Cover Story

Who Lost Kashmir?

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Five inconvenient truths about an over-Islamised Valley

“They found five litres of semen inside Neelofar’s body while conducting her postmortem.” The boy who says this is about 16 and lives in Kulgam in South Kashmir. He says he was told this at a ‘conference’ in his village recently. The teenager is convinced of this ludicrous claim about Neelofar Jan, one of the two women found dead in a rivulet in Shopian in South Kashmir in May 2009. After allegations of their rape and subsequent murder by security forces spread thick and fast that summer, there was widespread unrest in the state. In the din raised by the separatist machinery, the truth did not seem to matter at all. The probability of the two women having drowned was rejected. It did not matter that from 1995 to 2008, ten other people had drowned in the same rivulet (from 2010 to 13, three more did). It did not matter that on orders of the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, a police officer tried to make a horse cross the rivulet from the same spot, but was unable to: the animal was too afraid to try. It did not matter that an independent team of doctors from Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) performed a second autopsy on the two bodies and ruled out rape, establishing their death as asphyxia as a result of ante-mortem drowning. Later, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a chargesheet against six Kashmiri doctors and others, including the brother of one of the deceased, for fabricating evidence. One of the doctors, the CBI found, had fudged the vaginal swab samples to falsely show that the women were raped.

Eight years later, not only is the lie intact, it has grown in its brazenness. The boy from Kulgam explains the five litres of semen by saying that the security forces kept raping Neelofar even after her death.

This is what the Indian state is dealing with in Kashmir and it has almost no clue on how to counter its distortion factory which is turning young men into radical Islamic extremists. “In Europe they have a lone wolf; here we have to deal with pack of wolves,” says a senior police officer. Nine months after the current crisis was unleashed in the Valley in the wake of militant commander Burhan Wani’s death, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that in several parts of South Kashmir, the civil administration has collapsed. There are reports that in some areas, armed terrorists are roaming about freely. Several videos of theirs have surfaced in the last few days; in one, two of them are singing a song about how a green flag will be unfurled over the Red Fort in Delhi and how revenge for Bangladesh will be taken by creating a Muslim nation in Kashmir. In other clips, some local leaders and a few prominent people are seen reciting anti-India and pro- Islamic slogans with guns aimed at them. The grim situation has prompted the state police chief to issue an advisory to his men asking them to avoid visiting home for the next few months, especially those whose homes are in South Kashmir.

In North Kashmir’s Bandipora, Abdul Rashid Parray, a prominent former militant who had turned pro-government (an Ikhwani in local parlance), was shot dead on April 16 by armed militants who turned up at his house. “Two of my friends from our neighbourhood accompanied two masked militants,” says his son, Fayyaz Ahmad, “Upon recognising their voice, my father opened the gate, only to find that we had been deceived. They took him inside and shot him.”

Security agencies say that the recent violence has been orchestrated to create fissures in Kashmir that New Delhi will find difficult to contain. By the late 90s, after a decade of bloody conflict in India’s northern-most state, it had become clear that the armed insurgency had failed. In the mid 2000s, Kashmir had reached a stage where separatists had become irrelevant. But after the late 2000s, the situation turned volatile again. This time, though, the separatists played the game in a different way. They pitched the battle in Kashmir as a Palestinian intifada of sorts, where violent stone-pelting mobs were passed off as peaceful protestors. In the last few years, this has now been coupled with attempts at creating an impression of indigenous militancy, fuelled not by foreign terrorists who would launch suicide attacks in Srinagar, but by young Kashmiri Muslim men like Burhan Wani.

It would be too simplistic to say, as recent television news stings suggest, that all stone pelting happens because men are paid money. Of course, cash is involved. But it is also happening because boys in Kulgam have been radicalised. The radicalised boys, like the one in Kulgam, look at pictures of bearded militants on their mobile phones and are inspired to grow similar beards and become ‘mujahids’, fighters for an Islamic cause.

Can the unrest still be called ‘a freedom movement’ for an independent state when its fighters are getting more vocal about establishing the rule of Islam?

The new war in Kashmir is being fought on streets as much as on smart phones. In Pakistan, hundreds of fake identities have been created on social media to spread disinformation about Kashmir and further radicalise the youth. “We know of several such centres run in Pakistan. One is run by Lakhvi [Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Pakistan-based leader of Lashkar-e-Toiba] in a compound near Adiala jail in Rawalpindi,” says another senior police officer. He and others who are dealing with the situation on the ground say that New Delhi has no blueprint to counter this propaganda. “Imagine how many mobile phone users we have in Kashmir and how quickly a certain video gets circulated. And what is our response? We just shut off the internet,” he says.

But why have we reached this stage? Senior police officers who have dealt with militancy in Kashmir for long say that the Centre grew too confident too soon. “It is like a tuberculosis patient who is on multi-drug therapy meant to be taken for two years. After one-and-a-half years, the patient thinks he has been cured and stops his medicine. The disease returns,” says one of them. All of them are in agreement that it is because of the state’s own complicity that Kashmir has been brought to the brink of anarchy.

