Readers Write In #452: The Kashmir Files

Posted on March 20, 2022


By Aman Basha

The release of the film the Kashmir Files has created an atmosphere of debate, discussion, argument and accusation everywhere from the political sphere to colleges to living rooms, blogs and of course Twitter. In this atmosphere where so much was said and so little made sense, created by the success of director Vivek Agnihotri, I decided to take inspiration from a character of his previous film, The Tashkent Files, in finding the truth for myself instead of merely agreeing with people I had a bias for/against.

In this little quest, I chanced upon the writings of Mr. Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, a Kashmiri journalist whose perspective I found fascinating and unique, unique enough for me to contact him for an Interview. Mr Fayyaz agreed, the interview was held over phone as he said video might endanger his safety, threatened by vilification campaigns which had already led to the death of his colleague, Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir.

This below is part 1 of the interview I did with Mr. Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, who has contributed to many outlets like the Times of India, the Quint and was also Jammu and Kashmir Bureau Chief for the Hindu.

Q: The release of the film The Kashmir Files has created an atmosphere of debate and discussion over the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, the causes, the guilty, the victims, the needed solutions. But my question to you is why has this issue come to the forefront only now, why was there so little knowledge about a major event of almost 300,000 people leaving their homeland, and why has there been no international attention?

A: The film targets a particular class of people, which we call the ecosystem of terrorists. The film targets this ecosystem, which has been the support system of terrorists in Kashmir, in media and academia over the years. They have had complete dominance over the narrative from America to Europe. The reporting in Kashmir suffers from a single-story syndrome, that is a fact. But it is also a fact that the other side has also been reported, not by many but few. We can say this kind of film has been made for the first time, out of the many films made in Kashmir after the separatist conflict, such as Roja, the first or Haider (written by Basharat Peer), Kashmir was more a backdrop for Shakespeare and such. Also, the media, both national and international, have begun increasingly toeing one line at time, either by the leftist lobby or the right-wing lobby and truth has become a casualty. Vidhu Vinod Chopra had made Shikara, but he seemed to avoid much of the bloodshed and brutality that occurred, allowing Agnihotri to capitalize for the success that Kashmir Files has achieved.

Q: During the 1990 Kashmir Pandit Exodus, blame is put on four individuals mostly, depending on who you hear from, Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed (then Union Home Minister), Governor Jagmohan, Gul Shah and arguably the Gandhis. How much blame do each of them deserve for whatever happened in Kashmir?

A: As far as I know, Farooq Abdullah was against militancy, I was witness to him giving speeches exhorting people to not take to violence as it would benefit no one in the early 90s. After his return as Chief Minister in 1996 till 2002, he left no stone unturned to combat militancy politically and militarily. He would conduct counter insurgency operations and the opposition led by Mufti Sayeed would allege that the Special Task Force later known as Special Operation Group was created by Farooq Abdullah. He also brought a militant Javed Shah into his party as an MLC and tried to contest separatism politically too.

This went on till July 1999, when the People’s Democratic Party was launched by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, allegedly with the tacit support of the BJP as it was not possible for a mainstream politician to take a line that was softer to militants and terrorists. But Mufti campaigned entirely on this sentiment, putting signboards saying Islamabad was closer to Kashmir. He advocated closer trade ties, and transport with Pakistan and did nothing to integrate the people of Kashmir with the rest of India, that is a fact. He left no stone unturned to demonize the Indian security forces. His daughter and other PDP leaders called Indian soldiers’ rapists and killers, vastly exaggerating a few incidents and painting a false picture. With the support of a few Kashmiri separatists, he managed to form government, despite never winning more than 28 seats in the 87 seat J&K assembly. The GOI also helped him becoming CM twice, in 2002 and 2014. Thus, the perception was built in Kashmir that Mufti had the backing of the Centre in whatever he did, allowing him to criticize and discredit India’s institutions.

Farooq Abdullah’s party colleagues looked at the PDP’s victory and said that India hasn’t been responsive to them and since the anti-terrorism language wasn’t paying, they should compete with Mufti on his pro Pak rhetoric. Since, Farooq Abdullah has stopped demanding bombardment of Pakistan and other such things, since the Centre was not soft towards militants but also completely supportive of Mufti’s regime, where separatism saw a revival particularly after 2015, when Burhan Wani became a hero and Kashmir became a site of unceasing demonstrations till Mehbooba was deposed and ended on Aug 2019, with the abolition of Article 370. So, while people judge Farooq Abdullah now, fact is he was pushed to the wall and now has been making statements in support of separatists, calling them young boys picking up guns for freedom or saying China would help bring back Article 370. Farooq Abdullah also could have never been pro-Pakistan, as almost 3 to 4,000 of National Conference workers were killed by separatists as they were considered pro India. Even Pakistan would rather accept the BJP-RSS rather than him.

