By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Kashmir’s politicians, both separatists as well as mainstream, have maintained near-total silence over the Taliban’s capture of Afghanistan after prolonged strife of 20 long years. However, the visibility of a wave of jubilation among the separatists, militants and their shrinking supporters is not completely concealed.
As news of the fall of Kabul flashed in the media on Sunday, 15 August, Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, formerly a professor of Law at the University of Kashmir and the Central University of Kashmir gave vent to his euphoria. “And say truth has come and falsehood has vanished away”, he tweeted a Koranic verse with its English translation. “Falsehood is indeed bound to vanish”, Showkat commented, without linking his expression explicitly to Kabul’s capture by Taliban.
Showkat embellished his tweet with Iqbal’s famous verse: “Yaqeen-e-mahkam amal-e-peham mohabat-e-fatih-e-aalam. Jihad-e-zindagani mein yeh hain mardon ki shamsheeren.”
“Can’t imagine the feeling of Kashmiris”, commented one Shoaib. Another follower appreciated: “Aap kii baat sach nikli”-acknowledging that the retired university teacher’s prophecy had come true. Almost all of Prof. Showkat’s eight books have been released and appreciated by Kashmir’s tallest separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Two days back, when the news of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s escape to Tajikistan was circulating in the social media, Showkat cryptically tweeted a Kashmiri folk stanza, linking Kashmir to Kabul and Kandahar. “Ashraf Ghani in supersonic retreat”, he observed, with praise on the Taliban co-founder Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar and a tangent on the third Ghani-senior separatist leader and former chairman of now-defunct and disintegrated Hurriyat Conference, Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat. Bhat, an erudite, moderate separatist, perceived to be Geelani’s bete noire, has been living in oblivion for long.
But why are the separatists, militants and their supporters in Kashmir silent, even in social media, over the Taliban’s conquest in Kabul if they are perceptibly happy?
“Anything they perceive to be India’s defeat or embarrassment and Pakistan’s gain makes them obviously exultant. For many of them, it stirs their adrenaline. Had it happened in 2018 or before, there would have been nightlong firecrackers and celebrations on the streets in downtown Srinagar”, reasons a senior political analyst. He recollects the jubilation triggered by the release of five top militants in exchange for Rubaiya Sayeed in December 1989.
“But by the time Taliban sprouted and their friendly Jaish-e-Mohammad (previously known as Harkatul Mujahideen) forced India to release three top-notch militants with the hijacking of IC-814 (in December 1999), much of the euphoria had died down in the valley. Pakistan had lost the war in Kargil and the security forces, with the help of (counterinsurgent) Ikhwanis, had almost wiped out the militancy”, said the analyst, a former professor of Political Science at the University of Kashmir.
The situation created by the dismissal of Mehbooba Mufti’s soft-separatist government in June 2018, the death of 40 CRPF personnel in a major terror strike in February 2019 and abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A, coupled with the State’s split into two Union Territories in August 2019, are believed to have muted not only the valley’s vociferous separatist camp but also its support structure in the mainstream politics.
Kashmir has gone through a sea change in the last over three years as the Centre has tightened its grip with detention and house-arrest of hundreds of the separatist activists who would be usually on the forefront of all the street turbulences-2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016. The killing of civilians in protest demonstrations, clashes with Police and security forces, funeral processions of the slain militants, stone-pelting and pellet injuries have fallen to the lowest point of the last 31 years.
Even in the year 2020, the valley’s separatist sections sounded ecstatic over the killing of the Indian soldiers in a clash with the Chinese army on the LAC in Ladakh. The sentiment looked phenomenal when former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah said in an interview that the Chinese would help the Kashmiris retrieve Article 370. Around the same season, many among the separatists began seeing Mohammad Bin Qasim, the conqueror of Sindh, in Ertugrul, the protagonist of a Turkish period serial promoted by Pakistan Television. But it all fizzled out soon when a large number of the Kashmiris began participating in the Government’s ‘Naya Kashmir’ initiative.
The UT administration’s recent decisions include surveillance of the government employees’ political and social media activities, dismissal of the officials involved in ‘anti-national’ activities and denial of government jobs, trade licences and passports on the basis of ‘negative reporting’ by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
“Those days are gone when a separatist leader publicly invited Taliban to so-called Jihad in Kashmir; when the Kashmir University students chanted an anthem ‘Teri jaan meri jaan, Taliban Taliban’. Yes, I agree there was a different situation until the last day of the PDP-BJP government. Had this Taliban takeover happened in that era, the separatists would have brought thousands on the streets”, said an assistant professor of journalism at a government college.
“But it’s an altogether different Taliban today. Unlike Mullah Omar’s Taliban, these people are not carrying out massacres; they seem to be concerned merely on headscarves, not burqas, for women. It is too early to judge but there are sufficient indications that this Taliban wants a stable rule in Afghanistan and it is sensitive to world recognition and diplomacy. For years they have been supported by Pakistan but it is highly unlikely that these people would be misused for guerrilla warfare in Kashmir or Xinjiang. Unlike the pan-Islamist ISIS and AlQaeda, this Taliban looks restricted to the geo-political entity of Afghanistan. But days to come will make the picture clear”, said the professor who has visited Afghanistan.
The situation in Afghanistan has impacted the situation in Kashmir in the past. The Russian’s defeat and exit in 1989 gave a sense of victory to the Islamists in Kashmir and within a year thousands of the Kashmiris joined militancy. Thirty-two years later, it is arguably a completely different setting in Kashmir.