The government has vehemently denied reports that it is reemploying former counterinsurgents to offset the impact of recent public uprising in Kashmir. Nevertheless, the controversy has brought back the discourse on counterinsurgency in Kashmir. The mainstream political parties, which rebuilt their demolished castles on the confidence instilled by counterinsurgents in mid-1990s, have started washing dirty linen in public. They now seek to dissociate themselves with the counterinsurgents commonly known as Ikhwanis or Nawbdis.
Those who have followed crests and troughs of armed insurgency in Kashmir are familiar with Qasim Khar’s name. He was a dreaded Ikhwani commander from Sumbal pocket of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, who joined the armed forces to launch an effective campaign against separatist militants and their sympathizers. Qasim Khar’s name was synonymous with plunder, loot, kidnapping and murder. He was one of many “eyes and ears” that army and Special Operations Group of police cultivated in every nook and cranny of Kashmir.
Qasim Khar became a spent force when the cutting edge of militancy blunted in north Kashmir. The number of militants dwindled and counterinsurgents’ role diminished proportionately. However, as Padma Shri Ghulam Muhammad Mir alias Mumma Kanna admitted to this writer a few months ago that he is ready to serve his “beloved country and the government at any time”, Qasim Khar and his ilk share the mantra. This is why Qasim Khar was approached at this juncture by unidentified government agencies to reorganize the former Ikhwanis to quell the ongoing agitation in Kashmir.
The people in Hajin and Sumbal, the one-time epicentre of counterinsurgency in Kashmir, have seen the former Ikhwanis assembling. They say the Ikhwani leaders are conducting meetings and recruiting youth to revive the group to curb the ongoing uprising in the Valley. They have spread the word that they have acquired authority to recommend unemployed youth for recruitment in government services. This bait, they presume, can make many a youngsters susceptible.
But, there is basic difference between emergence of Ikhwani’s in mid-1990’s and their misuse in 2010 when militancy has almost vanished and resentment is exhibited by unarmed civilians. The people braved the ruthlessness of Ikhwanis because they pulverized them in the name of being supporters of militants. “Now that the government admits militancy is on wane, the Ikhwanis cannot be provided license to kill. The people have the courage to counter them,” said Abdul Majid, a resident of the area.
And, people have exhibited their utter dislike for the Ikhwanis on occasions more than one. The most stunning incident occurred in south Kashmir’s Shopian district last week. A notorious counterinsurgent, Faisal Shah alias Jheela Shah, in his mid-30s, died mysteriously at his residence. As the people in the locality came to know about his death, they heaved a sigh of relief. The acrimony against him refreshed in their memories and hundreds of people came out to express resentment against the Ikhwani.
A resident of Shopian told Kashmir Life that people assembled around the local graveyard and announced that Jheela Shah’s relatives would not be allowed to bury him in the communal graveyard. The people shouted slogans against the Ikhwanis and the ruling National conference, with which he and his father Ghulam Nabi Shah were associated.
Cornered from all sides, the family members later decided to bury Shah in the courtyard of their house. The worst example of ostracising in Kashmir valley was set.
A local trader in Shopain said that the resentment against Shah and his family was not misplaced, though he differed with the attitude meted out with them. “The people should have boycotted the funeral prayers but the burial in local graveyard should have been allowed,” he said. However, he says that the public behaviour towards them was reflective of the seeds they had sown in the past. Jheela is reported to have headed a ransom syndicate in New Delhi where he looted hundreds of Kashmiri traders, travellers and students. He has reportedly been instrumental in killing of scores of militants, raiding houses, molesting women besides other forms of atrocities.
In 2008 uprising, people expressed similar resentment against dreaded counterinsurgent Papa Kishtwari when they attacked his residence at Pampore and set all the belongings on fire. His family members had sensed the trouble and left the house before the mob attacked it. Kishtwari, who too had joined the National Conference for a brief period, is serving jail term for his involvement in kidnapping and subsequently killing a young contractor from Nishat.
People in Pampore recount the horror unleashed by Kishtwari and his militia in mid 1990s when they reportedly killed 50 persons in cold blood in the saffron town. One of Kishtwari’s victims was Ghulam Rasool Azad, editor of a local newspaper who had dared to admonish him at a local police station. Azad, locals say, on way to his residence from Srinagar in a passenger bus, was waylaid by Kishtwari’s men. His decomposed body surfaced in Jhelum ten days after his kidnapping. The counterinsurgents had tied heavy stones to Azad’s body with the intention to consign him to the list of disappeared people in Kashmir.
The opposition PDP and the ruling NC have started trading charges on the other’s association with counterinsurgent Ikhwanis. The fact is that the Ikhwanis helped the mainstream political parties revive in Kashmir at a time when they lacked courage to resurface in the Valley. The first public meetings, which Congress leader Ghulam Rasool Kar and Farooq Abdullah organized in north Kashmir in 1994 were organized by Ikhwanis. Similar reports are attributed to emergence of local leaders like CPM legislator Yousuf Tarigami in Kulgam. How the central government accommodated Kuka Parray, Javed Shah and Firdous Syed to become legislators is another chapter of the Ikhwani saga in Kashmir.
In the prevailing circumstances in Kashmir, the National Conference government, which is at the lowest ebb of popularity following the killing of 65 civilians, mostly teenagers, the government cannot afford to associate itself with Ikhwanis.