It is unfortunate that People’s Democratic Party of Jammu & Kashmir, led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, has raised the pitch of its demand with regard to demilitarisation of the state and withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. I wonder whether the Party fully realises that by doing so, it is not only further endangering the security of the state but also cutting the ground under its own feet. The present coalition may collapse. The political instability and confusion that may ensue is likely to result in a fresh bout of violence and terror which may consume the party’s own cadres and sympathisers. It should not be forgotten that those like Abdul Gani Lone and Dr. A.A. Guru, who fanned pro-militant forces in 1989-90 to secure their ends, themselves fell victims to the militants’ bullets after some time.
In the backdrop of the last 18 years of bloody turmoil, which has so far caused the death of about 42,000 persons, the demand for demilitarisation of the state is not tenable. The sizeable presence of the Indian Army is primarily to deal with the deadly forces of subversion and terrorism that have been let loose in the state by Pakistan’s ISI and its outfits — forces that have been equipped with and trained in the most lethal modern weapons designed for carrying out guerrilla warfare. If operation of these forces is brought to a half by the ISI and if the infrastructure of terror built by it, both within and outside the Valley, is dismantled, the Indian Army would go back to its barracks and restrict itself to its routine duty of guarding the borders. Clearly, for bringing about demilitarisation in the state, the network of terror and subversion has to be removed first. Mufti’s idea of securing demilitarisation without creating conditions that make the presence of army unnecessary is risky. It may result in spilling of more innocent blood.
In this connection, it needs to underscore that, despite the presence of the army, terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen are able to terrorise people. On October 4, 2006, for example, they mercilessly butchered a dental surgeon of Handwara with a barber’s razor because he was considered to have disobeyed their ‘Islamic instructions’. A day before, they killed another resident, Mohammad Shafi, for having dared to join the Territorial Army. What would be the scale of terror if the army were withdrawn?
The fanatic elements represented by such organistions as Asiya Andrabi’s Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of Faith) and Mian Abdul Qayoom’s Forum Against Social Evils have been frequently intimidating the common Kashmiri to follow the ‘true Islamic way of life’. The attempt is to fundamentalise the Kashmiri Islam which has been traditionally liberal in outlook and synergic in practice.
The central message of Kashimir’s patron saint and the founder of the Rishi Order, Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, was: “There is one God/But with a hundred names/There is not a single blade of grass/Which does not worship Him”. It was Sheikh’s preaching that kept the Kashmiri ethos within the overall cultural mainstream of India even after a very large part of the Valley’s population had been brought within the fold of Islam. The followers of the Rishi Order abhorred killing. Like the Jains, they were careful not to cause harm even to insects. Sheikh Nooruddin went to the extent of refusing to walk on the grass lest it be damaged.
It is this texture of Kashmiri Islam that is sought to be changed, radicalised and put in the extremists’ mould of Wahhabism. The modus operandi for doing so is plain coercion. In case this calculation materialises, pro-Pakistan elements would achieve what they have so far failed to achieve through the techniques of terror and subversions.
If, on the other hand, anyone tries to strengthen the traditional Islam of Kashmir and show its liberal and moderate face, he is hounded out. In the absence of the army or its adequate presence, the level of this type of intimidation of liberal elements is bound to go up.
Equally unjustified is the demand for withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act. By and large, the conduct of the Indian Army has been commendable. As part of the propaganda by terrorist outfits, a number of concocted or highly exaggerated stories about human rights violations are circulated in the media. Quite a few overzealous human rights activists also fall into the trap of the anti-national forces. The army has the mechanism to deal with the violators. Out of the 890 complaints it received, during the period January 1990-April 2006, 854 were investigated. Only 24 were found to have some substance; 47 soldiers and officers were punished, some with even rigorous imprisonment. There have, in fact, been quite a few cases in which the officers have lost their lives in order to save innocent people from being killed in cross-fire. The individual misconduct of officers and jawans, either under provocation or otherwise, cannot be avoided in any army.
It should also be kept in mind that if the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is withdrawn from the state of Jammu & Kashmir, similar demands are bound to be made with increased intensity in the Northeast.
An intriguing question that demands an answer in connection with the newly-acquired posture of People’s Democratic Party is: Why a leader of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s standing, who has in the past played a significant role in strengthening the bonds of Kashmir with the rest of India and who has held the high office of the Union Home Minister, should be exposing the state of Jammu & Kashmir to new dangers? The answer, in main, lies in the destructive traditions of the state’s politics. From the very day of accession, the state’s leadership, with a few notable exceptions, has always placed personal and party interests above those of the country in general and the state in particular. Is it not the time for Mufti to rise above this unfortunate tradition and rethink his stand, and also for the Union government not to vacillate or yield to unjustified pressure?
(The writer is a former Governor of J&K and a former Union minister)