Talibanization of Kashmir

By R.S. Bhinder
31 August 2001

Origin and growth of Taliban:

Taliban is an Arabic word and means 'student'. It is plural of word Talib, which means 'a student'. The first great irony, therefore, is that the dictionary or even traditional religious meaning of Taliban has nothing to do with the present ruling dispensation in Kabul, which is known by the same nomenclature and which has set upon itself to teach the faithful world over as to how Islam should be practised in its pure and unadulterated form!

The origin of Taliban takes us back to the madrassas started in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan by the mullahs from the Deobandi sect. These mullahs were barely literate and had little knowledge of original Deobandi reformist movement. The madrassas were set up in the Pukhtun belt of Pakistan across Afghanistan border and the students were called 'Taliban'. The Saudi funds and scholarships and the obscurantist mullahs transformed these Taliban into ultra conservative Wahhabis. These Deobandis in Pakistan had earlier set up a political party, Jamiat-ul-Ulema(JUI), with a strong anti-American stance. However, during the war against USSR in Afghanistan, the madrassas, started by JUI mullahs, grew into hundreds, where thousands of Afghan and Pakistani youth were trained. They were given free food, shelter, education (religious) and military training. It is again a political irony that the CIA worked at a tangent with JUI, besides ISI of Pakistan and the Saudi regime in building up the Taliban force -their common baby- as an Islamic militia. After the Soviets left Afghanistan, a civil war ensued in Afghanistan and Pakistan sided with the radical Mujahideen against the pro-Iranian and pro-Central Asian military commanders from the North. Taliban, as a militant movement, was started in early 1990s by Mullah Omar, who had joined Jihad against the Communist regime in the 1980s in favour of Harkat-e-Inquilab-i-Islami of Mohammed Nabi Mohamadi. He had chosen Kandhar as the nerve centre of his movement. Pakistan, through ISI, extended all overt and covert support to Taliban, as it did not approve of the liberal policies of Rabbani, who wanted to pursue a policy independent of Pakistan. Detested by pro-communist regime of Najibullah, the traditionally religious Afghan supported the Taliban movement, which swore by a just and benevolent Islamic administration. The poor, illiterate, ignorant, famished and war ravaged Afghan fell to the propaganda of clerics who assured heaven on earth and a divine cause to fight for. They all came under the banner of Taliban to fight a second Jihad. The West also threw its weight behind ISI supported Taliban. In April 1996, 1000 Muslim Clergymen choose Mullah Mohammad Omar as Amir-ul-Momin(Commander of the faithful). In September 1996, the Taliban's assault, organized and guided by ISI Army of Pakistan, captured Kabul and threw Rabbani out of power.

JUI of Pakistan, which remained politically isolated till 1993, came on the political centre stage after its active involvement with Taliban. It became the main recruiters if Pakistani and foreign youth to fight for Taliban. About one lakh Pakistani were reportedly trained between 1994 and 1999 and majority of them fought in Afghanistan. The JUI Taliban influence in Pakistan started overflowing Pukhtun area. It got entrenched in Punjab and Sindh as well. The majority of 6,000 to 8,000 Pakistani militants who took part in the July 1999 Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan were Punjabis. In Afghanistan, Taliban are now controlling 90% of the territory. Their government is recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Islamic edicts of Taliban and their effect:

Afghanistan has been through centuries at the cross roads of dialouge and conflict between civilizations. But the Afghans have kept their fierce sense of independence and pride. Historically, sharia laws, as interpreted by their tribal customs, prevailed for centuries in Afghanistan. Still Afghans have been traditionally most tolerant to other sects and religions. Sufiism an undogmatic and mystic sect of Islam, was the main domain of Afghan society. This sect practises extremely humane and harmonious doctrines of Islam and is most respected by the followers of other religions. Soofiism has been prevalent in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In Afghanistan, communal harmony remained intact till 1992. Hindus, Sikhs and Jews all played a significant role in its economy while they all freely practised their own religions. Since the advent of Taliban movement, this harmony, not only among various religions but also among various sects of Islam, have been devastated. 90% of Afghans are Sunni Muslims. Shies predominate in Hazara and are in good numbers in Central Afghanistan. Almost one million Afghans have lost their lives in the ongoing civil war, which is fought on sectarian and ethnic lines among the followers of Islam. All the non-Muslims, except a few poor families, had already fled the country for their lives after the Muslims Fundamentalists started persecuting them. The country, which was already drenched of its limited resources during its war against Russians, has been completely ruined by the civil war. In early 1990's one US $ could buy only 50 Afghanis. Now it can buy 42,000 Afghanis. While the countries like Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, emerged politically and economically much stronger soon after the wars, due to progressive reforms and dedicated nation-building, Afghanistan, under the Taliban regime, has gone centuries backward. Through the edicts issued by the Department for promoting Virtue and preventing Vice, the women are virtually rendered as deaf, dumb and blind cattle. They have been confined to the four walls of their homes, or whatever is left of them. They cannot go to school ; cannot work out side their homes; cannot assemble for any meeting/sicourse; cannot even go to mosque for prayers; whenever they have to come out of their home they must be accompanied by a male relative; their dress code demands that only their hands and feet should be visible. For any lapse in the observance of edicts, these hapless women are taken to a public square and thrashed like mute cattle. No questions are asked and no alibis are listened. It is straight sentence and spontaneous execution. They are punished even if their shoes croak! The men are also subjected to harsh codes. They are severely punished even if their beard is not long enough to protrude from a clinched fist placed at the base of the chin; they do not pray five times a day and observe other Islamic rituals as defined by Taliban. No Afghan man or woman can draw or see any photograph recite or listen to music, or adore any Sufi saint. There is no radio except sharia radio, no television, no newspaper in Afghanistan. Imagine a society in the 21st century, completely cut off from the rest of the world and travelling on the reverse path. Imagine the next generation brought up by those deaf and dumb cattle, called Afghan mothers. They will be knowing only how to perform name and how to fire from the hip of the shoulder. Because of the sanctions imposed by the UNO and complete absence of any industry or commercial activity, the country today lacks even basic necessities of life. Besides rudimentary agriculture horticulture, there are only three professions available for men. They are (1) joining army/militia, (2) growing poppy and (3) smuggling of arms and heroin. Afghanistan produces 4,600 metric tons of opium (three times more than the rest of the world ) and 96% of it is cultivated in the Taliban controlled area. Taliban regime collects 20% tax from the opium dealers and transporters and this entire money goes to the Taliban's war chest.

Road-block to the political ambitions of Pakistan:

Pakistan has been pursuing an ambitious plan of establishing its hegemony in the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgstan, as well as Xinjiang province of China, which has Muslim majority and adjoins Afghanistan and Northern area of J&K. The Central Asian states have rich stores of oil and such a scenario will give Pakistan an unparallel political and economic status in this region. Annexation of Muslim majority Kashmir also falls in the same plan. Imagine and Islamic power whose religious, political, economic and military hegemony would extend to the borders of Europe, Russia and China. But unfortunately for Pakistan, the world political scenario has been changing fast and it is getting more and more averse to obscurantism and Islamic terrorism. As such Pakistan has found herself in an unenviable situation. Because of its tie-up with the Taliban and latter's providing shelter to Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi billionaire turned terrorist, the Americans have become most suspicious about the designs of Pakistan. They have put her on notice for aiding and abetting terrorism and have also exerted pressure by imposing sanctions and holding back international monetary assistance. Pakistan's foreign reserves have reached the bottom and its economy is crippled. Contrary to the dreamed spread of its hegemony, Pakistan is today on the thresh hold of splitting under its own weight. In its latest study report, CIA has predicted that in already unstable regions and countries like Pakistan, youth bulges may provide large numbers of Afghan and Pakistani youth willing to engage in terrorist activities. It further expects the continuation of a hybrid regime rather than reverting to democracy in Pakistan and has predicted the country to break down. Otherwise also, the developments are quite ominous. Sectarian and regional contradictions have transformed into unending violence. Several thousand trained militants are without jobs and an equal number of arms are in the hands of unlisted militia. Most of the paltry resources are being eaten away by the oversized army laced with nukes and there is no hope for the revival of economy in the near future. The mullahs with the terrorist organizations at their beck and call are showing the military regime its limits. In addition, there are over one million Afghan refugees, unwilling to go back to their country, breathing down Pakistan's neck in respect of regional and ethnic peace and stability. Taliban have not given up their claim on Pokhran region of Pakistan where these Afghans are camping. Ethnically Pakhtuns are more close to Afghans than Sindhis or Punjabis.

Ahmad Rashid, a Correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, who covered the Afghan war for 20 years, states: " Taliban's purist ideology and the Pakistani recruits, it has natured, have had immense cross-border repercussion in Pakistan. An already fragile nation in the midst of an identity crisis, economic melt down, ethnic and sectarian division, and suffering under a rapacious ruling elite unable to provide good governance. Pakistan could easily be submerged by a new Islamic wave-one led not by established, more mature Islamic parties but neo-Taliban groups".

Talibanization of Kashmir:

Kashmir, like other parts of India, has its distinct history, culture and Language. It was a dominant part of a princely state, Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh. Besides Kashmir, the state had other regions, like Jammu, Ladakh and Galgit, with their own history, culture and language. At the time of partition of India, the Maharaja had the option to join either India and Pakistan. He toyed with the idea of remaining an independent state till Pakistan's regular and militia forces attacked Kashmir in 1947 and had almost reached the outskirts of Srinagar. The Maharaja rushed to Delhi and signed a treaty of accession with India. The Indian forces pushed back the invaders beyond the valley. As India went to UNO for the vacation of aggression, a cease-fire was enforced and the area captured by Pakistan has since remained in the possession of Pakistan. Pakistan calls it Azad Kashmir, while India terms it Pak occupied Kashmir (POK). The accession of J&K, with certain privileges of autonomy. India, a young, budding nation full of idealism regarding international justice and fair play, did the mistake of rushing to UNO to seek vacation through international laws instead of throwing the aggressor out by force. The UNO was overwhelmingly dominated by USA and its NATO allies, while India pursued non-aligned policy. When the Americans warned India to toe their line or face consequences, Nehru stood to his ground and had to seek Russian support. As Pakistan had openly aligned with the Americans, the latter used their hegemony to punish India over Kashmir. Hence the UN resolutions to hold plebiscite in J&K. The mistake was further compounded by the ruling elite in India by forcing its likings and preferences over the popular demands of the people. The phenomenon went from bad to worse leading to progressive disappointments of the Kashmiri masses with the ruling elite at the Centre and vested interests in the State. Still the dissident movement in Kashmir remained for more autonomy and corruption free popular government in the state. A small number of radical youth continued agitating for an independent Jammu and Kashmir, under the banner of JKLF. The secular character of the state remained intact and communal harmony was seldom disturbed by this separatist organisation. This scenario continued till the JUI sponsored madrassas in Pakistan started overflowing with the Afghan and Pakistani youth initiated for Jihad. While the large chunk of them were fighting in Afghanistan, some were diverted to Kashmir by the ISI for keeping the cauldron boiling. These jihadis, who had scant regard for the secular traditions and values of Kashmiris, Islamised the so far secular movement. It may be mentioned here that the Kashmiris have been strong adherents to Sufiism ever since the advent of this most harmonious sect in the Iran, Afghanistan, India belt. The mazars of Sufi saints have been most revered places for all the Kashmiris-Muslims, Pandits and Sikhs. The Jihadis' from Pakistan and Afghanistan, under the guidance of ISI, made Suffiism as their first target. Their brief was to convert Kashmiri Muslims to the Wahhabi thought in order to bring them closer to Pakistan and sharpen communal divide. These foreign terrorists started entrenching in the most revered Sufi shrines with the dual purpose of destroying the religious icons of Kashmiri Muslims by causing them damage during the cross-fire, and then to provoke mass reaction against the Indian Army. The JEI in Kashmir was found a handy tool to poison the minds of Kashmiri Muslims against non-Muslims. The JEI worked at tandem with the foreign Terrorist groups and mercenaries to vitiate the communal atmosphere in the valley. As a result, lakhs of Kashmiri Hindus, popularly known as Pandits, fled from Kashmir. With that Kashmir started treading on the path of Afghanistan and the process of Talibanization started. With that the Kashmiris started losing the sympathy of their traditional supporters in the West.

