The moment (in the 1990s) the ‘Kashmir struggle’ allowed its militant aspect to rudely overshadow the doings of the more moderate All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the Jamuha Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) I was convinced the movement was doomed.
Alas, like most movements (involving Muslims) of the 20th Century that adopted what is called Political Islam as its calling card, the Kashmir militancy too collapsed under its own weight.
Now compare this with the uprising of the Kashmiris in the last two or three years, led by the APHC and JKLF against the Indian state.
One can clearly notice the difference. Like the three Palestinian Intifada movements, the recent Kashmiri uprising too has nothing to do with bombs, beheadings and assorted terrorist tactics. Instead, the movement is now unfolding on the streets with stones, flags, speeches and slogans confronting bullets, arrests and teargas.
This movement has put the Indian government and state under more domestic and international pressure than the armed militant movement was ever able to.
In fact, armed militancy in this respect has actually mutated and mangled the look of the whole issue, attracting more condemnation than sympathy.
And, barring Pakistan, this condemnation did not only come from countries that are expected to play a more sympathetic role towards the Kashmiris’ legitimate demands of self-determination. The bulk of the Kashmiris too were left feeling exhausted and cornered by the actions of the armed militants.
In other words, uprisings in Kashmir in the last five years are not only a conformation of the Kashmiris’ resolute commitment to look for its own destiny as a nation, but in a way, it is also a bold act of stamping a seal of disapproval against the tactics of the armed groups.
So what went wrong, or for that matter, right?
The movement that revived itself in 1987 when the Kashmiris accused the Indian government of rigging that year’s polls in the valley was soon overtaken and infiltrated by elements advocating an armed uprising against the Indian state.
The inspiration in this respect was the armed success of the mujahideen against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. The mujahideen were an armed movement of various Islamist groups driven by the philosophical dictates of Political Islam.
According to most political historians, the years between 1988 and 1997 were a vital period in the history of movements advocating Political Islam.
But it was a paradoxical event because this is also the period in which modern Political Islam witnessed a kind of an upsurge that also eventually led to its own downfall.
Modern Political Islam is closely associated with three central figures: Pakistan’s Abul Ala Madudi, Egypt’s Syed Qutb and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
Political Islam, also called “Islamism,” is a collection of ideologies advocating Islam as a political system. It must be noted that there is a difference between Political Islam (whose advocates are also called Islamists), and Islamic Fundamentalism.
Islamists do not shun western science and philosophy like the fundamentalists do. Instead, Islamists have been known to advocate the thorough study of western intellectual, political and cultural trends in an attempt to challenge them through their understanding and interpretation of Islam.
This has made the writings of Islamists rather fascinating. However, the discourse between Islam and Western secularism that the Islamists present eventually mutates from being an absorbing, intellectual exercise into becoming a somewhat frail ostentation, especially when the Islamists use the discourse to derive a suggestive political program.
For example, at the culmination of their otherwise well-informed intellectual discourses, Abul Ala Madudi (who in turn inspired Syed Qutb), ended up suggesting the reinstatement of the traditional caliphate system in place of Western political and economic systems like democracy and socialism.
Of course, in spite of the sound intellectuality behind their discourses, it was rather casually forgotten by the Islamist intellectuals that the history of the caliphate system that they were using to justify their argument too was riddled with the cynicism and cut-throat politics that they were decrying about the so-called western political ideologies.
When questioned and criticised in this regard, the Islamists suggest that the “true implementation of Islamic Law (the sharia),” will take care of such an eventuality. It’s just like saying that had Stalin not distorted Marxism, Communism would have been the finest politico-economic system. It’s a hurried, vague and Utopian assumption.
The truth is that the founding members of modern Political Islam were first and foremost interested in positioning Islam against Marxism and Socialism.
This was because at the time of these learned gentlemen, Socialism and Marxism were the two ideologies that were influencing Muslim nationalists the most (in the 1950s and ‘60s).
For example, Syed Qutb’s “Muslim Brotherhood” was opposed to Gamal Abul Nasser’s “Arab Socialism” in Egypt, and against “Ba’ath Socialism” that was taking root in Iraq and Syria.
The “Islamic Socialism” behind the Algerian independence movement against the French too was looked down upon.
On the other end, Maududi’s Political Islam became the basis of movements against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s “Islamic Socialism” in Pakistan and against the left-leaning dictatorship of Sukarno in Indonesia in the 1960s.
It was ironic that thanks to the dynamics of the Cold War, Islamists found themselves in the “American camp” due to Nato and the United States’ opposition to Muslim leaders who were considered to be anti-West, “Socialist” and thus pro-Soviet Union.
As a result throughout the Cold War the Islamists’ radical anti-West angle largely remained to be nothing more than a literary and an intellectual exercise, whereas the political and active sides of the ideology were mostly reflected through movements against the left (Marxism, Socialism, Arab Socialism, Islamic Socialism, etc.).
This is at least one reason why when Political Islam, even in countries where it managed to find some implementation (such as Pakistan and Sudan in the 1980s and Afghanistan in the 1990s), only managed to generate superficial changes.
What’s more, due to the ethnic, tribal and religious pluralism of the societies in which Political Islam aspired to implement itself as a singular concept of “true Islam”, caused huge social and political fissures and fractures.
Political Islam’s consequent failure to produce the desired results that its intellectuals had promised, and also its doctrinal involvement in the armed “jihad” in Afghanistan, generated the creation of modern-day Islamic militancy.
This militancy too faced the same problems in trying to triumph with a singular concept of Islam and the sharia in the face of the social and religious complications that run across Muslim countries.
So much so that by the late 1990s, Political Islam had devolved into what we now call “Islamic fundamentalism,” and/or stripped clean off its intellectual moorings and reduced to being an ideology of pure terror and having a myopic and narrow understanding of Islam and of the West. Entities like the al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban and the many militant outfits that were active in Kashmir (Harakat ul-Mujahedeen, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba), are clear examples.
So it was heartening to hear Kashmir leaders like Bhatt and Yasin distancing themselves from those aspects of the movement that have caused nothing more than bloodshed, pain and chaos, more at the cost of the Kashmiris’ rather than their ‘occupiers.’
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com