The death of twenty people on April 1, including three security force personal and three passers-by, during pitched battles between Indian security forces and armed Hizbul Mujahedin militants in Anantnag district of Shopian in Indian-controlled South Kashmir is a stark reminder of a criminal legacy of the anti-colonial religious-nationalism that has its modern roots in the Afghan jihad but can be traced back to the old Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909.
Acclaimed New York based Pakistani author Jahangir Satti, in his book ‘The Ruling Enemy’ (1992) convincingly claims that the Afghan jihad began in 1979 under the direct supervision of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that the Afghan jihad conveniently was facilitated by the Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of Pakistan. There are hundreds of books already published on the subject and leaked documents and confidential memos that have entered the public domain – widely published on Internet-based social media – and these resources, not to mention interviews with retired CIA and other US personnel, all back up Satti’s claim.
In this article, I aim to explore the origins of the dominant Supremacist Islamic (read Wahhabi) cultural narrative overshadowing the Anantnag incident and in doing so I intend to examine the genesis of the socio-political and historical conditions that founded an Islamic-dominant cultural narrative in the Indian subcontinent in general and in the context of the valley of Kashmir in particular.
The British sowed the seeds of religious-nationalism in the subcontinent when in 1909 the Indian Councils Act, also referred to as the Morley-Minto Reforms, was introduced. The great first Indian War of Independence, fought and lost in 1857, had demonstrated the dangers that unity among religious communities posed to the colonial ruler.
The Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 were a perfect recipe to keep Indians divided since it split our people on a religious basis by creating a separate electorate system for Muslims and Hindus. Muslims were allowed to cast their vote for Muslim candidates only! Hence the Morley-Minto Reforms played a key role in establishing two antagonistic socio-religious groups in the Indian sub-continent. They cleverly exploited pre-existing divisions which had become more prominent during the rule of the last ‘Great’ Mughal emperor, the religious fanatic, Aurangzeb.
As the natives enjoyed their first taste of (controlled) democracy, the British made sure that this Act would become a self-defeating exercise and provide an everlasting opportunity for the colonial masters to manipulate one against the other. The Morley-Minto Reforms also laid down the foundation for the curtailment of any attempt towards class unity among the Indian working class. Any attempts to influence the freedom movement with the emerging Soviet ideology were drowned in a sea of blood by way of Hindu-Muslim communal riots. A fight that should have aimed at unity and freedom from the slavery forced upon by a common enemy, degenerated into such gigantic communal hate that it resulted in the massacre of more than one million Indians as the living body of the Indian sub-continent was ripped apart in 1947 by way of communal slaughter. This process culminated in the creation of the theocratic state of Pakistan.
The growing influence of Bolshevism among the Muslim Central Asian belt and their subsequent merger into the newly-established Soviet Union after the 1920 Congress of the People of the East, also known as the Baku Conference, was cause for concern for the British masters of India. Since the Tsarist period, the British colonial masters made attempts to prevent the ‘Russian’ influence from spreading southwards. The First, Second and Third Anglo-Afghan Wars were fought between the British Empire and Afghan tribes in 1839-42, 1878-80 and 1919. This was part of the actually often paranoid, self-fulfilling rivalry between the British and Russian Empires known by the British as, ‘the Great Game’ and by the Russians as, ‘The Tournament of Shadows’.
In order to prevent Soviet influence from spreading into India, the Pakistan project suited the British well. The division of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan thus created much-needed strategic depth to minimise Russian influence creeping into Indian political thought and activism. It also made the new indigenous Indian rulers in India and Pakistan constantly dependent on foreign mediators to rescue them from their internal strife as well as mutual antagonism.
After the fall of the British Empire at the end of the Second World War, another Western power had gained the dominant position in the global economic and geo-political sphere. The USA becamethe ‘global policeman’ of imperialism and the main combat force against the growing influence of communism among the European working class. As the Cold War set in, it was the Marshal Plan presented to Europe as a means to rebuild the broken imperialist class in Europe that facilitated the British conveniently to become America’s junior partner in her new imperialist role. As part of their deal, the British invested their time-tested colonial policy of divide and rule into the American military-industrial machine. The religious-nationalist strategy of dividing communities in a single nation state now was to become the bedrock of American foreign policy in Muslim-dominated parts of the world.
Religious-nationalism serves as a useful tool in the hands of the super powers, with which they now control governments, manipulate the populace and execute their neo-colonial neo-liberal agendas.
The issue of Kashmir is a living example of the bleeding wound from which Indian democracy and the people of Pakistan constantly have been suffering and which now has become a festering abscess of sectarian religious-nationalism and fascism. The roots of this pathology are to be found in the geo-political interests of both Pakistan and its imperialist master, the USA.
By 1953, in the newly founded country of Pakistan, a strong left student movement had emerged. Students from Karachi established the Democratic Students Federation, heavily influenced by Communist ideology. It was this organisation that for the first time managed to challenge the ruling Pakistan Muslim League when demands for better education and hostel accommodation facilities were raised.
On January 7, 1953, 27 students were gunned down in Karachi when the police opened fire on peaceful student protesters. It was on this occasion that for the first time, an Islamic narrative was used as a political tool to defame the student leaders as infidels and anti-Pakistan. Since then, every successive ‘democratic’ or military ruler of Pakistan has exploited Islamic religious sentiment in order to contain the masses from moving towards the left of the political spectrum.
As the ruling Muslim League became plagued by infighting and factionalism and could not agree on a common constitution, another institution of the country was gaining strength. This was none other than the Pakistani Army. In May 1950, with his first visit to the USA, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan managed to secure American friendship. Pakistan now was to become an ally of the West in their fight against the Soviet Union and China. The first payment of $ 2.89 million of US’ economic assistance’ for Pakistan arrived in 1951. Within one year, it had risen to $ 75.2 million and has been growing ever since.
In 1958, the first military coup took place and it brought General Ayub Khan to power. Martial Law was imposed and all dissent brutally crushed. Pakistan joined the two anti-communist strategic military alliances, the America-led Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the British-led Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). The services of the Pakistan Army were offered to the Americans for combating communism and any national liberation struggle that had even a whiffof socialistic politics.
In 1970, a Pakistani Army brigade was sent to Jordan to ‘deal’ with the Palestinians. 25,000 innocent Palestinians were massacred in what is known as ‘Black September’. The brigadier who was in charge of the operation was Brigadier Zia Ul Haq, who later was to become the Chief Martial Law Administrator and President of Pakistan.
It was through the military coup of July 1977, which removed the first elected government from power and replaced it with General Zia Ul Haq, that the genie of Supremacist Islamic (read Wahhabi) nationalism was released from the bottle of reactionary-political-religious narratives.
General Haq was to become the Godfather of the Deobandi and Salafi sects and this laid the foundations for the transformation of Islamic-religious-nationalism into Islamic-religious-fascism.
The writer is a Glasgow based Kashmiri. He is currently the Chairman of Tehreek e Itefaq e Rai (Movement for Consensus). He can be reached at Shaboroze@gmail.com
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This post was written by Amjad Ayub Mirza