These are the two main political leaders in Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad was always against separatists, calling them terrorists. He never did what the BJP calls ‘appeasement’. These are the roles of the three ex Chief Ministers. The same could said for their progeny like Mehbooba as well.

Q: You said that Mufti Sayeed was supported by the Vajpayee Govt, but I remember reading that Mehbooba Mufti was not allowed on the same stage as Vajpayee due to her militant ties. And Abdullah was Vajpayee’s first choice for Vice President in 2002. So why did Vajpayee support Mufti Sayeed?

A: It is because Mufti had taken a line which was not completely extremist line, he was trying to be moderate, trying to address both pro India and separatist constituencies. But Mehbooba Mufti was no holds barred in her campaign, demonizing Indians. The PDP chose the election symbol of Salahuddin, chief of Hizbul Mujahiddeen, when he was contesting the 1987 election, that is the pen and inkpot. They chose the colour of the Muslim United Front’s flag. But I have reasons to believe that whatever they did, they did with the license granted by the BJP led Centre at the time.

Q: You said that Farooq Abdullah changed his positions frequently over the course of his career, but his father Sheikh Abdullah, easily Kashmir’s biggest leader, also seemed to change his thoughts on Kashmir frequently. At one point, he was firmly against Pakistan, later he wanted Kashmir to be independent. What could you consider Sheikh Abdullah’s legacy in Kashmir?

A: Sheikh Abdullah, everyone knows, wanted greater autonomy. He wanted the status of Kashmir to be as per the Delhi Agreement of 1952, with the Centre retaining power on only 4 portfolios. He never succeeded in this goal. When he returned to power in 1975, he was promised that the 51 central laws imposed on Kashmir despite its special status during his absence would be revised and repealed. Nothing of that sort happened. Although Farooq Abdullah realized that greater autonomy would not be possible, it remained his and the NC’s slogan. During Sheikh Abdullah’s 7 years CM till his death, there was no separatism and no incidents of protest except one stray incident of a clash between Srinagar taxi drivers and the Army for one day in 1980. Sheikh Abdullah however took complete control of the situation and two days later, held an event in Lal Chowk and this ended. During Sheikh Abdullah’s rule, even the Jamaat e Islami was a pro India party contesting elections. Only the Jamiat e Talbha, the student wing of the JeI, was a complete fringe organization and so were others, as the National Conference would sweep elections even after Sheikh Abdullah’s death. Even with Gul Shah in power, the NC candidate Abdul Rashid Qadri won with a 3 lakh margin against Gul Shah’s son. The militancy and violence we saw in 1990 and till today all started in 1987, when the Muslim United Front came into existence, contested elections and there were allegations that the NC and Congress had rigged the elections at about a dozen out of 76. Thereafter, several of the MUF candidates like Salahuddin became militants.

Q: The root of the militancy problem in Kashmir is traced back to Gul Shah or Curfew Shah and his statement at Anant Nag that “Islam khatremeinhai”. Would you say Gul Shah is the father of Islamic extremism in Kashmir today?

A: People don’t reckon Gul Shah to be a force. He was simply an important person as he was Sheikh Abdullah’s son in law. He never contested elections, he became Minister of Public Work under Sheikh Abdullah purely because of his marriage, nothing beyond that. And thereafter it was the Congress that made a conspiracy to depose Farooq Abdullah and engineered a split within the National Conference, with 12 MPs siding with Gul Shah, made CM of J&K by Indira Gandhi in 1984. It is a fact that he constructed a small mosque inside the Secretariat premises but it was not the point from where militancy started. It started only with the creation of the Muslim United Front in 1986, and during that time, a film Omar Mukhtar was screened at the Regal Theatre in Srinagar. People who came out of that used to speak against Sheikh Abdullah, calling him a sellout to India and that people like Gaddafi were real leaders. All this happened in the second half of the 80s when the Russians were in Afghanistan, and there was militancy in Punjab. There were international repercussions as it was a world phenomenon. During that time, I saw a book ‘Militant Islam’, inspired from Ikwanul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt. Their leaders Hasan Al Banna became an inspiration for an Islamist wave that swept Pakistan and Afghanistan and when the Russians retreated, Pakistan began saying that if we can defeat the Russians, boosting the morale of Islamists across the subcontinent. People associated with JamiatulTalbha like Yasin Malik took advantage of the political crisis in Kashmir, to create militancy. The rest is history.

Part-II coming up soon