It wasn’t without a purpose that Kashmir’s mainstream and separatist parties were on the same page, when it came to extolling Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s three-fold mantra of “Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat aur Kashmiriyat”. For years, Vajpayee’s statesmanship sustained an ecosystem in which everything “anti-Indian” passed off as “Jamhooriyat” (democracy).
The National Conference’s sustained demand for “restoration of Greater Autonomy”, that culminated in an unanimous resolution in the J&K Legislature in 1999-2000, proved to be a watershed. Vajpayee favoured the idea of creating a regional party to undercut NC’s influence so as to ensure that no Valley-based party formed the government on its own in the future.
PDP’s Inception and ‘Camouflage’
Waiting in the wings, Farooq Abdullah’s bête noire, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, floated the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in July 1999. It emphasised the alleged rigging in the 1987 assembly elections, projected by Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin, as a victim of ‘NC’s tyranny’, and borrowed not only the green colour of the erstwhile Muslim United Front and Jamaat-e-Islami for its flag, but also the MUF’s pen-and-ink pot as its election symbol.
The PDP’s concerted campaign against Farooq, his party and the counter-insurgent Special Operations Group (SOG), witnessed Mufti take over as chief minister with just 16 of his MLAs in a House of 87 in 2002.
Omar Abdullah came to be known for his refrain of “political solution to the political problem”, and echoing the PDP’s patented demands of demilitarisation.
Both BJP and Congress supported Mufti in the ‘larger national interest’. Even when BJP and NC were partners in the NDA government at the Centre in 1998, Vajpayee launched “Sada-e-Sarhad”, a bus service between Delhi and Lahore. Breaking the ice, he travelled to Lahore and offered his hand of friendship to the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Foundation of an Ecosystem
Days later, the passengers on board from Delhi included five from the family of the then Hizbul Mujahideen ‘Chief Commander of Operations’, Riyaz Rasool. Thereafter, Jamaat and Hizb men began travelling between Srinagar and Islamabad, the way others do between Srinagar and Delhi. Militant commanders got to marry the women of their choice from the Valley, in what was usually their second marriages.
Separatists in Srinagar got their spouses from Pakistan. Z-plus security, bulletproof cars, police escorts and VIP status were granted to many of them. Ministers and bureaucrats obliged separatists and militants in transfers and appointments, including backdoor appointments of their family members and close relatives in enviable positions. Just a handshake with Vajpayee and LK Advani was enough.
Mufti’s children and Farooq Abdullah’s children visited Pakistan, where they were accorded state hospitality and protocol.
New Delhi shut its eyes not only to the unending flow of funds from overseas, but also to Islamabad’s largesse of MBBS seats every year to each of the separatist leaders in Pakistan’s medical colleges. Even inductions in the Kashmir Administrative Service, passports, import-export licenses, FCRA registrations, contracts and supply orders were issued on the recommendation of several separatist leaders in all successive regimes.
Surrender of the ‘Ultimate Indian’
Devastated by NC’s defeat in the 2002 assembly elections, Farooq was bludgeoned to submission before his son Omar Abdullah and a younger coterie of his advisers who wanted him to shut his pro-Indian jingoism. Omar came to be known for his refrain of “political solution to the political problem”, and echoing the PDP’s patented demands of demilitarisation and revocation of the J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
At his father’s birth anniversary function at Hazratbal in December 2016, Farooq asked followers to “respect and remember the sacrifices laid down by the Kashmiri youths for the nation”.
With exceptions like Ghulam Nabi Azad, nobody after 2002 contested Pakistan’s claims over Kashmir or the separatists’ narratives.
Mufti’s children and Farooq’s children visited Pakistan where they were accorded state hospitality and protocol. In September 2011, Chief Minister Omar attended a wedding hosted by the alleged hawala dealer Zahoor Watali, where PoK’s former ‘President’, Barrister Sultan Choudhary, was among the guests. Next day, Choudhary and Watali, now in the NIA’s custody in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, visited Pahalgam in the state government’s helicopter.
No Place for Indians in Kashmir
With exceptions like Ghulam Nabi Azad, nobody after 2002 contested Pakistan’s claims over Kashmir or the separatists’ narratives. Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani shouted “hum Pakistani hain, Pakistan humara hai”(we belong to Pakistan and Pakistan belongs to us) as many as 10 times, evoking fervent responses from a massive gathering at the sprawling Tourist Reception Grounds in Srinagar in 2008.
The land, he said, would shrink for anybody pro-Indian in Kashmir. When the founder of the Congress party in J&K, Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, died during the Burhan Wani mayhem in 2016, his family failed to find a place for his burial. A tomb was arranged in a Delhi cemetery.
Pro-Pakistani Sentiments & Free Reign To Militants
As most of the mainstream politicians built their own fortunes and promoted the separatist narratives, bluntly or with euphemism, none of the MLAs, MPs or ministers were attacked by militants after Dr Ghulam Nabi Lone’s killing in October 2005.
