Monday, November 13, 2006

Kashmir: between Terrorists and Sufiyana


By Praveen Swami - Frontline - India
Issue 13 - July 01-14, 2006

June saw Srinagar host a highly successful festival of Sufi music from India and Pakistan while Lashkar terrorists attacked one of the revered mystics in the town of Sopore, just a three-hour drive from the State capital. And not weeks after the politicians focussed their energies on shaping a new constitutional future for the State, the Lashkar carried out horrific massacres of both Muslim and Hindu villagers across the State.

Even as the peace process proceeds apace, it would seem, Islamist forces have renewed their fighting on three fronts: military, religious-ideological and political.

Islamists are also attempting to hammer in the keystone of their project in Jammu and Kashmir: the destruction of indigenous religious identities that challenge their vision of the future. Late in June, the Lashkar-e-Taiba attempted to assassinate the venerated mystic Ahad Ba'b Sopore, one of the best-known custodians of the State's Sufi traditions. While Ahad Ba'b survived the attack unhurt, two members of his congregation were killed and nine injured in the attack.

Eyewitnesses have identified the terrorist who executed the grenade attack as Qayoom Nassar, a well-known Lashkar operative hailing from Sopore's Batpora area. Nassar joined the Lashkar five years ago, when he was just 16 years old, after having dropped out of school after Standard VIII. Interestingly, Nassar's recent actions include the murder of two Sopore residents in May for having engaged in gambling, an activity the Lashkar and other terror groups have repeatedly condemned as anti-Islamic.

Islamists in Sopore and other parts of northern Kashmir have long opposed the influence of Ahad Ba'b, who left his job as policeman and became a mystic after undergoing what he describes as a spiritual experience three decades ago. He then renounced key trappings of the material world, notably clothing. Over time, Ahad Ba'b came to wield enormous religious and temporal power in Kashmir, drawing support from peasants and political leaders - something that incensed the clerical establishment.

As early as 1991, the Hizbul Mujahideen carried out a near-successful assassination attempt on the mystic. However, he escaped unhurt on that occasion as well. In Sopore mythology, the Hizbul Mujahideen was forced to beg forgiveness of the mystic, since as many of its cadre began to die as the grain he fed birds each morning. Ahad Ba'b is also credited by his followers with performing several other miracles in which Islamists who sought to discredit him came off second-best.

At the core of the conflict are ideological disputes between folk religion and Islamist groups that believe that practices such as the veneration of holy relics, or belief in intercession between humans and God through mystics are heretical. Both the Jamaat-e-Islami, from which the Hizbul Mujahideen emerged, and the Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadith, the Lashkar's patron, have long believed, as the scholar Mohammad Ishaq Khan has noted, that "Kashmiri Muslims need to be converted afresh".

After 1989, this ideological battle turned violent. Terrorist groups began targeting Sufi shrines, which they assert are antithetical to Islam. As early as June 1994, for example, Lashkar terrorists stormed the historic Baba Reshi shrine at Tangmarg, and fired on pilgrims. Perhaps the most prominent incident in the Islamist campaign was the siege at Chrar-e-Sharif in May 1996, which led to the destruction of the town's famous 700-year-old shrine.

Unnoticed, such attacks continued over the years: a grenade attack in June 2001, for example, killed four women at Chrar-e-Sharif. Earlier, in 2000, Lashkar terrorists destroyed the sacramental tapestries Bafliaz residents had offered at the shrine of Sayyed Noor. Lashkar cadre were also responsible for a May 2005 arson attack that led to the destruction of the shrine of the saint Zainuddin Wali at Ashmuqam. In June 2005, Lashkar operative Bilal Magray threw a grenade at a congregation in Bijbehara, injuring 15 people.

If something is to be salvaged from the five-year-old dialogue process in Jammu and Kashmir, democratic forces need to find a voice - and soon. As things stand, the constitutional consultative processes that emerged from the round table conference last month already seem faintly absurd, severed by political apathy from the violence and pain of peoples' lives in Jammu and Kashmir. No process, after all, can deliver peace unless its participants commit themselves to political action.

