Readers Write In #455: Kashmir Files Part II

Posted on April 4, 2022


By Aman Basha

Part II of this piece:

The continuation and conclusion of my Interview with Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Q: Some people attribute the 1990 Exodus as it happened to have been caused by a political game played by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the Union Home Minister then, to undercut Farooq Abdullah by bringing Jagmohan as J&K Governor. What exactly was this political crisis and what part did it have in how Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of their homeland?

A: I can tell you that Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was not an important Kashmiri leader, in fact his importance was only because of his opposition to Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference. He and his cohorts were instrumental in bringing Congress to Kashmiri politics in the 1960s, he was New Delhi’s man in Kashmir. He didn’t have popular support, never becoming a member of the Legislative Assembly, the two times he won were completely rigged. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that all the elections held from 1957 to 1972 were all completely rigged and Mufti was returned once or twice during this time only. Thereafter he became MLA from Jammu and his Lok Sabha elections were all outside except in 1998, which he contested and won with support of Congress cadres and Jamaat e Islami leaders. His claim to fame was that he was one of the first people who got up against Sheikh Abdullah. He would take dictation from Delhi, especially from Congress to implement their political operation.

When Gul Shah was made Chief Minister, the architect was none other than Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. He had personal animosity against the Abdullah dynasty and National Conference, he was completely daggers drawn and got his chance to settle scores when Farooq Abdullah was Chief Minister. Mufti’s daughter was kidnapped, Farooq was opposed to releasing those five militants while Mufti was in favor. Abdullah, on record, said a number of times that with the release of these people, there would be no end to militancy in Kashmir. Finally, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed began campaigning for Jagmohan, the man who was with Congress in 1984, and deposed Farooq Abdullah as CM. Mufti lobbied VP Singh to make Jagmohan Governor of Jammu and Kashmir knowing that the moment Jagmohan would be appointed, Farooq Abdullah, being a completely flamboyant emotional person, would resign. So Farooq Abdullah was on record twice, recently on 10th January saying that he would resign if Jagmohan were appointed. Eventually Mufti got his way, Jagmohan was appointed as Governor on 19 Jan, the next day Farooq Abdullah resigned. 

Q: Do you think if Farooq Abdullah had remained Chief Minister, the Exodus situation would not have been this bad?

A: I’m sure Farooq Abdullah would not have permitted this, there would have been militancy, they would have had some political influence but they would not have completely captured Kashmir the way they did in 1990.

Q: During the Khalistani Movement, which was another ISI funded separatism movement that began before Kashmir separatism, a lot of Hindu families had fled Punjab. But the militancy was successfully curbed and the families returned. Do you think such a situation now is even possible in Kashmir?

A: The Kashmiri Pandits migrated en masse, beginning in 1989, immediately after the death of Tika Lal Taploo, a BJP leader then part of the Jan Sangh, in September. The migration began afterwards but in 10s and 20s, a few 100s had left. The mass migration began with militancy shooting up after Farooq Abdullah resigned and there was a political vacuum in the state. The militants completely captured the state machinery then, leading to the Kashmiri Pandit Exodus in the early 1990s.

The return of the Pandits is very difficult now, most of the original inhabitants have died, the people who left have settled in Jammu and other places and fact is no successive Government of any party has been able to give them a sense of security in Kashmir. After repealing Article 370, where it was said all the Pandits can go back, I, as a resident of Kashmir, can tell not a single or a highly negligible number of Kashmiri Pandits came back. They now have their interests in other places, and they may come on the one day they feel safe. But at a time when anyone considered soft to India in Kashmir doesn’t feel safe, how can they feel safe? That day (when they feel safe) is unforeseeable as of now, in the 8 years of Mr. Modi’s tenure, the Kashmiri Pandits have not returned. 

Q: Talking about Mr. Modi, you know Mr. Modi and Mr Vajpayee, both are well known for their Kashmir policies and both could not be any more different. Can you comment on the similarities and differences in their policies, and which you think has brought out better results?

A: Definitely Mr Modi. I’m not a Hindutva fan, but I have been reporting on Kashmir from 1990 and as long as Vajpayee was there or Vajpayee supported governments were there, these separatists had complete domination over anything in Kashmir. They made inroads into administration institutions, academia, media, judiciary and police. That presence has been eliminated to a great extent after abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. These people are lying very very low because of Mr Modi’s aggressive position, but it has only had limited impact. They have not completely destroyed the terror support system, but minimized it effectively. I can explain it this way, during Vajpayee’s time, it was an ideal time for people who were simultaneously with India and Pakistan, we call them amphibians. In this film they are called pressure cookers, they are the support structure but they cannot flourish without a supportive government like that of Mufti Sayeed. This is why Mehbooba Mufti, day in and day out, says we need Vajpayee ji’s policies, it’s because she was failing Mr Modi, day in and day out.

Vajpayee was very soft to them, they can show you statistics of peace during Vajpayee’s time but peace alone doesn’t matter, you have to see how exactly it came into existence. To give an example, Mehbooba’s right hand man was Waheed Para, now in jail. He was a PDP leader who headed their Youth Wing. He got a lot of funding, I’m told around 60 crore to execute this Khelo India programme. He was appointed as Secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council and organized sports melas, getting a number of people to the playing field. This is a good activity, but we saw that one of the stadiums had a signboard saying “Shaheed Burhan Wani Stadium”. So what impression will go to the young mind? The impression will be that India is a bloody occupier country, we will wait for some time after which we will get Azaadi and Pakistan. 

How does sports activity matter? It doesn’t, if every cricket match in Kashmiri villages begins with the Pakistani National Anthem. This happened in Mr Modi’s time as well. 

Q; Can it not be argued that during Mr.Vajpayee’s time, the militancy problem was more severe with India not in the position of strength we were in by 2014. Also argued is that if the BJP had not allied with the PDP, there would have been no Burhan Wani. What do you make of this argument?

A: Look, at the outset, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the biggest proponent of the talks with Pak backed militants. Every one of them has been saying that we are for peace, for dialogue and all that. As a reporter in Kashmir from the 90s, I can say that all of them are puppets, all of the Jammu and Kashmir based mainstream politicians are puppets of New Delhi. None of them can make a decision. Similarly all of these separatist politicians, JKLF, militants are puppets with no authority whatsoever to negotiate over Kashmir. So even bringing them on table will be a useless activity. 

We also agree that a solution should come out of a dialogue, but it should be a structured dialogue between people who have representative power from both sides. For example, holding  a dialogue with Pakistan PM Imran Khan is an exercise in futility, unless you have the support of the Pakistani Army. Because in Kashmir, the militancy is controlled by the ISI, which is a part of the army organization. It is (Pakistani General Qamar) Bajwa, who is the right person with whom you can negotiate. And in India, who’s holding the key? It is none other than Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, not even Mr. Modi. If Mr. Bhagawat in India and Mr. Bajwa in Pakistan decide there will be negotiations, then we can reach a solution. Till then, this rhetoric of baat cheet honi chahiye is only to fool the people of Jammu Kashmir and India. The dialogue should be with people who control the Pakistan Government, its Army and the controller of the BJP, the RSS. If talks happen at this level, then a solution can definitely be reached.

Q: And do you think that as said over the years by many people and even Farooq Abdullah, that the solution is to declare the LOC as the India Pakistan international border in Kashmir?

A: I have thought over it many, many times. I think there is no other solution other than converting LOC into the international border. Unless India gets back POK (Pak occupied Kashmir) which is highly unlikely unless there is some radical change and you never know what can happen tomorrow, till recently we were in a unipolar war, now again there is Russia and NATO. But given that Kashmir is in the clutches of three nuclear powers (India, China and Pakistan), a war would not be desirable and even India, I don’t think, has the capability to wage a war to regain these territories. What Farooq Abdullah proposed in 1990 will probably be reality someday.

Q: On war, after the Bangladesh Liberation War, people have said that Indira Gandhi could have resolved the Kashmir issue, but she didn’t do so for fear of creating a Versailles syndrome in Pakistan. Do you think that was a failure, as Pakistan became radicalized after defeat?

A: That was a golden opportunity lost. Mrs Gandhi and her advisors were misguided and didn’t do justice to India. That was a time when Pakistan would have been compelled to convert LOC into an International border. There would have been no militancy and Pakistan would have no locus standi in Kashmir. That didn’t happen, the ceasefire line was converted into LOC and it was an opportunity lost. It was a mistake done by India’s most powerful politician, even though India had 94,000 Pakistani troops in custody. Pakistan was completely finished, she could have done it but didn’t do it and she will be held responsible for it in history.

Q: Which Indian Prime Minister do you think has handled Kashmir in the best possible way?

A: It’s a difficult question, if I were to say Indira handled it best, at the same time Indira Gandhi did political machinations for Congress to be partners in the regime with the Congress. Her bold moves like the 1971 war cancel out with her internal conspiracies. Her political ambitions the BJP doesn’t seem to have, at least. Because even today after ruling for eight years, they are not in the position to win a single seat in the Kashmir Valley. They want to be part of the Government by sweeping Jammu and winning a few seats in the Valley, but I don’t see that happening. All prime ministers have been a mixed picture at some level or the other.

Q: I’d like to end by asking you about one of the high points of your journalistic career, where you first broke the news of the Kargil War.

A: This is a fact that I broke that war on 12th May 1999. Until then nobody had written about it, nobody knew that a war had begun in Kargil 3-4 days ago. I wrote the story, but didn’t cover much of the war as my area of operation was the Valley. Initially I think India thought it was a routine skirmish and the soldiers would go back, it was a stab in the back by Pakistan as Vajpayee had just visited Lahore. It was a point of no return, as anything Pakistan would say could not be taken seriously since.