Triple challenge in Kashmir

New thinking, new strategies called for

  •  Barbaric acts of the Pakistan army and their jihadi operators across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
  •  The on-going proxy war of terror within the Valley and beyond by the Islamabad establishment, the ISI and its collaborators.
  • The abuduction of a young unarmed Kashmiri Army officer Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, on leave to attend a family wedding, and his brutal killing by three to four militants, aided, abelted and funded by the Pakistan Army-ISI combine, in Shopian district of South Kashmir in the night of May 9 (Tuesday) is an inhuman and outrageous act, to say the least. This is a desparate attempt by separatist kingpin Syed Ali Shah Geelani and other Hurriat leaders, including Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik, Naeem Khan, Gazi Javed Baba to shatter the social fabric in J&K. It is obviously meant “to intimidate Kashmiri youths into not joining police or security forces,” as a senior Army officer put it.
  • For years and years hawala and narcotics networks have been playing a major role
    in Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir. The Kashmiri mafia of Lahore has fostered and sustained militancy with its massive funding of separatist Hurriat and mujahideen leaders. The smugglers and narcotic trafficers have generally sought safety through marriage, gifts, business deals or by providing services to these clans. I have talked about these links and other related facts in my book Kashmir : A Tale of Shame published by UBS in 2002.
  • The tragedy of India is that our intelligence agencies and government authorities have overlooked the facts and played their own petty games. Let us see how the Narendra Modi establishment and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) prove to be different this time. I keep my fingers crossed.
  • The stone-pelting students and trouble-makers targeting the security forces and the police, meanwhile, show not only break-down of law and order but also the marginalisation of the Mahbooba Mufti government’s authority and local and mainstream parties’ leaders.

The ground realities in the Valley are grim and explosive. The political vacuum on the ground has left the field open for Pakistani agents, separatists and azadi slogan-mongers to take the local youth on to a confrontanist path of violence, thereby ruining the State’s fragile economy of tourism, allied services and employment generation.

Against this complex backdrop, history has turned full circle in the Valley as we find the silken threads of Sufism getting snapped, courtesy Saudi Arabia-groomed and Pakistan-sponsored Wahhabi separatists and azadi elements. They seem to have got a fresh lease of life under the three years of the PDP-BJP regime in Srinagar.

The BJP leadership remains as directionless and confused as ever. The saffron party hardly enjoys any presence in the Valley. Ironically, the call by BJP president Amit Shah to its Ministers in the State to reach out to the people in the Valley is nothing but laughable. It shows to what extent the saffron party leadership is out of tune with the ground realities.

This is typical of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s lopsided approach to Jammu and Kashmir. It was a grave mistake on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy-makers and the party’s “activists” headed by Ram Madhav and Jitendra Singh to have gone in for an alliance with the PDP in the first place without giving serious thoughts to Kashmiri leaders’ track record, their shifting loyalties and ever changing realities on the ground. At best, the party could have given outside support to the Mehbooba Mufti government.

There is no point in crying over spilled milk. What matters today is to come to the grip of multi-dimensional complexities in Kashmir both at operational, policy and decision-making levels.

Hard, harsh and unpleasant decisions cannot be taken in ivory towers of South Block and North Block. Decisions have to be realistic and relate to ground realities. No purpose can be served by half-baked propositions in the absence of well-focused political will to break the stalemate on various fronts by informally discussing issues with various stake-holders in the State, including the Kashmiri Pandits. It is a very painstaking exercise which can’t be sustained by half-hearted policies and adhocism.

It is worth remembering that some people succeed because they are destined but most because they are determined. Narendra Modi, no doubt, has all elements of luck behind his spectacular electoral successes. But, in defusing the Kashmir crisis, he has to properly understand the Valley’s historic and political background, past mistakes and blunders, accordingly formulate a policy and plans of action. He has to rise above personal or party considerations and look at the Kashmiri issue in a new national perspective and against the backdrop of global setting.

Kashmir is the Number One National Problem. The Prime Minister needs to be actively involved for consultations with all leaders at the national and state levels and work towards a consensus on tackling Kashmir’s internal problems, Pak-sponsored terrorism and its army’s barbaric conduct across the LoC. It is not an easy task. This requires serious and sincere efforts. The security forces leaders and experts too have to be kept in the loop.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team need to work out short, medium and long-term strategies for the management of Kashmir affairs, possible plans of action for dealing with Pakistan as a terror-cum-rogue nuclear State and China’s dubious role.

