All voices from Pakistan indicate that the Mujahideen are bent on reigniting the separatist fire in the Kashmir Valley. Seema Mustafa reports
FEEL THE déjà vu. India’s nightmare in the Kashmir Valley may well return to haunt again. “jihad is the only solution to free Kashmir from the Indian yoke,” thundered one separatist after another last week, to boisterous sloganeering by armed cadres. “Kashmir cannot be resolved through dialogue.” The venue: Muzaffarabad, the picturesque capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The date: February 4, 2010. The assembly: men most wanted by New Delhi for waging a terrorist war against India for two decades, belonging to a clutch of a dozen terror outfits that go by the name of United jihad Council (UJC).
Exactly a year ago, on February 4, 2009, many of these leaders had gathered in the city and demanded that the Pakistan government free scores of their men jailed following the stunning massacre of over 160 people in Mumbai nine weeks earlier in terror attacks by men of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The February 2009 meeting was also the first time several of these groups were out openly since being banned by former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf following American pressure in the wake of the September 2001 attacks on the US. Last year’s posturing by the terror groups had worked, as Islamabad did a turnaround and began going easy on these organisations, especially LeT and its overground sibling, the Jamat ud Dawa (JuD).
Most terror satraps were back together last week, openly defying the bans on their activities, irreverent of the fact that both the US and India have demanded the scalps of most of these men. What’s the new message from these groups? Should India worry? Yes, says General Mirza Aslam Beg, who headed Pakistan’s all-powerful army from 1988 to 1991. “It will be another Vietnam,” Beg told TEHELKA bluntly on the phone from Pakistan, suggesting that Kashmir would turn out for India what Vietnam was for the US 40 years ago: a messy military defeat. Shockingly, General Beg discloses that the Mujahideen who fought the USled forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are headed to Kashmir. With US President Barack Obama committed to a timetable to pull out of both countries, General Beg asks: “Where do you think they [Mujahideen] will go? They will go to Kashmir: that is certain. Their direction is clear and they are moving [to it] gradually.”
According to Beg, Taliban leader Mullah Omar has reorganised his cadres into 17 divisions called the “shadow armies”. A younger generation of trained Afghan militants is now leading these “diehard Lashkars [Islamic warriors]”. “They have defeated the might of the mightiest,” Beg says with a hint of pride. “They are a phenomenon many fail to understand.” Beg claims the Pakistani establishment does not control the terror groups. But he admits that ‘sections’ in the establishment are in touch with the “Kashmiri groups”.
Ominously, the announcement from these Pakistan-based terror groups came just a day after New Delhi offered to resume talks with Pakistan at the level of foreign secretaries of the two countries. Certainly, these terror groups are emboldened by the angry mood in the Kashmir Valley, which manifested in widespread protests and shutdowns following the death of a teenage boy hit by a teargas shell lobbed by the paramilitary CRPF on January 31. The separatist coalition of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which has been under attack from the Kashmiri hardliners for being “soft” on the issue of independence from India, immediately announced it would not talk with New Delhi anymore.
Political leaders in Srinagar say anger and resentment is spreading. “After years, the Valley seems to be moving towards militancy again,” one leader said, declining to be named for fear of reprisal from New Delhi. Already, squads claiming to be “stone-pelting Mujahideen” have come up from among the protest groups. Sources say these squads have been given areas to operate in outside Srinagar.
THE PROTESTS have swept far to include even the border Kupwara district that usually kept away from shutdowns. After the successful conclusion of the violence-free Assembly elections in December 2008 and the Lok Sabha elections in May 2009, it was widely believed that the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley might be turning a new leaf. The widespread protests of August 2008 that followed the fiasco of the allotment of land to the Hindu Amarnath Cave shrine had already been brutally put down.
But the discovery of the bodies of two women in the southern district of Shopian in May 2009 set the clock back. The volcano of protests over those deaths, which the Kashmiri Muslims to a man believe were rape and murder, aren’t dampened by claims of the investigative agencies that the women had drowned. It is this “anger and resentment” in Kashmir that has become the raison d’être for the terror groups that met at Muzaffarabad in PoK, and Lahore and Islamabad last week.
