Kashmiri Muslims continuing to suffer for their resistance to Indian rule

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Qazi Umar

Dhu al-Qa'dah 29, 1423 2003-02-01

Special Reports

by Qazi Umar (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 23, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1423)

It was hardly surprising that Kashmiri Muslims are among those who offered the strongest condemnation to the victory of the fascist BJP Party in the Gujarat election late last year, for they have suffered more than most at India’s hands. QAZI OMAR reports.

The strongest condemnation of the Narendra Modi-led BJP’s victory in the recent Gujrat elections has come from the Muslims of Indian-occupied Kashmir. "Muslims in Gujrat have been served an ultimatum that they are not wanted in that state," said Showket Ahmed, a political analyst. "The violence directed at Muslims in Gujrat, followed by the victory of the perpetrators, has vindicated the two-nation theory of Muhammed Ali Jinnah," says Jameel Ahmed, a spokesman for Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, adding that "The BJP’s victory has proved that Muslims are a hated lot in India."

Newspapers published in Indian-occupied Kashmir echoed the same view as well. "Gujrat endorses hate" was the headline of Kashmir’s leading newspaper, the Greatest Kashmir. "Saffron rule again in Gujrat" was how the Srinagar Mail, an Urdu daily in Srinagar, described the BJP’s victory. And al-Safa, Kashmir’s largest-circulation vernacular Urdu daily, ran the headline: "Politics of mass killings wins in Gujrat".

On January 14 Human Rights Watch criticised the Indian government for its role in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujrat, and for using tough new anti-terror laws on "political opponents" in Kashmir. "Human Rights Watch’s investigations, and those of Indian Human Rights groups, revealed that much of the [Gujrat] violence was planned well in advance... and was carried out with the state approval and orchestration," the New York-based human-rights group said in its annual report. "The violence in Gujrat underscored the volatile consequences of rising Hindu nationalist sentiment propagated by the Sangh Parivar," the report said. Human Rights Watch also accused India of exploiting the rhetoric surrounding the global war against ‘terrorism’ "in order to target religious minorities [Muslims in India] and political opponents [Kashmiri mujahideen]". The report also highlighted the tough Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), under which several Kashmiri leaders have been detained without trial. "POTA has been implemented against political opponents in various parts of the country to make a point," Human Rights Watch emphasised. The arrests of separatist leaders Yassin Malik and Syed Ali Shah Geelani led to concerns that charges against them under POTA were "politically motivated", the report pointed out.

On January 20 police broke up a protest in Srinagar led by leading human-rights activist Ahsan Untoo and senior separatist activist Javed Mir. Untoo told the media that the protest was held to raise their voices for Kashmiri mujahideen being taken to jails outside the province. "No one attends to them [detainees] outside the state. They are left to the mercy of God," Untoo said. The protesters carried a portrait of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was arrested last June on charges that he founded Kashmir’s largest "rebel group", Hizbul Mujahideen. Geelani, 78, is being held in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand; according to media reports doctors recently found a cyst on one of his kidneys that might be cancerous.

Also on January 20, the mujahideen denounced the creation of an indigenous counter-insurgency force by the new government. Chief minister Mufti Muhammed Sayeed, on January 18, announced the establishment of the Jammu and Kashmir Voluntary Force, which would begin with 500 personnel trained in commando warfare. Moinul Islam, deputy chief commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, warned that the new force "will also let a reign of terror like the Special Operations Group (SOG)." He vowed that "all attempts aimed at crushing the ongoing movement shall fail."

The SOG has become notorious over the years for its breaches of human rights. Mufti Muhammed, who took power in November last year on a ‘reformist agenda’, had promised to disband the SOG. However, earlier this year he said that the SOG would instead be "reoriented", provoking anger among human-rights activists, who accused him of reneging on his election promises.

On January 8, London-based human-rights group Amnesty International condemned the Mufti-led government in Kashmir for backtracking on its commitment to investigate violations of human rights there. "Amnesty International is disturbed by recent press reports that the government of Jammu and Kashmir is to break the promise... to investigate all reported cases of custodial killings and violations of human rights," a statement by Amnesty International said. The dreaded SOG, which consists of local policemen who volunteer to work against the mujahideen, has a bad reputation among Kashmiris for involvement in excesses, particularly extortion. Backtracking from his election promise to disband the SOG, Mufti, under pressure from New Delhi (he was being accused of being "soft on militants"), said that the SOG would be "reoriented", although he did not say how. The Amnesty statement said that Mufti’s new stand implied that "wide scale allegations of human rights violations made against them [SOG] in the past would not necessarily be investigated". Amnesty International also criticised Mufti for declaring that an amnesty would be made available to those who had perpetrated abuses.

