Friday, 30 May 2008

Terrorist or a Freedom Fighter

Terrorist or a Freedom Fighter
Shabir Choudhry

Last year I wrote a series of articles criticising acts of senseless violence that resulted in loss of innocent human life. I tried to differentiate between violence and freedom struggle. I argued that acts of violence where innocent citizens become a clear target should not be covered under the noble name of Jihad, as teaching of Islam and rules of engagement in Jihad do not allow killing of innocent people.

At that time Jihadi forces were at peak and very few people dared to criticise them because of their onslaught and propaganda against such individuals. One might call it imprudence but I was one of those who spoke out against them, and as a result I was accused of being 'anti Jihad', anti Islam, 'anti movement' and 'pro India'. My crime was to oppose 'Islamisation' or 'Talibanisation' of the Kashmiri struggle for independence, as in my view, this changed the character of our freedom struggle and was not in the best interest of the freedom movement. Our struggle was for united and independent Kashmir where all Kashmiris irrespective of religion or social background could live in peace and harmony.

May be I said these things before the time and consequently I was severely criticised by Jihadi groups. Also there was some criticism on me within the JKLF as my articles were causing embarrassment in many quarters, and my friends advised me to keep low profile for sometime otherwise there could be some problems for me.

No doubt Allah is great, and truth always prevails. Tragic events of 11 September and subsequent international reaction has changed the attitude of the world to many things, especially towards use of religion to promote political agenda. This change is also reflected in writings of Pakistani writers. Imtiaz Alam, a known columnist of the News notes it like this: 'He (President Musharaf) have to be aware of not only extremists who are preparing for small mutinies and forming a joint front with the Taliban in the frontier regions, in particular, but also those Jihadis who have an international agenda and are not loyal to the cause of Kashmiris. Before we go to the UN with a clean chit in 90 days, and before India succeeds in converting the political issue of the right of self determination of the Kashmiris into "terrorism", we have some time in helping the Kashmiri resistance to isolate such foreign elements who want to defame their liberation movement by targeting civilians and resorting to individual terrorism'. (The News London, 10 October 2001)

I don't think he could have written the above before the 11 September. He is right the presence of non -Kashmiri militants is giving the impression to the world community that it is not a Kashmiri struggle; also it gives a propaganda stick in the hands of India that it is the outside interference that is creating problem in Kashmir. We have always endeavoured to make it a Kashmiri struggle, but due to intervention of forces beyond our control we could only do our limited best to project it as a Kashmiri struggle for independence.

Apart from that these Jihadis have a different agenda to that of the Kashmiri freedom loving people, whereas we want to determine our future and once that goal is achieved we can have friendly relations with both India and Pakistan; the Jihadis want to have their flag on Red Fort in New Delhi and subsequently conquer Washington and have a lunch in White House. And strange thing is that, in their view, route to New Delhi and Washington goes through Srinagar. In other words until their mission is accomplished we will have to put up with everything; and it was because of this I strongly opposed them and in return got all sorts of abuse.

Freedom Fighter

It is often said that one person's freedom fighter is other person's terrorist. There is some justification in that because people have different perspectives and different ways of looking at things. This debate has been going on for many decades, and it is unlikely to get consensus on this most controversial terminology. Although there is no agreed definition of a freedom fighter, but one can say that a freedom fighter does not wage a war on people. This rule is not only for reasons of morality, but also for strategic reasons - a freedom fighter has to establish goodwill and friendly relationship with the people, as he cannot survive without their sincere support.

The aim of the freedom fighter is to fight against colonial rule, oppression of the state and injustice, and his target must always be non-civilian. He tries to win confidence of the people and attempts to persuade them to support this fight against injustice and oppression. A terrorist on the other hand kills people indiscriminately to achieve his goal, whatever that may be. This policy or strategy of indiscriminate killing clearly distinguishes a terrorist from a freedom fighter. Because of his ruthless actions he alienates himself from the people, and people find no sympathy for him or his 'cause'.

Similarly some governments also resort to indiscriminate killings of ordinary people in order to inflict fear that they don't co-operate with the freedom fighters. But more than often this policy back fires as it further alginates the government, and people learn to hate and oppose the authorities, as it has happened in Kashmir. Respective governments in Kashmir were responsible for gross human rights violations, and there is ample evidence of it, and this has resulted in further alienation and more anger. Indian policy planners and officers of the para- military forces wrongly assumed that by their heavy handedness they would be able to control the situation. Killing of innocent civilians, crackdowns, custodial deaths and imprisonment without trial hurt people but it strengthened their resolve to fight for freedom.

New era

By now both India and Pakistan should realise that they have tried everything from full-scale wars, border clashes, Kargil expedition, Simla, Lahore Declaration and Agra, to settle the Kashmir dispute. The dispute is still there threatening peace and stability of the region once again. Events in Afghanistan have overshadowed other disputes temporarily but it must be remembered that Kashmir dispute and Palestine pose more threat to the world peace. There could be no peace without resolving these disputes amicably and according to wishes of the people.

Pakistan and India have clashed over everything since 1947, but strangely have agreed to keep the Kashmiri people away from the negotiating table, even though they know that many rounds of bilateral talks have not produced a solution to all parties to the dispute. In the past both have been in opposing camps, and where ever their representatives meet they clash with each other no matter what the occasion is. It is the first time in their troublesome history that both India and Pakistan are on the same side of the divide supporting the fight against 'international terrorism'. Despite being on the same side or in the same alliance both have wasted no opportunity to criticise each other. Even there have been some border clashes and serious danger is that it could escalate into a war between them adding new dimension to the problems of the region.

Both India and Pakistan need to realise by now that the international political environment has changed dramatically, and subsequently this resulted in new alignments and new alliances. In this changed environment 'international community has little or no tolerance for violence and does not subscribe to any policy that could possibly lead to disputes settled by use of force. It is therefore imperative that they learn from their past mistakes, carefully analyse the situation around them and find a way to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Even before 11th September there was no military solution to the Kashmir dispute, and this is why for many years I have been encouraging the parties to resolve the dispute by a process of dialogue between all the parties to the dispute. It must be remembered that the Kashmir is not a simple law and order problem as assumed by some sections of the Indian establishment; nor it is a religious war or problem related to the Two Nations theory, as projected by the Pakistan and some organisations supported by her. It is an issue of Kashmiri peoples right of self-determination; it is they who should decide the future of this princely State. And any attempts to crush the freedom movement by use of force or to divide the State, would lead to more trouble in the region and possibly a war. In its editorial Kashmir Times advise the Indian government:
'New Delhi has not learnt any lesson from its past mistakes and is looking at the problem of terrorism or violence in Kashmir in isolation and purely as a law and order problem to be dealt with by using of maximum force and repressive measures. Such a policy has proved counter-productive in the past and the consequences of fighting militancy with use of excessive force in vacuum can be even more disastrous. That any kind of terrorism needs to be condemned and opposed the unleashing a kind of state terrorism is no answer to deal with individual or group terrorism. The violence in Kashmir is not the cause but consequence of the failure of New Delhi to solve the basic political problem of Kashmir. Stepping up military action without taking steps to find a solution to the basic Kashmir problem will only lead to further alienation of the people. Any kind of terrorism has to be eliminated but more important and crucial in fight against terrorism is to win the hearts and minds of the estranged people.' Kashmir Times, 13 October 2001.

Author is a JKLF leader and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs, London

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