Fight for Freedom or Terrorism? Elucidating the grey areas in the struggle for Kashmir


On August 4, Saarc Interior Ministers’ Conference was held in Islamabad. On the second day of the conference, while referring to the issue of Burhan Wani’s killing by Indian security forces, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh indirectly accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism by saying that there should be no glorification or eulogising of terrorists as martyrs. But when his Pakistani counterpart, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, replied befittingly and called Indians to respect fundamental rights of the Kashmiris and to differentiate between terrorism and freedom movements, digesting the truth became difficult for Mr Singh who, then, in a very undiplomatic way, left the meeting and flew back to India.

Prime Minister  Nawaz Sharif, prior to the Conference, had chaired a cabinet meeting on July 15 wherein he condemned the labelling of Burhan Muzaffar Wani as a terrorist. Although, the Pakistani government rightly termed Wani’s death as extrajudicial killing, there are some people who still think that he was a terrorist. One such person is Ms Marvi Sirmed who in her column entitled “Edhi and Wani” (The Nation; July 12) opined that Abdul Sattar Edhi and Burhan Wani cannot be treated on equal footings as “there is a grey area between terrorists and freedom fighters.” She, in effect, tried to portray Wani as a terrorist just like Osama bin Laden and IS terrorists, because ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’.

To solve this riddle, it’s necessary that we first make a clear distinction between the notions of freedom movement and terrorism. A movement to gain independence and freedom is always for a just cause, but that is not the case with terrorism. Oxford dictionary defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims,” and a person who resorts to using such means is a terrorist. On the other hand, freedom fighter is a person “who takes part in a revolutionary struggle to achieve a political goal.” So, the main differences between the two phenomena are related to legitimacy, justness, and ways of action. In verse 190 of Surah al-Baqarah, Allah Almighty says:

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.”

Terrorism, in stark contrast to freedom movement, always transgresses. It’s always possible that a person who is today’s freedom fighter becomes tomorrow’s terrorist. There were individuals who once were freedom fighters or Mujahideen but later they were labelled as terrorists. For instance, when Osama bin Laden, after his university studies from KSA, joined Mujahideen to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, he was hailed as a freedom fighter. He was eulogized as a hero but when King Fahd, who had banished Osama from Saudi Arabia in 1992, refused to accept his offer for using Mujahideen against Iraqi Army, the divisions between Osama and the world leaders became all the more conspicuous. He then chose the path of terrorism and in June 1995, with his help, an attempt was made to assassi-nate the then Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, in Ethiopia. He became a hardcore militant and was reportedly involved in bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and later in heinous attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, which claimed 2996 lives.

Same has happened with Hizbul Mujahideen’s leadership. In July 2015 Hizb’s supremo Syed Salahuddin expelled Abdul Qayoom Najar from his group when he conducted a terrorist attack and murdered some innocents.

In a video, which was released in June, Burhan Wani had clearly said that Hizbul Mujahideen, the group he belonged to, would not attack on Amarnath Yatris and that they didn’t have any concern with those performing their religious rites. Had they been the terrorists, they wouldn’t have said so, instead they would have killed them all. A study of Hizb’s operations suggests that they don’t target civilians, and their targets are only those who are a hurdle in the way of achieving their objectives.

An in-depth analysis of their motives proves that they are purely freedom fighters, not terrorists.

Their first and foremost motive is to get freedom. A fleeting look at the history of Kashmir and that of the India’s state-sponsored violence on Muslims proves that fighting for freedom is Kashmiris’ legitimate right. There were 560 princely states in the Indian Subcontinent before 1947. At the time of partition, some states emerged as disputed as the rulers of Junagarh, Hyderabad, and Jodhpur were Muslim, but India annexed these princely states by force as majority of their respective populations consisted of Hindus, in utter disregard to the fact that their rulers wanted to join Pakistan. More than 78 percent population of Kashmir consisted of Muslims and it was all natural that they would have wanted to join Pakistan, but their ruler Hari Singh offered for a standstill agreement. Interestingly, Pakistan consented to the offer but India refused to accept any such arrangement.

When mass protests broke out in Kashmir wherein people demanded to make the state a part of Pakistan, Hari Singh’s paratroopers opened fire on the peaceful protesters. On October 26, 1947, Maharaja in complete disregard to the will of the masses, decided to accede to India. The very next day Indian troops set their foot on Kashmiri soil when they entered Srinagar. This was unacceptable for Pakistan and — apparently — in order to resolve the issue, India took the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

The UNSC, through its Resolution of 21 April 1948 resolved that “The Government of India should undertake that there will be established in Jammu and Kashmir a Plebiscite Administration to hold a Plebiscite as soon as possible on the question of the accession of the State to India or Pakistan.” Since then, at least 74 different resolutions of the Security Council have been passed for free and fair plebiscite in Kashmir and Nehru had also pledged for plebiscite, but the right of Kashmiri people to decide their fate is still denied to them.

Another factor that is an impediment to Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom is the draconian Indian laws imposed in Kashmir by force. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), soldiers and paramilitaries have complete immunity from prosecution, unless the Ministry of Defence sanctions their trial. In contrast, Kashmiris are dealt with by using Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act under which Kashmiris can be jailed for two years on the basis of a mere conjecture that they may commit seditious acts in future. Human Rights Watch puts the figure of people detained under this law to 20,000.

Extrajudicial killings, fake encounters, and increasing incidents of gang rape by Indian army are touching new heights. In 2011, India’s junior Home Minister, Jitendra Parsad, himself admitted that since 1990, a total of 39,918 Kashmiris have been killed. A famous Kashmiri human rights lawyer and civil rights activist, Parvez Imroz, asserts that the total number of unmarked graves in Kashmir is about 6,000 and most of them are mass graves where more than one corpse are buried.

On July 8, the Supreme Court of India while hearing a petition for the repeal of AFSPA reiterated that it is utterly irrelevant whether the person killed was a militant or a civilian; there is no excuse of extrajudicial killing, even if the person killed was a “terrorist,” a “criminal,” or a “militant”. So Indians cannot, at all, claim that the inhumane extrajudicial killing of Burhan Wani was legitimate.

The freedom movement in Kashmir is absolutely legitimate. The right to self-determination must be given to the Kashmiris. There are examples in the world where people decided their fate. Namibia got independence from South Africa after seven decades of struggle, Scotland decided her fate in September 2014 and more recently, the Britons have decided to leave the European Union. Then, why the so-called civilized world has failed to grant Kashmiris right to decide their fate?

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