Friday, 31 December 2010

Rise of China, Revival of Militancy in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, by Senge H. Sering

Rise of China, Revival of Militancy in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan
Senge H. Sering Gilgit Baltistan National Congress
For over four decades, Pakistan has used Gilgit-Baltistan, the part of Jammu & Kashmir under her occupation, as a hide out, training camp and launching pad for the militants to infiltrate in Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan. Famous among the terror groups which have found refuge in Gilgit-Baltistan are Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jesh-e-Mohammad and Harkatul Mujahideen. According to the local media, Pakistani citizens settled in villages like Sikarkoi and Baseen provide sanctuaries to the militants. Local politicians including Saifur Rehman and Shabbir Wali of Pakistan Muslim League, Raziuddin and Wazir Beg of Pakistan Peoples’ Party and Sunni scholar, Qazi Nisar, accuse Pakistani agencies of arming and protecting the militants and giving them a free hand in the region. In recent months, locals have spotted vehicles belonging to Pakistani agencies transporting militants into Kunar, Wakhan and Badakhshan provinces of Afghanistan via the Ghizer district. Further, Taliban and Al-Qaida have also increased their activities in Chitral and attack and abduct the residents. The situation is alarming for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, since Chitral borders Ghizer district.

On occasions, the natives of Gilgit-Baltistan have demonstrated their opposition to militant activities in their region. For instance, the residents of Skardo rose against the presence of militants in Baltistan in July of 1999 and forced their withdrawal. On August 23rd of 2010, the Deputy Speaker of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly warned Pakistani security forces of another rebellion if the militants fail to curtain their activities in the region. Recently on September 3rd of 2010, natives confronted the pro-Taliban elements in Ghizer district and forced them to close their hide outs.

The impact of the presence of the terrorists in Gilgit-Baltistan is far reaching as they interfere in local political and socio-economic affairs and intend to alter cultural and religious identity of the region. Those among the natives who oppose their activities have faced death and involuntary disappearances. On the other side, death becomes destiny of those too who join the Taliban to fight the allied forces. Militants mainly target orphans and children belonging to the poverty stricken families and induct them in the Madrassahs, where they are brainwashed to abandon moderate form of Sufi Islam and adopt extremist Salafism. Further, the trend to dispatch youth to religious Madrassahs in both Saudi Arabia and Iran also continues. In both cases, the youth learn to employ Islam as a political tool to expand frontiers and forcefully convert the infidels to the path of Allah. The region is fast moving towards anarchy as those few who transmit the message of non-violence and inter-religious tolerance have lost patronage. On October 26th of 2010, a Sufi religious center and five centuries old library was torched by the extremists to deprive the youth of literature on moderate Islam. Such practices are also common in Indian Kashmir where local Sufis have suffered from Pakistan-sponsored Salafi movement. The end goal of the terrorists is to force the non-political and peace loving Sufis of both Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan to join their club.

The natives accuse Pakistani agencies of employing the terrorists to provoke sectarianism and target killing, and damaging social fabric. Locals also blame the militants of planting bombs and spreading fear. On November 17, 2010 a bomb was diffused in Skardo before it could cause damage to a Shia religious center. Such tactics keep the locals divided and weak and allow Pakistan to prolong occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan and rule the region like a colony. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan ask Pakistani occupying forces and illegal settlers to withdraw from the region and return control over the land and the resources to the real owners; a demand that also resonate with the United Nations’ resolutions of 1948 and 1949. The fact that Pakistan supports the terrorists in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan is a clear indication that the country will continue to pursue the legacy of the Arab dynasties like the Umayyad and Abbasids, and will remain instrumental in using Islam to shield her expansionism.

Like in Gilgit-Baltistan, militants have found refuge in Indian Kashmir among the religious fanatics. The militants vow to create an Islamic Republic of Kashmir, which would be synonymous to creating another Pakistan and providing a platform to the international terror network. It would be a challenging task to obtain recognition for such a country as the international community has her hands full combating terrorism elsewhere. Given the fact that this country would be surrounded by three nuclear powers and two of them would be her allies, one doubts if the western world could afford to help create the Islamic safe heaven. Pakistan supports the creation of an independent Kashmir, which would safeguard her strategic interests. As such, the fate of that country would not be very different from Afghanistan when it was under the Islamic rule of the Taliban.

