July 05, 2020
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Paradox Regained: Killing The Peace

The unrelenting tyranny of an unaccountable police force pushes Kashmiri youth back to a brink far more radical than ever before

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Paradox Regained: Killing The Peace
Paradox Regained: Killing The Peace

On the morning after my father died, I received an unexpected visitor. “My name is R.N. Kao,” he said, without preamble. “I have come to pay my respects to your father because we were old friends.” I was taken aback, for Kao had been the first director of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) when it was established in 1968 and a legendary figure in the murky world of intelligence from my first days in journalism.

At some point during the next 20 minutes, I asked him why he had not written his memoirs. “I have not and will not,” he said with unusual emphasis. “Intelligence officers should never write books.” The wisdom of his remark has been brought home to me by the storm that has broken out in Kashmir after the publication of the memoirs of one of his most illustrious successors, Amarjit Dulat (see preceding interview).

Dulat’s desire to commemorate a long life spent in the service of his country is understandable. Others have done it: in the US, it is routine even for officials who have spent only a single presidential term in the administration. What is more, few civil servants have understood, and cared for, the well-being of Kashmir as deeply as he has.

But unlike Punjab, Mizoram and upper Assam, the integration of Kashmir is not a closed chapter in India’s history. Dulat has described the methods he used to foil separatism in a region that is still deeply disaffected, and seething with resentment at its complete disempowerment by New Delhi. His book has therefore inadvertently discredited virtually every Kashmiri group that has entered into negotiations with New Delhi to find a peaceful end to this tortured conflict. More regrettably, it has provided grist to the mill of a new generation of separatists bent upon separating Kashmir from India.

Two immediate reactions in Kashmir highlight the damage it has done. Dulat’s admission that several officers of the Intelligence Bureau who were killed by the militants in 1990 were Kashmiri Pandits has allowed a blogger on Facebook to declare that the insurgents were targeting only IB officers and not the Pandit community as a whole in 1990. And in his haste to distance himself from Dulat’s revelation that many separatist leaders took money from the IB, Syed Ali Shah Geelani has accused Mufti Mohammed Sayeed of collaborating with the IB to create the PDP.

Both these allegations are utterly groundless. Only three of the 132 Kashmiri Pandits killed between September 1989 and August 1990 were IB officers. The rest of the victims were carefully selected for their prominence in the Pandit community. The list of those killed reads like a who’s who of the Pandit community. It was a systematic and extremely brutal ethnic cleansing. As for the PDP being an IB creation, the truth is the exact opposite: the IB did its best to prevent the Congress from forming a government with the PDP in 2002 , and continues to believe till today that the PDP cannot be trusted because it relies for its electoral victories on the support of the Hizbul Mujahideen.

But it is Dulat’s revelation that the IB has been giving money to all but a few of the separatist groups in the Valley that has done the most damage. Dulat has not revealed anything that is not already well known. Political movements need money to survive. They are therefore vulnerable to bribery. Pakistan has spent huge amounts to create and finance the Hurriyat. Before it split, its leaders received their funds from the ISI in Pakistan via the Hurriyat chairman, its chosen nominee.

In return, the ISI demanded unquestioning loyalty and enforced its writ by killing those who strayed from the path. Among its victims were the father and uncle of Mir­waiz Umer Farooq; Abdul Ghani Lone, father of Sajjad and Bilal Lone; and the brother of Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat who succeeded Geelani as Hurriyat chairman in 1999. If the IB used money instead of murder to break this nexus, it is, as Dulat pointed out, an index of its relative humanity in an inhuman game.

But Dulat’s revelation has eliminated deniability. Kash­miris may surmise that Pakistan had Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq killed in 1990 and Abdul Ghani Lone on his death anniversary 12 years later, but they know that all but one or two Hurriyat leaders have taken money from the IB. This difference may suffice to bring about the demise of moderate Kashmiri nationalism in the Valley.

This has happened at a time when the uneasy peace the Valley has known since 1995 is eroding rapidly and a new wave of militancy, with its epicentre in three districts of south Kashmir, has been gathering strength. This came into public view when a photograph appeared on Facebook of 11 young, armed militants in army uniforms in an apple orchard, at the end of June, but has been incubating for much longer. Its roots go back to the catastrophic return to ‘curfew raj’ that followed the Amarnath land scam in June 2008. Although its members claim to be part of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Hizb itself has become part of a new formation that also includes the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

The new movement is small: government estimates put its cadre strength at 86 at June-end. But this is by deliberate choice. The new militants are a different breed from those of the ’90s. They are far better educated, internet-savvy and use Viber and other encrypted Voice Over Internet Protocols to communicate with each other and with Pakistan. Their numbers are small because they only recruit boys willing to die for their cause. New recruits have to either snatch a rifle from a security force member or kill a government official in order to be accepted. These rites of initiation explain the spate of rifle-snatching and sarpanch murders Kashmir has experienced since 2013.

Despite the growing frequency of rifle-snatching and assassination, New Delhi continues to insist that militancy has been crushed in Kashmir; that the present resurgence is confined to a tiny minority and is being orchestrated by Pakistan to keep the Kashmir issue alive. But the evidence gathered by Kashmiri and national journalists over the past four years points towards one, and only one, cause—unrelenting tyranny and oppression by a police force no one is holding responsible for its actions.

Under the pretext of gathering information, police regularly terrorised stone-pelters and former militants long after they have finished serving their time in jail. For these young people life has become uncertain, and peace elusive. They and their families live in a constant state of anxiety for they never know when there will be a knock on the door, a peremptory summons to the police station, prolonged ‘third degree’ interrogation and a violent beating.

The new militant is from a good family, better educated, net savvy, adept at VOIP and partial to Salafi Islam.

Sometimes, as in the case of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the 20-year-old commander of this new Hizbul-Jaish-Lashkar cadre and hero of the south Kashmir youth, the beating occ­urs over nothing more than a show of spirit, and a desire to crush it at any cost. According to his family, Burhan, his now slain bro­ther Khalid, and a cousin were out for a joyride on Khalid’s bike when police at a special operations group post asked them to fetch some cigarettes, which they did. What happened next is not clear, but it seems that when they didn’t show the necessary degree of servility all three were beaten up. For Burhan, this proved one beating too many.

This kind of casual high-handedness is a constant reminder to Kashmiris of their powerlessness. It explains why more and more of the new batch of militants are well-educated and from good families. For they belong to precisely a strata of society ­used to self-respect and unable to bear the hum­iliation. Burhan’s father is a school principal and his brother was studying for a doctorate in economics when he was killed in April while going to meet Burhan in the forest.

To save the Hurriyat from the Dulat taint, Geelani accused the PDP. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)

The seeds of the new militancy were sown by the Amarnath land scam, Jammu’s blockade of Kashmir’s fruit crop, the bloodbath that occurred when fruit-growers attempted to march to Muzaffarabad, and the abrupt ‘crackdown’ and declaration of martial law throughout the Valley that followed. Till then Kashmiris had lived for six years with the growing hope that a lasting peace was round the corner. Then, within weeks, all their hopes were smashed and they found themselves reliving the nightmare of the ’90s.

But what consolidated the nightmare, paradoxically, was the state assembly election that New Delhi forced through in December 2008. When 52 per cent of the Valley turned out to vote, the UPA government greeted this as confirmation that militancy was really over, so the political track to dispute resolution became redundant. Counter-insurgency became a simple law-and-order problem to be left to the ‘agencies’ and the police. For Kashmiri youth, the nightmare became unending.

The belief that militancy had been defeated made it unnecessary to humanise crowd control either, leading to the deaths of more than a 100 stone-pelters in 2010. The police’s excuse for repeatedly opening fire was that the stones were being thrown with lethal force. But the police had been left with no other choice but to open fire because the administration had equipped it with nothing more than second-hand cricket pads and short bamboo shields, when the finest riot gear in the world was available on demand from China—two days and a couple of Ilyushin cargo flights away.

Since the BJP government came to power last year, four developments have worsened the prospects for peace in Kashmir. The BJP’s abrupt termination of both the dialogue with the Hurriyat (M) and the peace process with Pakistan and its overtly communal agenda in the rest of India has deepened the distrust of India among Kashmiris. They no longer believe India is secular; recent protests have ceased to target India, and are targeting the RSS. This is because they have come to believe that the two are the same.

This has finally begun to bring about the merger of radical separatists and radical Islam, that is Salafi, that the older generation of Kashmiris and the Shia community have been warning against for the last decade.

A PDP grassroots worker from south Kashmir explained exactly what is happening: “You must not forget that 65 per cent of the population is below 35. They have not known peace. They have also not known the Pandits. They know very little about Kashmiri syncretism. For them, Kashmir is a Muslim country and, increasingly, the only Islam they respect is Salafi Islam. They see Salafis winning battle after battle, gaining territory, pushing back the West. They see that the Salafi mosques in Kashmir are far richer, their imams far more politically literate, their books far more current. By contrast, the Sufi ziyarats are poor, the imams know little of world affairs and there is nothing to read. So they go to pray at the Salafi mosques.”

To this volatile mix, we must add Pakistan’s renewed animosity and reawakened ambitions in Kashmir. Today, if Salafi violence envelops Kashmir, it won’t be as easy to prevent it from dragging India and Pakistan into a war with each other. And given that Pakistan’s army is now mostly in the west, chances of such a war turning nuclear are too high to contemplate. The need for the two countries to recognise the danger and resume the search for peace has never been greater.

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