x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A view of Pakistan's efforts in Kashmir from the inside

General Pervez Musharraf has again put his foot in his mouth. It wasn't that the former president said something that wasn't true. Rather, it was the manner and timing of his disclosure.

General Pervez Musharraf has again put his foot in his mouth. It wasn't that the former president said something that wasn't true. Rather, it was the manner and timing of his disclosure - that Pakistan trained underground militants to fight against India in Kashmir - that was reason for embarrassment.

So were his weak efforts to withdraw his comments. One of Pakistan's policy decisions that I fail to understand is why the country chose to deny that it was supporting the Kashmiri struggle for independence. Assisting a people in their legitimate struggle for self-determination could have even have been justified by the United Nations.

Because Pakistan chose to be "in denial", it warped a legitimate struggle for independence and made it unacceptable to the international community. Ironically, India was the beneficiary and Pakistan became the villain in the story. When I was commanding a brigade in Kel, the farthest region of Azad Kashmir in the early 1990s, the indigenous uprising in Indian Kashmir had just started. At that time, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, JKLF, was leading the uprising and seeking independence. That was, of course, was before we corrupted this movement.

During this time, a huge swarm of individuals from Indian Kashmir were crossing over, and, since Kel offered more difficult terrain, they were not easily blocked by Indian troops. School teachers, university professors, technicians, engineers, doctors, even women, were arriving in search of training camps to learn guerrilla warfare, acquire weapons training, and fight Indian security forces. Their zeal, courage, enthusiasm, and conviction were amazing. 

After years of injustice, the peoples of Kashmir had revolted. Initially, in 1991, there were eight training camps in my area of command, which spread over a length of 76 kilometres; only two of these were operated by the army and Inter-Services Intelligence. The rest were run by non-governmental organisations, the most prominent of which was Jamaat-e-Islami. Of course, training camps not run by the army or ISI hired ex-army officers as instructors (some volunteered), and were also assisted in procuring weapons by governmental and non-governmental actors. By 1992, these camps were overflowing in Kel and elsewhere, there were many more.

By then, volunteers from Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and Punjab had also increased, though few of them reached the relatively inaccessible area under my command. Pakistan had decided that the JKLF was to be sidelined and those Indian Kashmiris who sought a union with Pakistan were to be encouraged. Consequently, over the years, the Islamists were to take the lead, the JKLF was sidelined and weakened and, finally, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, APHC, was created.

But through this process, we irreparably damaged the Kashmiri struggle for independence. What started as an indigenous Kashmiri struggle led by Kashmiri Muslims and fully supported by Kashmiri Sikhs and Hindus became an Islamic jihad from which other religions were excluded. As a result, Hindus began to be targeted and the majority of Hindus migrated to India. The Kargil War of 1999, when Pakistani soldiers crossed over the Indian border, was a watershed event and disaster. During the summer conflict, the Kashmiris were elated. "Finally, Pakistan's army has entered Indian Kashmir to help us gain independence!" was a frequent comment. But Pakistan's withdrawal in July of that year came as a rude awakening and was viewed as a final act of betrayal.

Post Kargil, Indian Kashmiris realised that Pakistan could do little for them. After September 11, Pakistani interference steadily decreased to a trickle. While many reconciled themselves to finding a peaceful solution while staying within the Indian union, individuals such as Yasin Malik, the chairman of JKLF, still nurtured hope for an independent, united Kashmir. Consequently, he led a historic, non-violent Long March across the entire length of Indian Kashmir for three weeks, which was again joined and supported by Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs.

But the phenomenon we are now witnessing today in Kashmir is unprecedented. Youth, most of whom were born in the 1990s, have rejected the calls of traditional leaders and in fact have made them irrelevant. They have come out into the streets armed with stones that do not come from Pakistan. In fact, if a Pakistani attempted to help, he would be pelted as well. This is a Kashmiri Intifada, if you will - a movement supported across the religious divide.

These are children who are the products of violence. Many have witnessed family members being killed, raped, tortured, and beaten, mostly by security forces, but also by foreigners. It is undeniable that some incidents included Pakistanis - acts of violence against Hindus were rarely carried out by Kashmiris. These children have neither asked for assistance and nor would they it. They are determined to seek their independence.

Since Pakistan can no longer subvert this movement, who knows? It may succeed where its parent movement failed.

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer