The message from Islamabad is gaining in decibel: the Generals want New Delhi to initiate talks with them on Kashmir. The latest in a string of couriers was former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who urged Dr Manmohan Singh to travel to Islamabad for talks on Kashmir. Kasuri also suggested that a deal could be struck along the lines of the proposal floated some years ago by former dictator General Pervez Musharraf.
The subtext of the signals coming through is that the generals genuinely want a deal on Kashmir. It is impossible not to detect a touch of urgency in their texting. It would therefore be in order to investigate the cause of their current concern. One possibility, of course, is that Pakistan’s generals have undergone a radical makeover and genuinely want to wind down support to the militancy in Kashmir, perhaps having finally realised the folly of using terrorism as an instrument of policy. There are, however, other possibilities, one of which requires a bit of recounting.
When the Kashmir Valley erupted in revolt in 1989, the popular slogan was Azaadi or independence. The most prominent militant organisation at that time was the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which attracted thousands of recruits for the armed struggle. Within a few years, however, a great change occurred in the armed struggle. The old slogans were buried by a new chant that declared “Azaadi ka matlab kia? La Ilaha illallah” (What does freedom mean? There is no God but Allah). The new master of the militancy was the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), an Islamist organisation that unabashedly advocated the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan.
How this remarkable transformation occurred within the space of a few years has never been a secret in Kashmir’s closely knit community. The side-lining of the JKLF and other pro-independence groups was carefully orchestrated by the Pakistan Army. Just as General Zia ul Haq had favoured pro-Pakistan Islamist groups in the Afghan jihad, his predecessors realised that the key to controlling the armed struggle in Kashmir was to pack it with men swearing allegiance to Muslim Pakistan.
The Jammu & Kashmir Jamaat-e-Islam had contributed greatly to the uprising and had sent in large contingents across the border along with JKLF recruits for training. The Jamaat elements had got together and formed the HM as early as in 1989 and began operating in the Valley in parallel with the JKLF from 1990 onwards. The JKLF itself had a significant proportion of Jamaat men in the initial years, many of whom would desert in the months to come and train their guns against their former colleagues.
Rise of Hizbul Mujahideen
The pro-Pakistan camp used the age old methods of coercion and assassination to purge the movement of the independent minded. Arif Jamal, a prominent US-based Pakistani journalist, in his book “Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir”i, has painstakingly described how the Hizbul took control of the movement. “Hizbul Mujahideen operatives harassed, beat and murdered potential rivals, and the scale of the violence was enormous. According to a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, the organization eliminated some 7,000 political rivals. From the beginning of their campaign, Hizbul Mujahideen focused on disarming and kidnapping JKLF members, and many were brutalized in custody and beaten to death. According to Amanullah Khan, Hizbul Mujahideen eliminated more JKLF officials than Indian military agents had. Their purge continued throughout 1991 and 1992.”
It is worth quoting Jamal at some length to show just how brutal and systematic the Hizbul Mujahideen was in its mission to enforce complete compliance with Islamabad’s aims. In Shadow War, Jamal has described how a number of rivals and rival groups were eliminated. Several leaders within the Hizbul Mujahideen too were disenchanted by the internecine killings. “Disillusioned by the on-going sectarian violence, Ahsan Dar, the founding commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, left the organization. His resignation caused widespread panic in Pattan, his stronghold, and angered leaders in Hizbul Mujahideen, which had him arrested in the summer of 1992, though he was later released. He quickly founded a new organization, Muslim Mujahideen, which would become an influential group for former members of Hizbul Mujahideen.
“Though Muslim Mujahideen was founded only as a political organization to give its members a platform, many joined the counter-insurgency. The organization also quickly became a target of Hizbul Mujahideen, which killed some fifty Muslim Mujahideen members.
“Hizbul Mujahideen also targeted other organizations. Jamiatul Mujahideen was one of its fiercest enemies, considered an arch-rival. Though the two groups had a common history – and essentially held to the ideology of Jamaat-i-Islami – Hizbul Mujahideen stalked Jamiatual Mujahideen, shadowing its fighters and assassinating seven senior members during the early 1990s. Another targeted organization was the Muslim Janbaaz Force (MJF). Some 120 MJF members were killed by Hizbul Mujahideen. Extremists dominated MJF and the organization eventually merged with a group called Jihad Force and formed a new group called al-Jihad. A bloody battle broke out in Pulwama in 1993 when Hizbul Mujahideen tried to disarm al-Jihad fighters.
