Since the end of February, the aftermath of the Pulwama attack and the Balakot strikes by India in Pakistan has seen yet another phase of major changes in Kashmir. The government has banned the Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (JIJK) and the separatist militant group, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), arresting its chief and the leader of original insurgency in Kashmir, Yasin Malik, while the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has re-started a major crackdown on money trails of separatists and their links to cases of terror funding, including complicity with Pakistan’s ISI.
The actions against JIJK and JKLF open a pandora’s box on why Yasin Malik – one of the founders of JKLF in India – has been allowed to deceive the successive Indian governments for the past 30 years. The JKLF was founded by Pakistani-national Amanullah Khan and Kashmir-based Maqbool Butt in 1977 and operated through its branches in various regions, such as UK, Middle East and Europe. Its branch was opened in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) in 1982 and in Kashmir in 1987. While Butt – executed by India in 1984 – was the original motivator of insurgency in Kashmir, it was truly in 1987 that an unprecedented rise in terrorism and infiltration from Pakistan saw Kashmir become a severe problem for India.
The period from 1987 to 1994 was when Kashmir terrorism was at its peak – the worst phase in Kashmir’s recent history – and when Pakistan was implementing its policy to ‘bleed India by a thousand cuts’ with full impunity. Kashmiri youth would cross over to PoK to receive arms and terror training from Pakistan’s ISI, even as Pakistan’s own terrorist organizations became active in the region, colluding with local Kashmiri terrorists. It was during this period that the infamous massacre, mass exodus and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits was carried out by the terrorists and the community was almost entirely wiped out. This was also the phase when the JKLF was founded in Kashmir – under Yasin Malik – and was at its zenith.
Moderate intellectual hawks of India – as they fumble to explain the 1987-1994 phase – unequivocally state that the ‘militancy’ started in 1987 because of the rigging of the 1987 elections by the Congress-National Conference (NC) combine. In 1987 elections, when it became apparent that the three-time MLA, Mohammad Yusuf Shah, was on the way to a landslide victory, the Congress-NC rigged the elections, declared their coalition as the winner, and, imprisoned Yusuf Shah and his then election assistant, Yasin Malik. When they came out of the jail, Mohammad Yusuf Shah crossed over to Pakistan and became Syed Salahuddin, who the world today knows as the chief of the United Jihad Council (UJC) and the chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, while Yasin Malik founded the Kashmir chapter of JKLF. Malik and JKLF shot to fame in 1987 itself when they abducted the then Indian minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter – and Mehbooba Mufti’s sister – Rubbaiya Sayeed and secured the release of five dreaded Pakistani terrorists in exchange for her. The terrorists were released despite NC’s Farooq Abdullah’s vehement opposition.
These developments triggered the worst phase of insurgency in Kashmir. However, it is a mistake to suggest that the rigging of elections had anything to do with insurgency. Malik himself, in a later interview, said that radicalization was occurring much before 1987. The real reason for insurgency was the rich flow of arms and money from Pakistan and a complete, fanatical takeover by the jihadi cause of Islam. So when a rigged election is blamed for something as serious as a peak phase of terrorism, the Indians themselves end up whitewashing Pakistan and Islamic fanaticism. During this phase, Yasin Malik himself – as confessed, laughingly and remorselessly, in a later BBC interview – presided over the rape and brutal murder of a Kashmiri Pandit nurse, the murders of IAF officers and massacre and exodus of Pandits in general. In other words, the man – as the face of JKLF – was the heart and face of the worst phase of terrorism in Kashmir. He was subsequently jailed and was given bail in 1994. In 1994, he and JKLF’s Kashmir unit declared an ‘indefinite ceasefire’.
It has been 25 years since he was granted bail and nearly 30 years since he presided over the worst phase of terrorism in Kashmir and engineered the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits. Yet, it is only now, after the Pulwama attack of 2019 that the case against him is moving in the Indian judiciary and he has been re-arrested and sent to a Jammu jail. At the very least and to put it very mildly, Malik’s case, deeply interlinked with the Kashmir problem itself, shows how the Indian political and judicial system is completely rigged and what a farce it has played out for the nation.
It is worth questioning how a first class terrorist accused of rape and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits and murders of Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel during the 1990s has been allowed to roam freely and acquire such a high level political influence and how he has been meeting politicians and prime ministers around the world, including Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India.
