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The Bombings, a Year Later

Mumbai in the Shadow of Kashmir

by VIJAY PRASHAD

Kashmir hangs over Mumbai, whose Gateway to India accepted the assailants who struck a year ago today. It haunts it.

When mass movements wither, bitterness remains with the movements’ fugitives, many of whom plot amongst each other to contrive their return. These fugitives fire bullets at each other, accusing one another of treachery, holding themselves above the reasons for the failure of their movements. Equally, they seek refuge somewhere to gather up strength so as to return again with force.

In the 1990s, Afghanistan was that refuge for fugitives from Mindanao Island to Ingushetia, from the Arabian Peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago. Those who went to Afghanistan arrived with grievances of their own, some of the body, some of the soul.

The exhaustion of national liberation into the authoritarian states of the 1980s, combined with the export of Saudi Islam to undermine any hope for the resurrection of radical nationalism and gave succor to this Jihad International. Funded by Washington and Riyadh, this International grew to have a greater sense of its own destiny, believing that what it accomplished was by its own means and not by the deft maneuver of its puppeteers. Not Hekmatyar, nor Shah Massoud, nor Bin Laden, could have set the trap for the Russian Bear, and none alone would have been able to thwart the Soviet Afghantsi, the frontline troops.

 It took this rag-tag brigade, despite Pakistani and US support, four years to dislodge the weak government of Mohammed Najibullah after the withdrawal of the Soviet armies. But the take-over of Afghanistan in 1992 and the collapse of the USSR in 1991 produced the excessive fantasy that the Jihad International was responsible. It was a fantasy that continues to have catastrophic effects.

Bin Laden’s “Dr. No” dreams are a consequence of this fantasy, as is the remorseless and insuppressible mutilation of the dreams of freedom in areas as far flung as Chechnya and Kashmir. Areas with reasonable claims to sovereignty and autonomy, to dignity for persons, and to pathways for their aspirations have had those claims squashed for a variety of reasons by States with their own geopolitical imperatives. Independence movements came when the small voices of protest were utterly ignored, and as these independence movements were met with the strong arm of the State, they morphed into the atavism of fugitive politics: the Jihad International, encamped in Afghanistan in both cases, walked in to offer succor to fighters who had been bled dry.  

As their reasonable demands seemed to go nowhere, they took refuge in the unreasonable.
If you read Arif Jamal’s superb Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir (Melville House Publishing, 2009) you will get a fair sense of the desolation among the advocates of the Kashmiri Jihad. The blood-soaked walls of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) redoubts are an illustration of the depths to which the Jihad has fallen: Jamal takes us into the world of the HM’s leader, Syed Salahuddin, who was tutored in this internecine insanity by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (in early 1991), and who turned his guns against his commanders in 2003 and onward. Anyone who seemed “moderate” (i. e. willing to negotiate with the Indian State) had to be sent to Paradise.

The HM assault on Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s family and traditions is illustrative: in May 2004, gunmen (possibly with the HM) killed his uncle Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmed, and then in July, the Mirwaiz’ school, an Islamic Secondary School, was burned to the ground. This 115-year old treasure held one of the oldest libraries on Islam, holding in its precious collection a copy of the Quran handwritten by ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affann (the third Caliph), one of the original sahaba, or Companions of the Prophet, who played a central role in the compilation of the Quran. Not for nothing do the Kashmiri people despair.

And not for nothing should they grieve, namely the intransigent refusal of the Indian and Pakistani governments to have a real conversation toward deescalation. The dialogues often sound tinned, not just hidden behind the stifled jargon of diplomacy, but also so frequently rehearsed that they don’t seem credible. There was the 1972 Simla Agreement, but there has barely been any movement beyond its general principles. Even on the question of the border, there is little: no chance that the Line of Control (intact since 1971) should simply be recognized as the border, and little hope for a Peace Agreement that would allow troop reductions for both countries.

On the Indian side, hundreds of thousands of troops face off against substantial parts of the population that has lost its faith in the wisdom of the Indian Constitution, and on the Pakistani side troops are in the thick of repressing the Balawaristan National Front and the Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement. Distress on both sides of the border, now inflamed by the two militaries, whose guns point across them and against their own citizens, has been further compounded by the entry of a section of hardened militants into the Jihad International.

HM went underground for a time after 2001, appearing here and there for a meeting or an attack, then ducking down out of plain sight. In 2007, according to Arif Jamal, the Pakistani ISI once more orchestrated coordination meetings between the jihadis who operate on two of its shaky borders, the Durand Line (1893) that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan and the Line of Control (1971) that separates Pakistan from India. HM held its first public rally since 9/11 in Muzaffarabad (Azad Kashmir) in March 2008, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed began to operate a training camp in Bahawalpur (southern Punjab). An HM commander told Jamal that the jihadis “never had it so good since 1999.”

It only helped inflame the situation that the Indian army continued its history of atrocities (most spectacularly in Sumbal in February 2007 and in Shopian in May 2009). It would help the Indian and Pakistani elites to read Everyone Lives in Fear: Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir (Human Rights Watch, September 2006) to get a sense of the social cost of intransigence borne by the ordinary people of the region.

The only survivor among the attackers of Mumbai, Mohammed Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab,’ wrote a confession that included the following statement, “Now we have to wage a war with India and conquer Kashmir.” Where major military conflicts (1947-48, 1965, 1971, 1999) have failed, how would ten men do the job? It was fantasy. Kasab later retracted the statement, saying it was derived from torture. The Indian government framed its charges without mention of Kashmir. It was not relevant to the judicial procedures.
But, as I wrote at the start,  Kashmir hangs over Mumbai. It haunts it. As does Afghanistan.

VIJAY PRASHAD is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His new book is The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, New York: The New Press, 2007. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu