Policy Transformation or Political Expediency in Kashmir?
Indicating a clear shift of approach the Central Government cracked down on political parties, separatist groups, leaders and heads of religious institutions as the Mirwaiz in Jammu and Kashmir in February and March (2019). The action included banning organisations alleging over ground support to terrorist groups and terrorism and launching investigations in cases of illegal acquisition of funds through money laundering syphoning off the proceeds to support terrorist activities.
While the actions cannot be questioned legally, crack down on charges which have been raised after having overlooked the same for years or even decades has puzzled many. The move comes at a time when the country is going in for elections with state government in J & K under suspension. This has raised questions on whether there is a degree of political expediency to win over proponents of the hard line in the Jammu region as well as in other parts of India or is there a fundamental shift to eliminate the political roots of support to the insurgency in the Valley?
Here are details of some of the related developments –
On 22 March the Ministry of Home Affairs in a press release titled, “Strong Action against Terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir,” outlined some of the actions against terrorism in the State. The Press release indicated that the Central Government in its pursuit of intense action against terrorism had declared JKLF (Yasin faction) as an unlawful association under the provisions of Section 3(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The leader of the group Yasin Malik was taken into police custody in February. This is only the second time that JKLF chief Yasin Malik has been booked under Public Safety Act (PSA). He was also booked in 2008 and taken out of the Valley during assembly elections. After banning the Jamaat-e-Islami in February leaders and activists were arrested across Kashmir and booked under the Public Safety Act which allows detention without trial.
The release indicated that the. Central Government following ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy against terrorism has acted strongly against terrorists. Securities Forces have been given a free hand to deal with terrorism. Government is also committed to relentlessly pursuing the policy of curbing the activities of secessionist organisations which are a threat to unity and integrity of the country. Thus the National Investigation Agency [NIA] and Enforcement Directorate are taking strong action against these organisations.
With the above objective, Government on 28.02.2019 has declared ‘Jamaat-e-Islami (J&K)’ as an unlawful association under the provisions of Section 3(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. It was made clear at that time that ‘Jamaat-e-Islami (J&K)’ is separate from ‘Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’. In 1953, it made its own constitution. JeI (J&K) is responsible for formation of Hizbul Mujahidin (HM), the biggest terrorist organization active in Jammu & Kashmir. JeI (J&K) has been providing all kind of support to HM in terms of recruits, funding, shelter, logistics, etc.
The Jammu and Kashmir government clarified that Jamaat-e-Islami’ affiliated schools, mosques and orphanages have been kept outside the purview of the ban on the organisation.
The release added that the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front led by Md. Yasin Malik has spearheaded the separatist ideology in the valley and has been at the forefront of separatist activities and violence since 1988. Murders of Kashmiri Pandits by JKLF in 1989 triggered their exodus from the valley. Md. Yasin Malik was the mastermind behind the purging of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley and is responsible for their genocide.
JKLF has many serious cases registered against it. This organisation is responsible for murder of 4 Indian Air Force personnel and kidnapping of Dr. Rubaiya Sayeed (daughter of the then Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in Shri V. P. Singh’s Government). This organization, alongside, is also responsible for illegal funneling of funds for fomenting terrorism. JKLF is actively involved in raising of funds and its distribution to Hurriyat cadres and stone-pelters to fuel unrest in the Kashmir valley as well as for subversive activities.
Activities of JKLF (Y) pose a serious threat to the security of the country and are prejudicial to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India. The organization has been actively and continuously encouraging, feelings of enmity and hatred against the lawfully established Government as well as armed rebellion.
37 FIRs have been registered by J&K Police against JKLF. Two cases including the case of murder of IAF personnel were registered by CBI. NIA has also registered a case, which is under investigation. It is evident from these that JKLF continues to be actively engaged in supporting and inciting secessionism and terrorism including terror financing.
A large number of secessionist leaders were being provided security by the State. Government, after review, has withdrawn the security of many such persons. This process will continue further.
The Government has re-vitalized grass-root democracy in J&K by conducting elections peacefully for the first time in 2018 for Urban Local bodies after 2005 and for Panchayats after 2011. There was active participation of the people in these elections and overall polling percentage was 74%. More than 3,652 Sarpanches and 23,629 Panches were elected in these elections. Panchayats have been empowered and made more accountable towards the public. Direct elections were held for Sarpanches. Financial powers of Panchayats have been increased 10 times. About 20 Departments have been brought under Panchayati Raj. Government is committed for the integrated and coordinated development of all the three regions of the State, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as per the 22 March Press release
To unravel alleged illegal acquisition of money, National Investigation Agency [NIA] summoned Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Naseem Geelani, son of Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani, to its New Delhi headquarters for questioning into a funding case registered in 2017.