The fact that during the last several years, he shared a stage with 26/11 mastermind, Hafiz Saeed, in Pakistan, to condole the death of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, thanked Pakistan’s information minister openly in 2005 for running a jihadi camp training 3500 militants for Kashmir, has held multiple rallies in Pakistan and has refused to accept Kashmiris as Indians even as he accepts money from Pakistan, has been one of the most glaring blunders of Indian policy in Kashmir. Yet, not only have Malik and JKLF not been brought to task, but have been openly eulogized by the Indian establishment.
After his release from arrest in 1994 and his pledge to disband the militant activities of JKLF, the Indian establishment took at face value his proclamations of being a ‘Gandhian’ peace activist. Not only this, but he was openly lionized among India’s so-called ‘intellectual’ communities, visiting New Delhi like a VIP, shaking hands with former PM Manmohan Singh and giving keynote addresses and speeches at India International Centre (IIC). During his “keynote” address at IIC in 2010 among a gathering of ‘intellectuals’ on the issue of Kashmir, it happened that a group of agitated Indian youth disrupted his speech and called him out for being a terrorist, a rapist and a murderer, reminding him of his crimes, for which he has been out on bail since 1994. In line with political thinking in India during that time, the youth were arrested and grilled by Delhi Police for disrupting Malik’s address, while terrorism was openly intellectualized.
Malik, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq – the three old terrorists who have formed the Joint Resistance League (JRL) – were, till now, given police protection and security and wielded unprecedented political influence in Srinagar circles. When Mirwaiz Farooq was recently summoned for questioning by the NIA to New Delhi, the whole of Kashmir erupted in protests, while Geelani has been openly and closely associated with Jama’at-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (JIJK). The Hizbul Mujahideen proclaimed itself as a military arm of JIJK, while the JIJK has been banned thrice by the Indian government since 1970s – by Indira Gandhi, V.P Singh and now Modi – for engaging in secessionist activity.
Yet, all these terrorists and organizations operate like VIPs in Kashmir, with mainstream political parties like NC, PDP and Congress openly supporting them, while previous Indian governments at the centre enacted the sophisticated charade of having a ‘dialogue’ and ‘negotiations’ with them to bring ‘peace’ to Kashmir. In retrospect, the whole thing comes across as one of the biggest political scams that has duped the nation. Successive Indian governments are to be squarely blamed that today Kashmiri terrorists have been able to whitewash themselves as activists and are wielding political influence instead of serving time in jail for their seditious crimes.
Given this background, the recent arrest of Yasin Malik and the banning of JIJK and JKLF seems to be a mild, incomplete and belated response. The fact that these steps are coming after five years – with the JKLF being banned after full 30 years, despite its and its founder’s, Yasin Malik’s clear complicity in terrorism – brings a keen sense of what could have been if the government had taken a consistently strong stand in Kashmir.
Even now, none of these measures would be fruitful unless the government goes beyond its constitutional moorings and brings in some big policy changes in Kashmir that could result in a permanent and unassailable assertion of India’s complete sovereignty in the region – that is, it must fulfill its promise of abrogating, if not Article 370, then at least the Presidential Order of 1954, which has restricted citizens from other Indian states from having equal rights in Kashmir.
While the government has, over the last five years, made substantial headway in stripping the veneer of false compromises and imagined reconciliation with terrorists and Pakistani proxies, the gaps are also becoming more visible and there is a clear sense that a lot more should have been done. The banning of JIJK after the Pulwama attack was a belated action. And this is not even the first time that JIJK is being banned. It was first banned by Sheikh Abdullah in 1975 and second time by Governor Jagmohan in 1993, both times for a limited number of years. This time the ban is for five years.
The recent government actions in Kashmir are piecemeal at best and nowhere near as strong as they should have been. They are also not new or extraordinary and, in fact, come nearly five years late, during which Malik and others have been roaming free. While the Modi government has had considerable military successes in Kashmir and has shown a firm hand, yet, the lack of sustained pressure and permanent changes, is being felt, since there was a lull during 2017-18, when the government decided to appoint an interlocuter. It is only now that the focus has been brought back to a clean resolution of terrorism in Kashmir. Though the Balakot strikes and India’s response to Pakistan at both military and political levels have opened an entirely new chapter in Indo-Pak ties in which India is setting the terms, it needs to be accompanied by a radical and consistent and persistent overhaul in Kashmir.