On January 14 Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media-rights group "welcomed" the release of a Kashmiri journalist from an Indian prison, but said that it regretted that he had been held for seven months without evidence or trial. Reporters Without Borders also said that it would support a move by a Ifthikar Ali Geelani, a New Delhi-based journalist, to claim damages from the Indian government for his detention. "This is a humiliating defeat for the interior minister, who abused his power, and a belated but substantial victory for press freedom in India," Robert Menard, the group’s secretary general, said on January 14. A court released Geelani, a correspondent for the Pakistani newspaper The Nation and New Delhi bureau chief for the daily Kashmir Times, on January 13 after the Indian government withdrew its case against him under the Official Secrets Act. Geelani was arrested in June 2001 after police claimed that they had found information in his computer about the "placement of troops in Jammu and Kashmir that compromised the country’s safety and security".

Nearly three years after the killing of five Muslims in an encounter at Pathribal in Anantnag, the Kashmiri government is expected to take action against a senior police officer and army officials found guilty by a judicial commission that investigated the incident and the subsequent fudging of victims’ DNA samples. A three-member cabinet subcommittee, headed by deputy chief minister Mangat Ram Sharma, was formed on January 16 to study the Justice Kuchai Commission Report and to take action within 15 days against those held responsible for the killings and for the fudging of DNA samples. The army and the police killed the five Muslims in a fake encounter at Pathribal in Anantnag and then branded them as "foreign militants responsible for the massacre of Sikhs at Chittisingpora" (where there was a stage-managed massacre by Indian intelligence during Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000). The bodies, however, were exhumed only after eight were killed and more than a dozen injured in police firing on a demonstration protesting against the killing of the five. The commission, led by Justice Pandian, held the police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) responsible for unprovoked firing on the demonstration, and recommended a probe into the massacre of Sikhs and the subsequent Pathribal encounter. The Kuchai commission held the Medical College, Srinagar, responsible for fudging the blood samples in connivance with police.

In yet another violation of human rights in Kashmir (apart from the routine murders, rapes and tortures at detention centres in the valley), on January 9 the Indian government suspended the passport of Mirwaiz Umar Farook, the founder of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a day before he was expected to fly to the US. Farooq, 29, is Jammu and Kashmir’s leading alim, and heads the Awami Action Committee (AAC), which is an important member of the 23-party APHC. "The suspension of the passport of Umar Farooq is an act of political vengeance," an APHC statement said. The APHC is fighting Indian rule in Kashmir politically, and favours trilateral talks, involving India, Pakistan and the APHC, to resolve the ‘issue’ of Kashmir. The APHC statement also said that the passports of Maulvi Abbas Ansari, Yasin Malik and Sheikh Abdul Aziz, other Hurriyat leaders, had already been seized, while no passport had been issued to the 78-year-old Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is currently held in jail outside Kashmir. However, the BJP statement in Jammu welcomed the suspension of Farooq’s passport, saying that "it should have been done many years back."

Apart from imposing a travel ban on Kashmiri leaders, the Vajpayee government has also denied visas to Pakistani social activists coming to India. India has refused visas to 75 Pakistani social activists who were to attend a meeting in the southern city of Hyderabad, organizers said on 2 January. "None of the well known personalities such as social activist I.A. Rahman, anti-nuclear activist Abdul Nayyar and leading Women’s and Human Rights activist, Asma Jehangir, were allowed to attend," Amit Sengupta, chief of the Delhi Science Forum, told media reporters. The government’s stand was greeted with a chorus of "shame, shame" by a large number of delegates from more than 40 countries. The organizers expressed the hope that the people’s voice would reach the "powermongers" in Delhi. On January 11 thirteen eminent Punjabi writers from Pakistan, who were expected to attend the International Punjabi Writers’ Conference, were also denied visas by the Indian high commission in Islamabad. Writers who could not attend the conference included Fakhar Zaman, Sugra Sadaf, Kanwal Mushtaq, Iqbal Fareed and Hayaat Ahmed Khan.

On January 6, deputy prime minister L. K. Advani, addressing a conference of the chief secretaries and directors general of police, said that more than 11,500 Pakistani nationals and over three million Bangladeshi nationals who remain in India after the expiry of their visas must be "evacuated" because they pose a serious threat to the country’s internal security. The conference also agreed to strengthen centre-stage intelligence-gathering arrangements by setting up a multi-agency centre (MAC) and a joint taskforce on intelligence. The MAC, which is now operational at the centre, will be "activated soon" in the states, N. Gopalaswami, the Union home secretary, revealed to a press conference. The Intelligence Bureau is expected to act as the nodal agency for the MAC, which will include representatives of the central and state intelligence agencies and the intelligence of central paramilitary forces. A. K. Bhandari, special secretary in the home ministry, said that the MAC would pool information from these separate sources, and make action-plans accordingly.

