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How mainstream politicians created a state-within-a-state in J&K

Mufti Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti

Infiltration into the government systems and institutions has to be admitted as a success of the handlers and sponsors of Kashmir’s armed insurgency from its day one. Even as the State confronted and neutralised thousands of the armed guerrillas and terrorists—by arrests and killings—it never employed an effective strategy to keep its ranks insulated against the non-kinetic intrusion. For years, the texture was so baffling and entwined that one failed to decipher whether the militants had infiltrated into the government systems or the government employees had joined the militancy.

“We had seized around 50 AK-47 rifles and arrested a number of the militants in 1988-89. We were assiduously behind four prominent JKLF commanders—Yasin Malik, Javed Mir, Ashfaq Majid and Sheikh Hamid—as there was tremendous pressure from Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. One day, we were called to a senior Police officer’s residence. He snubbed us for our failure to crack this group. Over 15 years later, Malik replayed to us that entire conversation”, a retired officer revealed to this writer sometime back. “He told us that he was taking tea in the next room when the senior officer was rebuking us in his drawing room”.

By the time Malik was arrested from Zahoor Watali’s house in August 1990 and released in May 1994, militancy had become a State within the State. Under medical supervision at the SMHS Hospital, Malik addressed his first press conference at the official chair and table of Dr GQ Allaqaband, Principal of the Government Medical College Srinagar.

Also Read: How a State of terror is still thriving in J&K establishment

In the very first eruption of the militancy in 1990, the State government employees, including top IAS and the Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) officers, signed a memorandum, demanding the United Nations to hold a Plebiscite in J&K as per its resolutions of 1947 and 1948. This was the first promotion of the Pakistani narrative by the J&K government employees.

Later, five senior officers were dismissed from service for sponsoring a 72-day shutdown in the government offices. They accused the Indian security forces of custodial killings, rape and molestation. They included the current Srinagar mayor Junaid Mattu’s father and the KAS officer Naeem Akhtar.

However, all the five dismissed officers were reinstated and promoted to senior positions after VP Singh’s government was replaced by Prime Minister Chander Shekhar. Years later, Akhtar resigned and joined Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP and the Cabinet in 2015.

From 1993 to 2003, the representative organisation of the State government employees functioned as a constituent of the separatist Hurriyat Conference’s General Council.

In 1993, the DIG of Security, Rathinder Kaul, was under directions to facilitate the Hurriyat’s first chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s security cover. The personnel of the young cleric’s choice were trained and inducted as his Personal Security Officers. Subsequently, he was provided with Z-Plus security cover. One particular gazetted officer of his choice functioned as the head of his security detail without transfer for 16 years. He was removed only after Deputy SP Ayub Pandith was lynched to death at Jamia Masjid in June 2017.

In 1996, heavy security cover was extended to a number of the separatist leaders, including the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani who returned the same in a couple of years. With the exception of only a few like Malik, most of the Hurriyat leaders were granted everything from security cover to bulletproof vehicles. They stayed and travelled like Ministers. With the exception of one cleric-politician, they all were relieved of the government privileges only after the 40 CRPF men were killed in a fidayeen attack in February 2019.

Also Read: Hizb chief Salahuddin’s two sons among 11 sacked by J&K

A number of the separatist and militant leaders landed in controversies on account of their relatives’ regular or backdoor recruitment in the State government services, allegedly facilitated by their friendlies in the mainstream politics. It was pointed out in the media that a number of their family members and close relatives had been accommodated in different services in key departments and organisations including Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST), Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) and Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC).

A top level officer counted as many as 16 senior separatist and militant leaders, including SAS Geelani, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin besides JKLF’s Bitta Karate and Javed Mir, whose wives, sons, grandsons or other family members were holding important positions in the government’s key departments and institutions. “Some of them are known to have entered through the backdoor but most of them have been selected on the basis of their academic qualifications and merit and they are not essentially part and parcel of the separatist bandwagon”, he said with a caveat.

“A former JKLF chief commander’s wife is a public prosecutor. Another top ex-militant’s wife is a middle rung officer in the J&K civil administration. One detained separatist leader’s wife is a senior officer in the Health Department. Another separatist leader’s wife has just retired as Professor and HOD in the University of Kashmir. One of the top separatist lawyer’s sons-in-law is now a judge in the J&K High Court. One top Hurriyat leader’s kin is a Director rank officer in the J&K Government”, said an insider. “This is a democratic country. Nobody can suffer for being some leader’s or militants’ relative.”

“There should be no witch hunting. Few are convinced over the action taken against two of Salahuddin’s sons and Razia Sultan of Khiram Anantnag. If the government proceeds against Constable Abdul Rashid Shigan and others of his ilk, people could appreciate termination of the anti-national government employees”, said a senior journalist.

Razia had been appointed on compassionate grounds under SRO-43 after the Ikhwan terrorists allegedly shot dead her father who was a Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) activist and had contested the 1987 Assembly elections as a candidate of the Muslim United Front. Constable Shigan was dismissed last week, 9 years after he was arrested with the admission of multiple attacks and murders including that of the retired Dy SP Abdul Hamid Bhat, a retired Inspector and one Assistant Sub Inspector.

Sub Inspector Ali Mohammad Dar alias Burhanuddin Hijazi was among the first 20-odd Police personnel who deserted their duties and joined different militant outfits in 1989-90. Hundreds more followed them. Many of them got killed but a number of them either joined the services back or shifted to private jobs or businesses after their dismissal. Many like Shigan managed to hide from the departmental action for years. Constable Naveed Mushtaq, who deserted a Police post in Budgam with three rifles, and Deputy SP Davinder Singh, were dramatically trapped and subsequently dismissed alongside their prosecution.

Notwithstanding many incidents of treason in the organisation, over 2,000 personnel in the Jammu and Kashmir Police have laid sacrifice of life in their line of duty in the last 31 years.

The departments of Police and Education have been particularly under scanner. According to a senior Police officer, a large number of teachers and Policemen have figured as “employees of doubtful integrity” on account of their participation in the street turmoil of 2008, 2010 and 2016. Many of them have been identified with the help of their Facebook and Twitter accounts besides WhatsApp groups.

Over 2,000 JeI schoolteachers were inducted into the government services by the successive governments after the then Governor Jagmohan imposed ban on the politico-religious organisation and decided to absorb their staff into the School Education Department.  

Even in late Prof Reyaz Punjabi’s term as Vice Chancellor, Geelani used to make ‘inspection’ of some departments and the Iqbal Library at the University of Kashmir.

“The separatist-militant ecosystem gained maximum of its strength during Mufti Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP-BJP coalition in 2015-18. It was the period when many of the known pro-Pakistan and pro-azadi ideologues and activists grabbed different positions in the government and left the system completely crippled. Being linked to the militants and separatists was bliss for four years. However, much of this base was dismantled with different interventions including the ban on JKLF and JeI, arrest of separatist leaders, withdrawal of the special status and now termination of the anti-national government employees”, said a senior National Conference (NC) leader on the condition of anonymity.

“From transfers and appointments of officers to policy making, the separatist-militant ecosystem had a say through the friendly mainstream party. Their influence has remarkably weakened but many of their men and women are still retaining their postings'', said a retired bureaucrat. He pointed out how a number of the pro-azadi and pro-Pakistan professors had been appointed as faculty at the Central University of Kashmir after their retirement at the University of Kashmir. They included a staunch pro-Pakistan professor who had got all of his books released by Geelani.

Eighteen of the alleged anti-national government employees have been sacked since April this year after an amendment to the law which empowers the Government to order such dismissals without a departmental inquiry.