Profile of Changing Situation - 1998-2000
Pakistan's ISI, in a renewed strategy, made concerted efforts to increase the level of violence. The introduction of foreign Muslim mercenaries including criminals, smugglers, drug peddlers remained the core component of its game plan. This further indicated ISI's determination to fill up the void created by the absence of apparent enthusiasm and motivation among the Kashmiri youth to join the militancy. The strategy was to encourage the terrorists to resort to violent activities along demographic line, targeting Hindus with the intention to communalise the situation in J&K and also extend the frontier of violence beyond the state by engineering communal riots to destroy social harmony. The visit before the Kargil conflicts of S.A.S.Gillani to the bordering areas of Poonch and Rajouri districts on the directives of the Pakistan High Commission was aimed at exploring the feasibility of changing the demography so that in the event of any negotiation for settlement of the J&K issue, Pakistan could claim all these areas on the basis of them being populated by Muslims. Gillani visited the Pakistan High Commission in January 1999. Pro-Pakistan militants including HM, Harkat-Ul-Mujahideen (Harkat-Ul-Ansar renamed) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba remained committed to further the Pakistani agenda. Brutal killings of Hindus (23-Wandhama, Srinagar/26 January 1998; 26-Pranakote, Udhampur /18 April 1998; 25-Chapnari Doda/19 June 1998; 19-Surankot, Poonch /3 August 1998; 35-Satrundi, Chamba, Himachal Pradesh; 17-in villages Hama, Thakri area and Saranwar, Doda /27-28 July 1998 and 20-Rajouri & Reasi Udhampur / 20 February 1999) have disclosed the designs of these Pakistan supported terrorist groups of carrying out systematic ethnic cleansing through mass murders in the state. Simultaneously, these Pakistan-sponsored foreign Muslim mercenaries have also been making efforts to create communal divisions by inducing local Muslim personnel. The ISI also laid stress to develop a wide network of overground workers and supporters. Directives were issued to militants to avoid harassing the local people, to give handsome payment to them for the services rendered, and win over influential local Muslims. During this period, there was an effective coordination between HUM, HM, AL BADAR and LET, specially in Poonch and Rajouri districts. The weaponry in the militant group's arsenal included LMG, GPMG, mortars, pikaguns, sniper rifles, missile launchers, rockets,rocket launchers, anti aircraft guns, anti tank guns etc. in addition to small weapons and explosives, IEDs, remote controls, time programmed device and communication equipment. The recovery of remote control air borne aerodynamic module (RCAAM) in 1998 and 1999 has showed the enhanced firepower capabilities of the militants.
Secondly, the Kargil developments gave a new dimension to terrorism in J&K and brought about fundamental changes in the militancy scenario in J&K. Pakistan started adopting dubious policies, deteriorating relations with India which brought it to the brink of a full-fledged war. While Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif extended the hand of 'friendship', the Pakistani Army under the leadership of General Pervez Musharraf was quietly planning the operations which were to lead to the Kargil conflict. The 'bus diplomacy' and the signing of the 'Lahore declaration' during Indian Prime Minister's visit on 20 February 1999 to Lahore, failed to improve relations since Pakistan was simultaneously preparing to push in Pakistan-trained terrorists and Army regulars through Drass and Mushko in the Kargil sector. On 8 May 1999, well equipped intruders, entrenched and supported by the Pakistani Army, entered the Kargil sector, violated the LoC and occupied Indian posts to deliberately undo what was agreed upon 27 years ago between the two neighboring countries under the Simla agreement. Although Pakistan first denied the involvement of its regular troops, it was later proved that regular Pakistan Army personnel had actively participated in the Kargil incursions. After Nawaz Sharif was summoned to Washington by the US administration, Pakistan was compelled to withdraw its troops. The purpose of this operation was to internationalise the Kashmir issue and to project that the Kashmir issue cannot be projected bilaterally.
