New Delhi’s Kashmir policy, which is now widely criticised for its self-defeatist ingredients, will not change overnight. In reversal to a hot pursuit for 9 years, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government at the Centre went for a radical change and introduced a new policy that envisioned bringing the valley’s rebels into the Indian mainstream.
A new political party was floated with the Centre’s blind support and the responsibility of neutralising secessionism with velvet gloves was assigned to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed—the only Indian Muslim who had been trusted to function as the Union Home Minister a decade ago.
‘Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat aur Insaniyat’ was the slogan of Vajpayee’s new Kashmir policy. It was introduced at a time when three Governors—Jagmohan, GC Saxena and KV Krishna Rao—followed by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had decimated a long spell of militancy in coordination with the security forces and the local counterinsurgents.
Hizbul Mujahideen being the face of Kashmir’s guerrilla warfare and a declared militia arm of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), most of the clashes occurred between the pro-India Ikhwanul Muslimoon, which enjoyed unlimited support from the security forces, and the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen. Over 3,000 militants and their over-ground collaborators are believed to have been eliminated from 1994 to 1999. Obviously the brunt was suffered by none other Hizbul Mujahideen and its widespread network of OGWs in JeI.
This was the time when the valley’s pro-Pakistan sections of the population were desperately in search of support from a mainstream politician who could prevent their existential threat from the hot pursuit of Farooq Abdullah’s government. Day in and day out, Farooq used to call for uprooting terrorism from its base and bombardment on the terror training camps in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
As soon as Farooq got his ‘greater autonomy’ resolution passed unanimously in the bicameral State legislature and submitted it to the Centre for follow-up action, he was marginalised by the NDA government. Waiting in the wings, Mufti occupied the space vacated by Farooq.
A shrewd politician, Mufti managed to get licence to his new brand of pseudo-separatist politics: He adopted green as the colour of his party flag; the erstwhile Muslim United Front’s ‘pen and inkpot’ as the election symbol of his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In sharp contrast to Farooq’s pro-Indian colours, a pro-Pakistan, pro-Hurriyat, pro-militant rhetoric became the diction of Mufti’s scheming of camouflage.
In their statements, speeches and interviews, Mufti and his daughter Mehbooba left no stone unturned in demonising the Indian security forces with allegations of rape, custodial killings and enforced disappearances. On the other hand, they accorded legitimacy to secessionism and convinced India to establish trade and travel through LoC with Pakistan. It all revived a separatist sentiment to the extent that the supporters of militancy began freely travelling between Srinagar and Rawalpindi. Even wedding processions were permitted from Kashmir to Pakistan. A number of the top militant commanders, based and operating in Pakistan, got their brides imported from the valley.
The reversal of policy not only immobilised the counterinsurgents but also demoralised the entire nationalist population across the valley. With both Pakistan and India on JeI’s side through Mufti, obviously the advantage went to none other than the people who wanted to separate Kashmir from India and annexe it to Pakistan. Within a short span of time, they regrouped and reclaimed their base particularly in the JeI-dominated South Kashmir which en masse voted for the PDP in all elections.
Winning just 16 seats in a House of 87, Mufti was installed as Chief Minister with the support of Congress in 2002. He had no qualms in declaring himself as the Chief Minister of the gunmen at his first rally after the elections in Ganderbal. In Mufti’s time as Chief Minister, the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen recaptured most of the towns in Kashmir and eliminated all the ace counterinsurgents—including the Ikhwan founders Kukka Parray and Javed Shah—one by one. Residential house of the last ace of the Ikhwan tribe, Papa Kishtwari, was razed to ground brick by brick in Pampore in 2008.
In 2008, Mufti created an upheaval over the allotment of a piece of land for the use of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. The separatists turned it into a religious movement, alleging that India had plans of establishing ‘Amarnath Nagar’ over the Baltal hills. For the first time after 1990, a complete polarisation was created between the Muslims and the Hindus and between the Kashmiris and the Jammuites. Thus the foundation of a radicalised separatist movement was laid in 2008. Today, in a natural process, it is only bearing the fruit.
It took Jammu and Kashmir months to come out of that quagmire but the tradition of demonising and discrediting India’s democracy and institutions continued. Everybody abusing India got not only Chief Ministerial security but also VVIP status.
“What we witnessed in 2015-18 would have happened in 2009-2013 if the PDP would have grabbed power in the 2008 Assembly elections. The Burhan Wani turmoil in 2016 happened because of the PDP being in power. Had Mufti or Mehbooba been CM in 2013 when Afzal Guru was executed, 1000 people would have died”, said a senior political analyst.
By the time New Delhi realised in 2018 that the coalition between the BJP and the PDP was only advantageous to Pakistan and militants, and that the so-called Agenda of Alliance was going counterproductive, it was too late. The militants had gained the capacity of killing the prominent journalist Shujaat Bukhari near his office in the Srinagar Civil Line and enacting the history’s biggest bloodbath on the Indian paramilitary forces on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.
New Delhi may take some more time to fully withdraw the incentives put on the anti-India tirade in Kashmir 22 years back.