So ‘Unknown Gunmen’ are back!

Once again, the ‘unknown gunmen’ have come back to haunt Kashmir and the ruthlessness with which they have gone about their bloody business of targeting sarpanchs clearly indicates that this time they mean serious business. And with more than 30 sarpanchs reportedly tendering their ‘resignations’ in order to save themselves from the wrath of these gunmen, those who ordered these killings must be euphoric for succeeding in conveying the message they wanted to without even having had to disclose their identity.


While most of us may view the snuffing out human lives as a despicable act of barbarity, for those who are behind these killings, there is nothing wrong or immoral in what has been done as the victims ‘deserved’ it. Afterall, weren’t the sarpanchs repeatedly ‘requested’, ‘advised’ and even ‘cautioned’ in the past not to participate in the ‘farcical elections’ being held in J&K? One has to understand that in Kashmir, some entities consider it ‘legitimate’ to spill the blood of ‘traitors’ who betray the ‘blood of martyrs’!


However, if those behind these attacks think that just by disowning any responsibility for these gruesome acts they can get away, they are making a monumental mistake as try as much as they may; nothing remains a secret in Kashmir anymore. So, if they think that they can pass-off these killings as the handiwork of political parties or even the security and intelligence agencies, then again they are living in a fool’s paradise. The public has become much more discerning today than it was in the 90s when the ‘unknown gunmen’ who killed Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq and other top separatist leaders could easily be passed- off as operatives of intelligence agencies.

The only saving grace for the masterminds of these attacks is that like always, people who are against violence will in all probability once again fail to highlight the issue of these ‘targeted’ killings in international forums. Yet, the perpetuators of these attacks should have no doubt in their minds that the international community is closely observing the developments in J&K and since these killings are related to the elections, the same will certainly not escape their notice as also influence their stance on the Kashmir issue.

Both the separatist leaders as well as the commander of the United Jihad Council (UJC) lose no opportunity in questioning the ‘democratic’ character of elections in Kashmir as the same are conducted under massive presence of security forces and the shadow of their guns. But what will they have to say when ‘unknown gunmen’ start discouraging the population from participating in the election process by intimidating them through ‘targeted’ killings? They may not be worried on this account as they very well know that no one will dare ask them this question. Even if some reckless fool does so, they can always feign ignorance and call it a ‘grand conspiracy’ to malign the ongoing struggle in Kashmir.


However, whether such attempts will succeed is entirely a different question. The separatists and UJC chief have themselves always maintained that elections in Kashmir are used by New Delhi to ‘mislead’ the international community by projecting it as a ‘substitute’ for the ‘right to self determination’. So, if this be true, then wouldn’t New Delhi be using every trick in the book to ensure mass participation in the Kashmir elections rather than sending ‘unknown gunmen’ to ‘sabotage’ the elections by instilling fear into the voters and thus spoil their own case before the international community?

There is an old saying that ‘practice what you preach,’ but our learned leaders don’t seem to believe in this maxim. The separatists keep making fervent pleas to the international community for immediate intervention to stop the Indian security forces from killing of innocent Kashmiris. Yet, they cannot explain as to why they themselves adopt double standards and choose to maintain a stoic silence, or at best issue a belated and mild statement of condemnation when innocent Kashmiris are killed by ‘unknown’ gunmen? While they make it a point to offer personal condolences to the families of deceased ‘freedom fighters’ and even offer funeral prayers, why don’t they do the same for their Kashmiri brothers, killed by ‘unknown gunmen’?

Then, even though they openly accuse New Delhi of using brute force to suppress peaceful protesters and proudly proclaim that the ongoing movement seeks resolution of the Kashmir issue through peaceful means, why do the separatists support violence by making ill-considered statements like, “we have never denied or ignored the role of the gun in our struggle?” These are but some of the very fundamental yet grave contradictions which afflict the ongoing movement for the ‘right to self determination’ and need to be rectified on priority as one cannot expect to have the cake and eat it too!.


Seeing the way things have been going on in Kashmir, one feels really bitter on realising that inspite of being more than adequately fuelled by the blood and sacrifices of our people, the movement for the ‘right to self determination’ which should have been surging ahead, is instead barely managing to keep itself going. And while we may keep blaming the international community for its abject apathy towards Kashmir and New Delhi for hatching ‘grand conspiracies’ to undermine the struggle in Kashmir, as well as our own people for abandoning the ‘cause’, the real culprit remains our flawed strategy.


To illustrate this, let us examine as to what the current election boycott call given by the Hurriyat and assassination of sarpanchs by ‘unidentified gunmen’ will ultimately achieve? If the people defying the Hurriyat boycott call as well as threats of physical harm by ‘unidentified gunmen’, still come out and vote, New Delhi ‘wins’. If the people do not come out and vote, New Delhi still ‘wins’ because the lack of public participation, even if voluntary can be convincingly attributed to the undemocratic diktats issued by the Hurriyat and the strong arm tactics of those who believe in using the gun for teaching lessons to those they consider ‘traitors’!


The larger issue is that the proclivity of separatists to call for protests even without as much as analysing its repercussions needs to be curbed for two reasons. First, that it puts the precious lives of protesters in grave danger and unless something substantial is being achieved, loss of lives is unpardonable and the summer unrest of 2010 is just one such example. Secondly, ill-considered decisions often result in a loss of face, like protesting against the Zubin Mehta concert and tend to portray the ongoing movement in Kashmir as “full of sound and fury” but “signifying nothing!” So, in the end, one is tempted to ask the question- why undertake ‘self defeating’ initiatives in the first place?


The writer is based in New Delhi and can be reached at

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