“Yet another group targeted was the Jammu and Kashmir Students Liberation Front, the JKSLF. The organization’s head, Hilal Ahmed Beg, was well known for having kidnapped and murdered the vice chancellor of the University of Kashmir. In the aftermath of the killing, Beg founded a new organization called Ikhwanul Muslimeen. Hizbul Mujahideen targeted the new organization as well, and ruthlessly.
“A young JKSLF member, Mohammad Yusuf Parray, who would later go by the name Kukka Parray, was locally known as a dancer and folk singer. A published poet, he was considered by his colleagues to be emotional and sensitive. Though his life was spared, he and his family were tortured for their association with the JKSLF. Parray later estimated that Hizbul Mujahideen had murdered 70 per cent of the Ikhwanul Muslimeen membership. After abandoning militancy, Parray launched the Kashmir bachao, Bharat bachao movement (“Save Kashmir, Save India”) with the objective of eliminating some of the violence in the region.
“Hizbul Mujahideen militants also murdered some of the leading political leaders in Kashmir. They killed Dr. Ahad Guru and Professor Abdul Ahad Wailoo (chief commander of al-Barq, al-Jihad and JKLF). Mirwaiz Farooq, a leading political personality in Srinagar, was also killed; Syed Ali Shah Geelani ordered his elimination. Hizbul Mujahideen kidnapped Qazi Nissar, one of five secessionist leaders who were imprisoned and later released, on June 19, 1994, and left his bullet-riddled body near Anantnag. The Hizbul Mujahideen also killed Ghulam Qadir Wani; he had publicly opposed Pakistani involvement in the jihad.”ii
Outburst in the Separatist Camp
Recent admissions by key separatist leaders have made it clear that it was not Indian security forces but “their own people” who were responsible for a number of key political assassinations, including that of Muhammad Mirwaiz Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone and others. "No police was involved (in the killings).... It was our own people who killed them," former Hurriyat Conference chairman Professor Abdul Gani Bhat disclosed while speaking at a seminar in Srinagar in early January this yeariii. He said that even his own brother, Mohammad Sultan Bhat, was murdered in 1995 by his own people, by which he meant Kashmiri separatists.
Bhat’s outburst slammed through the Kashmir Valley, prompting another separatist leader Sajad Lone to declare that “Truth, however bitter, must prevail”.iv Lone’s father, Abdul Ghani Lone, was among those assassinated. Although neither Bhat nor Lone specified who had ordered the killings, Bhat maintained that everyone in Kashmir was aware who the killers were. Their fingers pointed squarely at pro-Pakistan forces and their Pakistani handlers.
In Kashmir, many assassinations of prominent leaders have in the past been attributed to Indian security forces. While the security forces have always denied being involved, it is only in recent years that the extent of these internecine killings has become clear. Among those executed by Pakistani agents are Maulvi Muhammad Farooq (21 May 1990, killed by Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo), JKLF ideologue Professor Abdul Ahad Wani (31 December 1993), HN Wanchoo (December 1992, killed by Dr. Ashiq Hussain Faktoo), Muhammad Sultan Bhat (1995), Abdul Gani Lone (21 May 2002) and Abdul Majid Dar (23 March 2003).
Pakistani websites and separatist organisations in Kashmir have been claiming that all these persons were executed by Indian security forces or their agents. The killing of the Mirwaiz in 1990 had been used by the separatist leadership to rouse public support against India. A huge crowd of over 200,000 mourners had turned up at his funeral chanting anti-India slogans. The crowds had become unmanageable and began to attack the police. This led to firing that killed a hundred mourners, thereby further inflaming public opinion in Kashmir. Similarly, Professor Abdul Ahad Wani’s execution had led to massive street protests and even to this day, the JKLF organises a gathering every year to mourn his martyrdom at the hands of Indian security forces. Professor Bhat’s disclosures are bound to raise numerous uncomfortable issues.
