigenous movement” and attempting to “ sabotage the Kashmiris’ spontaneous movement” through their mobilisation drive in Pakistan controlled Kashmir.

It is a welcome sign that the JKLF chief Yasin Malik has shown the magnanimity to be open to starting a process of dialogue with the Centre, in spite of the fact that his own cousin was killed in cold blood by the security forces. On its part, the Centre must enter into this process with all sincerity as it is of paramount importance that the dialogue table replaces the street as the field of political contestation.

Source: Mail Today, New Delhi