The death of 22-year old militant commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Burhan Muzaffar Wani, on 8 July has ignited violent protests in Indian-administered South Kashmir. In an attempt to quell the unrest, the Indian military reportedly opened fire on protestors, killing over 30 civilians and injuring approximately 1,500 others. The state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is currently under curfew with local media suppressed and mobile networks shut down.
The violence in Kashmir closely echoes its turbulent past. Kashmir insurgency peaked in the 1990s, but significantly declined from 2000. Despite this, there have been resurgent awakenings of past violence in Kashmir such as the Amarnath land controversy (2008) and the Kashmir protests (2010).
New Age digital insurgency
While Kashmir’s militant activity is sporadic, local recruitment remains a genuine concern. The new generation of Kashmiri militants are young and well educated, connected through social media platforms that didn’t previously exist for past generation militants.
Wani is the poster boy symbolising the next generation of armed struggle of Kashmir. By harnessing the power of social media, Wani reinvigorated calls for Kashmiri insurgency. The day after Wani’s death, the former Chief Minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar), tweeted ‘Mark my words – Wani’s ability to recruit in to insurgency from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media’. The legacy of Wani and the social media buzz surrounding his death demonstrates the evolving nature of Kashmiri insurgency and the empowerment technology has given grassroots movements.
The historic narrative of Kashmiri insurgency
The roots of Kashmir’s insurgency can be historically traced back to the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Since then, Kashmir remains a flashpoint of conflict between India and Pakistan, resulting in the Indo-Pakistan Wars (1947 and 1965) and the Kargil Border dispute (1999). However, the Kashmiri insurgency only began to manifest towards the end of the 1980s, during which regional tensions escalated.
The 1987 election of Farooq Abdullah was a watershed moment for Kashmiri politics, largely igniting the militant separatist movement that would escalate in the subsequent decade. The context of Kashmiri insurgency and anti-Indian sentiment can be largely understood through the disillusionment of the political establishment in Kashmir and the disenfranchisement of Kashmiri political rights and freedom.
The fraudulent elections of 1987
In 1983, Abdullah won a large majority in the Assembly elections, becoming Chief Minister of J&K. Abdullah was dismissed in 1984, however, allegedly motivated by India’s attempts to maintain control over Kashmir’s politics. The history of India’s meddling in Kashmiri politics since 1947 led to the escalating distrust and disillusionment of the political establishment by the Kashmiri population.
In 1987, Abdullah returned to power after his Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) party allied with the Indian National Conference (INC). Throughout the electoral process many voters were intimidated, curfews were implemented, candidates were threatened, ballot boxes were tampered with and opposition candidates were arrested. The Muslim United Front (MUF) received widespread support from the Kashmiri population, which was largely dominated by the JKNC-INC government, however. Consequently, the fraudulent elections had triggered a tipping point of political disillusionment and alienation, forcing Kashmiris to seek alternative paths to challenge India.
The struggle for azadi
On 31 July 1988, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) executed a bomb attack in Srinagar, marking the beginning of Kashmir’s armed struggle for azadi (freedom) against Indian occupation. In 1990, in response to widespread protests against India and intensifying insurgent and terrorist attacks, the Indian central government imposed martial law on Kashmir Valley.
Throughout the 1990s, radical Islamic and pro-Pakistani militant groups such as the HM, Harkat-ul-Ansar and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) began to emerge and dominate the azadi narrative. These groups received support from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). Kashmiri youth also began to cross the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan to gain militant training. The influx of foreign mujahideen from countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan into Kashmir’s insurgency also resulted in a rapid escalation of violence and terror within the region.
Since 1989, the Kashmiri insurgency has claimed more than 50,000 Kashmiri lives. During this decade, militants and Indian security forces committed human rights abuses including indiscriminate killings, kidnappings, bombings and the targeting of Kashmiri Hindus. Since the mid-1990s, Indian security forces have regained control of Kashmir. However, they have continued to foster a climate of repression through their military presence, imposed curfews and extrajudicial killings, legitimised through the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Unchecked Political Grievances
Wani’s death marks another episode of Kashmir’s restive narrative, signifying the continuing fragility of Kashmir as a flashpoint of conflict for South Asia. His legacy has raised important questions about the future nature of Kashmir insurgency and the future geopolitics of the region. If Kashmir’s underlying political grievances are left unaddressed, Kashmir will continue to echo its past of insurgency and political unrest for many years to come.
Reginald Ramos is the President of the Curtin International Relations Society, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and History from Curtin University.
Image credit: Kashmir Global (Flickr: Creative Commons)