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Wednesday, 11 November 1998

A Misstep on the Brinks of Victory



(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


While the "full-blown" version of the Kashmir insurgency erupted 
in 1990, the seeds were sown in 1984. That was the year Valley 
youth began going across the border for training. "Perhaps 
because it thought that a small dose of militancy, would help its 
leverage with Delhi, the National Conference government took
no action against such crossings", a state police officer claimed.


The National Conference, as also the Congress, the Janata
Dal and the CPM, are dominated by the Valley Sunnis, who also
head the pro—militant JKLF, Hurriyat Conference, People's
Conference and People’s League. Since 1947, care has been taken
to ensure that the Valley Sunnis fill most of the government jobs.
Rather than attempt to craft a base separate from the NC, the
state unit of the Congress has also followed the same policy.

Another policy that unites the Congress and the NC is
corruption. According to a senior official, "the Kashmir
administration is even more corrupt than those in the North-
east." Reliable estimates are that less than a third of the Rs.
1,00,000 crore that has been spent by the Centre on Kashmir since
1947 has gone to the intended beneficiaries. The bulk has been
pocketed by politicians, officials and middlemen.

That has been one of the fuses priming the insurgency.
Another is the encouragement given to religious extremism by
the so-called "secular" governments in the state. "During
Congress rule in the 1960s, a chain of religious schools was
encouraged to be set up, in which youngsters were taught to
regard themselves as different from the 'unbelievers' around
them. Subtly, these schools spread a separatist message," said A.
S. Jamwal, a social analyst.

In 1977, soon after the victory of his party in the assembly
polls, Sheikh Abdullah adopted a policy of appeasement of
religious extremists. The essentially secular nature of
"Kashmiriyat” was eroded, and in its place was established a
culture that had much in common with Saudi Arabia and
Pakistan. However, thanks to the NC’s concentration on its
Valley Sunni base, the other Muslim groups—Shias, Gujjars and
Baltis—were left unaffected by this indoctrination. As a
consequence, to this day these groups have refused to join in the
insurgency, which is overwhelmingly a Valley Sunni
phenomenon. 

While the Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh
have been opposed to the cry for azaadi of the militants, what is
not so well known is that even in Kashmir proper the Valley
Sunnis are outnumbered by the Gujjars, Shias, Baltis and Hindus.
None of these groups is in favour of “autonomy", which they
interpret as the continuation of Valley Sunni domination. A few
weeks ago, the Shia leader Mohammeddin-Cheetah resigned
from the NC, saying that he opposed its demand for autonomy.
Interestingly, the Saudi and Pakistani-funded Jamaat-i-lslami
evokes no response from either the Gujjars or the Shias.

Just as militancy in Punjab proved a boon to criminal
elements, who indulged freely in smuggling because the attention
of the police was focused on antiterrorist steps, the insurgency
in Kashmir has benefited some. One reason has been the drying-
up of tax payments from the Valley. As against Rs. 77 crore
collected as sales tax from Jammu this year, the Kashmir Valley
contributed only Rs. 12 crore, all of which came from public
sector companies. Income tax collections were almost zero in the
Valley, though normal in Jammu. "It is almost as though we are
being penalised for being loyal to India, while those who subvert
the country are rewarded," said Ram Sahai, president of the
Jammu Chamber of Commerce.

A senior officer in the state administration, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said that the situation "got out of
control in 1990, when V. P. Singh was the Prime Minister". After
home minister M. M. Sayeed's daughter Rubaiya was kidnapped,
"the minister had two options", the officer said. "He could have
l acted as the custodian of the nation’s security and refused to deal
with the abductors. Or he could have resigned and appealed as
I a father to the Kashmiri people to force the terrorists to release
his daughter. He did neither, instead, the government
surrendered", the officer said.

A senior police officer based in Srinagar pointed out that “ the
credibility of a government is an important factor in controlling
an insurgency. When azaadi euphoria erupted in the Valley after
the Rubaiya fiasco, the state government asked for just six
battalions of CRP to face the mobs. This request was denied by
the VP Singh government. The advice from Delhi was to avoid
any attempt to prevent the azaadi mobs from controlling the
streets. This hesitancy convinced the people of the Valley that
within months the central government would surrender Kashmir
to the militants".

Gulam Sheikh, an apple grower from Sonamarg, claimed
that "most Kashmiris supported the militants because we were
sure they would win, and so if we did not help them, they would
arrest us once they came to power". Karim, a militant from
Rajouri, was succinct: "We were told by our friends in Pakistan
that India would run away from Kashmir the same way the
Russians ran away from Kabul". 1990 saw the flowering of a
Mazhabi Junoon - religious fanaticism in the words of Merajud-
Din, a former militant resident in Srinagar. "We saw ourselves
as part of a new order that would stretch from Kashmir to
Turkey".

By 1991-92, the bulk of the Valley’s Sunni intellectuals-
lawyers, journalists and officials—had got onto the azaadi
bandwagon. The process got a further boost after the destruction
of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. "It was no accident that
1993 was a particularly bad year", said S. S. Bilowria, additional
chief secretary, Jammu and Kashmir. According to adviser to the
governor Goswamy, "the Kashmir police had by then become
ineffective".

However, that was the year that Pakistan overplayed its
hand. In a bid to speed up the timetable of secession, large
numbers of Afghans, Sudanese and Pakistanis were infiltrated
into the Valley. These "guest fighters" imposed themselves on
the Valley, commandeering food, lodging and on occasions,
women. Taxes began to be levied "to finance the liberation war,"
and to wipe out secular infrastructure, schools were destroyed.
Soon, as the state began to resemble Afghanistan, local enthusiasm
for the "freedom struggle" began to wane.

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