As the world continues to ignore the ongoing mass murder and oppressive Indian occupation in Kashmir, there is a renewed interest for the armed militancy among the youth in Kashmir. If public support following the death of the iconic Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani is any indicator, millions of Kashmiris have reposed their faith in the pro-freedom militancy. During the first three months of the current mass uprising, I was able to visit various public demonstrations where the youth were increasingly calling for gun as the only solution – a war cry from a desperate population being killed and maimed by the Indian state as the world increasingly looks indifferent and unconcerned.
As the clamour for an armed resistance against a brutal occupation gains currency, there is frustration in the militant ranks for they are facing severe arms shortages because India has been able to choke the supply routes after Pakistan’s receding interest in Kashmir following the Musharraf years. This inability of militants to swell their ranks for want of material support has allowed the Indian government to increase its ruthless practices as it knows there is little room for militancy to flourish into an unmanageable challenge.
In such a morose milieu, it is quite understandable that people are beckoning militants for protection, revenge and the realisation of their cherished dream for azadi. It is no surprise that Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest pro-freedom resistance group, is calling for the youth to snatch arms from Indian security forces and join the resistance ranks. On 17 October, the day Zakir Musa, successor to commander Burhan Wani, made a video appeal five rifles were snatched from cops in South Kashmir. Another video released last week showed 12 Hizb militants, nine of them fresh recruits, displaying a wide inventory of weapons snatched from Indian soldiers.
During my stay in Kashmir, I witnessed growing frustration among the youth as well as the pro-freedom resistance militants as they are unable to arrange arms and ammunition. This is no wonder that during the last four months of mass uprising, youth have snatched more than 100 rifles from Indian security forces to join pro-freedom militant ranks.
In this backdrop, last week’s public call by Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, asking for Pakistan army’s intervention is not surprising. “Pakistan should militarily support Kashmiris by providing resources to the mujahideen,” he said in a press conference in Muzzaffarabad. While a plea for arming Kashmiris may not be illegitimate in essence for they are braving a million strong occupation forces continually committing massive war crimes, the petition is extremely dangerous.
There is no denying that the Hizb is under massive pressure from the Kashmiri youth and its own cadres to find a way to get over this crisis of dearth of arms to expand its base and operational manoeuvrability. However, I believe it is important the Hizb leadership ceases the moment with maturity and explore different ways of responding to the humanitarian and political crisis in Jammu and Kashmir. While the militancy continues to be an option to bring notice to different political issues from Syria to Crimea, it necessarily does not solve problems. Rather, it further complicates the dynamics, and in Kashmir’s case, a new call to arms has the potential to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan and expand the theatre of risk and danger beyond the confines of Jammu and Kashmir.
Syed Salahuddin is no ordinary militant commander. He has been a vocal supporter of pro-freedom struggle through democratic means and a firm believer in people’s right to self determination. Under his command, the Hizbul Mujahideen has participated in talks with India to seek a political solution to the problem and the organisation continues to believe in a political solution. Although India keeps frustrating all the democratic means employed by Kashmiris to achieve their freedom, Salahuddin must use the momentum generated by the current mass uprising to advance Hizbul Mujahideen’s political role. The government of Pakistan can certainly lend a helping hand by lobbying for the removal of the Hizb from the so-called EU and US terror lists and formally recognise the organisation as a legitimate pro-freedom voice. This could bring some profitable advantages to all the parties – Kashmiris, India and Pakistan – and open up ways towards long-term peace in the region.
The writer is a journalist, author and communications and security specialist. He keeps shuttling between London, Lahore and Srinagar, Kashmir. He tweets @murtaza_shibli