Mirwaiz is the head priest of Kashmir who leads prayers at Valley’s largest mosque – Jamia Masjid. On February 27, NIA carried out raids at seven places, including residences of Mirwaiz, Naseem and JKLF chief Yaseen Malik who was booked under PSA two days ago, and claimed to have recovered “incriminating documents”. The NIA registered the funding case in 2017. In July 2017, the probe agency had arrested several separatist leaders including Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Ahmed Shah; Tehreek-e-Hurriyat’s Ayaz Akbar and Mehrajuddin Kalwal and Peer Saifullah; Shahid-ul-Islam who is from the Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat and Nayeem Khan of the Jammu Kashmir National Front. Farooq Ahmed Dar aka Bitta Karatay was taken into custody in New Delhi.
Kashmir’s top clerics and religious scholars strongly denounced summoning of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq by the NIA and called it a “direct religious interference, which will not be tolerated”. The clerics and religious scholars, who had assembled under the banner of Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU), discussed a range of “serious issues”, including the NIA notice to Mirwaiz, disallowing congregational prayers at Jamia Masjid, ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and crackdown on resistance and religious leaders across the Valley.
The Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that he has been seeking a “peaceful” resolution of the Kashmir issue as per the aspirations of the people, and questioned how such advocacy could be termed as “terrorism.” He also said that different “ploys and intimidations” were employed since 1931 to “silence” the pulpit of Jamia Masjid and to target the Mirwaiz family “on one pretext or the other”. Mirwaiz was addressing a gathering at Jamia Masjid, day after he was served a second notice by the National Investigation Agency asking him to appear before its court in New Delhi on March 18 in connection with an alleged militancy-funding case.
Hindustan Times reported that 31 properties worth over crore belonging to separatists leaders of Jammu and Kashmir have been “identified” for attachment as “proceeds of crime by enforcement agencies. The properties earmarked for attachment includes the Islamabad house of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin. He is already a designated as terrorist by the United States and India. Ten belong to Kashmiri businessman Zahoor Ahmad Watali. “Our inquiries suggest that Wattali acted as the conduit passing on funds, at times washed money received from Pakistan and held it for the separatists.
The government of India on 29 March set-up a multi-disciplinary monitoring group to “ensure synergised and concerted action” against militancy financing and militancy-related activities in Jammu and Kashmir as per multiple media sources. The “multi-disciplinary terror monitoring group (MDTMG)” will have representatives from the Jammu and Kashmir police, intelligence bureau, central bureau of Investigation (CBI), national investigation agency (NIA), and the income tax department. It will also take action against “hardcore sympathisers among government employees, including teachers, who are providing covert or overt support” to militancy activities, the MHA order read.
Meanwhile, Finance minister Arun Jaitley said in a blog that the “constitutionally vulnerable” Article 35A has denied the people of the state of Jammu & Kashmir a booming economy, economic activity and jobs and cautioned Opposition parties in the state for being “being soft in criticising separatism”. Article 35A, part of the special constitutional status granted to the state restricts property ownership, and other benefits to the state have domiciled residents. “No investor is willing to set up an industry, hotel, private educational institutions or private hospitals since he can neither buy land or property; nor can his executives. Their wards cannot get government jobs or admission to colleges. This prevents enrichment, resource generation and job creation,” Jaitley said. It is apparent that the Central Government is also looking at constitutional rejigging in Kashmir intending to remove the special status that has been accorded to the State vide Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian Constitution.
Reacting to Jaitley’s comment, NC vice-president and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah said that if everything is J&K is so rosy “why has Modi Sahib become the 1st PM since 1996 unable to have assembly elections in the state on time?” He vowed to protect Article 35A and Article 370.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti also reacted very strongly stating that the relationship between the Union and the state would be over if Article 370 of the Constitution is revoked. “Jaitley must understand this. It is not an easy thing to say. If you scrap (Article) 370, your relation with J&K will be over,” Mehbooba told party workers at her residence. “Because if you have given us a special position in the Constitution of India and you break that position, then we will have to rethink whether we would even want to stay with you without conditions,” she said.
As indicated from the legal perspective the actions taken by the Central and State government will remain above board. It is a well-established fact that the Jamaat e Islami (Kashmir) is the base of the Hizbul Mujahideen the Valley’s largest group which comprises mainly of indigenous Kashmiri youth. The JKLF was also the first group to launch terrorist attacks in the Valley in 1989.
However, the Central and State government has so far not undertaken legal action to ban the Jamaat and has sporadically arrested the JKLF chief Yasin Malik and other leaders of the group. Money laundering is also not a new phenomenon and crackdown has been initiated in the past though with questionable results.
Importantly the perception now is that the Central Government has adopted a coercive- legalistic and law and order centric approach toward conflict resolution in Jammu and Kashmir to address the political dissidence. Alternately it may be shaping the electoral space for the Lok Sabha and State elections the latter expected in June.
History has proved that a hard-line approach in Jammu and Kashmir has failed to normalise the situation; in fact, this has only given rise to separatist sentiment and added numbers to terrorist groups. A new generation of youth is now joining terrorism which could have weaned away from the path of violence had governments in the past focused on political resolution of the militancy which had reached a record low in terms of violence from the period 2010 onwards.
It now remains to be seen if a coercive approach including possible constitutional re-jigging in terms of renunciation of Article 370 and 35 A will work in Kashmir.