ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Changing Course of Kashmiri Struggle

From National Liberation to Islamist Jihad?

Kashmir in the 1930s witnessed the emergence of the Islamist movement. In its initial years, the movement failed to garner a strong support base owing to the long-standing sufi tradition in Kashmir. However, since the 1980s, the Jama'at-i-Islami Jammu and Kashmir has attempted to restructure the framework of the discourse within which the Kashmiri armed struggle has sought to express itself - the struggle is now being interpreted as a holy war. Not only has there been a growing intervention of Islamist groups based in Pakistan, the nationalist goal of a free Kashmir is being increasingly marginalised.

From the 1990s onwards, a remarkable transformation in the terms of discourse in which the Kashmiri liberation struggle against Indian rule has sought to express itself may be clearly discerned. The early Kashmiri independence movement, whose roots go back to the uprising against the Dogra regime in the 1930s and then, after 1947, against Indian control, saw itself principally as a nationalist struggle. From the 1930s till 1947, the Kashmiri movement, under the charismatic Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah, aimed at challenging the autocratic rule of the Dogras and demanding a proper representation for the Kashmiri Muslims in the administration of the state. In 1947, most of Kashmir came under Indian rule, and from then onwards, the Kashmiri struggle assumed the form of a national liberation movement for an independent state.

As Abdullah’s charisma gradually declined, with the failure of his National Conference to meet the aspirations of the people and in preserving the autonomy of Kashmir, a new breed of Kashmiri nationalists, disillusioned with what they saw as Abdullah’s complicity with the Indian state, emerged. The leadership of the movement was provided by young Kashmiri Muslims who had received a modern education in the colleges that were set up in the region after 1947. Their principal demand was that India should fulfil its commitments to the United Nations and allow a plebiscite to be held in the territory to enable the people to decide their own political future. Challenging the legitimacy of Indian rule, these Kashmiri nationalists advocated an independent, secular democratic Jammu and Kashmir. The ideology informing their nationalist project was that of Kashmiriyat or ‘Kashmiri identity’, which they saw as a unique amalgam of traditions drawing upon local Muslim, Hindu and other sources. The Kashmiri nationalist project was spearheaded by several organisations and parties, the foremost being the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front [JKLF], established in 1964. The JKLF demanded that the state of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed prior to 1947 be united as ‘one fully independent and truly democratic state’. It advocated ‘equal political, economic, religious and social rights ’ for all citizens in the proposed state ‘irrespective of race, religion, region, culture and sex’.1

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