Only the policemen, including then IGP, K Rajendra Kumar, were targeted in the fidayeen attack on Chief Minister Azad’s rally at Sher-e-Kashmir Park in May 2006. Before 2002, more than 3,000 Kashmiris had been killed for their association with Sheikh Abdullah’s NC and their ‘soft corner’ for India.
The separatists’ massive crowds shouted pro-Pakistan slogans and waved Pakistani flags all through the street turbulence of 2008, 2010, 2016, and thereafter in the entire Valley.
Under the supervision of a separatist-turned-mainstream politician, who had been inducted as minister in Mehbooba Mufti’s Cabinet, a 25-year-old Army bunker was demolished at Handwara.
This fervour reached a crescendo in the three years of the PDP-BJP rule when, immediately after taking over as chief minister, Mufti ordered the top separatist leader Masarat Alam’s release. Alam also began an exercise to set free Asiya Andrabi’s husband Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, who was serving a life-term for his conviction in the murder of human rights activist Hriday Nath Wanchoo.
Mehbooba Mufti’s Govt Shut Its Eyes To Separatism
Even after Mehbooba Mufti rearrested Alam under BJP’s pressure, her government shut its eyes to Faktoo’s ‘spiritual clinic’ in Srinagar Central Jail, where ‘devotees’ would meet him freely to seek his blessings. None other than the leader of the militants, known as ‘Ameer-e-Zindaan’, would decide which of the prisoners would be lodged in the Valley jails, and who would be sent back and lodged in Jammu.
For 10 years, neither the CBI nor the state government made any attempt to get the stay vacated on the JKLF Chief Yasin Malik’s trial in the IAF killings case of 1990.
“Total political breakdown,” according to several BJP leaders, happened only during the PDP-BJP coalition from 2015 to 2018.
The Indian national flag was pulled down, and a 25-year-old Army bunker was demolished at Handwara under the supervision of a separatist-turned-mainstream politician who had been picked from BJP’s quota and inducted as minister in Mehbooba Mufti’s Cabinet. Another separatist-turned-mainstream leader and MLA from the same area, popularised the slogan of raishumari (plebiscite) among the youths, and organised a “beef kebab party” at the MLAs’ Hostel in Srinagar.
2015-18: Total Political Breakdown
For fear of the revival of SOG, which the Muftis proudly claimed to have disbanded, and for the purpose of keeping NC and BJP away from the government, a section of the Jamaat cadre has, notwithstanding boycott, voted for PDP in several elections.
Some PDP leaders also claimed credit for the fact that most of the prominent counter-insurgents, including Ikhwanul Muslimoon founder Kukka Parray, were all eliminated by militants during their regime. Mehbooba herself claimed that as chief minister she had set free more than 14,000 stone-pelters.
The first big turning point after 1999 came in May 2017, when the NIA filed a terror-funding related FIR and arrested a dozen separatist leaders.
BJP had been particularly angry with Mehbooba over her ‘soft corner’ for the militant commander Burhan Wani, the recommendation of one LeT-linked advocate as judge for the J&K High Court, backdoor appointments of some separatist and militant leaders’ relatives for prestigious positions, and the absence of the Indian tri-colour at the Central University of Kashmir. “Total political breakdown,” according to several BJP leaders, came only during the PDP-BJP coalition from 2015 to 2018.
NIA’s FIR — First Strike on ‘Joint Control’
“Irrespective of who was apparently in power, after 2002 it was a coalition of mainstream and separatist politicians. Despite counterinsurgency operations, militants and their handlers had clout under all regimes,” said a Jammu-based BJP leader. “Now Modi ji and Amit Shah have shut this door for good,” he added, claiming that the decision to abrogate Article 370 and 35A was “as bold as Indira Gandhi’s decision on Operation Blue Star (1984) and the war with Pakistan (1971).”
Arguably, the first turning point after 1999 came in May 2017, when the NIA filed a terror-funding related FIR, conducted raids, and arrested a number of the accused, including Watali, and about a dozen separatist leaders. Of late, it has also taken custody of ‘veterans’ like Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and Asiya Andrabi.
The draft of Home Minister Amit Shah’s Reorganisation Bill makes it clear enough that the BJP under Modi had started the process of divesting J&K of its special status over a year ago. US President Donald Trump’s attempt to placate Pakistan in his Afghan exit plan may have precipitated things in New Delhi, but political scientists believe that Shah’s 58-page exhaustive Bill could not have been drafted in mere weeks or months.
Shujaat’s Killing: The Turning Point
A sequence of developments took place in 2018 and 2019. When LeT terrorist Naveed Jhat shot dead two J&K Police constables and escaped from SMHS Hospital in February 2018, all the militant and separatist prisoners were shifted from the Valley’s jails to Jammu. Journalist Shujaat Bukhari’s assassination in broad daylight on 14 June eventually split up the PDP-BJP coalition on 18 June.
Subsequently, PDP lost all three Lok Sabha seats, and around two dozen of its top leader deserted the party.
The 14 February 2019 Pulwama blast that killed over 40 CRPF personnel, was the final nail in the coffin, paving the way for J&K to lose its ‘special status’.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached@ahmedalifayyaz. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)