1 comment:

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Kashmir: between Terrorists and Sufiyana

By Praveen Swami - Frontline - India
Issue 13 - July 01-14, 2006

June saw Srinagar host a highly successful festival of Sufi music from India and Pakistan while Lashkar terrorists attacked one of the revered mystics in the town of Sopore, just a three-hour drive from the State capital. And not weeks after the politicians focussed their energies on shaping a new constitutional future for the State, the Lashkar carried out horrific massacres of both Muslim and Hindu villagers across the State.

Even as the peace process proceeds apace, it would seem, Islamist forces have renewed their fighting on three fronts: military, religious-ideological and political.

Islamists are also attempting to hammer in the keystone of their project in Jammu and Kashmir: the destruction of indigenous religious identities that challenge their vision of the future. Late in June, the Lashkar-e-Taiba attempted to assassinate the venerated mystic Ahad Ba'b Sopore, one of the best-known custodians of the State's Sufi traditions. While Ahad Ba'b survived the attack unhurt, two members of his congregation were killed and nine injured in the attack.

Eyewitnesses have identified the terrorist who executed the grenade attack as Qayoom Nassar, a well-known Lashkar operative hailing from Sopore's Batpora area. Nassar joined the Lashkar five years ago, when he was just 16 years old, after having dropped out of school after Standard VIII. Interestingly, Nassar's recent actions include the murder of two Sopore residents in May for having engaged in gambling, an activity the Lashkar and other terror groups have repeatedly condemned as anti-Islamic.

Islamists in Sopore and other parts of northern Kashmir have long opposed the influence of Ahad Ba'b, who left his job as policeman and became a mystic after undergoing what he describes as a spiritual experience three decades ago. He then renounced key trappings of the material world, notably clothing. Over time, Ahad Ba'b came to wield enormous religious and temporal power in Kashmir, drawing support from peasants and political leaders - something that incensed the clerical establishment.

As early as 1991, the Hizbul Mujahideen carried out a near-successful assassination attempt on the mystic. However, he escaped unhurt on that occasion as well. In Sopore mythology, the Hizbul Mujahideen was forced to beg forgiveness of the mystic, since as many of its cadre began to die as the grain he fed birds each morning. Ahad Ba'b is also credited by his followers with performing several other miracles in which Islamists who sought to discredit him came off second-best.

At the core of the conflict are ideological disputes between folk religion and Islamist groups that believe that practices such as the veneration of holy relics, or belief in intercession between humans and God through mystics are heretical. Both the Jamaat-e-Islami, from which the Hizbul Mujahideen emerged, and the Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadith, the Lashkar's patron, have long believed, as the scholar Mohammad Ishaq Khan has noted, that "Kashmiri Muslims need to be converted afresh".

After 1989, this ideological battle turned violent. Terrorist groups began targeting Sufi shrines, which they assert are antithetical to Islam. As early as June 1994, for example, Lashkar terrorists stormed the historic Baba Reshi shrine at Tangmarg, and fired on pilgrims. Perhaps the most prominent incident in the Islamist campaign was the siege at Chrar-e-Sharif in May 1996, which led to the destruction of the town's famous 700-year-old shrine.

Unnoticed, such attacks continued over the years: a grenade attack in June 2001, for example, killed four women at Chrar-e-Sharif. Earlier, in 2000, Lashkar terrorists destroyed the sacramental tapestries Bafliaz residents had offered at the shrine of Sayyed Noor. Lashkar cadre were also responsible for a May 2005 arson attack that led to the destruction of the shrine of the saint Zainuddin Wali at Ashmuqam. In June 2005, Lashkar operative Bilal Magray threw a grenade at a congregation in Bijbehara, injuring 15 people.

If something is to be salvaged from the five-year-old dialogue process in Jammu and Kashmir, democratic forces need to find a voice - and soon. As things stand, the constitutional consultative processes that emerged from the round table conference last month already seem faintly absurd, severed by political apathy from the violence and pain of peoples' lives in Jammu and Kashmir. No process, after all, can deliver peace unless its participants commit themselves to political action.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the new India search engine www.ByIndia.com they added all the cool features of popular products like MySpace, YouTube, Ebay, Craigslist, etc. all for free to use and specifically for India. Anyone else try this yet?

ByIndia.com First to Blend Search, Social Network, Video Sharing and Auctions Into One Seamless Product for Indian Internet Users.