By Rajeev Srinivasan, November 2002
It was a little statement that got me thinking: Muzamil Jameel of the New Indian Express reporting on October 24, 2002 about the horse-trading between the Congress and the People's Democratic Party regarding the formation of a government in Jammu and Kashmir. He said, regarding the PDP's insistence that its leader, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, must be made the chief minister:
...The strategy had its risks. Observed a PDP leader, 'But if Mufti Sahib leads the coalition, we will be in the driver's seat. We can resign and recommend dissolution of the Assembly at our will and on an issue of choice.'
This startled me. How casually this PDP 'leader' talks about a mid-term election! The fact that it cost the Indian exchequer millions of rupees in security, the fact that a large number of soldiers were killed in Islamist terrorist violence in the run-up to elections, the fact that a number of Kashmiri civilians were killed, also by Islamist terrorists, none of this seems to matter! For narrow political gain, they are willing to topple any government and call for fresh elections! The rest of us are breathing a sigh of relief that these elections were 'free and fair', and these people are already thinking of mid-term polls.
Who are these people? Are we living on the same planet? Do they view it as their imperial right that Indians will die and Indians will spend large amounts of money for their silly little political games?
Reading further, there were other revelations:
PDP's charismatic crowd-puller Mehbooba Sayeed is taking her chances and has begun making daily trips to her party's South Kashmir bastion... Her father, Mufti Sayeed appealed to 'boys with guns in the mountains,' telling them there was no longer any need for violence because 'now your representatives are in the assembly. Whether in government or outside, we will put forward your voice.'
Its [the PDP's] manifesto is a clever rewrite of the Hurriyat agenda.
In other words, the PDP is the voice of the separatists, the agents of the hard-eyed 'boys' (I love this appellation - so cuddly!) who terrorized and ethnically cleansed the entire Hindu population of the Kashmir valley. They are akin to the Islamist hardliners who wreak havoc all over the world: in Bali, in Afghanistan, in Moscow. And here we have powerful politicians, who boldly declare themselves to be their representatives! Isn't there something that borders on sedition in all this? Can the people of India trust Mufti Sayeed to look after their interests, or is he likely to advance General Musharraf's interests?
The entire English-language media in India has been celebrating the overthrow of the Abdullah dynasty. Yes, maybe they were corrupt, maybe they were feudalistic, maybe they represented a minority opinion. Yet, we do seem to have a choice between Scylla and Charybdis here: is it a wee bit too early to break out the champagne?
Not that I am a big fan of the National Conference, but I wouldn't write their obituary yet. Electorates have been known to change their minds. For instance, look at the 1999 Lok Sabha elections: the National Conference won all four Lok Sabha seats in the Vale of Kashmir and Ladakh, and the BJP won in Jammu and Udhampur. Defeating famous names, too. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed lost in Anantnag, Saifuddin Soz in Baramulla; Omar Abdullah retained Srinagar by defeating Mehbooba Mufti. It is possible that the Kashmiris calculated that having somebody in the ruling NDA front would improve their chances of looting the central treasury, in which they were proved correct.
Now we'll have to wait and see how the Centre plays things out with the new Congress-PDP J&K government. If I were the NDA, I'd say, 'Hey, you made your bed, now lie in it. We will give to J&K whatever it raises in tax revenues. If you want more, ask the Congress to go find sources of funds elsewhere.' This would be entirely fair in my opinion: after all, most states get less than what they generate. Maybe it is Chanakyan logic on the part of BJP to wash its hands of the J&K matter and leave it to the Congress to sink or swim. Alas, even as I say it, I doubt it.
Frankly, the new rulers of J&K worry me. Mehbooba Mufti declared, as early as April 2002, her intent to disband the SOG (Special Operations Group), the counter-terrorism forces that have to some extent succeeded in infiltrating the terrorist groups. In other words, the Muftis want to hang out a big sign on the border: 'Welcome, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and other assorted Islamist terrorists. You have a safe haven in Jammu & Kashmir. See, we the government of the state will prevent any harm from coming to you.' I don't think they will wait for a second invitation. What can we expect? More hostage situations. More ransom. More terrorism, spreading to other parts of India.
The history of hostage situations in J&K is illuminating, and it is definitely worth considering how closely politicians may be involved.
On December 8, 1989, a group of terrorists kidnapped one Rubaiya Sayeed and demanded the release of several jailed terrorists as the ransom for releasing her. According to observers in the know (see Manoj Joshi, The Lost Rebellion: Kashmir in the Nineties), this gang was on the point of releasing her unconditionally when the central government capitulated, much to their surprise and delight. The result was a spate of copycat abductions and consequent releases of jailed terrorists. This, of course, reached its apogee years later with the craven release of arch-terrorists Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh after the Kandahar hijacking.
If only the government at the Centre - any government at the Centre - had the guts to stand up to terror like the Russians did recently with Chechen terrorists. If only! The key is: provide deterrents. Chechens will think twice now about another big hostage situation, as the Russians have shown they will use any means at their disposal.
The Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping was a watershed event that indicated to terrorists that they could toy with the Indian government. The much-maligned Farooq Abdullah said at the time, prophetically, that this meant the floodgates had been opened, and he was right.
Who were the dramatis personae? Rubaiya's father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, then home minister at the Centre; V P Singh, prime minister; Arif Mohammad Khan; Inder Kumar Gujral; Arun Nehru, ministers and advisors to the PM. All famously 'secular' and 'progressive' people. And what did they trigger off? A dozen years of mayhem. 30,000 people killed, including thousands of soldiers. Ethnic cleansing of Hindus. Religious extremism among Muslims. Massacres of Hindu pilgrims. Very farsighted indeed.
