Jammu And Kashmir: Descent Into Chaos15 September 2010
Times of India
Srinagar: The three-month strife in Kashmir has its seeds not in the accidental death of 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo - hit by a teargas canister during stone-pelting at Rajouri Kadal on June 11. The incident, in itself, has been the visual that appeared to have launched a thousand protests. But behind the spiralling violence that's killed 91 people is a script that's still moving to plan. In fact, it's a script penned at a meeting between two radical Muslim leaders, Masarat Alam Bhat of the Muslim League and Qasim Faktoo of Jamait-ul-Mujahideen, in Srinagar Central Jail in 2008. This meeting took place in a distinct Kashmiri political context. In search of an elusive acceptability within Kashmir's radical political space, mainstream state politicians, even if they did not encourage the separatists, allowed their movements to grow uninhibited. They did not heed intelligence reports that radical Islamist icons like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Asiya Andrabi and Masarat Alam were growing and propagating Talibanism in the state by striving to bring the entire population on their side in the name of religion. Masarat, arrested in 2008 for triggering, along with Geelani, the Amarnath land row, and Qasim Faktoo, alias Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, serving life imprisonment for killing human rights activist H N Wanchoo, together conspired to consolidate the scattered cadres of the various militant groups using mobile phones. Their agents outside the jail distributed propaganda material like CDs and audio tapes of jihadi songs smuggled from Pakistan to mosques across the Valley, to tap into the frustrations of young Kashmiri boys, educated but largely unemployed, and without direction. Meticulous in their planning, Musarat and Qasim placed their trusted men in sensitive places across the Valley to execute their brief of reviving the azadi sentiment among people: From unlettered housewives in rural pockets to tech-savvy youth through social networking sites. Right after the J&K high court released Musarat in June - after quashing the Public Safety Act pressed against him - he and his aides intensified the process he had launched with Qasim from the jail. His first act was announcing 'Quit Kashmir' movement with a weeklong protest calendar on June 24. Although Alam is now underground, he pops up to give sermons in mosques and paints his secessionist ideology in Islamic colour by proclaiming 'azadi means Islam'. So how did the Kashmiri political class fall for this trap? Between 2002-05, when PDP's Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the chief minister, while trying to keep his tenure spotless on the law and order front and, literally, purchasing peace, he provided financial support to hardliners. His 'soft' approach - perhaps the Mufti thought he could co-opt them with sops - saw his government sponsoring Geelani's treatment for cancer in Mumbai. While such stratagems helped Mufti marginalize his arch-enemy Farooq Abdullah, these also eventually resulted in separatists getting a free run across the Valley. In 2005, Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad became the CM under the rotational arrangement with PDP, and the militants' agenda was put on the backburner. Azad also questioned the separatists in public meetings. However, the Congress- PDP alliance lost the 2008 elections, which brought Omar to the fore. The new chief minister, who had the option of choosing between the Mufti and Azad line, settled for the former's - that treated militancy with kid gloves. He allowed the separatists to grow as long as they did not harm his political interests. Giving them space to call for frequent strikes and protests across Kashmir, Omar, too, ended up raising his voice for a 'political solution' to the Kashmir issue. While insisting on withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Omar embarrassed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi by announcing in a speech in Anantnag last year that 'Kashmir was a political problem'. He was trying to pitch the National Conference's 'greater autonomy' proposal against Mufti's 'self-rule' formula - both tinged with separatism. This encouraged the separatists to stridently demand azadi. Also, both Mufti and Omar demoralised the police by sermonizing top officers on the need for restraint, giving radicals the much-needed political breathing space. In the last three months, J&K police have been targets of both the rowdies on the streets and the establishment led by Omar.