Dissensions, which started in the KJHC with S.A.S. Gillani as its chairman replacing Umar Farooq, chairman, Awami Action Committee, continued during 1999. S.A.S.Gillani was again elected as the chairman of the KJHC for a second term. This time besides Yasin Malik, there were also other aspirants for the chairmanship. Moulvi Umar Farooq since his replacement with S.A.S. Gillani as chairman was distancing himself from active participation in the Hurriyat meetings. The hardliners were critical of his advocacy for dialogue with the centre during his tenure and were holding him responsible for the decline in the credibility of Hurriyat and its activities. On the other hand, Umar Farooq was under constant pressure from his supporters to organise programmes on the party platform rather than under the KJHC banner. During a seminar in Srinagar (7 April 1999), S.A.S. Gillani alleged that the granting of visas to Moulvi Umar Farooq, AAC Chairman, G.M. Bhat, Amir, JEI and Sheikh Ghulam Hassan Qayoom-e-Jammat, JEI for 'HAJ' was due to an underhand deal with the government and that they were weakening the 'movement'. Moulvi Umar Farooq, Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, A.G. Lone and Yasin Malik have on the other hand occasionally been expressing unhappiness over Gillani's style of functioning.
Even before the Kargil conflict there were signs of disillusionment of secessionist leaders with Pakistan. In a meeting with the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi on 23-24 March 1999, on the Pakistan Day celebrations, the KJHC leaders including S.A.S. Gillani, Bashir Ahmed Tota and Ghulam Nabi Hubi complained that the Kashmir issue was being ignored under U.S. pressure as well as economic compulsions. They also pointed out that Pakistan had failed to link up the Kashmir issue with CTBT and NPT. They also urged that the Pakistani government should be apprised of their sentiments to ensure that the Kashmir issue is not ignored. In an interesting development, Hurriyat leaders expressed opposition to the induction of foreign mercenaries as it was causing resentment among the locals and hardships to the people due to operations by the security forces against these mercenaries. It stressed on Pakistan to create an atmosphere under which the KJHC would be able to resuscitate its authority to promote the movement. However, the Pakistani High Commissioner expressed displeasure and annoyance over the KJHC strike call during the Indian PM's visit to Pakistan on 20 February 1999, and mentioned that the secessionist leaders over-stepped the limit with their divergent stand in giving the strike call. The Pakistani High Commissioner also mentioned that Pakistan was playing a major role in the sustenance of 'the movement' and was providing all financial assistance to these leaders.
Reacting to the Kargil conflict, the KJHC leadership was critical of the air strikes by India and termed the intruders as 'freedom fighters' fighting in their own land. KJHC chairman, S.A.S. Gillani, while terming the Kargil development as highly unfortunate, stressed the need for a serious dialogue for the immediate resolution of the dispute and under-scored the need for the UN and the international community to address the Kashmir problem and work for its resolution. He also said that the border skirmishes in Kashmir sector and violence could continue till the core issue was addressed. On 28 May 1999 in Srinagar, S.A.S. Gillani urged both the countries to avoid a nuclear conflict and reiterated for immediate steps to solve the dispute to save South Asia. Expressing concern over the strong measures being used by India against the Mujahids, he flayed India for human rights violations and also remarked that the LoC should not be honored. The United Peoples League in a press release (30 May 1999) said that the Kargil conflict had proved that the Kashmir issue required third party mediation for solution. Its detained leader, Abdul Aziz Sheikh termed the air strikes by India as unjustified. Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat commenting on the Kargil developments said it is a provocating and useless exercise, which may escalate the conflict. Moulana Abbas Ansari, in a statement (29 May 1999) supported the militants fighting in Kargil. KJHC leadership further denounced (10 June 1999) the forthcoming visit of foreign minister to India to defuse the Kargil crisis and termed the efforts as an exercise in futility.