Sajad Lone came out in open support of Professor Bhat. In a first person piece written in a Srinagar newspaper, Lone recounted the circumstances of his father’s assassination.v “…there he was- my Dad- lifeless, stone cold, eyes closed, hair curled back, in a state of eternal slumber. My Dad’s journey of life had ended. In the crowd I saw my mother, squatting, hands stretched upwards her upper body making pendulous movements back and forth, wailing in sync. She had just become a widow. I went up to her and she hugged me tightly and both mother and son wept together. I got up filled with anger and began to shout hysterically and out came from my mouth the infamous statement blaming the ISI for my father’s killing. I was unmindful of the TV crews and their cameras. And in the evening it was all across the TV screens. I remember when I was shouting- well wishers, relatives trying to stop me, dissuade me from making any accusations. What surprised me was my mother on her feet among others trying to stop me. She should be there mourning the loss of her husband.”
He recounts how his mother forced him to publicly recount his accusations against the Pakistani secret service, ISI. “She held my hands and looked deep into my eyes and said, ‘retract the statement you made last night’. I took my hands away with a wild swing and replied, “Dad has been killed. I am not retracting”. She remained silent for some time and then went down on her knees, took off her veil and gently placed it on my feet and hugged my legs, her arms thrown across my knees and she sobbed and sobbed, “I have lost Lone sahib. I will not lose you. I will not allow a second dead body with bullets in this house. ‘”
Lone went on to explain why he stood by Prof. Bhat’s statements. “Lone Sahib , Mirwaiz Sahib have left this world. We cannot get them back. But if we do not learn any lessons from their killings we will be doing a great disservice to the very nation whose aspirations we claim to espouse. There is nothing like a good murderer and a bad murderer. A murderer is a murderer... For too long we have tried to justify hostile and violent actions against fellow Kashmiris by those whom we treat as our very own conveniently using the fig leaf in the interests of the movement. The culture of unaccountability, impunity cultivated and nourished by a select group of “intellectuals”, “thinkers” has only emboldened the killers to indulge in more heinous acts, aimed at disempowering the Kashmiri voice and coercing it into submission. It is time that the select band decides whose side they are on- the murderer or the murdered.”vi
Change in Perceptions?
The timing of these disclosures is significant, for they suggest a change in Kashmiri perception. While the overall sentiment in the Valley remains anti-Indian, the pro-Pakistan slogans too have lost their resonance. A section of the separatist leadership is now signalling that it wants to be free of Islamabad’s dictations. By raising their voice against the assassinations and implicitly identifying the forces responsible, these Kashmiri leaders are attempting to distance themselves from pro-Pakistani forces that have held Kashmiri politics in complete thrall. You are either with the killers or against them, warned Sajad Lone, thereby drawing a significant division within the separatist camp.
The separatist camp has other reasons to be disenchanted with Pakistan, which is increasingly being viewed as a failing state. Internationally, Pakistan is in the dog house. The shift in Western views against Pakistan has also prompted the Kashmiri intelligentsia to realise the futility of hitching their bandwagon to that country. The subtle change in atmosphere is palpable in Srinagar. But if more separatists are not speaking out against Pakistan, it is because they continue to be terrified by the possibility of being assassinated.
While India may not accrue any direct benefit from this development, it could help in creating an atmosphere for genuine talks between New Delhi and the separatists. For this to happen, New Delhi needs to ensure that the constant threat of political assassinations in the Valley is removed. Sadly though, New Delhi’s record in this has been abysmal. It has consistently failed to protect those who favoured a settlement that even hinted at a possible diminution of Islamabad’s perceived interests.
Separatist leader Sajad Lone has once again spoken of the need to protect those who speak out against the politics of assassinations. He had voiced similar concerns nine years ago when his father had been assassinated. At that time he had accused the state government of not providing adequate security to his father. ‘‘They knew the level of threat against my father’s life and did nothing till he was assassinated. In fact, we had asked for more security. That is why I believe that two sets of people were involved in his assassination — those who killed him and those who facilitated his murder. And I believe that the Farooq Abdullah government facilitated his assassination by not providing enough security”, he had charged.vii
Majid Dar and Failed Peace Talks
The most significant case perhaps was of former Hizbul Mujahideen supremo, Abdul Majid Dar, who had opted for dialogue with New Delhi. His desire for a negotiated settlement had come at a time when New Delhi was keen on a permanent resolution of the Kashmir issue. This initiative was pushed by the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had visited Lahore in February 1999 in a bid to clear the atmosphere with Pakistan. Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan had nose-dived following the May 1998 nuclear tests and Prime Minister Vajpayee perhaps felt that now that both sides had demonstrated their nuclear weapons capabilities, it was time to sort out outstanding issues through negotiations. The then Pakistan Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, tried to sabotage the process by precipitating the Kargil War later that year.
