My freedom fighter, your terrorist

Spearhead Analysis – 21.02.2013

By Zoon Ahmed Khan
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

afza-guru_hafiz-saeedOne man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Afzal Guru remains one such example, who was hanged on 9 February 2013, convicted for attacking the Indian Parliament in 2002. Guru’s hanging has caused some disturbance in the civil and social order. The Muslim minority of India that enjoys a majority in the Kashmir Valley sparked out in protest of the hanging. Three youngsters have died in these protests and Yasin Malik (chief of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front), a charismatic leader, went on a hunger strike in Islamabad, urging Indian Civil Society to speak out against the inhumane treatment of Guru. But one rotten apple threatens the stock, and for the Indian government Malik poses a threat. He leads the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir in changing lines of citizenry. What government can tolerate that?

The right to self determination of Kashmiris is theoretically undeniable, yet so little has been done to materialize it. We can go back to 1947 when the United Nations never held the much awaited plebiscite, and the Muslim majority of Kashmir, who had voted for Pakistan, was forcefully occupied by the Indian Army. What started as a nascent freedom struggle in 1947 has progressively intensified with the simultaneous deployment of Dogra guards, provincial armed constabulary, Air force squadrons and Army brigades (with a strength of 9 divisions in the Valley alone). With such policing tactics being established on the Indian government’s orders, it is highly doubtful that the Muslims of Kashmir can ever integrate as normal citizens in wholehearted Mother India.

The relationship between Kashmir and Pakistan is also two-fold: in 1947 Islamabad struck a deal with Muzaffarabad (known as the Karachi deal) and 1974, AJ&K government gave Islamabad considerable authority, only through a protective shield: the Kashmir Council. The struggle for separatism led by parties like JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) excludes the possibility that problems they face might be less constitutional, and more administrative. Implying that the instability in the region has more to do with the Kashmir Council, and less with constitutional amendment, or more specifically that the solution lies within the current constitutional framework. But Kashmir’s story is incomplete without considering both the Pakistan and Indian side on the same canvas.

The Indian Occupied Kashmir becomes a different, and a relatively tragic story. With an escalating sense of their right to self determination, and more and more Kashmiri youth pushing the lines of citizenry that have been drawn by the Indian state, the conflict has become uglier over the decades. Since 1989 between 50,000 and 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed at the hands of Indian Army. The numbers of disappearances in the Kashmir Valley alone are at least 300 since 1990. The Indian government or any of the agencies operating in the region have ignored this issue completely, with only the possibility of ‘silent executions’ of the missing at the hands of the Indian state. Cutting off the wild corners of this periphery, repressing anti-state elements remains a common tactic. But worse in the long run is the tendency of the state to covertly label the freedom fighter ‘the terrorist’. This has become a very common phenomenon and a very dangerous one. Kashmiri freedom fighters have been time and again convicted under the Indian Terrorism Act. The more recent example of the misuse of such labels was witnessed last week when a PIL was filed in the Punjab and Haryana HC (India) for dismissing Yasin Malik’s Indian passport for partaking in anti-national activities.

The term ‘anti-national activity’ is a very dangerous one. Firstly, we must address the elephant in the room: Yasin is a freedom fighter struggling for new lines of citizenry, not settling for the current constitutional framework. Secondly, the anti-state label was sparked by his choice of company, a photograph of him with Hafiz Saeed, another ‘terrorist’. Whether or not Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist is a debatable concern, what it really takes to become a terrorist apart from a beard, Islamic outlook and rebellion frankly is uncertain. Guru was termed as such, and now so is Hafiz. By protesting for a more humane way to execute Guru in Pakistan, sitting next to Saeed, Malik seems to be treading on very thin ice.

It is so telling that a man who challenges the current order of oppression risks being labeled a terrorist without any need for concrete evidence. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front exists for the very purpose of a free state of Kashmir, at the very least free from claws of a growingly oppressive state that sparks more rebellion, more violence and more passion. If the Indian society was to hear out the Kashmiri Liberation leader, they would realize his demands are not so unreasonable. Yasin Malik only asks for the right of Mohammad Afzal Guru’s family to his body (that’s what the hunger strike was for). But in a more holistic picture he blames such executions for pushing a seemingly peaceful people towards resorting to violent tactics (after the execution of JKLF co-founder Maqbool Bhat in 1984).

Yasin’s struggle, the recent execution and the tens of thousands killed in Indian occupied Kashmir have unfortunately been shoved into the waiting room of a ‘globalized’ 21st century where Pakistan is keen on making peace with mighty India, not bringing our suffering Kashmiris in the picture. As Malik once stated in an interview; just because we don’t have oil wells the world is not interested in our suffering. And the sad reality remains economic gain is the only incentive. As for protesting as a right of every citizen: Indians as well as Pakistanis should be looking at the meat before the label. The right to question the state must not be snatched in a democratic setup, nor should the right to protest. For the difference between an authoritarian/dictatorial state and a democracy is the citizen’s right to challenge the status quo.