TORONTO: Getting second-hand information about any place or events is one thing. But being at the spot and knowing things first hand is an entirely different thing.
I have had the first-hand experience of Kashmir for close to over two years as a non-Kashmiri Muslim. So I know many things which many of us may not have known for two reasons. One, I was an eyewitness and second I come from a family of journalists and observed things very closely.
Let me narrate my experiences of Kashmir. I was sent there repeatedly during 1988-90 from the National Informatics Centre (NIC) of the Ministry of Information Technology & Communications to establish the satellite-based computer network in that state. The insurgency had just started and Jagmohan was the Governor.
After my stay there, I reported back to my seniors about my reading of the situation prevailing in the Valley. My observations ran on these lines:
1) The Taliban, with the active support of the US, the ISI of Pakistan, MI5 of Britain, and Mossad of Israel, had been successful in giving a crushing defeat to Russian forces in Afghanistan and were then in a commanding position. Russians left shortly thereafter.
2) The ISI, which had been funded left, right and centre by the entire Western world, was equipped with all kinds of insurgency-related arms and ammunition along with training equipment.
3) Becoming arrogant after defeating Russian forces in collaboration with the Taliban, the ISI turned its focus on Kashmir. Because of the ISI’s success in Afghanistan, the leadership of separatist and extremist sections of Kashmiri Muslims got lured into believing that it too will be heading an independent nation soon. So they started thinking that in an independent Kashmir someone among them will become an ambassador, someone a minister, etc, etc. So much so that even an ordinary constable started thinking that when Kashmir becomes independent he will at least become a DSP before he retires! Because in the current set-up, that constable would probably rise only up to the rank of a sub-inspector by the time he retired. That’s how the separatists started getting support from the middle and lower middle classes, in the same manner as the RSS, the VHP, the BJP, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini, etc., get from the day-dreamers in the Hindutva-oriented middle and lower middle classes. The common thread between the two is the middle class.
4) The ISI exploited this opportunity by supplying arms and imparting training to separatist groups. They even sent trainers from the Taliban and Mullah Umar’s group into Kashmir. They also brought the insurgents to their side of the border and trained them.
5) At that time, Kashmir in general and Srinagar in particular had billboards at various locations mentioning the start and end of various development projects – `Street Lighting Project’, `Sewer Project’, `Road Widening Project’, `Drinking Water Project’, `Dal Lake Cleaning Project’, ‘Upgrading Power Transformer Project’ etc. The Electric supply to houses and Hospitals would not be there for over 10 hrs every day even in peak winter was the state of affairs when I used to visit Srinagar. The road which connects Jammu to Srinagar would remain blocked for days and supplies even to the Armed & Paramilitary forces would get affected. The common man would face a price rise of vegetables; cooking oil etc in proportion to the time road to Jammu would remain blocked! So under Jagmohan as the Governor development projects had got initiated. But the separatists and insurgents countered this by arguing that the government had failed to provide basic amenities to Kashmiris even 30 years after Independence despite the fact that two biggest foreign exchange earners for India are the Taj Mahal and Kashmir! They have not even provided a rail link to Srinagar though India’s Ministry of Railways have been doing huge development projects in developing countries of Middle East and Africa: A fact which no one could refute. From all this I saw in Srinagar, you could imagine what might be the state of affairs in smaller towns where most Kashmiris lived and faced daily hardships in that severe snow-clad region!
6) One extremely important aspect which Jagmohan faced was complete failure of Intelligence. On analyzing the ground realities I found a very fundamental lacuna in Intelligence gathering in Srinagar of that time. Please remember there are almost a dozen organizations of government which are responsible for their respective departments to collect intelligence starting from RAW at the top to Army, Air Force, BSF, CRPF, CBI, etc. Now each organization had its paid informers amongst the common Kashmiris. Unfortunately, with confidence being low on common Kashmiri, the same set of households would be sending intelligence reports where each adult family member would be a paid informer of one of the intelligence gathering organization. The consequences were catastrophic as now we all can see and the ground realities were far from what these paid informers were feeding the security system! One report prepared would get modified with words getting interchanged, not the actual intelligence content (!) which was required to handle the situation there. On top of this the informers’ households would be relatively richer compared to surroundings families as a single house was getting payments for the same report from multiple sources! This created another jealousy in the neighbourhood of informers.