Farooq Rehmani appealed to the international community to use its influence on both countries to defuse the tension in the Kargil area and proposed a session of 'World Kashmir Conference' where the important personalities of the world including India and Pakistan would deliberate upon the issue and suggest methods for settlement in consonance with the wishes of the people. He, while urging the UN and OIC to take necessary measures for a solution, said that 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir who have occupied a part of their 'home land' would not surrender nor leave the place unless the Kashmir dispute was resolved. Shabir Shah (JKDFP) in a private interview characterised the air strikes as a complete violation of the Lahore declaration by India and strongly condemned the civil casualties. He accused the Indian authorities for not exercising restraint while talking of peace. He, however, publicly urged both the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to initiate a sincere dialogue for the peaceful resolution of the core Kashmir issue. He also said that the issue should be solved through tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and two representatives of J&K. Moulvi Umar Farooq expressing concern over the Kargil development, urged all political parties to accept the ground realities of the Kashmir issue in the wake of Kargil developments and advised talks with Pakistan under the Lahore declaration. He cautioned that the subcontinent would face mass destruction in case of escalation of tensions.
The dissensions within the JEI which had cropped up after G.M. Bhat became Amir-e-Jammat further worsened. G.M.Bhat's moderate line to distance the JEI J&K from militancy and seek a solution to the Kashmir problem in a peaceful and democratic manner was further reflected in his press conference (14 November 1998/ Srinagar) when he sought to portray the JEI J&K as a politico-religious organisation having nothing to do with militancy and disowned Syed Sallahuddin, Pok-based HM's Supreme Commander. His moderate line was endorsed by an overwhelming majority in the Majlis-e-Numaindgan, to the discomfiture of the ISI as well as pro-Pakistan hardliners who termed the motion as irrelevant, if it is delinked from militancy. S.A.S. Gillani also issued a press statement (19 November 1998/ Srinagar) publicly castigating the Amir-e-Jammat's policy to disavow links with militancy. Gillani reiterated his resolve to continue supporting the armed struggle. The KJHC was perturbed over the apparent shift in the JEI's stand. The efforts made by KJHC leaders to patch up differences between the two factions ended only in an uneasy truce. In a meeting (Srinagar / 2 February 1999) Gillani advised his party workers to avoid any reference to 'solidarity day' and 'death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat' during speeches so that their speeches should not be constructed as an endorsement of the militancy in the valley, since such speeches would not be in conformity with the J&K JEI's established policies. G.M. Bhat visited Delhi at the instance of JEI-H Amir on 17 February 1999 to discuss the formation of a joint front of JEI operating in different countries under different names with a view to ward off and counter the propaganda that the JEI was a fundamentalist organisation. Bhat, in a meeting (Srinagar / 23-24 May 1999) disclosed that during his Haj pilgrimage, he had interacted with different leaders who assured him full support for the ongoing 'movement'. The JEI J&K also resolved to endorse the election boycott call given by the KJHC. The Indian prime minister's Lahore visit towards normalising the relations between the two countries by holding bilateral talks was openly hailed by moderates whereas hardliners tried to downplay the significance of the PM's visit and rejected the Lahore declaration. G.M. Bhat in a statement (30 May 1999), referring to the Kargil developments, appreciated the role of both the PMs for their efforts to de-escalate the tension in the Kargil sector and laid stress on an immediate solution.
The situation in J&K after the post Kargil incursions resulted in a qualitative and quantitative increase in the level of violence. It got further accentuated especially after the army coup in Pakistan in October 1999. The open support to the terrorist groups by the Pakistan Army junta has emboldened and encouraged the Islamic terrorist radicals groups to resort to targeted attacks through suicide squads (fidayeen) in order to demoralise the security forces. Efforts were also made to win over locals by doling out money. The pinpointed attacks (Army Headquarters, Badami Bagh / 2 November 1999, SOG headquarters, Srinagar / 27 December, sector headquarters of R.R., Srinagar / 12 January 2000) and the successful hijacking of the Indian airlines aircraft on 24 December 1999 revealed the increase in the activities of the terrorist groups. Simultaneously, the terrorist groups indulged in the massacre of 35 Sikhs at village Chattisingpura, in Anantnag district on 21 March 2000 indicating their intention to carry out ethnic cleansing and to promote a communal divide in the society. The ISI has also made efforts in the new millennium to forge unity among the Islamic terrorist groups operating in J&K. At the instance of the Pakistani army junta, an organisation under the commandership of Syed Salahuddin to liberate Kashmir was floated. On the other hand, there has been a change in the leadership of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen to give a 'kashmiri face' to the ongoing movement. Moulana Farooq Kahmiri has been made Amir in place of Moulana Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil who has been made secretary general of the organisation. Moulana Masood Azhar who was earlier general secretary of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, announced the formation of Jaish-e-Muhammad (27 January 2000, Islamabad) consisting of disgruntled elements of HUM and cadres of Sipah-e-Sahiba Pakistan (SSP) with the tacit support of the Pakistani authorities. The Pakistani authorities have also been upgrading the weaponry of the terrorist groups by supplying long-range weapons and sophisticated communication equipments. Stress is laid on the religious indoctrination of the cadres. The focus of the training schedule is to inculcate the spirit of 'Jihad' and to make the terrorists feel 'that the path to 'Jannat' (heaven) runs through the battleground i.e. jihad. The " Jihadisation" of the militancy has been one of the important components of the ISI strategy after the take over of power by the military junta in Pakistan.