Such a republic would most likely be governed by banned militant outfits, which show pride in calling themselves allies of Alqaida and the Taliban. The torch-bearers of Kashmir’s independence like Lashkar-e-Taiba believe that acquiring control over Kashmir is not the end goal but a stepping stone to spread rule of Allah in the entire world. The dream of the militant groups like Harkatul Mujahideen to hoist Islamic flag in Delhi or transforming the Central Asian Republics into domain of submission only portrays their desire of establishing a Muslim Emirate. The situation forces one to believe that the extremist movements and terrorism in South Asia will continue to receive patronage even after Kashmir is awarded to Pakistan or allowed to emerge as an independent country. In my opinion, an independent Kashmir under the rule of the Islamists will strengthen terrorism at international level as Kashmir would become a permanent base for the militants.
I also believe that an independent Kashmir suits China’s interests, and could be used as a lynchpin by the Asian giant to form a nexus with Pakistan, the Middle East and Afghanistan. China would also like Pakistan to annex Gilgit-Baltistan and extend her military control over this strategically located region of Jammu & Kashmir. Already thousands of Chinese personnel are stationed in Gilgit-Baltistan, involving in the construction of strategic infrastructure. Realizing China’s interest, the representatives of Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan visited Beijing in 2008 and signed an agreement with their communist counterpart to receive support for a pro-Pakistani Islamist regime in Afghanistan. At the same time, China agreed to extend patronage to the Kashmiri militants. As quid pro quo, Jamat-e-Islami denounced support to the separatists of Xinjiang and accepted China’s sovereignty over the province. One should not see the sequence of events as coincidental where China extended support to the banned militant outfits of Pakistan and used veto power in the Security Council to protect their existence; and where China extended support to the Islamists of Kashmir like the Hurriyat Conference and invited its leadership to Beijing for dialogue; and where China continues to support Maoist terrorism and helps them form an alliance with the Kashmiri militants. China is aware of the fact that the Maoists and Kashmiri militants can be used to weaken strategic and military interests of her adversaries. The alliance that is in the offing, involving China, Pakistan and Middle Eastern countries, could therefore strengthen extremism in Asia. It is also feared that change in power equation in the Middle East with China’s involvement will actually complicate Arab-Israeli relations. China’s growing support for the Arab countries and Iran has alarmed Israel and the situation will increase political tension at global level.

Terrorism and extremism can be eliminated if the regimes providing financial support and sanctuaries to such movements are made answerable. Countries like Pakistan and China have a greater responsibility to shun support to the terrorists like Lashkar-e-Taiba. China claims to oppose the three evils of extremism, terrorism and separatism. However, her support to Maoist movement in India and militancy in Kashmir proves her claims as hollow. International community must realize that the money spent on Pakistan to fight terrorism is actually re-channeled to create a B-team of Taliban which would be used to confront the secular government of Afghanistan once the allied forces are withdrawn. If the international community is serious about eliminating terrorism then instead of wasting time in attacking militant sanctuaries along the Durand Line, they should eliminate the terror hubs in the heartland of Pakistan especially in rural Punjab, which provides the bulk of the cadre to the terrorists. Punjab is also home to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which according to the home minister of Pakistan, Mr. Rehman Malik, has become the lead organization of Al-Qaida in Pakistan.

At the same time, Arabization and Persianization of Islam must be discouraged if Islam has to prove its worth as a universal religion. Instead of employing Islam as a tool to expand frontiers and strategic interests, Pakistani leadership could promote the art of co-existence of communities professing different faiths, political ideologies, cultures and languages. Muslims of South Asia must discard the legacy of the Umayyad and Abbasids, which employ Islam to conquer lands, destroy ancient and rich civilizations and replace them with barbaric customs. These steps would help revive Sufism and ensure religious and ethnic diversity in Jammu & Kashmir. Kashmir issue needs to be resolved by allowing diverse ethnic and religious groups of the state to carry dialogue among themselves as well as with the Indian government.

Last but not the least, Pakistani terrorists, security forces and illegal citizens must withdraw from her occupied parts of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan so religious fanaticism and militancy could be curtailed. War against extremism is not just a war to protect the western civilization. It is the war of all those who believe in racial tolerance, linguistic and cultural diversity, plural democracy, and peaceful co-existence of humans.

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