On January 8 Shabbir Ahmed Shah, a senior separatist Kashmiri leader, took strong objection to Advani’s statement that no discussion would be held with "pro-Pakistan elements" in Kashmir. "No conditions should be attached to the talks. You have to accept the hard reality that Pakistan is a party to the Kashmir dispute," said Shabbir Shah, who heads the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party (JKDFP).

On January 19 Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, a member of Pakistan’s Kashmir Assembly, indicated that the US would have little choice but to intervene in the long-running Kashmir ‘dispute’. "The US has a role to play... US officials like Robin Raphel, and officials from the Rand corporation who met with us recently have assured us that they back us all the way... they want to see some kind of a solution and they are determined to see some kind of a beginning being made." When asked about the time frame, Attique Khan said, "They would like to see some kind of a dialogue in next two to three years... we would like to assure the whole world that we have fought for so many years, we will continue to fight for the aspirations of the people."

On January 20, just before his departure for France, deputy prime minister L. K. Advani told journalists that more governments are turning to "extradition treaties" to advance the "fight against terror". His main mission to France is to sign an extradition agreement with the French government. "Terrorism is a global problem and it is not India alone that is facing it [in Kashmir]. We have been trying to sign with as many countries as possible such treaties, though in the early part of our tenure we made them conscious that terrorism is a global problem," the deputy prime minister said.

On January 8 the US had said that India’s stubborn policy of not talking to Pakistan about Kashmir helped no one. Richard Haass, the director of policy planning for the US state department, said in Hyderabad on January 8 that "resuming a range of contacts with Pakistan at this time would not mean rewarding terrorism... Rather, New Delhi should seek to diminish tension with Islamabad as a way of securing a better future for itself." Disagreeing with the Indian stand that there could be no dialogue with Pakistan until "cross-border terrorism" was stopped, Haass said, "I am concerned that such a position does not provide the basis for a sound, long-term policy for India to deal with its neighbours."

It must be remembered that India has been adamant so far that it will hold talks with Pakistan on Kashmir when "cross-border terrorism of all forms" ceases. But since the brutal policy of anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujrat worked so well for the BJP-led government, A. B. Vajpayee, the prime minister of Brahminist India, has changed his mind somewhat. On the eve of 2003, in a strongly worded New Year’s message, Vajpayee said that India would never give up Jammu and Kashmir, and called on Pakistan to abandon its "futile" policy. "Pakistan, even after five-and-a-half decades of failed pursuit, seems to be unready to face the truth that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and will always remain so," he said. He also insisted that the only way the two could engage in bilateral talks was by abandoning the issue of Kashmir unconditionally. "Let our two countries agree to promote beneficial trade and economic ties, strengthen cultural relations, and encourage greater people-to-people contacts," said Vajpayee on January 20, also condemning Pakistan as a centre for terrorist activities. "Pakistan is a member of the international coalition formed to fight against terrorism, but it is Pakistan where terrorists are gathering," Vajpayee told reporters in Port Blair during his visit to Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Muslims all over the world ‘sympathise’ with the Muslims in Kashmir. More than 700,000 military troops confront less than five million civilians in the valley. The experience of military repression has been brutalizing. No chronicle can accurately and adequately portray what the Muslims in Kashmir have endured. Atrocities include torture, rape, murder and disappearances. Human-rights activists have documented more than 75,000 killings and a similar number of disappearances in the valley. The horrifying number of disappearances exceeds the scandalous proportions reached during General Pinochet’s rule in Chile.

The government of India refuses to allow the Kashmir ‘issue’ to be ‘internationalised’. The Pakistan government wants to continue to extend "moral, political and diplomatic support to the legitimate struggle of the people of Kashmir for the realization of their right to self-determination". The Muslim leaders in India want to talk about Palestine; their position on Kashmir is that Kashmir is an ‘integral part’ of India, as if they were only concerned about the land and not its people. Uncle Sam, the ‘international policeman’, is only concerned with the geopolitically significant position of Kashmir and to keep the rivalry between India and Pakistan from getting out of control.

The Muslims and the mujahideen of Kashmir should accept the reality that no one is going to offer them peace on a plate. Neither the human-rights observers nor the UN is going to fulfill their aspiration to have a plebiscite. Muslims in Kashmir and elsewhere will have to realise eventually that military jihad will be the only way forward. Shahadah should be the well-accepted and inevitable aspiration of every mujahid. Muslims all over the world, and Muslims in India in particular, need to realise that what India is doing to Muslims in Gujrat and Kashmir is the eventual shape of things to come everywhere.

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