Certain realities are crystal clear. First, The PDP-BJP alliance under Chief Minister Mahbooba Mufti has so far failed miserably to govern and manage messy Kashmir affairs. The survival of the rickety alliance need not be made a prestige issue. It was a blunder, born out of adhoc desire for power-share on the part of over-ambitious custodians of the saffron party’s interests!

Can the hands of the state government be strengthened to make it perform better ? Or, will the Governor’s Rule be a better option ? New Delhi needs to examine these issues dispassionately and firm up its thoughts.

Second, central agencies need to work out fresh assessment of changing ground realities in the Valley and identify new class of mischief-makers and separatist leaders, apart from the known Hurriat persons headed by Syed Ali Shah Gheelani.

Three, it is equally important to identify newly inducted Pakistani agents who have of late been operating freely in the Valley.

Four, it is also necessary to pinpoint new sources and means of funding to various segments of trouble-makers in the Valley. The latest intelligence papers reveal how anti-India activities by Hurriat and others are funded through a known ISI conduit named Mahboob Ahmed Sagar(TOI report).

I don’t think the PM’s demonetisation has helped much to stop the flow of outside funding from Islamabad and other Islamic funds outlets in West Asia. Relevant here is fresh identification of channels of drug trafficking which is known to be a rich source of illicit money flow for terrorism.

A wide network of drug trafficking does exist in the State. It must be identified and destroyed. I expect India’s intelligence agencies to give a better account of their performance than has been the case so far.

Five, it is absolutely essential for the security forces to evolve new tactics and strategies to deal with stone-pelting civilians. We must not forget that they are our own people. They have to be handled with care.

A civilian death resulting from the cross-fire of an anti-terrorist operation becomes an explosive issue. India’s military commanders must think of alternative methods to avoid civilian casualties, howsoever provocative might be the situation. I am sure our military leadership is capable of working out new methodology to deal with stone-pelting youngsters with utmost care and caution. Here, even the social media needs special attention to counter fake information and Pak propaganda.

The sole objective should be to avoid direct confrontation with the civilian crowd since a resultant death creates its own chain reaction to the embarrassment of Srinagar and New Delhi authorities.

Finally, what is needed urgently is a healing touch for aggrieved sections of the population. We need to appreciate that ordinary Kashmiri’s want peace, harmony and congenial atmosphere to earn their livelihood with honour and dignity.

Young Kashmiris want opportunities for jobs. In fact, adequate employment generation holds the key to wean them away from the wrong track of terror and stone pelting for money. The very fact that 1.18 lakh J&K youths have applied for 5,362 police jobs show how employment generation could make a difference to our fight against terrorism.

Thousands of new jobs can be created for young men and women by the authorities in Srinagar and New Delhi.

Of course, most Kashmiri politicians as a class, like chameleons, keep changing colours. They have different languages for different occasions. When in power, they swear by India and seek favours from the Centre to keep their show going. When out of power, they strike anti-India postures.

Power and terrorism today has become a big business in the Valley. The latest glaring example in this regard has come from no other than former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.

There was a time when Farooq Abdullah symbolised all that India believes in and stands for at international fora. Today, he looks like a double agent as he bluntly speaks the language of Pakistan and separatists. I wonder which of the two Farooq Abdullahs is the real one.

Looking back, it is clear that our entire Kashmir policy has been full of loopholes. It has mostly been one personality-oriented rather than people-oriented, with the result we invariably get trapped in shadows of our own making.

This is not a new phenomenon. Its starting point could be traced to the days of Sheikh Abdullah. It did not take him long to reveal his true colours. It is actually a long story of the Sheikh’s duplicity, and his hidden agenda. I have discussed this in details in the chapter “The mind and moods of Sheikh Abdullah” in my book “Kashmir: a tale of Shame” (UBS Publication).

Take the Sheikh’s ethnic policy pursued by him. It helped to create the most favourable conditions for Islamic fundamentalism to grow in the Valley.

