August 5, 2009

Encounter with an Ex-militant

Filed under: Conversation,J&K,Politics — loggers @ 9:06 pm

We met Aftab (alias Shahidul Islam) and his 2 daughters beside the royal spring at Chashm-E-Shahi[1]. Aftab was a commander in Hizbullah (a Pan-Islamist militant outfit not to be confused with the Lebanese Hezbollah), who gave up the gun in favor of the separatist movement led by the Hurriyat Conference. His story has been well documented by David Devadas in In Search of a Future.

In sharp contrast to Haseeb Drabu, who generated excitement about investment prospects in Kashmir, Aftab took our meeting as an opportunity to instigate skepticism about the future of the region. We talked about the logic behind the separatist movement, and found several flaws in his reasoning. Firstly, he did not have anything to say about the administrative capabilities of the Hurriyat organization, which stands as a voice for Kashmiris wanting independence. Secondly, when questioned about the effectiveness of Indian security forces in Kashmir (who have been deployed in large numbers to combat militancy), he showed his contempt by asking us why he should be frisked by outsiders when moving within his home state. He said that the drastic reduction in militant presence over the past 10 years has nothing to do with Indian security, but is simply a result of political instability in Pakistan. In Aftab’s words, “Kashmir will burn again if Pakistan decides to give the signal.”

Clad in a Burberry t-shirt and Rayban sunglasses, Aftab juggled the responsibility of a father and a political spokesman. He shared a particularly grim anecdote involving his baby daughter, who once encouraged him to join a ragda (a demonstration) for azadi (independence). Even though he said that his ultimate goal was for his daughters to lead a life free from political struggle, he was also beaming with pride when describing his child’s politically charged gestures.

Before wrapping up, we asked why he spent so many years as a militant. Aftab smiled and pointed at a print of Che Guevara on one of our T-shirts and said, “I am doing what he did, we are all just freedom fighters.” Aftab then treated us to ice-cream and we sought his email address, which still consists of his militant name, Shahidul Islam. We appreciate his courage in parting from his violent past and sharing his thoughts with us. However, the inconsistency in his beliefs was troubling.

[1] A garden dating back to the Mughal period, from which Indira Gandhi apparently had a bottle of water flown to Delhi every evening.


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