Prime Minister Vajpayee, however, remained optimistic, especially in regard to Kashmir. While the Pakistan Army continued to engineer acts of terrorism in India, New Delhi sent out feelers to the separatist leadership in Kashmir as well as to militants. US President Bill Clinton’s visit to South Asia in 2000 was a turning point in many senses as it marked the beginning of Western recognition of India’s new regional status. While Clinton praised India, he made a brief stopover on his way back in Islamabad where he made a stern speech, upbraiding Pakistan for its dubious role in Kashmir. Clinton warned that borders could not be redrawn with blood.
Hizbul commander Abdul Majid Dar, who had crossed over to Pakistan, returned to India via Dubai in July 2000. On the 24th of that month, he called a press conference at a nondescript house on the outskirts of Srinagar where he announced that the Hizbul Mujahideen would declare a ceasefire and begin negotiations with the Government of India provided the latter accepted their offer. “The primary objective of the announcement is to break the deadlock and make the atmosphere conducive for talks,” he said. “There is a craving worldwide that peace and normality should return to the subcontinent which is passing through difficult times. Our decision is also in consonance with the statements by the Hurriyat leaders and the popular feelings.”viii He also announced a three month ceasefire by Hizbul militants in Kashmir.
He further clarified that his decision to come to India and offer dialogue was decided at the supreme council meeting held a few months earlier. “A meeting of the Majlis Shora was held some months back in Muzzafarabad, where the consensus was arrived at and I was deputed to have deliberations with the field command council in the valley”, Dar explained at the meeting. While his organisation had originally insisted on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the U.N. resolutions, it now adopted a new position that favoured a settlement based on a trilateral dialogue involving the representatives of the Kashmiris. He stressed that this initiative was of the Hizbul Mujahideen’s own accord and hoped that Pakistan as well as other militant groups would support it.
Dar’s announcement aroused great hope both in the Kashmir Valley and in New Delhi. Separatist leader Fazil-ul Haq Qureshi was appointed negotiator by the Hizbul Mujahideen commanders in the Valley and talks were set to start. For a moment it looked as if this was the breakthrough that Kashmir desperately needed. That hope, however, proved short lived. The hard core jihadi organisations such as the Tehrik ul Mujahideen, Jamaat ul Mujahideen, Harkat ul Mujahideen, Hizbul Mommin, Al Badar, Laskhar-e-Taiba, Al Umar, Al Jehad and the women’s militant group Dukhtaran-e-Millat condemned the move and vowed to resist any negotiations.
The move was ultimately nullified by the Pakistan Army’s sudden distrust of Majid Dar, who they suspected had been swayed by New Delhi, which rejected any move to involve Islamabad in the talks. Prime Minister Vajpayee on 6 August 2000 categorically ruled out the involvement of Pakistan in the on-going peace talks between the Government and the Hizbul Mujahideen. Pakistan Army chief Pervez Musharraf, who had initially welcomed the talks by saying that they provided a window of opportunity for a resolution of the long standing dispute, now changed his tune. Hizbul Amir, Syed Salahuddin, who had supported the move, was called in by the Pakistan Army and instructed to immediately denounce the move by Majid Dar and expel him from the organisation. The Jamaat-e-Islam Pakistan, Hizbul’s mentor, expressed shock at the ceasefire and its chief cut short a visit to the United States to bring the organisation to heel.
On 8 August, just two days after Prime Minister Vajpayee’s statement, Hizbul Mujahideen Amir, Syed Salahuddin, called a press conference where he announced the withdrawal of the July 24 ceasefire declaration. He blamed India for its failure to reciprocate and what he termed India’s “traditional intransigence”. At the crowded news conference, Salahuddin said his organisation would “review and reconsider” its decision if India was prepared to ''break the barrier of rigidity''.ix His basic condition was simple: involve Pakistan in the talks.
Thereafter, terrorism returned to haunt the Valley. Jamaat-e-Islam Pakistan Chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed declared that jihad was the only option to force India to accept the significance of the Kashmir dispute.x Bomb blasts resumed, killing scores of innocent people and sporadic clashes broke out between Hizbul Mujahideen fighters owing allegiance to Majid Dar and Pakistani jihadi groups such as the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Majid Dar’s offer for dialogue soon became a distant memory.
