Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Forgotten Muslim Freedom Fight

In 1947, Britain released its sovereignty over its Indian colonial holdings, allowing its former subjects to choose between Muslim Pakistan in the north and Hindu India in the south (commonly known as ‘partition’). While some Muslims remain in what is today India, an exceptionally violent and bloody migration between these states resulted in a massive relocations of millions along religious lines as the partition redefined the subcontinent. Hatred between these once united peoples has seethed over the years, fomenting periodic violence along the way, terrorism – mostly directly from north to south with al Qaeda joining the mix in later years (after 2000) – merged with all other forms of war and conflict over the disputed land of Jammu and Kashmir along the shared northern border.
Pakistan, which controls portions of Kashmir (that portion is virtually all Muslim), felt that the balance of Kashmir should have opted for Pakistan. After all, 95% of the Kashmir Valley, currently part of India, is Muslim, not a big difference from the way it was at partition. How in the world did such a large part of India?
“British rule in India ended in 1947 with the creation of a new state: the Dominion of Pakistan alongside the Union of India, the successor state to British India, while British suzerainty over the 562 Indian princely states ended. According to the Indian Independence Act 1947, ‘the suzerainty of His Majesty over the Indian States lapses, and with it, all treaties and agreements in force at the date of the passing of this Act between His Majesty and the rulers of Indian States.’ States were thereafter left to choose whether to join India or Pakistan or to remain independent. Jammu and Kashmir, the largest of the princely states, had a predominantly Muslim population ruled by the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh. Following partition, Pakistan had expected the annexation of Kashmir to its territory.
“Hari Singh, the maharaja of Kashmir, initially believed that by delaying his decision he could maintain the independence of Kashmir, but, caught up in a train of events that included a revolution among his Muslim subjects along the western borders of the state and the intervention of Pashtun tribesmen, he signed an instrument of accession on 25 October 1947 to the Indian union. This was the signal for intervention both by Pakistan, which considered the state to be a natural extension of Pakistan, and by India, which intended to confirm the act of accession.” Wikipedia. Pakistan lost that war with a U.N. resolution implementing a ceasefire.
Two more wars, in 1965 and 1971, failed to loose Kashmir to Pakistan. In 1989, waves of Islamic terrorism exploded in Kashmir against Indian targets. Freedom fighters, purportedly financed and supported with Pakistani funding, have raged within Indian Kashmir, occasionally mounting attacks to larger civilian largest deep within India itself, including the infamous attack on Mumbai in 2008 (pictured above). If you read the headlines, you’d think that this struggle between two nuclear powers was continuing at full tilt. Pakistani army chief, Raheel Sharif, recently admonished: “Pakistan and Kashmir are inseparable.”
Officially, Pakistan agreed to de-escalate tensions between the two nations in 2003, but since 2012, tensions have returned. So we should expect another resurgence of terrorism and insurgency? Not if the local freedom fights are the lynch-pin for success. It seems that too many of the fighters have either grown old or simply gone weary of a lifetime of instability and violence.
The BBC (July 6th) delved into this phenomenon, speaking to former participations, asking vital questions, including of a stateless Kashmiri tea brewer who fled to Pakistan for safety. He once carried his AK 47 in the ‘war of liberation’ within Kashmir. Today, he looks at the struggle from a very different perspective, reflecting the feelings of so many of his former ‘freedom fighters.’ “[The BBC interviewer pointed] to some recent attacks by militants on Indian positions along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border dividing Kashmir, and ask[ed] him if he expects to be recalled to duty by the militant outfit he enrolled with as a fighter.
“He gives me a long, blank look… “There's no mobilisation, no queues to enlist for training, no hustle-bustle at the offices of [jihadist] organisations, like the old times…I left my home because I wanted to win this war; but Pakistanis only wanted to needle the Indians. They agreed to a ceasefire, and allowed the Indians to build a fence along the LoC [Line of Control – border]… “So I think time to liberate Kashmir [from India] by force is up now."
“‘Besides,’ he adds after some brooding, ‘I don't want my children to turn out like the children of Afghan refugees, making a living by scavenging on garbage dumps in Pakistan.’… There are some 3,000 to 4,000 former militants from the Indian side in Muzaffarabad [a border town] - leftovers of approximately 30,000 people who abandoned their homes in Indian-administered Kashmir during the decade following the 1989 uprising, crossing into Pakistan to receive training and arms…
“Nearly all of them are now middle-aged, and are raising families. And the war funds that once sustained them are drying up… Pakistan stopped paying for militant field operations in Indian Kashmir in 2006. In 2012, it halved administrative expenses to jihadist organisations for running their offices in Pakistani Kashmir, forcing all but a few to close shop… These expenses have been further slashed during the last year… The former militants are forced to eke a living out of running road-side businesses or doing day jobs at car washes, construction sites and restaurants.” The struggle has lasted well over half a century, and there are no guarantees that a new generation may against take up arms. But there is an undercurrent that perhaps, given enough time, Islamic militancy even by the most dedicated fighters, can wither and die, particularly if the money supporting the militancy dries up. Is there a lesson in this? Only time will tell.
I’m Peter Dekom, and perhaps this is a bad story or perhaps this is a ray of hope for the longer term.

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