How pro-India politics in Kashmir revolves around separatist sentiment

by Altaf Hussain

While India celebrated the Ashok Chakra award posthumously conferred on an Indian soldier from Kashmir, Lance Naik Nazir Ahmed Wani, on this year’s Republic Day, pro-India politicians in Kashmir talked about the atrocities associated with the Ikhwan militia which he originally belonged to. The Ikhwan comprised former separatist militants who changed sides and joined counter-insurgency operations of the Indian Army. They were of immense help to the security forces. But they soon became infamous for all sorts of atrocities, including killings, abductions and extortion. Ikhwan became another name for terror.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad

Two major regional parties in the state traded charges of creating or misusing the Ikhwan. A PDP leader and former minister Naeem Akhter alleged that while in power, the “National Conference strengthened the concept of Task Force and converted the entire democratic system to favour Ikhwan.” NC’s outspoken leader and former Speaker, Mohammed Akber Lone, in turn, alleged that the Ikhwan commander “Kuka Parray worked as per the script drafted by the late Mufti Syed as home minister of India.”

The Hindu nationalist BJP’s trusted ally in Kashmir, Sajad Lone, did not lag behind in the denunciation of Ikhwan. In a tweet, he suggested that Ikhwanis were contract killers. “In the Ikhwan era, they had a chit system where a name was scribbled on a small chit and passed to Ikhwan for elimination.”

This posturing of Kashmir’s pro-India leaders is not happening for the first time.

Only last month, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah publicly objected to the Northern Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh’s remark that 2018 was a “remarkable year for the Army” as the troops had killed as many as 250 militants. Omar wrote on Twitter: “I beg to differ, a great year would be one in which no young man would join militancy, no terrorists would be killed & no security personnel would lose their lives in encounters. The compulsion of killing militants/terrorists shouldn’t be treated as a cause for celebration.”

A former MLA of the PDP, Aejaz Mir went a step further. “Militants who are from Kashmir are martyrs, they are our brothers” he was reported as saying. He added that their killings should not be celebrated.

After losing power, the PDP chief, Mehbooba has started visiting families of the slain militants again.

Pro-India leaders in Kashmir have always been conscious that the separatist sentiment is dominant in most parts of the state. They have appealed to this sentiment often indirectly but sometimes even directly. Human rights have been their pet theme while in Opposition. The NC went a step further: after forming the government in 1996 – some of its stalwarts like Mustafa Kamal made hard-hitting speeches in the law-making Assembly against the security forces. I heard some senior police officers murmuring outside the Assembly: “We protect them and they speak against us.”

The PDP was, at one time, widely known as a semi-separatist party. It tried to hold on to this image in and out of power so much so that the late Mufti Mohammad Sayed thanked the militants and even Pakistan for letting elections of 2014 happen peacefully.

National conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah along with senior party leaders offer prayers at the grave of party founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on his 113th birth anniversary on December 5, 2013, in Srinagar. Kl Image by Bilal Bahadur

“I want to say this on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister that we must credit the Hurriyat, Pakistan and the militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state,” Sayeed said during a press conference after being sworn in as head of the state’s PDP-BJP coalition government at a ceremony which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Indian Express, March 1, 2015)   In fact, some TV anchors would, after that, often refer to the late Mufti as “separatist chief minister” of Jammu and Kashmir.

National Conference supremo, Farooq Abdullah surprised many people when on December 5 , 2016, he told his party workers and supporters at a rally at the mazar or graveyard of his father, the late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, that they should not stay outside of the on-going movement for Kashmir resolution. He exhorted leaders of the separatist Hurriyat Conference to forge unity and pledged his support to their struggle. “I ask these Hurriyat leaders to unite. We are standing by your side at this hour. Don’t think of us as your adversaries. We are not your adversaries.” This brought him loud cheers from the audience.

Afzal Guru: A portrait click outside the court

In the same vein, Omar Abdullah has debunked the argument that participation of Kashmiri people in elections is a vote for India He has insisted that far from being a substitute for the referendum, elections are meant for provision of electricity, water, education etc.

So, the pro-India politics in Kashmir has revolved around the separatist sentiment.

Altaf Hussain

For their part, India’s national parties, like the BJP and the Congress have been using the Kashmir conflict to their own advantage. The Congress government hanged Afzal Guroo out of turn to please the hawks across India. The BJP government’s equivocal stand on Article 35 A in the Supreme Court has added to the insecurities of ordinary Kashmiris, including those supporting pro-India parties. The Modi government is taking pride in its hard-line policy towards Kashmir: it supports talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan but not with the separatist camp in Kashmir. During his recent visit to Kashmir Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, while paying rich tributes to the slain soldier, Nazir Wani, declaimed that “terrorism will be fought with full might.” No longer did he talk of “na goli se, na gali” or of hugging the Kashmiri people. It was a perfect election speech aimed at hardliners across India.

The author is a freelance journalist; formerly North India Correspondent of the BBC, he also worked with the Times of India. He tweets @ayhussain.)

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