In due course of time, more and more jihadis became idle after the Russians left Afghanistan and the leftist govt. fell in Kabul. As they were menace in Pakistan, the ISI started pushing them into Kashmir in hordes. They took over control of most of the militant organizations in J & K and overturned their entire character and approach. It was no more a struggle for greater autonomy or independence. It turned into a full grown Jihad by the rabid Sunni obscurantists to spread Islam in its 'purist' form and vanquish the kafirs. Kashmir was, therefore, destined to shed its 'impure' blood and loose its original colours of pristine Sufi thought as well as time tested secular approach. It, instead, became an international arena of terror and blood-shed leading to counter measures by the Indian security forces that caused alienation of more and more Kashmiris. Innocent Kashmiris were being crushed in the cross-fire between the foreign terrorists and mercenaries on the one side, and the Indian security forces on the other side. Kashmir continues to bleed and the hapless Kashmiris see no light beyond the dark tunnel. But what is most worrisome to the Kashmiris and to the thinking people all over the world is the Talibanization of Kashmir. The process, initiated earlier, had already been intensified with the latest diktat as they foresaw terrible aversion of progressive, outgoing and educationally and politically enlightened Kashmiri women. The political parties, except JEI, have unequivocally condemned this move. Sensing the overall Kashmiri aversion to the diktat, the JEI has also started hedging behind similar noise. All the women bodies and the leading women in Kashmir have expressed their disgust and aversion to veiling them through sprinkling of acid. The only exception was Dukhtran-e-Millat, again a rabid pro-Pak militant organization which openly supported the diktat and accompanying acid tests. All Kashmiri leader are talking about the 'conspiracy' but nobody dares to point the finger where it sticks. It is common knowledge that blinking nod from JEI and the open support from Dukhtran-e-Millat alone would have have veiled Kashmir by extended deadline of 10th September, 2001. The orders must have come from the same authorities, which had earlier sent similar orders to the Taliban in Kabul. Once the Kashmiri women swallow the first bitter pill and get used to burka (which was never ordained either in Quran or in Hadis), the Pakistan based terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Al-Umar will own the campaign and the further 'fatwas' will be issued in a regular sequence. As a fore-taste, they have already issued another. This time to the Hindu and Sikh women to wear bindi on their forehead and yellow dupatta respectively to identify them as non-Muslims. This comes perfectly on the foot-steps of Taliban diktats in Kabul. The Hindus are already out of the valley. The Sikhs in the valley have cried foul and are apprehending this diktat to be a foreboding of their mass extradition on the pattern of Kabul.

One would shudder to visualize Kashmiri women, reverting back to illiteracy and ignorance; forced to remain within the four walls of their homes; venturing out in Burka, accompanied by a male relative only for an emergency need of their household. Just visualize Kashmiri women, who are known for their "Rouf" music and dance in their colourful attires, being dragged in the Lal Chowk and lashed for showing their ankles from below the Burka while walking in the street. Imagine the valley of Kashmir without a radio, TV, newspapers or even a camera or photo of any person. It did happen in Afghanistan after Talibanization of that country. Will happen in Kashmir? I am convinced that it is doomed to happen unless some miracle happens.