Both Mehbooba and Abdullah know what the Islamists have done in Kashmir over the last 30 years

by Susheel Sareen

The flutter caused by recent remarks on the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan by two former chief ministers of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is not entirely unexpected. Most Indians, at least the sensible ones, see the Taliban as an abomination. There is nothing redeeming about them. Nor is there anything that has been done until now that will invoke even an iota of ‘hope’ that they are capable of anything remotely close to ‘good governance’.

And yet, there was Mehbooba Mufti ‘advising’ the Taliban to follow “real Sharia law” and set an example for the world. Her comments followed Farooq Abdullah’s who ‘hoped’ that the Taliban would “deliver good governance in accordance with Islamic principles”. Although subsequently both of them clarified their remarks, what is troubling is the fact that they both avoided an outright rejection or even condemnation of the Taliban.

Perhaps the reason for not taking an unequivocal stand against what the Taliban represent was a political compulsion. Both these leaders were trying to reach out to, or at least not rile, that constituency in Jammu and Kashmir which probably idolises the Taliban – ‘freedom fighters’ who fought against the most powerful military force and defeated it with nothing more than the strengthening of their faith and conviction – and looks at them as some kind of epitome of puritanical Islamist rule.

There could be the Pakistan factor also weighing on them. After all, the Taliban would not exist but for Pakistan. They are nothing but a Pakistani project. To speak against them is akin to speaking against Pakistan, something that J&K politicians avoid doing because the price to be paid for that is very high – remember Abdul Ghani Lone and scores of other politicians who openly spoke against Pakistan? Therefore both Mehbooba and Abdullah were doing what Kashmiri politicians do best – burnishing their Islamic credentials by not excoriating the Taliban or annoying the Pakistanis, but at the same time being ambiguous enough to not be seen as supporters of the Taliban.

The problem is that this kind of tight rope walking might be all right for their politics but it is disastrous for Kashmir and its people. Instead of leading people away from toxic Islamism that has caused enormous pain in J&K, the wishy-washy stand of politicians on this issue or Islamist organisations ends up giving a degree of legitimacy, even respectability, to it.

Both Mehbooba and Abdullah know what the Islamists have done in Kashmir over the last 30 years. In fact, the Islamists in Kashmir, inspired and directed by Pakistan, were the original ‘Taliban’ in this part of the world. People like Syed Ali Geelani and others of his ilk justified and supported the ban on liquor, shut down cinemas, defended the throwing of acid on girls, and pushed a progressive Kashmiri society into regressive social and cultural mores.

Of course, politicians generally don’t give a damn to the damage that is done to society as long as their own personal politics shines. Mehbooba was totally beholden to the regressive, reactionary and radical Jamaat Islami for her politics in South Kashmir.

Other Kashmiri politicians struck Faustian bargains with terrorists and their over ground supporters to advance their political interests. They knew that this was damaging for the society and polity but none of them bothered to take a long-term view of the consequences of their shenanigans. When terrorism started running rampant in Jammu and Kashmir in the late 1980s, Abdullah didn’t act with the alacrity that the situation demanded.

The travesty is that the lip service they are paying to the Taliban actually undercuts their own politics and affects their own political and personal interests. For instance, Abdullah who has a fairly open and relaxed lifestyle, and is known to enjoy the ‘good things’ of life would be a complete misfit in a Taliban-ruled dispensation.

As for his politics, all he needs to do is look at what the Taliban are doing to people associated with the ancient régime. It will be worse for Mehbooba, given the misogynism of Taliban or other Islamists who cannot countenance a woman even playing sport, let alone being the head of government. Is this what she is endorsing?

Mehbooba was clearly being disingenuous when she asked the Taliban to “follow real Shariah law and not their interpretation of it”. The thing is that there is no agreed definition of what is Shariah. Simply put, Shariah hasn’t even been codified. Every sect of Islam has its own interpretation.

In fact in 1998 when Nawaz Sharif wanted to emulate Mullah Omar and become the ‘Emir-ul-Momineen’ of Pakistan, he introduced a Shariah bill but added the caveat that for the purposes of personal of any sect, Quran and Sunnah will be as interpreted by that sect. This is exactly what the Taliban will do – interpret Quran and Sunnah in their own way. The people who think they are misinterpreting the faith or distorting it can go take a hike.

Worse, they could easily be labelled apostates and therefore deserving of death. The last Mehbooba should do is pretend that she knows Islam better than the Muftis, Mullahs and Sheikh-ul-Hadis’ in the Taliban movement.

Mehbooba has spoken about the rights of women and children. Frankly, the Taliban are ready to give all the rights to women, children and minorities as per their interpretation of Shariah. Only problem is that if that ‘real’ Shariah law was applied in J&K, Mehbooba would lose much of her inheritance, and all of her politics.

As for religious minorities, there are broadly three prescriptions: put to death, convert to Islam, or pay Jaziya. Surely, Mehbooba doesn’t subscribe to these prescriptions, or does she? As for Abdullah’s hope of “good governance” as per Islamic principles”, good luck with that mixed metaphor. The world has already seen examples of Taliban governance and their treatment of women, of their opponents, of minority sects. The horror show that is ‘Taliban governance’ is just starting.

The proclivity of Kashmiri politicians to play on both sides of the wicket has done a lot of damage to Kashmir. Both Mehbooba and Abdullah need to stop pandering to the Islamists who are nothing if not their worst enemies. To not unequivocally condemn the Taliban is akin to shooting themselves in the foot, and worse.