The struggle in Kashmir has undergone a major metamorphosis over the last 18 months, sending the Indian occupiers into a tail-spin. If the years 1995-1996 were characterised by extreme hardships for the mujahideen, 1997 witnessed a revival of their fortunes on a scale that is little short of miraculous.
What has brought about this transformation is equally remarkable. It reflects, first and foremost, the deep commitment of the Kashmiris to the struggle against Indian occupation. It also shows the degree to which they are prepared to go to make sacrifices for their just and worthy cause.
Last year, the Indian occupation forces suffered a number of reverses. Their casualty rate was dramatically up, not only because the mujahideen were more successful but because psychologically-demoralised Indian soldiers turned their weapons against their own superiors. The number of Indian officers killed last year is the highest since the latest uprising began in December 1989. Indian officers upto the rank of colonel are now routinely killed.
Four years ago, India lost 14 officers in a single explosion following a mujahideen rocket attack at the Badami Bagh arms depot in Srinagar (March 29, 1994). Major general D W Fernandes, who was to become the chief of Indian military intelligence a few weeks later, was among those killed. Three colonels, four majors, a captain and two junior commissioned officers also died.
As if this were not bad enough, the Indian strategy of creating their own agents in the guise of mujahideen has been dealt a severe blow. The renegade phenomenon was a successful counter-offensive by the Indian occupiers. They achieved a number of their military objectives. The renegades exposed the genuine mujahideen and their hideouts enabling the occupation forces to pick them up, executing them summarily. On April 18, A Hameed, leader of the People’s League was murdered by the Indian occupiers. He had been picked up the previous evening in Srinagar.
The renegades did something worse: they managed to create distrust between the people and the mujahideen. This they did by forcing their way into people’s homes on the pretext that they were escaping from the pursuing Indian troops. Once inside, they not only mistreated people but also abused their women, sometimes indulging in rape. This upset the people immensely. In the early years of the uprising, when such stories started to filter out, sympathisers of the Kashmiri movement did not believe them at first, attributing them to Indian disinformation campaign.
It later transpired that India’s own agents were responsible for such reprehensible acts. This resulted in denying the genuine strugglers sanctuary among the people. The Indian occupiers had effectively neutralised the support of the masses for the mujahideen. An essential ingredient in a guerrilla war is the support of the people; remove that and the uprising is virtually paralysed. People are a strategic depth for the struggle.
After recovering from the initial shock, the people themselves realized what the Indians were upto. In a gesture that can only be described as heroic and reflecting their deep commitment to the freedom struggle, families turned against their own sons or brothers who had joined the ranks of the renegades. Many were apprehended and handed over to the mujahideen. Others were shamed into abandoning their treacherous role. Their social boycott also helped bring them to their senses.
It took a better part of two years but the renegade phenomenon has now been virtually eliminated, with minor exceptions. Koka Paray, the most notorious renegade, was elected to the puppet assembly in Kashmir in October 1996. His role in undermining the militancy has diminished and with it his disruptive activities.
In addition to neutralising the renegades, the mujahideen have also improved their fighting skills. They are now mounting daring counter-attacks against the occupiers. An additional factor is that their operations have moved beyond the Valley into Jammu as well. A number of districts in Jammu - Doda, Poonch, Odhampur and Banihal - are now theatres of operations, stretching the Indian occupation forces further.
This was even acknowledged by the commander of India’s 15th corps, lieutenant general Krishan Pal, who called for strikes against Kashmiri ‘training bases inside Pakistan’ itself (Frontline magazine, March 21-April 3, 1998). He was quote by another Indian magazine, the Statesman, as saying that Delhi must find a political solution to the Kashmir problem. The military could not contain the insurgency indefinitely.
This is a dilemma all armies face. When combat conditions are changed, as in a guerrilla war, the army becomes demoralised. Armies are trained to fight straight, short battles. They are not mentally prepared for prolonged wars in which the objective is not clear, the target uncertain and soldiers often called upon to inflict suffering on ordinary people. Even such hardened criminals as the zionists have had psychological problems, both in attacking civilians in Lebanon as well as in Palestine.
In Kashmir, an additional factor is Delhi’s claim that it is an ‘integral part’ of India and its people are Indian citizens. Yet India maintains a 700,000-strong army of occupation. The argument that the uprising is instigated from across the border simply does not hold. Indian soldiers have realised the depth of the Kashmiris’ hatred towards them.
On the military front, too, the Indians are not finding it easy. The mujahideen have become more sophisticated in their operations, especially those belonging to Lashkar-e Tayyiba and Harakatul Ansar. Both groups have dedicated cadre who have restored the confidence of the Kashmiri masses in the freedom struggle. Similarly, their superior tactics have got the Indian occupiers on the run.
The mujahideen no longer confine their activities to hit-and-run tactics. They are increasingly mounting counter-ambushes against Indian troops. In a reflection of their growing sophistication, the mujahideen now avoid ambushes in populated areas. While this denies them the opportunity of quick escape by melting among the people, its cost to the masses in terms of Indian reprisals was very high. Instead, the mujahideen now lie in wait for Indian troops in isolated areas and are able to fight pitched-battles for prolonged periods. There is clearly a new level of sophistication evident in their operations.
This has even been admitted by Farooq Abdullah, the puppet chief minister of Kashmir. He rides in a bullet-proof car under heavy guard but sources within his close circles admit that he is looking for a way out. He would rather be in London (Abdullah is married to a British woman) than in Srinagar.
In the latest development, Delhi re-appointed Garesh Chander Saxena as governor of the State. He was sworn in on May 2 in Srinagar. Saxena, the former Indian spy master - he retired as chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in 1986 - had served as governor of Kashmir in the early nineties. His return to the State means that the Hindus want to try their hand at subversion once again.
The idea of renegades was Saxena’s brainchild. With their defeat, the Hindu spy chief has come back to try something equally vile. This is one more challenge that the mujahideen will have to surmount. It is also a test for the global Islamic Movement not to fail the people of Kashmir in their hour of greatest need.
Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1998