The mobilisation of the Taliban after the US pullout from Afghanistan should have sent alarm bells ringing about Jammu & Kashmir in defence circles. Instead, in its trademark style, the government chose to take a cosmetic measure by calling a meeting of leaders from various parties of the Union Territory (UT), never to follow it up with anything substantial. Marketing clearly continues to be the one-stop solution for every problem, including ‘national security’, a phrase made fashionable by this regime. And I’m afraid that is where it ends.
So, why does Jammu and Kashmir’s current political set-up seem poised for trouble in the face of Afghan upheaval? We begin by putting things into a historical perspective and gaining an understanding of Kashmir’s original militant insurgency in the early ’90s. This phenomenon has long been studied in complete isolation. However, only recently, historians and academicians have begun seeing this in juxtaposition with broader regional developments of the time.
The Post-1989 Chaos
In February 1989, the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan after a protracted period of combat with the Mujahideen, a motley group of fighters who had been flocked in from various Muslim countries. They were funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and trained by America’s Cold War ally, Pakistan, to carry out “jihad” in the Muslim lands of Afghanistan that were defiled by the occupation of the atheist Soviet Communists.
Money and material were routed to the Mujahideen through Pakistan, giving the latter ample leverage in the whole affair. Armed with modern weapons and unmatchable knowledge of the terrain, the Mujahideen fought their jihad with fervour and force. Soviets were thus comprehensively defeated on the final frontier of the Cold War. Interestingly, the call for jihad that tipped the balance of the Cold War in favour of the US subsequently came to be hyped as the most dreaded keyword by the western media.
The defeat and withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan liberated the Mujahideen, who now, along with their cutting-edge weaponry and surplus finances, were redirected by Pakistan to another theatre nearby — Kashmir. Euphoria primed their confidence as the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union itself was attributed to the Mujahideen’s struggle in Afghanistan. Having demolished one of only two superpowers of the day, no enemy seemed formidable enough to them.
In Kashmir, what followed was almost a two-decade-long bloodbath, which left a trail of wailing widows, hapless orphans and mourning mothers. Families across the board were shattered and Kashmir was forever seared into our collective memories as an image of death, sadness and regrets.
Today, once again, we are face-to-face with a similar situation. The same euphoria prevails amongst the Taliban, as they have forced a hasty and humiliating retreat on a waning superpower. If history teaches us anything, it is that revolutionary euphoria is infectious and human upheavals have no respect for national boundaries.
Upheavals come in waves and charge into whatever free space is on offer, both spatially and temporally. It happened when former Soviet nationalities rose one after another against their mighty Communist masters. It happened recently when the Arab Spring saw a series of uprisings against long-reigning monarchs in the Arab world. It could happen now in Kashmir, against the iron-fisted betrayal of federalism by the BJP.
The pressure-cooker situation already created will catalyse such a development. Abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution and stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood symbolises the government of India’s sharp application of the centripetal force.
Deliberate choking of any political activity (whatever remains of it) has also worsened political alienation.
These developments have taken away the opportunities to channelise political energies and ventilate aspirations, making the youth susceptible to radicalisation like never before. All doors leading to a meaningful engagement with the Indian body-politic have been shut, forcing the youth to seek consolation elsewhere. Remember, the same country that used to broker America’s dealings with the Mujahideen also has the greatest leverage in the present Afghan situation.
Clouds of Radicalisation Are Gathering
Today, Jammu and Kashmir has all the makings of an Orwellian society. The public is up against a faceless monolith of bureaucracy that neither has the incentive to listen nor the mandate to act. In a situation like this, we are only staring down a deep abyss as clouds of radicalisation gather over the Hindu-Kush. We could be well in for the classic case of encirclement outside and upheaval inside. While most security analysts have been fixated on the ‘physical’ threats of militant infiltration and insurgency, very few have addressed these genuine political dangers.
As I sit in my Srinagar office, there is a deep sense of foreboding trickling in from all quarters. Already in the last few weeks, political activists from the BJP have been targeted by emboldened militant groups. The cracks seem to have widened and all I can see is uncertainty. A dynamic geopolitical situation is often beyond a nation’s control, but weathering the storm by putting its house in order is never beyond reach. While I do not wish to be a harbinger of doom, my reading of history and understanding of Jammu & Kashmir’s politics tells me that something is amiss.
There is a huge mismatch between external conditions and domestic policies, which could lead us all down a very dangerous road. Once again, a wrathful storm is waiting to enter our midst. Do we let our people perish once again, or do we pull them well in time into the protective fold of our polity? As we stand at the cusp of significant developments, I strongly believe that reviving Jammu & Kashmir’s political life is the only way to fill the disconcerting power vacuum and prevent the worst from happening.
(Sarah Hayat Shah is a political activist in Jammu and Kashmir. She also heads the IT/SM Wing for the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) currently. Views expressed are personal. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)