Street-talk is often boorish. Graffiti scrawled across Srinagar’s dilapidated buildings, many charred and derelict from 25 years of sporadic insurgency and often brutal repression, is telling. Reading “welcome Taliban,” the message provides some evidence to suggest analysts and Indian officials are correct in predicting a troubled year. The extent to which the sentiment resonates is, however, questionable.
Speaking to The Diplomat, Raashid Maqbool, a senior journalist and scholar at Kashmir University explained, “The Taliban is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It is a concept more than anything.” He added, “People that are agitated need a banner, a slogan, an identification. Politics, as much as anything, is symbolic.”
Given NATO’s pending Afghan “withdrawal,” few gestures, however symbolic, could be as provocative.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Statements made earlier this year by Pakistan-based militants have compounded anxieties. Whilst a West Point paper released in May reported that 94 percent of militants in Lashkar-e-Taiba – widely believed to take its orders from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence – consider Kashmir a frontline struggle, claims by a senior Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen fighter that Afghan militants owe Kashmiri’s “a debt” have circulated widely.
In an oft-repeated statement made in August, Syed Salahuddin, Chairman of the United Jihad Council, an umbrella organization of more than 13 militant groups, threatened to “flood Kashmir with fighters.” Of somewhat less interest has been Salahuddin’s subsequent assertion that his group has no physical links with the Taliban, nor does he want the Taliban operating in Kashmir, labeling the discourse an attempt to “malign the Kashmiri struggle.”
Despite high-level discussions between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in September, in excess of 200 ceasefire violations in 2013 have ensured that relations between the nuclear-armed countries remain tense.
As talk of a “deadly” Indo-Af-Pak triangle fashioned by the Kashmir conflict provides consolation for ISAF’s modest achievements in Afghanistan, reports warning of the threat posed by “thousands of armed, violent, radicalized” militants have gained traction.
Speaking to The Diplomat under house-arrest, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the hardline separatist Hurriyat Conference (G) emphasized that, “This dispute is not a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, this is a dispute of 13 million people. Whether they are Muslims or Hindus or Sikhs or Christians, all the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir have a right to self-determination.”
“We are telling the people that we should continue the struggle on the basis of peaceful ways. But India is not taking any notice.”
He further warned, “At this juncture we are fighting as far as the Jammu and Kashmir people are concerned, but if anybody is coming to help the suppressed nation, it is also natural.”
In a recent statement to Kashmir Dispatch, Asiya Andrabi, leader of the hardline separatist women’s movement Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of Faith) said, “We have to think that our brothers are coming to help us, to liberate us from India.”
She clarified, “When Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda comes to Kashmir we should keep in mind that the road-map or agenda should be ours.”
Though separatist leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir have fallen shy of advocating a return to arms, there appears little appetite to thwart its onset.
Yasin Malik, chairman of the politically committed Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, dismissed talk of the Taliban as “vague.”
He told The Diplomat, “When in 2008 millions of people came onto the street the Indian state again used military force to corrupt that non-violent movement. Rather than respect this transition they used military force and the whole international community was watching as mute spectators. They have not broken their criminal silence.”
“In Afghanistan the whole world under the command of NATO used military force against the Taliban. Ultimately they realized that the military option is not a solution so they started a negotiating process. The same people who used to bomb the Taliban opened an office for them in Doha and have engaged them in negotiating a settlement.”
“So what is the message of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, not only to Kashmir but to all the conflict zones across the globe. Is the message that only violence can deliver?”
Though increased militancy seems plausible, and foreign elements may play a supporting role, the catalyst for any outbreak is almost certain to be local.
Given reports of a new breed of educated, committed militants operating in the valley, recent events at Kashmir University (KU) are ominous.
The December 4 attack on a cafeteria waiter, allegedly committed by Junaid Javid Mir, the president of the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), has caused outrage. Though Chief Proctor Naseel Iqbal described it as a “minor scuffle,” many see the incident – which left the victim in intensive care – as indicative of a broader institutional policy.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a representative of the banned Kashmir University Student Union (KUSU), remarked, “These hooligans get every kind of support.”
“The cafeteria owner was being told ‘no you don’t file a First Information Report (FIR) we have pressure we cannot file an FIR’.”
He added, “We still don’t know if there is only an internal report there or an official FIR. Nobody knows what happened.”
Though the cafeteria owner filed a complaint with the police, no formal case was registered.
Despite an official ban on student politics at the university, Mirwaiz Abdullah Farooq, who heads the moderate Hurriyat Conference (M), recently accused authorities of making KU a “hub of mainstream activities,” arguing that “Deliberate attempts are being made to muzzle the popular sentiment of Kashmir of which youth and the students are major stakeholders.”
The Higher Education Minister, Mohammed Akbar Lone, labeled these allegations baseless and unfortunate, claiming that “there is no political activity going on at Kashmir University.”
“Whether they give a space or don’t give a space we will still go on with protests, peaceful protests, even though knowing the repercussions,” the KUSU representative asserted.