The Indian government clearly has a death wish in Kashmir. Just one week after the Pakistani government took fright at the possibility of the Hurriyat agreeing, tacitly or implicitly, to take part in the coming state elections, the Kashmir government and the Enforcement Directorate in New Delhi have slammed the door shut on this possibility and made sure the Hurriyat will not merely not participate but will issue a call to boycott the elections. Pakistan's alarm was manifested by two Pakistan-based, wholly (and still) ISI-controlled organisations, the Students Islamic Front and the United Jehad Council, which issued a death threat to virtually all the Hurriyat leaders and sundry others whom it 'accused' of contemplating participating in the polls. Prominent on this list was Yasin Malik, the most respected of the Kashmiri nationalist leaders in the Valley.
Last week the Kashmir state police arrested Malik under that most infamous of laws, POTO, and sent him to jail. The charge was framed after a lady, Shazia Begum, was arrested with her companion at Kud, on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, with a package containing $100,000. On interrogation she claimed that she was only a messenger and that the money had been given to her in Kathmandu by Altaf Qadri, the JKLF's representative based in Pakistan, to give to him. Malik has stated that he does not know Shazia and that Qadri has not been in Kathmandu in seven years. He has said that he is prepared to leave politics if it can be proved that Qadri visited Kathmandu in recent weeks. In Kashmir, Malik is known to be a man of honour who would not make such an offer lightly. The last time he put his own career on the line was in 1998 when the police arrested a close associate of his, Altaf Bhat, on the charge of killing the brother of known assassin Bitta Karate. Malik's faith in Bhat was vindicated. The police found nothing against him and were forced to release him from jail.
However, this does not conclusively prove he was not the intended recipient of the money. It is not necessary for him to have known Shazia to receive money through her, and Qadri could have visited Kathmandu with a false passport. What is more important is that the illicit receipt of foreign exchange is no longer an offence for which the accused can be arrested and detained in prison. That was so under FERA—the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. But FERA lapsed a year ago and was replaced by the much milder FEMA—the Foreign Exchange Management Act, under which arrest and detention are no longer possible. Malik is at most guilty of violating FEMA, so why is he in prison? The answer is that the Farooq Abdullah government wants him there. To bring a FEMA offence under POTO, his government has assumed that the money is a 'proceed of terrorism' or 'intended to finance terrorist activities'. That assumption flies in the face of every known fact about the JKLF today. It formally and voluntarily gave up violence as far back as 1994. Malik's own activities are an open book, especially to the state intelligence, which watches him day and night. Far from being a terrorist or consorting with terrorists, he has been their target and has received death threats from them on no fewer than four occasions in the past seven years. In Pakistan, he and his former military commander Javed Mir are as reviled as Sheikh Abdullah once used to be, because both have steadfastly refused to declare union with Pakistan as the goal of their struggle. To suggest that Pakistan has all of a sudden decided to finance the JKLF (which would make the funds genuinely fall within POTO) is simply laughable.
Among militant circles in Kashmir, it is common knowledge that the funds, if sent by Qadri, must have been collected by the JKLF's friends in the US and UK and were needed precisely because the JKLF is not receiving (or accepting) money from Pakistan.It is also common knowledge that all the other members of the Hurriyat council (with the possible exception of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq) are receiving large sums from Pakistan, via the chairman Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat. But in another of the bumbling ironies of the Kashmir fiasco, it is these people who continue to roam free and receive police protection while Malik gets remanded to police custody.
Is this purely accidental? Can any government really be so clumsy as to bring an axe down on its own feet? The answer, most probably, is 'no'. The entire operation has the stamp of another of the Kashmir government's efforts to ensure the Hurriyat does not under any circumstances, directly or indirectly, enter the elections. For, his contemptuous and dismissive statements notwithstanding, Abdullah knows, better than anyone else, that were any Kashmiri nationalist group to contest the polls with the Hurriyat's tacit blessings, in a free and fair election, the National Conference would not win a single seat in the Valley.
The trouble is that in this, Abdullah's narrow interests run directly parallel to those of Pakistan and totally against India's. Not only New Delhi and Islamabad but the whole world knows that if genuine Kashmiri nationalists decide to fight the next election, and if those elections are genuinely free, the Kashmir problem will be over. In the only two totally free elections that Kashmir has ever known, in 1977 and 1983, 74 and 73 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote. If the Hurriyat were to take part in the next election, there is every reason to believe that terrorist threats notwithstanding, there will be an equally high turnout. Literally the entire increase in vote will go to the Hurriyat or its surrogates and Kashmir will at last have a second Kashmiri political party to contend for power. It is now up to New Delhi to ensure that Abdullah does not, for his and his son's interests, upset the nation's applecart.
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