Above: An armyman keeping vigil at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, during a strike called against the ban of JKLF/Photo: UNI
In a tactless and impatient move, the centre has banned the JKLF just like it did the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir a month earlier and drawn flak for doing so before the elections
By Pushp Saraf
Accompanying charismatic J&K leader Abdul Ghani Lone as a member of his younger son Sajjad Ghani Lone’s wedding party, this writer more than once met the late Amanullah Khan, founder of the secessionist Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Pakistan and “Azad” Kashmir in 2000. Sajjad married Khan’s only child, Asma.
Many top leaders of Pakistan and the who’s who of militancy, including Lashkar-e-Toiba ideologues and a few Sikh militants enjoying local patronage, were present at the marriage banquet at a five-star hotel in Islamabad. An odd man in this gathering was Vijay Nambiar, then India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan. He was accompanied by his wife, and family members of Kashmiri militants beseeched them to ease visa restrictions so that they could travel to and fro between India and Pakistan.
It was an awesome occasion. The senior Lone was a founder of the Hurriyat Conference, a conglomeration of secessionist parties. Sajjad and elder brother Bilal were young leaders sharing the same separatist spectrum as their contemporary, Mohammad Yasin Malik, who is in the news these days as the jailed chairman of the JKLF, which has been banned. The Lone brothers and Yasin were among about a dozen young separatists simultaneously arrested in 1990. Amanullah was one of the architects of armed insurgency and was most wanted in India for several cases, including the murder of Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in the UK in 1984 and Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Mushir-ul-Haq in Srinagar in 1990.
By directing the envoy to be present, the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee showed confidence, sagacity and maturity to take the bull of militancy by its horns in J&K, especially in the Valley. It was not deterred by the credentials of the hosts and guests. Apparently, it felt that while it could take care of armed militancy and Pakistani infiltrators through security forces, it should address political ideologues politically much like Jawaharlal Nehru did in 1964 when he sent a delegation led by Sheikh Abdullah to talk to Pakistan dictator Ayub Khan and the leaders of the occupied territory—an exercise that was cut short by Nehru’s death.
Vajpayee’s initiative was followed by important developments. The courageous Abdul Ghani Lone intensified his work for restoring normalcy. He had already, in the midst of celebrations in Pakistan, questioned the role of foreign mercenaries in the Valley and cautioned them not to cross the line. He was assassinated at a rally in Srinagar on May 21, 2002. Vajpayee as the PM was moved to say that Lone was killed because he worked for peace. Angered by the murder, the Lone brothers hit back at the separatists and tore apart their decision to boycott the 2002 assembly polls. They fielded proxy candidates in their stronghold in Kupwara district.
As a result, the assembly polls were an unexpected success. Their bold assertion split the Hurriyat Conference down the middle. Sajjad Lone heads the People’s Conference, founded by his father, and is currently a leading player as an ally of the BJP with undisguised admiration for his “elder brother”, Narendra Modi. Bilal is with a Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq. This background underlines the fact that militancy can’t always be fought by guns and intimidation. It is necessary to engage the separatists at all levels instead of isolating them to the point of a total break in communication.
The Modi government has not shown the tact, knowledge and patience necessary for negotiating with adversaries. Instead, it has taken a series of steps that have pushed the militants and their ideologues under one umbrella despite their serious ideological differences like the banning of the JKLF and the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (JeI). It has not taken into account their respective strengths and weaknesses. Its stubborn approach, as per the grapevine in the Valley, has also caused erosion of popular support for Sajjad Lone in his family’s den in Kupwara district.
It banned the JKLF under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on March 22 close on the heels of similar action taken against the JeI on February 28. The withdrawal of security cover to some separatist leaders, the institution of National Investigation Agency (NIA) cases, largescale arrests, well-advertised deployment of thousands of paramilitary men in the Valley in addition to the already existing large force and the introduction of two Constitution amendments through the governor’s administration coupled with the state government’s decision to stop advertisements to two newspapers—Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader—may further alienate an already disillusioned section of the population.
Decades-old cases have been cited as grounds for action against the JKLF and Yasin Malik. An official release says: “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 Valley and is responsible for their genocide. JKLF has many serious cases registered against it. This organisation is responsible for the murder of 4 Indian Air Force personnel and kidnapping of Dr Rubaiya Sayeed (daughter of then Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in Shri VP Singh’s government). This organisation, alongside, is also responsible for illegal funnelling of funds for fomenting terrorism. JKLF is actively involved in raising 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 organisation 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 the CBI. The NIA has also registered a case, which is under investigation. It is evident that JKLF continues to be actively engaged in supporting and inciting secessionism and terrorism including terror financing.”
The kidnapping of Dr Rubaiya took place in 1989 and the killing of the IAF personnel in 1990. If the Union government was so concerned, why did it not move in the matter during the major part of its tenure which is on the verge of completion? How can it be explained that between 1990 and 2014 Yasin Malik held talks with the highest functionaries in New Delhi?
Little regard has been shown for many proactive acts by him—the observance of ceasefire by him after 1994, the JKLF’s armed confrontation with pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen cadres on the streets of Srinagar before that, and his disclosure in 2005 bringing to the fore the role of Pakistani leader Sheikh Rashid (railways minister in the Imran Khan cabinet) in imparting arms training to 3,500 Kashmiri youths in Rawalpindi in collusion with the ISI which was subsequently confirmed by another top Kashmiri militant-turned-overground activist Abdul Ahad Waza.
The centre has justified action against the JKLF and the JeI, saying that they were “in pursuit of strong action against terrorism” as it has “followed the policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ against terrorism and has acted strongly against terrorists” giving security forces a “free hand.” The JKLF has, on the other hand, announced that it would not be “subdued” as the “killing of Kashmiri Pandits, raising funds, cases of killing people, terror funding and waging war against the Indian state are nothing but ill-designed cases to malign the leadership of JKLF”.
The timing of these moves has exposed the BJP to the charge of aiming to benefit from a positive electoral response in the Lok Sabha polls and in Jammu and Ladakh regions in the parliamentary and assembly polls when they are held. National Conference Vice-president and former CM Omar Abdullah sarcastically tweeted: “For 4 1/2 years Yasin Malik isn’t a threat, Jamaat Islami isn’t a threat… Now suddenly once an election is announced an immediate u-turn is executed.” Even Sajjad Lone has frowned upon the ban on the JKLF after having earlier flayed the action against the JeI and the ban on newspaper advertisements: “From underground to overground. Was part of those arrested in a raid in Barzalla to arrest Yasin Malik in 1990. JKLF renounced violence in 90s. It was tantamount to suicide. At great risk Yasin Malik took that decision. And now stands banned. Shrinking space for peaceful dissent.”
PDP president and former CM Mehbooba Mufti, who is the sister of Dr Rubaiya, has echoed similar sentiments: “Yasin Malik renounced violence as a way of resolving J&K issue a long time ago. He was treated as a stakeholder in a dialogue initiated by then PM Vajpayeeji. What will a ban on his organisation achieve? Detrimental steps like these will only turn Kashmir into an open-air prison.”
Indeed, the stakes are too high in this election.