Kashmir’s Forever War

1283783497633.jpeg Basharat Peer in Granta:

Srinagar used to be a city of elegant latticed houses, mosques and temples on the banks of the river. Srinagar was people strolling on the wooden bridges and wandering into old bazaars or stepping with a prayer into a Sufi shrine with papier-mâché interiors. Now it is a city of bunkers, a medieval city dying in a modern war. One of the most prominent landmarks of war is the sprawling Martyrs’ Graveyard in north-western Srinagar; several hundred Kashmiris killed in the early days of the conflict are buried here. Among them is a well-known politician and head cleric of Srinagar grand mosque, Moulvi Mohammed Farooq, who was assassinated by pro-Pakistan militants on 21 May 1990. More than sixty mourners were killed when Indian paramilitaries fired upon his funeral procession. The cleric’s eighteen-year-old son, Omar Farooq, left school to inherit his father’s mantle. He is now one of the best-known Kashmiri separatists, heading the Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference coalition.

A few days before the twentieth anniversary of his father’s assassination, I walked past the Martyrs’ Graveyard to an old wooden mosque nearby, where Farooq was holding a meeting with his supporters. In an elegant brown lambskin cap and delicately embroidered beige gown, he deftly mixed his roles as a modern politician and the head cleric in Kashmir’s Sufi tradition, leading his followers in a sing-song voice humming Kashmiri and Persian devotional songs and then moving effortlessly to the question of Kashmiri politics. He spoke of the memory of the thousands who had died in the battles for Kashmir, including his father. He spoke of preventing further deaths. And then the old Kashmiri slogans for independence followed. ‘Kashmir is for Kashmiris!’ Farooq shouted. ‘We will decide our destiny!’ the people replied. He was about to lead a march through the city. Outside, excited young supporters were revving up their motorbikes and raising flags on cars.

Over the years, Farooq has engaged with both India and Pakistan and sought to rally the Kashmiris towards a peaceful agreement, often at a high personal price. In 2004, after failed peace talks with India, pro-Pakistan militants assassinated his uncle.