On the night of 19 December 2002, a group of men entered the home of Mohammed Sadiq in Hast village, Rajouri district, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. They killed his twenty-year old daughter Nosen Kousar. They then went down the road to Khalid Ahmed’s house and killed his twenty-two year old daughter Tahira Parveen. After beheading her, they proceeded to Mohammed Rafiq’s home and killed Shehnaaz Akhtar, another young woman. Finally, they went to the home of Jan Begam, a forty-three year old woman, and beheaded her.
By most indications, the unidentified men belong to an outfit called the Lashkar-e-Jabbar (the “Army of the Great”) because the LeJ had placed posters around Rajouri demanding that Muslim women adhere to the Taliban’s dress code and that teachers at schools wear the formal sherwani. Accounts from Hast indicate that these women did not adhere to the “rules” and therefore faced “retribution” from the LeJ.
The LeJ made its debut in Kashmir in August 2001. On 7 August, unidentified LeJ members doused two schoolteachers in Srinagar with acid and on 8 August, an armed LeJ member went into a Srinagar girls’ school to demand that all the students report to class dressed in accordance with “Islamic tradition.” The LeJ then issued a deadline in September for the implementation of the dress codes, that is the wearing of burqas by Muslim women, of duppatas by Hindu women and “suitable” clothes by men. The LeJ, a marginal outfit, had an enormous impact with these acts of terror: the Kashmiri newspapers reported a jump in burqa use among working-class women (from five percent a few years ago to thirty percent as 2001 ended).
Little outrage is evoked for these acts of terror against these women, mainly peasants or else from among the dispossessed urban dwellers. The Indian government, run by the Hindutva Right, concentrated on those victims of terror who are mainly Hindu, so that it could run in the recent state elections in Gujarat on an anti-Muslim ticket (and win, as it did). Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat should give Trent Lott lessons in coded language and in his aggressive ability to remain in control despite his brazen anti-Muslim remarks. During his election campaign, Modi asked his audience, “You decide whether there should be a Diwali in Gujarat or whether firecrackers should burst in Pakistan,” intimating that the choice was between the majority Hindu community or India’s neighbor Pakistan, and not between his right-wing BJP and the generally opportunistic Congress Party. When what the late Pakistani intellectual Eqbal Ahmed called, the “Jihad International” kills “its own,” there is silence from those who claim to be at the forefront of the anti-terror campaign.
Mention a problem in Kashmir and people roll their eyes. Behind those eyes lie thoughts, at worst, of ageless conflict perhaps rooted in the inferior genetic inheritance of the region or, at best, of the problems that came from its disputed transition to India in the late 1940s. While the former merits no response, to the latter one can say that history moves on and while the transfer of power still plagues the rhetoric on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, the more substantial issues stem from the economic and political devastation visited upon Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the death of its popular leader, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah on 8 September 1982. Abdullah’s death put into disarray the mild form of stability constituted by his political skill, the relatively careful governance from New Delhi and the inferiority of the Pakistani army. All this was to change in the two decades since then, and it comes to us in at least five phases:
â€¦ 1983-88, marked by the political venality both of Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party and the Sheikh’s son, Farooq Abdullah (who had taken charge of the National Conference, the main political party in the state). â€¦ 1988-91, characterized by the upsurge of young Kashmiris for azaadi (independence) manifested in the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. â€¦ 1991-93, distinguished by Pakistan’s usurpation of the revolt through the offices of the Hizbul Mujahideen and other pro-Pakistan organizations. â€¦ 1993-2001, in which a proxy war took place between Pakistani-trained and supported mehmeen mujahidin (foreign, mainly Afghani Arab type mercenaries) and the Indian forces whose interlude was the Kargil war of 1999. â€¦ 2001-present, in which the Fifth Afghan War put pressure on Pakistan to back-off from its support of the mercenaries, in which a united front that supports a political solution took power in Jammu and Kashmir after a reasonably fair election to dismiss the Hindutva-supported government, and in which the army and the secessionists face a barrage from the Jihad International that has shifted its operations from southern Afghanistan to Kashmir (as elsewhere).
LeJ is the symptom of the recent phase, the detritus of the Fifth Afghan War. When they appeared from the shadows in 2001, even the main militant, terrorist outfits condemned them. The Lashkar-e-Tayeba and the Hizbul Mujahideen, both famous for their ruthless acts of violence against civilians, joined with the All Party Hurriyat Conference, the united political front of the secessionists formed under US auspices in 1992-93, to distance themselves from the acts of these Taliban-like outfits. Islam, said the Hurriyat in its statement, does not enforce dress codes (the Hurriyat’s constituents include the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Kashmir and the Jamaat-e-Islami, both outfits that are aware of at least most versions of the faith). These are not peaceful organizations themselves. On 6 December 2002, the Indian Army’s general S. Padmanabhan said that infiltration across the India-Pakistan border declined by “about 43-44 percent.” The next day, out of bravado, Abu Hamza of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba said, “We have a lot of fidayeen [suicide squads] who will attack army and other paramilitary installations in north Kashmir during Ramzan.” Nothing here on the Taliban-like acts of the LeJ, even as the Lashkar-e-Tayeba took responsibility for the hits on army posts, and as innocents died in an attack on a temple.