Communalism, for that matter, was injected into the Valley by the Jamaat-i-Islami and its front organisations. The Jammat presents Islam as a political ideology. Where does the Indian concept of secularism fit in here?

Arab money helped the Jammat to organise madrasas in large numbers, which spawned a semi-educated new generation of communalised young men. It is these young persons who are providing grist to the militants’ mill. They have been responsible for the flight of the Kashmir Pandits from the Valley. The international community did not even shed crocodile tears for the terrible plight of the Pandits? Where is its much-talked about humanism and liberalism?

True, Jawaharlal Nehru did build up Sheikh Abdullah to grow larger than life. It is a kind of poetic justice that Nehru denounced the Sheikh before his death.

According to B.N. Mullik (My years with Nehru), “Pandit Nehru said all the trouble in Kashmir was due to the Sheikh’s communal outlook and it was he who was not allowing the State to settle down to peace and stability”.

Sheikh Adbullah died in 1982. But before his death, he made his son, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, the president of the National Conference and asked the Kashmiris to place their faith in him, for, he said, his son would accomplish what he had not been able to? And what was the Sheikh’s unaccomplished dream? Independence? He had actually been nursing this idea for long and for this purpose he played communal and Islamic fundamentalist cards.

Should we say that there was nothing secular about the Sheikh? Well, we have to reassess him and his successors in right perspective. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away in political games of what is secularism and what is communalism which are shamelessly played by India’s different political leaders.

The Sheikh was out and out pro-Sunni. He had a hand in shaping the ethnic identity of the Kashmiris, now referred to as Kashmiriat. This identity has little to do with their ancient culture. His objective was to isolate the Kashmiri Muslims from other Muslims.

It also must be stated that the Sheikh was not favourably disposed towards the Kashmiri Pandits. He very much resented secularisation of the Kashmir Muslim society.

The Sheikh’s communal mind can be inferred from the fact that he was ready to rehabilitate Muslims from Central Asia in the Valley, but not the Hindu refugees from Punjab.

Again, the early 1950s, Sheikh Abdullah invited 5000 Kazakh Muslims to settle in the Valley.

In the late 1950s, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, the Sheikh invited the Tibetan Muslims to come and settle in Kashmir. But he refused to allow a single Buddhist refugee to settle in the Valley, not even in Ladakh, a predominately Buddhists-inhabitated area.

I am recalling some of these harsh facts of the past so that our leaders have a better perspective of the challenge which lies ahead in Kashmir. No new policy can work in the Valley if it does not take into account the mistakes and blunders of our earlier leaders while dealing with the complex mindset of the Valley leaders.

The problems of terrorism and militancy have to be dealt with firmly. The sponsors of militancy must know that they are living in an era in which few have faith in “new saviours”– religious, political, economic or social. Their cause carries no conviction. So, we must bring the militants to their knees through the process of attrition, however slow its progress.

The real problem here is Pakistan, its wayward Generals and ISI. They are calling the shots and setting their own agenda to destablise India and grab Kashmir. China has been helping it in its evil designs. Has Prime Minister Modi any effective answer to the growing Pakistan-China axis ?

Ironically, on China’s home front, Muslim and Islamic ideology are dirty words. Still, Islamabad is working in concert with China. Where is Pakistan’s so-called Islamic face?

All these bitter facts pose a big challenge to the Modi establishment, which cannot be faced by a straight-line approach. Complexities in the Valley and across its border have put Prime Minister Modi before the people’s court of judgement!

Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s proxy war has gone on for decades. The time has now came for taking risks. We must be ready to punish Pakistan, short of war, and bring about radical changes in the State of Jammu and Kashmir to stop the insurgency and sponsorsed terror acts.

Will dividing J&K into three states of the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh help? This question may be examined by the Centre.

There is a variety of ethnic groups in the Valley. A thorough understanding of the ethnic differentiation is very important to work out any possible solution to the Kashmir crisis. Apart from the division between Sunni and Shia among the Kashmiri Muslims, there are caste-like groups, though less rigid than among the Hindus.

I believe that if peaceful solutions have to be evolved to silence the guns of the militants, then there has to be a precise and determined approach to men, matters and issues in the context.

Finally, a genuine people’s democracy is the only answer to Kashmir’s complex problems. It fits very well into the rest of India’s political milieu.
Over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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