In Lahore, the JuD chief, Hafiz Saeed, who is also the mentor of LeT and is supposed to be under house arrest, was in the forefront at the ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’. Others out last week included Syed Salahuddin, the Kashmiri fugitive who absconded two decades ago and heads the anti-Indian terror outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen; and General Hamid Gul, the India-baiting former head of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI.
Predictably, these militant leaders promised to “liberate” Kashmir by intensifying the jihad. “Instead of begging the UN and world powers to settle Kashmir, we should flex our muscles and revive the jihad,” Salahuddin said. Added Saeed, leading a rally to the Punjab Assembly in Lahore: “When the US is failing to stay on in Afghanistan, how can India remain in Kashmir?” Gul insisted New Delhi distinguish between freedom fighters and extremists. (Gul, who is on the US blacklist, had once told this reporter that former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in 2007 because she broke a promise to the US she won’t contact him and the other extremists.)
So where does Islamabad stand vis-avis this rhetoric? Not too far away, actually. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani claimed that “world pressure” had “forced” India to offer the foreign secretary-level talks — and went right ahead to extend “moral, diplomatic, political support to the people of Kashmir”. (In fact, Gilani was scheduled to visit Muzaffarabad around the time but bad weather put off his flight.)
New Delhi objected only mildly as it waited for Pakistan to accept its offer of talks. The US maintained a telling silence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of threat to India “from hostile groups and elements from across the border” but stopped short of holding the Pakistani government responsible. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram spoke of the “dark forces” but did not name them. He too remained silent about Pakistan’s decision to allow the terror groups out in the sun to stoke the fires of “mayhem and violence”.
India’s top intelligence sources, however, stop short of acknowledging that the Iraq-Afghanistan Mujahideen veterans may enter Kashmir. Well-placed sources argue that the non-Pakistani militants have always been less enthusiastic to venture into Kashmir. One reason is that the ISI controls the levels of terrorism in Kashmir and would not want the jihadis to control the violence, which might force India to escalate hostilities. Another reason advanced is that the Afghans have never ventured into the Valley, except briefly after the fall of former Soviet protégé, Afghanistan President Najibullah, who was dethroned in 1992 and brutally put to death by the Taliban in 1996.
Indian intelligence experts say the non-Pakistani Mujahideen is, in fact, more interested in gaining and holding safe havens in Pakistan, and hence will continue to escalate violence there. Experts argue that the Kashmiri people, who have never aligned culturally or politically with the Afghans or the Arabs, would not welcome their role.
Mirza Aslam Beg, Former Pakistan Army Chief
Where do you think the Mujahideen will go? They will go to Kashmir: that is certain’
Islamabad, which has long argued that the separatist violence in Kashmir is indigenous, would find it impossible to defend the entry of the Afghans and the Arabs. If that happens, India could well seek to blunt the international sympathy Pakistan has nurtured over Kashmir. In any case, it is said, the Afghan-Arab Mujahideen won’t find it easy to cross the difficult border with Kashmir.
Yet, the fears of renewed violence in Kashmir are growing. The moderate separatist leader, Sajjad Lone, told TEHELKA from Srinagar that the condition in the state is ripe for “heightened militancy”. Indian intelligence sources claim indications are Pakistan might send in more militants during the summer. “There is a change brought about by Pakistan’s argument that it has enemies in the east and cannot thus spare forces for the west,” says Brajesh Mishra, who was National Security Adviser (NSA), India’s first, to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “The US and Europe have bought the argument.”
Mishra believes the situation would get from “bad to worse” by talking to Islamabad at this stage. Fingers in India’s strategic establishment are pointing at Shiv Shankar Menon, the former foreign secretary who Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed the NSA last month, for steering the Indian policy towards talks with Islamabad. Sources said such shift is the outcome of high-level meetings with the US and European officials. Agreeing, former Indian Army Vice- Chief Lt General V Oberoi says if the US continues “bribing” the Taliban to get out of Pakistan, the entire region would become a “terror trap”, including Pakistan. India will have a tough time because its army has been “completely emasculated in modernisation and morale”.