The only organization that welcomed the LeJ was the Dukhtaran-e-Millat, an all-woman group, formed in 1987 to demand the unity of Kashmir with Pakistan. In 1989, the DeM joined the popular insurgency that erupted in the Kashmir valley against the role of its venal political class and the Indian army. But, it exceeded the general political line of then secular groups like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front with its demand, in May 1993 that women take to the veil. In Al Safa, the DeM took out a full-page advertisement that women observe an “Islamic Code of Conduct,” mainly the use of the Iranian-style Makina and to abjure all forms of body decoration.
Led by a self-proclaimed orthodox Muslim and a feminist, Ayesha Andrabi (who is now underground), the DeM and the LeJ are linked to the Jihad International. The government of India claims that the DeM is linked financially to the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen, a group that was once called the Green Army (who killed the highly respected Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq in 1990) and that is openly a subsidiary of the Pakistan government’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) unit (formed to facilitate US maneuvers in Afghanistan during the 1980s). Andrabi’s husband, Qasim Faktu, is a senior Jamait-ul-Mujahideen operative. LeJ, the Indian government believes, is linked to the Haqqania Madrassa, named for Jalaluddin Haqqania, veteran of the Afghan wars and founder in 1993 of the Harkat-ul-Ansar (a hard-core terrorist group that operates in Kashmir now as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen). The Madrassa is based in Pakistan and is funded by the oil money that sustains many such operations.
We are back to Afghanistan. As Eqbal Ahmed wrote in 1988, “Afghanistan threatens to become a metaphor for the future.” More than a decade later, we should change “metaphor” with “portent.”
The LeJ emerged not only because of the routine problem of Kashmir, but also because of the interventions of the US and the Saudis in the region from the late 1970s onward. It would be best to see them as one more of those members of the Jihad International Inc. set up by the US and the Saudis to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan as well as to contain the spread of the Iranian revolution. The anti-Left pressure in Afghanistan allowed the most virulently offensive forms of Islamic reaction to take control of the Pashtun region, once the home of a broad socialist movement led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (the “Frontier Gandhi”) and his Khudai Khidmatgars (“Soldiers of God”). When the Frontier Gandhi died on 20 January 1988 at the age of ninety-eight, both the sides in the Afghan War stopped their barrage so that his body could be buried in Jalalabad. An honorable man had died whose Gandhian visions had been erased by sectarianism and, toward the end of his life, by the Cold War. The infusion of the Jihad International into Afghanistan’s south meant that first the brigand Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami and later the Taliban ran a series of camps in the Khost region that trained the jihadis who went to Kashmir in the early 1990s (particularly with the fall of the Najibullah government in Kabul, 1992). By 1992-93, when the US and the Saudis lost interest in Afghanistan, these camps, according to journalist Manoj Joshi, became “privatized.” The Pakistani military, mainly the ISI, “left it to various fanatical religious groups (instead of recruiting officers), who would do a better job through their mix of religious propaganda and monetary inducement. With some exceptions, the camps, too, were privatized and run in areas of Afghanistan where there was no state authority or which were under the control of factions loyal to Pakistan.” Jalaluddin Haqqani’s Harkat took charge of the Al Badr I and II camps at Yawar in Afganistan’s Khost province. The camps operated until August 1998, when they were destroyed by the US cruise missile attack in reprisal against the Kenya and Tanzania terrorist acts by al-Qai’da.
The LeJ is the progeny of this history of barbarity whose originators include the Saudis, the CIA, the Pakistani establishment (who underwent their own form of Islamization under General Zia in the 1980s and then as recently as 1998 with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s 15th Amendment or Shariat Bill), and the Rightist Afghans (such as Hekmatyar, Badruddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Masoud). The LeJ is not motivated entirely by the Hindutva Right government in New Delhi, because its principle victims are those within Islam who do not follow its view of the world. Its Islam provides cover for the authoritarian regimes of the Gulf (such as the House of Saud, but also the various Gulf emirates) in much the same way that Hindutva provides a pseudo-nationalist cover for the Indian ruling class’ accommodation with imperialism. The LeJ is the repellent face of contemporary religious politics.
Liberals will tell us that there are many Islams, just as there are many faces of Christianity (neither Bernard Law nor Jerry Falwell speak for us, they say), or that there are many Hindus (not just Narendra Modi), many Buddhists (not just the Sinhala monks who egged on mobs to kill Tamils in 1983). But this is an inadequate approach to these acts of barbarity: we must continue to demand the secularization of society, indeed demand that religion in the modern age must conform to the basic norms of equality and democracy. In a strong book from 1997 (Furies of Indian Communalism, Verso), journalist Achin Vanaik argued that religious systems must “learn their place in the new dispensation” of the modern. Religions “have no inherent dynamic leading them to endorse or practically reinforce modern principles of pluralism and democracy. The world religions are historically shaped entities bearing the marks of that shaping. But this does not mean they are incompatible with these modern principles.” Quite the contrary, the secularist must engage with religious systems, not to show their “inherently tolerant” nature (which is an essentialist claim), but to fight to make them democratic and pluralistic if they are to be relevant in our modern future.
Anything less gives legitimacy to those who speak of faith as they destroy the shallow trenches of human progress. It is the voice of faith that killed the women of Hast. Even as we raise our voices against that barbarity, we must renew our call for the broader secularization of society.