Now it may strike the usual impartial -- and slightly skeptical -- Martian that it is a little strange that the selfsame Sayeed, newly anointed as chief minister of J&K, now proclaims that he is the voice of the same terrorists, the famous 'boys with guns.' He confirmed that he would disband the Special Operations Group, and rescind POTA in the state. The army said this would be a setback to security operations in the state. This is an understatement.
Sayeed wants to spend (the central government's) money to rehabilitate the 'innocent families of militants,' on the grounds that they have done nothing wrong. In fact, they have: they should have discouraged said 'boys' from taking up terrorism, so it is their fault. Look at it from the point of view of the terrorist: he kills 'infidels,' and is killed by the security forces. He thinks he will go to heaven, to enjoy the promised 72 virgins. And lo and behold, his family gets taken care of by the state. So what is the disincentive for him? It's a win-win situation. In comparison, Israelis have consistently taken the stand that the families of terrorists will be punished, their houses bulldozed: it turns out that the prospect of his mother starving on the streets is a significant disincentive for even the most committed terrorist, heaven and virgins notwithstanding.
And oh, by the way, Sayeed says the ethnically cleansed Pandits are welcome to come back to J&K, as a politically correct afterthought. For what? To face the 'boys' who already refer to Anantnag as Islamabad, and the Kishenganga river as the Neelum river, to avoid polluting themselves with anything Hindu? And I suppose the Muslims who happily took over Hindu properties will simply hand them back and welcome the Pandits with open arms.
Wait, there is more. On September 22, 1991, Ghulam Nabi Azad's brother-in-law Tassaduq Dev was kidnapped by terrorists. Result? Several jailed terrorists were released. Azad was then minister for parliamentary affairs at the Centre. And he is the Congress' CM-in-waiting, who will get the chair after three years of Sayeed's rule. So kidnapping and ransom giving is another thing Sayeed and Azad have in common.
And then there is Saifuddin Soz. This Congress MP was formerly of the NC and the NDA, famous for his vote that brought down the BJP government in 1999 by a single vote. Soz quit the NC and joined the Congress. His daughter Nahida Soz was kidnapped back in August 1991, and, once again, the litany continues: she was released in exchange for jailed terrorists.
Doesn't all this sound a little suspicious? Would the increasingly skeptical Martian wonder if there were something more than meets the eye here? Why didn't even one of these politicians suggest that the government stand firm and not cave in to terror tactics? Is it possible that there is some little understanding between the terrorists and the politicians? After all, look at what they have achieved between themselves:
The Vale of Kashmir has been completely cleansed of all non-Muslims.
Many captured terrorists have been released (and in all likelihood, ransom money has been paid).
The Vale of Kashmir continues to stress its differences from the rest of India in all sorts of ways: its 'prime minister,' its six-year assembly, etc.
The Vale of Kashmir continues its oppression of Ladakh and Jammu, which are much more interested in full integration into India.
The Government of India has been completely emasculated in J&K: it is reduced to being supplicants to such opportunists as the Hurriyat Conference.
Muslim Kashmiris continue to be portrayed as victims, a powerful lightning rod for Islamist causes worldwide.
Tremendous loot has come to J&K in the form of subsidies and grants from a Centre held ransom by threats of secession.
'Kashmiriyat,' allegedly once a pluralistic concept, has now been redefined as a purely Muslim concept.
Kashmiris enjoy a convenient situation, where they gain all the benefits of being part of India, and at the same time maintain a separate identify.
In effect, Sunni Muslim Kashmiris have colonized India - see the second part of this column for details.
All in all, a very good deal for Muslim Kashmiris, both politicians and terrorists. So why on earth do we all think they will abandon this wildly successful policy now, just because an election has been held? Nor will they stop whining about how badly they are treated, which seems to get the 'secular progressive' media in India all teary eyed, whereas said media does not care one whit about how the ethnically cleansed Pandits are dying out, their numbers dwindling from disease and hopelessness, in squalid refugee camps.
I read a particular good whinge by a Muslim Kashmiri with the BBC's Urdu service. His great sob story: as a youngster, he was taking a lunchbox to someone in Srinagar, and soldiers stopped him at two checkpoints. The first soldier opened the box and poked around in the rice to ensure that it contained no explosives. He then wrote on our correspondent's palm in Hindi that he had been checked and could be allowed to proceed.
However, the second soldier who stopped him was a South Indian who could not understand the Hindi words written on our hero's palm, so the second soldier also rifled through the rice. Much to the disgust of our disdainful BBC man. These uncouth soldiers: sigh, we highly civilized Kashmiris have to put up with so much! The indignity of it all - especially having to deal with those inferior South Indians!
There is an entirely different perspective at which you can look at this tale of woe designed to evoke sympathy. Here are Indian soldiers of all types: hill-people like Gurkhas, plains Hindi-speakers, coastal Southerners, et al, living - and more to the point, dying - for these ungrateful wretches of Kashmir. There are plenty of improvised explosive devices used in Kashmir, and it was not at all unreasonable for the soldiers to ensure that the lunchbox wasn't one.
The soldiers are quite aware of terrorists in many guises: teenagers, burqa-clad ones, etc. And these poor grunts, who live in hostile territory with constant and justified fear of death, have every right to inspect and interrogate anybody. The Kashmiris are in fact the aggressors, the ones aiding and abetting foreign and local terrorists. Our whining hero should be thankful the soldiers didn't send him on his way assisted by an AK-47. Not to mention the fact that his sob story is very likely exaggerated: everybody in the army, from North or South, knows Hindi.
But our hero is doing what comes naturally. Muslim Kashmiris have made a career out of portraying themselves as victims, thereby shaking down the Indian State. This whole thing is one of the most successful con jobs in history, foisted on an unsuspecting country.