Why couldn’t 1989 insurgency liberate Kashmir?

By: Imran Khushal

Militant movements or guerrilla warfare has played a vital role in transforming the realities almost all the time, particularly in the 20th-century world. After the Second World War, starting from Chines Revolution where Mao’s People Liberation Army (1945-1949) not only defeated the three time bigger opponents and conquered the third largest nation in the period of just four years but also brought one billion under the rule of Communism and influenced the communist movements in many nations like India (Naxalite movement), Vietnam (Vietcong), Malaysia, Philippines etc. to Mujahideen in Afghanistan (1979-1989) who failed soviet war machine to occupy this mountain-rugged nation and weakened its economy which assisted in the fall of Soviet Union in 1991.

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Exactly when Soviet was defeated in 1989 in Afghanistan, an insurgency broke out in Kashmir. Definitely, Kashmir had background and conditions which led to the insurgency in 1989 but the success of Mujahideen in Afghanistan played like a catalyst. In the mid 80’s when Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference allied to All Indian National Congress, radical groups and parties gained grounds and later momentum and soon an insurgency gripped Srinagar in 1989, under the banner of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front commonly known as JKLF, which demanded a “Sovereign Kashmir’’, in their slogans like “Kashmir Bannay Ga Khudmukhtar”, and “Hum Kia Chahtay, Azaadi”, from both India and Pakistan.

So If Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and his group of 82 were able to overthrow the corrupt rule of Fulgencio Batista and defeat his army of more than 20,000, after 1955 in Cuba, why couldn’t Maqbool But and His companions do the same thing in Kashmir? If Vietcong could defeat France in Battle of Dien Bien Phu and forced American to leave why JKLF couldn’t defeat India and liberate Kashmir?

Well, in Kashmir’s case, even though JKLF was fighting for a sovereign Kashmir it was fighting only against Indian occupation which made it suspicious in the eye of other Kashmiri nationalists in general and Kashmiri non-Muslims in Particular, where it lacked general public support and due to lack of resources and dependency on Pakistan, soon it was weakened and divided. In the absence of a clear political aim, a perfect propaganda, sustainable resources and public support along with other deficiencies, JKLF was replaced by Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) in couple of years, and insurgency’s theme became “Kashmir, Bannay Ga Pakistan”, (Kashmir will become a Part of Pakistan), from “Kashmir, Bannay Ga Khud Mukhtar”.

By comparing Kashmir’s insurgency of 1989 and the July 26 Movement of Cuba, we see one essential difference in two guerrilla approaches, and that is of recognizing and challenging the instant enemy. General Batista was nothing but an American puppet, similarly government in Srinagar was nothing but an Indian installation. Where JKLF tipped was neglecting Pakistani Installations in Muzaffarabad and Gilgit-Baltistan. They rallied to fight against occupation and yet they fought against only one kind of occupation and “favored” or “neglected” other kind of occupation. They depended on Muslim fighters and gave an impression of liberating Kashmir to build a theocratic state or joining Pakistan an already theocratic state. Where non-Muslims feared and preferred to remain in a “Contested, but Secular Land” instead of living in a “Liberated, but non-secular state”, or predominantly Muslim theocratic state.

Another reason for the failure of 1989 insurgency can clearly be seen in the divided status of Jammu and Kashmir. Insurgency broke out and remained in one “part of the state” i.e. Valley, against “one occupier” i.e. India, by “one religious group” i.e. Muslims. So here arises a fundamental question, can Kashmir be liberated without its unification and can Kashmir be united without liberation? One of the Kashmiri nationalist parties tried to answer this question in 1992 when they opposed militancy and insurgency in Kashmir. They renamed their party after a split in old party. It was called United Kashmir People’s National Party, or (UKPNP) which then gave an idea of the unification and creation of United States of Kashmir, by combining all its divided parts which are under Chines, Indian and Pakistani control. As per UKPNP’s philosophy, former states of Burushal, Dardistan, Boloristan, Ladakh, Purig, Kishtwar, Duggart, Poonch and Kashmir, should be united in order to get what they called United States of Kashmir.

Recently in South Kashmir, a new wave of militancy struck a handful number of college and university students who see Jihad as the only way forward ignoring the historical lesson of JKLF and 1989 insurgency. If Kashmir could not be liberated in 1989, through a militant struggle, in the 20th-century, when plenty of countries opted guerilla warfare and got independence from their occupiers all over the world, it can’t be liberated through militancy in the 21st century, which is clearly not a century of guerrilla warfare.

So the only way forward is the political one. Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri, all those who are interested in peace in South East Asia, should behave politically. United Nations should force Pakistan and India to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir after withdrawal of their militaries. Nationalists should put pressure on both India and Pakistan to include independence as a third option. And also, participate in “fair or rigged” all kind of electoral processes, in all parts of “state”, under Indian as well a Pakistani administration to spread their message across Jammu and Kashmir.

Writer is pursuing his MPhil at Iqra University Islamabad, blogs at Kashmirica.wordpress.com and can be followed @imrankhushaal

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