A funeral in Kashmir

Large protests following the killing of 'Pakistani militant' indicate political alienation

A funeral in Kashmir
When Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Abu Qasim was killed in a gunfight with police in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district recently, the entire area erupted in commotion. For the police, Qasim was the most wanted militant who carried a bounty of Rs 2 million on his head. For the local people, he turned out to be a hero after his death.

Thousands of men and women, young and old, wailed and wept for him. The expression that “someone’s terrorist is another’s martyr” fits the story of Abu Qasim. This may not hold true for all the people living in Kashmir. But the fact remains that the gun wielding youth have made a comeback in Kashmir and they are not seen as trouble makers as was the case earlier. Kashmir’s armed rebellion has witnessed drastic changes in the last 25 years. The funeral pictures like that of Abu Qasim or Ashfaqullah Bhat tell a new story about Kashmir. What is more significant is that Abu Qasim, according to police, was a Pakistani national who led the dreaded LeT in Kashmir for four years.

Reports that the people from three different villages literally fought for Qasim’s body to give him a decent burial tells a lot about the reality on the ground, which is generally ignored or dismissed as an ‘emotional outburst’. One can understand if people make a beeline to Ashfaqullah’s home in Pulwama district and attend his funeral. After all he was a local Hizbul Mujahideen commander who had family roots in Kashmir. But what about Qasim?

In the context of Kashmir’s changing situation, it is necessary to ponder over this new reality. A new breed of local youth, mostly educated ones, have joined the militant ranks in past few years. At the same time, people’s overwhelming participation, as depicted in the pictures of LeT commander’s funeral, convey that violence is still not rejected as an option to demonstrate the anger against the state. It is not necessary that all those who attended the funeral approve of violence as a means to that end, but to associate oneself with someone whose only recourse has been violence, and is not even a local, only reflects how an ordinary Kashmiri is feeling alienated from the Indian mainstream.

It is not the Indian Army that can fix the problem. Only a political approach can heal Kashmir. A majority of Kashmiris want a peaceful resolution of the issue, and have rejected violence as the means to this end. They also see United States of America as a possible broker between India and Pakistan in resolving the problem. They might be even knowing that US has declared LeT as international terrorist organization. It is among 66 organizations banned in March 2001. But their presence at Qasim’s funeral suggests it does not matter to Kashmiris.
Since 2008, there has been a complete absence of political engagement

While a section of the Indian mainstream media has been criticizing people for rallying behind a “terrorist” and “sanctioning” the violence, they fail to understand how Kashmir has been pushed towards this situation. In 1994, it was Kashmir’s indigenous militant outfit Jammu and Kashmir Liberation (JKLF) that unilaterally announced a ceasefire thus paving way for a non-violent course of action. That, however, did not help too much. New Delhi may continue to blame Pakistan for instigating trouble, but it needs introspection. What has it done to achieve peace in Kashmir? Even as the former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf admitted that his country trained Kashmiri militants, it is not a revelation by any means. Islamabad abetting and aiding an armed struggle in Kashmir is a fact widely acknowledged. But if the claim of JKLF that 600 of its members were killed after the ceasefire is to be believed, it puts the onus on New Delhi for not contributing to peaceful atmosphere.

The dynamics of militancy in Kashmir have changed from time to time. After JKLF laid down arms, Hizbul Mujahideen and other organizations continued to challenge India’s writ in the Valley. When these organizations “weakened” as far as fighting “spirits or capacity” are concerned, Pakistan infused a new life into it. LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad became the most potent organizations to operate in Kashmir. But the people’s sanction to militancy or violence was not in the form or shape as it was in early 1990s.

Apart from people’s waning support, it was also a change in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy that played a significant role in minimizing violence, though many in Delhi do not like to give credit to Islamabad on this front. In Kashmir, the realities are mixed. We have seen the unprecedented turnout of 70 percent in assembly elections, which according to voters was meant for governance. Political alienation is another stark reality that comes up again and again. Similarly, the renewed support for militants as can be gauged from the large funeral gatherings, cannot be ignored. Governments and policy makers fail to recognize the changes in the period between 2003 and 2008 when Kashmir witnessed relative calm. Since the two tracks of dialogue between Delhi and Islamabad and Delhi and Srinagar were on, people had reposed faith in the process with the hope that some headway could be made. They did that keeping in view their transition from violence to non-violence.

Since 2008, there has been a complete absence of political engagement. That is why political unrest is unavoidable. Unfortunately, those at the helm in Delhi fail to recognize Kashmir as a political issue. Taking the turnout in elections as the final verdict, they see it as a riot-oriented law and order issue. This approach has backfired time and again. Thousands of people attending funerals of militants indicates an alarming situation in Kashmir, which if not understood in the right perspective and context, has the potential to give birth to a new phase of unrest.

A large number of local youth may not be joining militancy, but the idea of violence as a means to realize political rights is back in the picture.

The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of

Rising Kashmir

Email: shujaat7867@gmail.com