AS THE CENTRE struggles to make sense of the war in Kashmir, the time has come to ask hard questions about the nature of resistance in Kashmir and why things have come to such a pass. Open spoke to several people directly involved in fighting militancy in the state. Here are five points they make that should be borne in mind:

Missing the true picture

Several articles have appeared speaking of the alienation of Kashmiri Muslims and arguing that political discontent there needs to be addressed. These opinions, no matter how sincere, fail to offer any way forward to achieve this. Undoubtedly, like both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi have emphasised, Kashmir needs to be handled within the realm of insaniyat (humanness) and jamhooriyat (democracy). But how do these play out when the commander of a terrorist organisation is killed in an encounter with security forces and widespread protests break out in the Valley? What does one expect from the Army when it is engaged in fierce gun battles with terrorists and civilians ambush them with stones and, in several cases, even help terrorists escape? Also, can the unrest in Kashmir still be called ‘a freedom movement’ for an independent state when it is clear that its fighters are getting more vocal about establishing the rule of Islam? In a recent video message, Hizbul commander Zakir Musa addresses stone pelters, urging them to be clear about what they are fighting for. “My brothers should not fall in the trap of fighting for an independent nation. Nationalism and democracy are forbidden in Islam. So our fight should not be for an independent Kashmir, but for the supremacy of Islam, so that Sharia is established here, the rule of Allah is established here,” he tells them. Forget the essayists and filmmakers and academics; speak to any youth in Kashmir today, and he will tell you that he is fighting for the dominance of his faith. “Our challenge is not that 1,000 youngsters want to be martyrs; our challenge is to not allow them to be martyrs,” says a police officer.

The uneasy ruling alliance

The coalition between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is unnatural. Right from its inception, the PDP has been espousing soft secessionism and is seen in cohorts with separatist elements in the Valley. In fact, the former Research & Analysis Wing chief, AS Dulat, has written in his memoir that in 2003, the then Prime Minister Vajpayee had refused to share a dais with the PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti at a public rally because of her links with the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Hizbul Mujahideen and the support she received from them in the 2002 elections. Uncannily, it chose the same election symbol (pen and inkpot) that the Muslim United Front (a conglomerate of pro-independence parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir) used in 1987. Soon after forming a government with the BJP in 2015, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the late PDP leader who was Chief Minister at the time, ordered the release of Massarat Alam, a radical Islamist who had been in jail since 2010. He also had plans to release Qasim Faktoo, the Hizbul Mujahideen militant and husband of separatist leader Asiya Andrabi. On April 16th, soon after his release, Alam organised a big reception for his mentor and hardline separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was returning from Delhi where he shifts in winter. In a huge rally that passed by the Director General of Police’s office in Srinagar, the crowd shouted: “Pakistan se kya paigaam, Kashmir banega Pakistan” (What is the message from Pakistan? Kashmir will turn into Pakistan) and “Jeeve, jeeve Pakistan” (Long live Pakistan). The rally boosted the spirits of youngsters who had grudgingly accepted that azaadi is a mirage. It was around the same time that the legend of Burhan Wani was created, helped by journalistic reports from Delhi that declared him the new face of militancy in Kashmir. In the chaos after Wani’s death, a few Indian parliamentarians went to Geelani’s door to beg for an audience, which was refused.

Many fighting the insurgency point out how successive governments have nurtured newspapers that peddle anti-India and pro-separatist propaganda

Police sources say that after it came to power, the PDP put tremendous pressure on them to go easy on stone pelters. In many instances, those who had been booked for serious violations were freed after PDP’s intervention. “Every day, someone would visit me, asking me to set free and drop charges against one man or another,” says a police officer in South Kashmir.

The current crisis highlights the alliance’s unnaturalness in stark terms. While the BJP Government at the Centre has been asking the media to downplay a video of CRPF soldiers being heckled and hit by stone pelters, BJP activists and supporters have made it go viral on social media. The PDP and its supporters, on the other hand, have put out another clip on social media—of a man tied to an Army jeep being paraded through villages.

The myth of 1987

It is also important to shatter misbeliefs about the timeline of secessionism in Kashmir. It is widely thought that the armed insurgency in 1989-90 was a result of the election rigging of 1987. While it is true that this acted as a catalyst, it is crucial to understand the nature of the political front that fought those polls under the banner of Muslim Muttahida Mahaz (Muslim United front). The Front made it clear that its aim was to establish ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (rule of the Prophet) in Kashmir. The Jamaat’s founder, Maulana Syed Maududi (1903-1979), always urged his followers to see Islam as Nizam-e-hayaat (a code of life) and to struggle for Islamic rule. Democracy was seen as ‘haraam’ or unIslamic. The Jamaat in Kashmir severed its ties with the outfit in India and Pakistan and became an independent entity in 1953. The same year, one of Maududi’s earnest admirers, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, became a full-time member of the Jamaat. The Kashmiri Jamaat’s rejection of India and its focus on Islamism formed the core of the separatist movement in Kashmir. As Yoginder Sikand writes, as early as in 1980, the Jamaat declared Indian forces stationed in Kashmir to be an ‘army of occupation’ and appealed to the Kashmiri Muslim youth to ‘throw out’ the Indian occupiers and establish Islamic rule in the state. In 1987, the candidates who fought elections under the Front’s banner included Geelani and a Jamaat teacher, Mohammed Yusuf Shah, whom we now know as Syed Salahuddin, chairman of the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council.

The limitations of restraint

Security forces, especially paramilitary forces like the CRPF, work under high stress in Kashmir. Look at the case of those CRPF soldiers whose video of restraint in the face of abuse and assault went viral. The soldiers had been travelling for four months, helping the state conduct elections in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. On the morning of April 9th, the polling station they were deployed at in central Kashmir came under heavy attack by a mob. As protestors smashed an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), the presiding officer fled to save himself. The eight soldiers picked up the EVM and began walking towards another polling station, when some of the mob followed them. Similarly, another video of a man tied to a jeep by an Army officer has created a furore. The Army has so far not offered any version of the circumstances, but unofficial channels have maintained that the officer had responded to an SOS call from a section of paramilitary soldiers who found themselves surrounded by a violent mob. To deter locals from firing at his vehicle, he strapped a Kashmiri to the bonnet. While the officer’s act has found overwhelming support from army veterans, a few of them like Lieutenant General HS Panag, former GOC-in-C of the Northern Command, have criticised it saying it affects the credibility of the forces. “The Army has followed the law of the land in Kashmir and such an act upsets our success story,” he says.

But security personnel in Kashmir say it is unfair to expect them not to defend themselves from violence. “I know these things are politically incorrect to say, but tell me, who are the people who get injured with pellets? Well, barring a few exceptions, undoubtedly those who engage with security forces, throwing stones at them that are meant to kill,” says a police officer.

The state’s complicity

Many fighting the insurgency in Kashmir say they sometimes feel that all government institutions in the Valley are acting against the interests of the state. They point out how successive governments have nurtured newspapers and other media in Kashmir that peddle anti-India and pro-separatist propaganda. The advertisement budget of the J&K government has risen from Rs 28 crore to Rs 45 crore this year; this does not include a separate publicity budget of the state tourism department. Many journalists have been given state accommodation and transport. A police officer points at an article published in a daily Urdu newspaper. “This is written by Ghulam Rasool Shah alias Rafiah Rasool, the former chief of terrorist outfit, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, and is based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The editor of this newspaper has been provided with Z-plus security by New Delhi. What does this mean? This means that the state itself is nourishing the roots of jihad in Kashmir,” he says.

Sources also reveal how Jamaat teachers and supporters have been inducted as teachers at government schools over the past 27 years. During the Emergency, the Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah had banned over 125 schools run by the Jamaat in the Valley. In 1977, the Jamaat created a separate organisation, Falah-e-Aam Trust, to run these schools. In 1990, at the peak of militancy, these schools were shut again. But from then onwards, on the intervention of senior government officials, their teachers were absorbed in state-run schools. According to sources, several fake lists were created to facilitate recruitment of Jamaat supporters. It required only a certificate from a local Jamaat functionary that these people were working as Jamaat school teachers. It is believed that till now, over 2,000 persons have been provided government jobs (whereas the number of actual teachers was only about 400). In 2009, immediately after he took over as Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah signed one such order, clearing the recruitment of 440 supposed Jamaat teachers for government schools.

In 2011, some school children complained about a picture in an Urdu textbook meant for Class I. In it, the Urdu letter ‘zoi’ was used along with a picture of a policeman to represent the word ‘zaalim’ (cruel). The police lodged a report, but were then asked to go slow on the investigation; it had been revealed that it was the deputy director of academics of the education board who had selected that illustration. The same official was later made the secretary of the state’s Cultural Academy. “When I was a student in Kashmir University, I realised certain departments encourage students to write their papers and dissertations on Jamaat on topics like ‘Maududi ki soch (the thinking of Maududi),” says a Kashmiri journalist.

With the situation in Kashmir deteriorating, politicians are still beating around the bush, refusing to look into the deep roots of Islamisation in the Valley. In an interview to The Indian Express, Tassaduq Mufti, the PDP candidate for Anantnag, said that “direct questions” needed to be asked about why so many youngsters were being killed and injured in firing. Direct questions need to be asked, alright, but perhaps Mufti could begin by asking his own party.

What is the way ahead? “We need to clear the ground on a war footing. And once we do that, we have to make sure that we do not give an inch of political space to the separatists,” says a senior police officer.

At a café in Srinagar, a journalist takes out his mobile phone. Someone has sent him a picture of three forlorn students in an empty classroom. One of the benches has a tag that reads: ‘Roll number 1: killed in CRPF firing’. Behind him is ‘Roll number 7’, who cannot study because he has lost his vision. Such propaganda is rampant in Kashmir and much of it is made in Pakistan. “See, think of a cow. What does a cow do? It moos, he says. “Similarly, it is Pakistan’s very nature to help creating trouble in Kashmir. But at least the Indian state should not shit in its own backyard.”