Hafiz Saeed, Jamaat ud Dawa chief
When the US is failing to stay in Afghanistan, how can India remain in Kashmir?’
On the other hand, Pakistani is basking in its military successes in sanitising parts of Waziristan and the Swat valley that won the approval of the US. General Beg says that Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani reversed Musharraf’s policy of handing over areas to the US military and instead began wiping out the militants without much collateral damage. As the government and the army in Pakistan work better today than earlier, they have decided to use Kashmir to pressure India. On his visit to South Asia last month, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates openly pushed for the two nations to begin talks, as Pakistan refused to launch major offensives in Waziristan claiming its troops are needed on the border with India. Sources in Pakistan say that Prime Minister Gilani reflected the mood in the army when he claimed that India has been “begging” to hold talks.
IN THE Kashmir Valley, indications are that not just the political parties but the separatists, too, are isolated from the surge of emotion. If the claim of the Indian intelligence sources — that Pakistan is behind the sweeping protests — is true, then the scenario is even more dangerous, for it means that Jammu & Kashmir is again susceptible and responsive to an outbreak of terrorism.
Reports brought out by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s National Conference, as also the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, have explored the possibility of granting autonomy to the state within the Indian Constitution. Pakistan dismisses such reports. At Muzaffarabad, the UJC declaration rejected such proposals and insisted nothing less than the implementation of the 1948 UN resolutions that allowed for a plebiscite in the Valley would be acceptable to them.
Pakistan sees India’s vulnerability to US pressure as an opportunity to move forward on the Kashmir issue. Its military successes against the Mujahideen even as it has a traditional grip on sections of the Taliban makes Pakistan valuable to Obama’s exit policy. Sources say the ISI wants to revive the jihad in Kashmir “within weeks”. Only, the Pakistan establishment needs to decide the timing. A protégé of the Pakistani Army, Prime Minister Gilani’s ominous statements are an indication that various forces regrouping in Pakistan are keen to make India and Kashmir bleed again for an early settlement of the problem.
‘Delhi Digs A Well When Kashmir Burns’
Hurriyat Conference Chief Mirwaiz Omar Farooq is disappointed with the Indian Government’s role in Kashmir. He fears the state could face a renewed and more violent separatist movement. Excerpts from an exclusive interview by Parvaiz Bukhari
You initially welcomed the offer of a ‘quiet dialogue’ from Union Home Minister P Chidambaram but have now retreated. What happened?
We are committed to a meaningful dialogue with both India and Pakistan. Since 2006, when the dialogue broke down with New Delhi, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has repeatedly put forward proposals to create an atmosphere conducive to purposeful dialogue, quiet or open. When the dialogue started, it was on the lines of Track-II diplomacy. Yes, of course, some connections were made, some communication happened. Unfortunately, once again, we had to tell New Delhi to initiate something on the ground, so that the common man in Kashmir gets respite from the consequences of heavy militarisation. People keep asking why the APHC is eager for a dialogue, when the Government of India has not even implemented one of our suggestions. The credibility of the APHC is at stake. We don’t have anything to show in our report card.
What are your conditions for holding dialogue with the government?
We have a six-point demand, which we’ve publicised in our online petition as well. They are —
• The immediate and complete cessation of military and para-military actions against the civilian population in Jammu & Kashmir;
• Withdrawal of military presence from towns and villages;
• Dismantling of bunkers, watchtowers and barricades;
• Release of political prisoners;
• Annulment of various special repressive laws;
• Restoration of the rights of peaceful association, demonstration and assembly.
Is New Delhi unrelenting and unconcerned about a change in Kashmir?
There doesn’t seem to be any policy on Kashmir as far as New Delhi is concerned — neither for the short, nor for the long term. When there is pressure on them or rising international concern, as may be the case right now, they are willing to talk with Pakistan and engage Kashmiris. But the fact is, they attempt to dig a well when Kashmir is burning. Whenever there is a crisis in Kashmir, they talk to us and ask for our help and support. And whenever they feel the situation is quiet, they become complacent.