7) It is not that development funds were never sent to Kashmir all those 30 years. But these were usurped by senior bureaucrats, ministers, army and paramilitary officers, contractors, etc. Why did they do it so wantonly? I am giving you the reason as I simulated this very situation with IAS probationers while leading a syndicate study on Kashmir later in 1992-93 by virtue of teaching them at Mussoorie. The reason was this: the bureaucrats felt that if in a worst-case scenario Kashmir goes away from India tomorrow, then all the development work funded by taxpayers’ money would go on a platter to Pakistan! Hence it is better to swindle all the funds! This is exactly what they had been doing for 30 years!
8) On the other hand one more thing was happening simultaneously related to the state machinery, including the BSF and paramilitary forces posted in Kashmir. For the state machinery, an insurgent or suspected insurgent, was/is a source of black money income. In this, there is no discrimination. A Muslim functionary is as corrupt as a non-Muslim, with some exceptions. So the more is the insurgency, the faster is the cash bell ringing for all? Hence the insurgency in the Valley became an “industry” in exactly the same manner as transfers and postings are in UP, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, etc. Do not forget there was/is another source of making black money for Kashmir’s state machinery – the purchase of supplies, arms, ammunition, food, etc., for those who were additionally posted to handle insurgency. At times, those security personnel who had never been exposed to the severe winter would go crazy while handling law and order situation and fire on the protestors, killing people.
9) That the Kashmiri separatist leadership has been hand-in-glove is so clear to everyone. But there is also one section of the Kashmiri leadership which comes from professional middle classes. It is highly educated. It has seen people’s exploitation by the three generations of the Sheikh Abdullah family which has managed to keep power in its hands by licking to the Congress or VP Singh’s Third Front or the BJP. This section of activists Kashmiri leadership is of committed nationalist Indians but is minuscule and is hated by the separatists, the BJP, the Army as well as the Sheikh Abdullah faction. These are the people who form the PUCL in Kashmir and file court cases against atrocities by paramilitary and armed forces. Hence they are perceived as enemies by all four – the separatists, fundamentalist Muslims who give fatwas, the state government and paramilitary forces. But this section is also highly respected and looked upon with awe and revered by common Kashmiri.
Let me mention here that the brother-in-law of a close friend of mine from nursery days (who was also my colleague at the IAS Academy) was killed by these very insurgents in Kashmir. He was an officer in the Indian Army. Then there was another friend’s brother – again an army officer – who was gunned down by Assam insurgents’ right outside the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati in early 1990s (I also have the experience of North-East insurgency by virtue of being posted there for a year in 1996-97). Not to forget that my uncle’s son was killed just a year ago in Karachi by these very mullahs having the backing of Mullah Azhar, Aurangzeb Farooqi etc. He was an activist lawyer and younger to me by more than 15 years!
10) Finally, in Jan 1990 I was staying at married residents’ apartments of the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. I was carrying my NIC identity card with my photo. There was curfew outside and I had to return to Jammu by catching the early morning bus at 6 am from the Tourist Centre in downtown Srinagar. There is a police station very near to the main gate of the Institute. As a 24-hour curfew was in force, I decided to walk up to the police station and seek help based on my ID. But I was stopped by the neighbours who said that local policemen cannot differentiate between an “Information” and “Informatics” Centre. They said that with the Government of India written on my ID card, I might be misconstrued as an Indian Government’s informer (as I was also a Central Government Non Kashmiri Muslim officer). They said paramilitary personnel will not come forward to help me as they have no prior information about my being in their vicinity. I was caught in the crossfire, literally!
How I returned is another story. But I wonder how many people know these and so many other facts about Kashmir and its insurgency.
(Toronto-based Dr Ahmad Cameron is a former Technical Director, Government of India)