Prime Minister Vajpayee made another attempt at peace later that year by announcing a universal ceasefire on the eve of the Muslim holy period of Ramzaan. The ceasefire officially known as Non-initiation of Combat Operations (NICO) was extend month by month and lasted till about the middle of 2001. Meanwhile, in July 2001, the famous Agra Summit was held where Prime Minister Vajpayee met General Pervez Musharraf in an attempt to finally resolve the Kashmir problem. The summit ended drastically and an angry Musharraf returned to Pakistan empty handed. Chances of peace and a resolution of the Kashmir problem receded following the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. New Delhi was convinced that Islamabad had ordered the attack. Prime Minister Vajpayee was infuriated by the attack and broke off all negotiations with Pakistan. That effectively ended Prime Minister Vajpayee’s efforts to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem.
Majid Dar was gradually marginalised and in May 2002 he was finally expelled and replaced by Saiful Islam. Thereafter three of his close aids - Tufail Altaf, ex-district commander for Srinagar, Almas Khan and Nadeem Usmani, both former district administrators of Kupwara district – were expelled from the outfit in November of that year. Clashes broke out between followers of the two factions in Hizbul camps located in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Meanwhile, Indian security forces began inflicting fearful casualties on the Hizbul Mujahideen from which it would never recover. Majid Dar himself was shot dead by Pakistani assassins in Sopore in March 2003xi.
“Within hours of Dar’s assassination, clashes broke out at the HM camps in PoK between the slain leader’s followers and members of the faction led by Salahuddin. There were clashes at the camps in Kotli, Mirpur, Jangal-Mangal, Haripur, and Gadhi-Dupatta. Dar was slated to take charge of these ISI-run stations where tensions between the two factions had been simmering. Highly placed sources were sure of Salahuddin’s hands in the murder of the Kashmir-born leader.”xii The very next month, Saiful Islam was killed by Indian security forces. The Hizbul Mujahideen would never be the same and henceforth Pakistan would increasingly rely on Pakistan based groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad to carry on the militancy in Kashmir.
Today, Kashmir politics is undergoing a significant transformation. Pakistan is no longer the role model or a mentor. During last year’s summer unrest, no pro-Pakistan slogans were raised. When Syed Ali Shah Geelani tried to again champion Pakistan, he was heckled and his house attacked.
Bringing Pakistan back into the Kashmir picture at this juncture would be giving away something for nothing. Moreover, with many Kashmiri leaders, including some separatists, challenging Pakistan’s hegemony of terror, it would be the supreme irony if New Delhi was to reintroduce Islamabad’s Generals back into the Valley’s political scenario.
i : Shadow War: The Untold Story of the Jihad in Kashmir by Arif Jamal, Melville House Publishing, New Jersey, USA, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-1-933633-59-6
ii : Ibid. pages 156-159
iii : Abdul Ghani Bhat stands by anti-separatist tirade. Times of India, 4 January 2011
iv : Truth Must Come Out, Says Lone, 3 January 2011, The Hindustan Times
v : Where mourning is a luxury: I was not mourning my father. I was mourning my mother's loss of right to mourn. First person by Sajad Lone, Greater Kashmir, 9 January 2011
vi : Ibid
vii : They killed our father, now they’re after us: Sajjad Lone, 1 September 2002, The Indian Express, Muzamil Jaleel
viii : Hizbul announces ''ceasefire'', 24 July 2000, Hindu, Shujaat Bukhari
ix : Hizbul Mujahideen Revokes Ceasefire, 8 August 2000, Hindu, B. Muralidhar Reddy
x : Jihad only solution to Kashmir, 9 August 2000, News Network International
xi : “Abdul Majid Dar, top separatist leader and former Hizbul Mujahideen Chief Commander, was shot dead by unknown gun men at Sopore on 23 March 2003. Two gun wielding youth barged into Dar`s ancestral house at Noor Bagh in the heart of the township and fired indiscriminately. While Dar died on the spot, his mother and sister were critically injured.” The Assassination of Hizbul Leader Majid Dar, Md. Sadiq, 24 March 2003, www.jammu-kashmir.com
xii : Ibid.
Published date : 8 February, 2011