In the new millennium, the ISI has made efforts to rope Shabir Shah in the APHC through allurement, though Shabir Shah still maintains distance with the Hurriyat as well as the Government of India. Farooq Rahmani, Pok based PL leader apprised the APHC leaders of the ISI's intention to revive and activate defunct small tanzeems like ISL, Al Jehad, AUM, Hizbullah and other local Jihadi organisations. Funds in crores were also given for this purpose as also for the distribution among the families of the killed terrorists as relief. The APHC leadership has remained engaged in exploiting the alleged violation of human rights by the security forces in J&K, internationalising the issue and making efforts for a third party intervention in solving the Kashmir issue. The Hurriyat has also tried to get involved in the cause of the movement through persuasion against the present government in J&K during the elections to the 13th Lok Sabha which were held in J&K in phases between 5 September - 4 October 1999. The secessionist/terrorist leaders made every effort to stall the elections. The Hurriyat leaders and Shabir Shah (J&K DFP) were engaged in anti-poll campaigns and addressed meetings and congregations while terrorists resorted to killing of candidates and other individuals associated with the elections. The All India People's Resistance Forum (pro-PWG) also visited J&K on the invitation of KJHC to assess the impact of the poll boycott. The distribution of funds received from their Pakistani mentors to stall the Lok Sabha elections also remained the cause of dissension among the Hurriyat leadership. Maulvi Abbas Ansari of Anjuman-e-Itte bad-ul-Musalmeen nurtured a grouse for discrimination meted out to his party since his party was given Rs. 3 million in comparison to the payment of Rs. 5 million to other Hurriyat constituents like the PC, JKLF, AAC, JEI. The secessionist leaders have also been insisting for tri-partite talks for solving the Kashmir dispute.
Despite increasing incidents of violence unleashed by the terrorists causing poor turnout of the voters in certain PCs, the elections were held in the atmosphere considered to be free and fair. The National Conference bagged 4 seats (Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh) and the BJP 2 seats (Jammu and Udhampur). During the visit (25-27 October 1999) of the 6-member European Union delegation of ambassadors, the Hurriyat leader, Umar Farooq, expressed that the UN resolution on Kashmir still remained relevant and pressed for a referendum to ascertain the wishes of the Kashmiris including those in Pok, Gilgit, Hunza and the territory under the Chinese control, though he was skeptical about Pakistan's acceptance to it. Mufti Mohd. Syed, G.M. Shah (ANC) aired their views before the visiting delegation and underlined the need for a dialogue with the people of Kashmir including the militants. G.M. Shah joined hands with Azam Inquilabi, Chairman, Quami Mushawarati council, an umbrella organisation of pro-independence groups, aiming to form an anti-KJHC front (October 1999). The military coup (12 October 1999) in Pakistan evoked mixed reactions in the valley. The KJHC remained reticent because of the hazy situation there. It however, felt that the army takeover would benefit the militant and fundamentalist outfits like the JEI and MDI and create impediments for those working on the political lines. However, a section of pro-Pak elements including overground supporters of militant outfits welcomed Nawaz Sharif's dismissal blaming him for the Kargil debacle. On the other hand, internecine bickerings surfaced during the deliberation in the KJHC executive meeting (October 1999). While some participants criticised Yasin Malik's threat for 'direct action' provoking the state government to detain the Hurriyat leaders under PSA, others took exceptions to Maulvi Umar Farooq's press statements, endorsing the Indo-Pak bilateral talks and defending such talks as an initial step for making common ground for agreement on Kashmir before the Kashmiri leaders were included in the dialogue. KJHC leaders, S.A.S. Gillani, Prof. Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari were detained under PSA in September, 1999. During the detention period the activities of KJHC remained at a low ebb. The JKDF party chairman, Shabir Shah who was also detained under PSA on 27 October was released on 26 November 1999 and was critical of the initiative displayed by some Hurriyat leaders for a dialogue with the centre on the Kashmir dispute. The KJHC, however, indulged in anti-India rhetoric to attract international attention and tried to convince the U.S. of their legitimate demands during the visit of the U.S. President to India. They highlighted the Kashmir problem as a nuclear flash point and sought U.S. intervention to solve the issue. Contrary to the expectations of secessionist leaders, the U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to India (19-25 March ) dampened the morale of the secessionist leaders. Clinton's posture on Kashmir was against a military solution and emphasised on respecting the LoC by shunning violence, restoration of dialogue and his non-reference to the prevailing situation in Kashmir regarding the human rights issue and his silence on the involvement of the Kashmiris as a party to the dispute also disturbed the subversive leadership. The carnage of Sikhs in Chittisinghpura village (Anantnag /20 March 2000) also put secessionist groups on the defensive. Sensing that the hostility of Sikhs against Muslims might grow, these secessionist elements took an initiative to express solidarity with the Sikh community and discouraged their migration. The autonomy committee constituted earlier by the Government of J&K submitted its recommendations which envisaged the status of J&K state vis-a-vis the central government to pre 1953 position, i.e., the centre's control over the state limited to Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication. With regard to the recommendations, a motion was moved in the State Assembly on 8 April 2000 calling for a special session of the J&K Assembly (from 17 June ) to discuss the autonomy report.
The debate on the autonomy report was unexpectedly heated and brought to the fore the hitherto strong feelings for autonomy within the NC Cadre. Even as Farooq visited Delhi in the end of June and made reassuring statements, it was evident that the debate brought tremendous pressure on him. The J&K Assembly, finally passed a resolution (26 June ) urging the state and central governments to implement the autonomy report. Expectedly, the passing of the resolution whipped up anti-autonomy hysteria specially in Jammu and Ladakh regions with some sections alleging secessionist & anti-national designs of the NC. The J&K Assembly sent the resolution to the centre for consideration.
Pakistan criticised (26 June) the passing of the autonomy resolution by the J&K Assembly stating that it was against the wishes of other Kashmiris who would not agree to anything other than emancipation from the Indian occupation. It termed the autonomy debate as an Indian conspiracy to keep alive a politically dead issue and aimed to stop the people of the valley from continuing their struggle for total freedom. It termed the J&K Assembly as the product of a rigged election. At the behest of Pakistan, OIC Foreign Ministers Conference (27-30 June) at Kuala Lumpur criticised the decision of the Government of India for not allowing the APHC delegation to attend the OIC conference and rejected the autonomy plan. They even decided to send a fact-finding delegation to India, if permitted by India. The OIC reiterated its stand of holding a referendum on Kashmir. During the deliberations, by the OIC Contact Group on Kashmir (28 June, Kuala Lumpur), Pakistani Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar said "OIC endorsed the demand of the people of Kashmir for an opportunity to exercise their right of self determination". In the meeting, presentations were made by the "PM of Azad Kashmir" and a representative of the APHC.
In a swift decision, the Union Cabinet rejected the autonomy proposal of the State Assembly. The swiftness of the decision without discussing it thoroughly evoked sharp criticism from the NC. The NC working committee meeting on 1 July witnessed increasingly harsh statements being made against the Centre. It was being felt that the NC would decide to withdraw Omar Abdullah from the Cabinet, if not pull out of the NDA altogether. The demise of Begum Sheikh Abdullah Akbar Jahan (11 July) and the visit of the Prime Minister and Home Minister to Srinagar to condole the death, subdued the growing differences between the NC & Centre.