Karakorum – the region of insurgencies

By K.N. Pandita

We may be tempted to make a short but pointed comparative study of the rise and handling of armed Islamist insurgency in two contiguous regions of Karakorum, namely Kashmir and Uighur dominated Xinjiang, the Eastern province of China. The ground situation in the two regions shows some similarity between the two but in many ways they are dissimilar. Both have predominant Sunni population and both have been nursing independence from respective dominant powers viz. China and India. In both the regions Islamists trusted combat tactics as the means of achieving their objective. Both the regions obviously look to the Muslim world for its response and reaction.

However, among the dissimilarities, we find that in Kashmir two sovereign states, India and Pakistan have been laying claim to Kashmir on geographical, historical, religious and political basis. In Kashmir the insurgents are mainly divided into two groups one opting for separation from India and accession to Pakistan and the other struggling for independence. Another marked difference is that while the people in Indian part of Kashmir have tasted democratic and egalitarian arrangement for last half a century, Uighurs have not had that luxury.

While India was lucky to have found the Kashmir opposition split into two main groups each cutting at the roots of the other, in Xinjiang the dissidents or nationalists were always united.

But the real difference lies in the handling of the upcoming situation in the two regions. The Chinese authorities began to smell the Uighur uprising in Xinjiang as early as 1960s. With a sound futuristic vision and unhampered by “democratic” constraint, the Chinese authorities embarked on a massive change in the demographic complexion of Xinjiang. The 5 % Han ethnic Chinese were reinforced through large scale and rapid relocation from the mainland and by 1980s the population of the Han Chinese rose from 5 to 40 %. This reminds one of the demographic changes affected by General Musharraf in Gilgit and Baltistan during 1980s when he was the Corps Commander of Northern Areas. The Shia population of Gilgit and Baltistan was reduced to minority level by settling Sunni Wahhabi tribesman from other parts of NWFP in the area.

India professing a secularist and democratic dispensation was also bogged with the special status of J&K State that left no possibility of manipulating demographic change in Kashmir. Interestingly from 1990 to present day — a span of just 17 years —- thousands of Kashmiri Muslims have constructed houses in Jammu city and around but during one hundred years of Dogra rule over the State, not a single Dogra ever thought of settling down in the valley. Of course some Muslim families from Doda and Bhaderwah areas did migrate to Kashmir valley prior to the outbreak of insurgency.

The reason why China could quickly contain Uighur Islamic uprising was the denial of Pakistan of any overt or covert facility to the activists to wage a jihad in Xinjiang. China and Pakistan have been close friends and strategic allies and this stood China in good stead to ward off the impending Uighur uprising. Harsh handling by the Chinese authorities of the captured Uighur insurgents stood in direct contrast to the mild and pusillanimous handling of the captured Kashmir insurgents by the Indian authorities.

Yet one more big difference lay in the fact that while the Uighur insurgency was home made, Kashmir insurgency had its roots and sources elsewhere. The Uighur Diaspora in western countries was almost non-existent whereas the Kashmiri Diasporas buttressed by the Pakistani Diasporas as well in western countries plays a crucial role in the dissemination of anti-India hatred and campaign.

The period when Kashmir armed insurgency was on a rising crescendo, meaning 1990 – 1993, the Indian political leadership was a housed divided against itself. Politicians had got bogged with internal rivalries of winning votes and ministries so much so that the crucial Kashmir question remained relegated to the back burner. On the other hand Beijing took a very serious note of the show of insurgency by the Islamists in Xinjiang and did not hesitate to issue proper warnings to the neighbouring countries of desisting from offering any help to any group that worked against the solidarity of the motherland. Ass against it Pakistan openly declared on all international fora that she would offer diplomatic, political and moral help to what she called “freedom fighters in Kashmir”.

Lastly, rapid economic progress made by India during past half a decade has had its direct impact on Kashmir militancy also. This is true about China as well. But again there is a difference. There is full freedom of movement enjoyed by all Kashmiris whether they proceed on business and commercial visit or for tourism and sight seeing or even for hobnobbing with hidden cells of Kashmir terrorist groups spread out in different parts of the country. Economic development together with the freedom of movement and speech cannot be brushed aside as uneventful happenings. In that sense India has adopted a more humanistic and more viable policy of handling insurgency in Kashmir.

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