No Early Solution To The Impasse In J&K
By G Parthasarathy
Barely two hours before Prime Minister Modi arrived in the White House on June 26, the State Department named Mohammad Yusuf Shah, better known as Syed Salahuddin, the Head of the POK-based Hizb ul Mujahideen, a “specially designated global terrorist,” for “committing terrorist acts” that “endangered the lives of American nationals”. The State Department added that Salahuddin had vowed in September 2016 to “block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict, threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers” and vowed to turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces”.
Salahuddin was a member of the ‘Muslim United Front’ (MUF) formed in the Kashmir Valley to contest in Assembly elections in 1987. The emergence of the MUF was a response to the rampant corruption during the rule of the National Conference (NC). Interestingly, the NC was overly tolerant of the Pakistan-backed and fundamentalist Jamat e Islami, headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Salahuddin participated in the elections of 1987, which were blatantly rigged. He was defeated in a seat which he was sure to win.
Disillusioned with electoral politics, Salahuddin crossed the LoC and was co-opted by the ISI. He soon became the Head of the ISI-sponsored Hizb ul Mujahideen and the 15-member United Jihad Council, which included groups such as the Lashkar e Taiba and Harkat ul Mujahideen. Salahuddin linked separatist violence in Kashmir with war waged by the likes of Al Qaeda and Taliban. Like other ageing leaders of armed groups, Salahuddin has yielded his place as a folk hero to newly emerging ‘social media jihadis’ like Burhan Wani in Southern Kashmir.
The Kashmir ‘Jihad’ of the 1990s witnessed its ebbs and tides. With Kashmiris tiring of violence, it inevitably became a movement dominated by Pakistani Jihadis from groups such as the JeM and LeT. Security forces eliminated Wani last year. His successor Sabzar Ahmad Bhatt met the same fate a few weeks ago. It appears a question of time before the South Kashmir jihad is weakened and Pakistan is forced to again rely heavily on its Punjabi jihadis. Within the next two years South Kashmir’s new young jihadis will likely become as marginalised as did members of Kashmiri armed groups that emerged in the 1990s.
J&K is the only erstwhile princely state that has remained a hotbed of violence, tensions and intrigues, after acceding to India. In his report of a meeting with then CM Sheikh Abdullah in 1950, American Ambassador Loy Henderson noted: ‘Abdullah, talking about future of Kashmir, was vigorous in restating his opinion that it should be independent; that overwhelming majority population desired this independence, and he had reason to believe that some Azad Kashmir (POK) Ministers also desired independence.” There were suspicions that Sheikh Abdullah voiced similar sentiments to American politician Adlai Stevenson in 1953, resulting in his prolonged detention.
After Pakistan’s defeat in 1971 and the signing of the Shimla pact, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided that given his stature, an effort should be made to restore and reintegrate Abdullah in India’s national life. This happened after prolonged negotiations between her representative G Parthasarathi and the Sheikh’s representative, Mirza Afzal Beg. Sheikh Abdullah agreed that he would abide by Article 370 of the Constitution and that all subsequent measures, which had brought the State more into the national mainstream, will remain in force. The agreement ensured there would be no backsliding on the progressive integration of J&K with the Indian Union.
The Modi Government has been under criticism domestically, for its refusal to go by the advice of our “dialogue at all costs” advocates, who would like it to commence talks with the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference. There is no dearth of information that the leadership of the 14 Party Hurriyat Conference has acted virtually as agents of Pakistan, with its two major factions, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farookh and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, constantly fomenting unrest in the valley. The Pakistani links of both these leaders are well known. A member of the Hizb ul Mujahideen assassinated Mirwaiz Umar’s father, Mirwaiz Mohammed Farookh, in 1994. Mirwaiz Umar has not raised his voice against those who killed his father. On the contrary, he is known to have received patronage and protection from across the LoC
The aging Syed Ali Shah Geelani makes no secret of his association with the Army-backed Jamat e Islami in Pakistan. The NIA, CBI, Intelligence Agencies and Enforcement Directorate have enough evidence to charge virtually the entire Hurriyat leadership for sedition and money laundering. It is conveniently forgotten that the autonomy granted to J&K far exceeds the powers exercised by Governments in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Moreover, the Pakistan army is not going to relent on its support for terrorism, unless the domestic and international costs for its sponsoring terrorism become unacceptable. This would require imposing increasing political and diplomatic costs on Pakistan, altering realities on the ground within Pakistan and across its borders with Afghanistan.
What has been immense encouragement for those desiring restoration of normalcy in Kashmir is the enterprise and talent of Kashmiri youth in performing brilliantly in competitive examinations, whether for recruitment to the armed and paramilitary forces, or in all-India competitive examinations. The priority of Pakistan-sponsored jihadis has been to eliminate such people physically. Accompanying this are brutal killings of members of the J&K Police.
The way out
Mainstream political parties in the valley, such as the National Conference and PDP, need to reach out to wide cross-sections of people, including concerned parents, to encourage Kashmiri students to seek business and employment opportunities across the country, with support from the Centre. This will enhance prospects for peace, progress and economic development in the State. After acceding to the GST, people in Kashmir now have access to a fully integrated market of 1.3 billion people. The Mehbooba Mufti Government has sought to focus on economic development in difficult conditions. It needs to be assisted in getting public support to shift the narrative and discourse in Kashmir, from stone pelting and violence, to education and economic development.
The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan