A Jihad Grows in Kashmir
By PANKAJ MISHRA, New York Times, August 27, 2008
FOR more than a week now, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have filled the streets of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-ruled Kashmir, shouting “azadi” (freedom) and raising the green flag of Islam. These demonstrations, the largest in nearly two decades, remind many of us why in 2000 President Bill Clinton described Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan, as “the most dangerous place on earth.”
Mr. Clinton sounded a bit hyperbolic back then. Dangerous, you wanted to ask, to whom? Though more than a decade old, the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir, which Pakistan’s rogue intelligence agency had infiltrated with jihadi terrorists, was not much known outside South Asia. But then the Clinton administration had found itself compelled to intervene in 1999 when India and Pakistan fought a limited but brutal war near the so-called line of control that divides Indian Kashmir from the Pakistani-held portion of the formerly independent state. Pakistan’s withdrawal of its soldiers from high peaks in Indian Kashmir set off the series of destabilizing events that culminated in Pervez Musharraf assuming power in a military coup.
After 9/11, Mr. Musharraf quickly became the Bush administration’s ally. Seen through the fog of the “war on terror” and the Indian government’s own cynical propaganda, the problem in Kashmir seemed entirely to do with jihadist terrorists. President Musharraf could even claim credit for fighting extremism by reducing his intelligence service’s commitment to jihad in Kashmir — indeed, he did help bring down the level of violence, which has claimed an estimated 80,000 lives.
Since then Pakistan has developed its own troubles with Muslim extremists. Conventional wisdom now has Pakistan down as the most dangerous place on earth. Meanwhile, India is usually tagged as a “rising superpower” or “capitalist success story” — clichés so pervasive that they persuaded even so shrewd an observer as Fareed Zakaria to claim in his new book “The Post-American World” that India since 1997 has been “stable, peaceful and prosperous.”
It is true that India’s relations with Pakistan have improved lately. But more than half a million Indian soldiers still pursue a few thousand insurgents in Kashmir. While periodically holding bilateral talks with Pakistan, India has taken for granted those most affected by the so-called Kashmir dispute: the four million Kashmiri Muslims who suffer every day the misery and degradation of a full-fledged military occupation.
The Indian government’s insistence that peace is spreading in Kashmir is at odds with a report by Human Rights Watch in 2006 that described a steady pattern of arbitrary arrest, torture and extrajudicial execution by Indian security forces — excesses that make the events at Abu Ghraib seem like a case of high spirits. A survey by Doctors Without Borders in 2005 found that Muslim women in Kashmir, prey to the Indian troops and paramilitaries, suffered some of the most pervasive sexual violence in the world.
Over the last two decades, most ordinary Kashmiri Muslims have wavered between active insurrection and sullen rage. They fear, justifiably or not, the possibility of Israeli-style settlements by Hindus; reports two months ago of a government move to grant 92 acres of Kashmiri land to a Hindu religious group are what provoked the younger generation into the public defiance expressed of late.
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