How is the mood inside Pakistan today, particularly after the recent Kashmir solidarity event in Muzaffarabad (in POK), where a fresh commitment towards a jihad to liberate Kashmir was made?
I don’t want to be speaking about Pakistan. But right from Musharraf’s time, Pakistan did show flexibility. They were keen to sit down with India and try outof- the-box solutions for Kashmir. But India used the Mumbai attacks to exit the dialogue process. India wanted to bury the peace process, which was going well. That is how it is right now.
Do you think Kashmiris are being pushed to renew militancy? Is that what happened in Muzaffarabad?
Pakistan is not going to forget Kashmir. Kashmir is close to every Pakistani — emotionally, politically and psychologically. That is what was on show during the solidarity day in Muzaffarabad. There is a tremendous amount of frustration here, especially among the youth. The stone pelting is looking like the intifada in Palestine, despite the feeling among many that it is meaningless. People feel choked because nothing is allowed — no peaceful protests, no sit-ins. The more state power is used to suppress any movement or agitation, the more violent the reaction is going to be. It is a dangerous trend. This is exactly what we saw before 1990. If measures are not taken by the GOI to start a genuine process between India, Pakistan and Kashmir, we can see further resurgence of violence in Kashmir. It will be more violent and aggressive than anything we have seen in the past.
What would you list as specific missteps taken by New Delhi that killed the dialogue before it started?
We’ve heard that 30,000 troops have left Kashmir. Who saw them leaving? Maybe they left from some mountain bases, but we want some respite in our cities, towns and villages. When the GOI takes measures, they camouflage it as some internal security rearrangement. They may have withdrawn some troops — which is good. But they don’t want to give an impression that they are withdrawing, or giving concessions in Kashmir.
Everybody acknowledges that the situation has improved; the level of violence has gone down. But there are no positive statements coming out from New Delhi. Instead, we hear that a security review has been taken by the PM, the CM and the Home Minister, based on which, some actions have been taken, without asking Kashmiris what we want. Where does that leave Hurriyat and other parties who want to engage in a peace process? You don’t want to give us any credibility.
Did you withdraw from the quiet talks under pressure from Pakistan?
We started talking to India at a time when Pakistan publicly criticised our stand. We were not even recognised by Pakistan as the genuine Hurriyat Conference then. I think Pakistan supports Hurriyat and our approach, as far as dialogue is concerned. I don’t think there is any truth in saying we are under pressure from Pakistan not to talk to India. Yes, Pakistan wants a Delhi-Hurriyat dialogue to move forward simultaneously with a Hurriyat-Islamabad dialogue. We want to engage Islamabad in a triangular approach too. But we don’t want to be on a fantasy ride where nobody knows where the bus is going.
What would you think is an out-of-thebox way to take such a process forward, today? Do you have a concrete offer for the Prime Minister of India?
Yes, but first the military-style approach of the government has to stop. They talk about a political settlement, they talk about peace, they talk about dialogue — but their outlook is very military-like. People are being killed in Kashmir and there doesn’t seem to be any accountability. The so-called democratically elected state government takes people hostage for a week. People can see the brute force India is using in Kashmir. We want an end to this. A discussion on the repeal of repressive laws and gradual demilitarization could be a good start.
Did you meet or talk to Chidambaram after he announced the quiet diplomacy?
No. We had some contacts at a back channel level where people would come and meet us. They would eventually go and meet him (Chidambaram). We did convey our concerns and issues clearly.
The more state power is used to suppress agitation, the more violent the reaction will be
Are those back channel contacts still alive?
No, nothing has happened in the last two months now.
You have issued an online appeal today to draw international attention to the issue of Kashmir, after spending days under house arrest. Why?
Every time APHC announces any program, our members are arrested. Thus, there is no other way left for us except the virtual world. What is happening here needs to be noted somewhere in India, in Pakistan, and by the world leaders.