The new found friendship of Mufti Sarkar, Kashmir and Pakistan

Published: March 26, 2015
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Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. PHOTO: AFP

In his first tenure as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed contrived a healing-touch policy. This policy revolves around Kashmiri victims of abuse who require healing. It also considers Kashmiris as an alienated segment from India and therefore requires to be integrated into society.

Considered as a “soft-separatist” political party, a narrative constructed by the media, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been instrumental in pacifying not only scores of youth, but have also been successful in involving many journalists, activists and academics in the party fold.

In his second innings, Mufti appears to be trying to take his integrationist agenda even further. In doing so, it appears, PDP is suggesting befriending people who are rallying for the cause of Kashmir, as well as those who support that cause. It seems that Mufti is trying to engage various constituents in a war of wits. With full support from the media, who help him maintain and build a pro-Pakistan image, Mufti’s PDP seems to be functioning like an NGO, delegated with conducting conflict transformations and a sophisticated approach of ensuring a status quo.

During the last decade, Indian NGOs have not only established themselves completely in Kashmir, they have also managed to penetrate deep into the educational structure through the support of political parties, mainly the PDP.

Dozens of young students from various colleges in Kashmir are flown out, almost after every three months, and put through the process of reconciliation in the luxurious Indian Habitat Centre in Delhi. These students include aspiring journalists, politicians’ kin and their friends, and those who have a potential reach on social networking sites like Facebook. A Delhi peacenik is known to have told a youth leader of PDP who is involved in sending these students to Delhi, that he is the future chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the run-up to the 2014 assembly elections in Kashmir, PDP hired these ‘reconciled’ people from Delhi for writing manifestoes, press releases, opinion pieces and maintaining a constant presence on social media. Not only did they succeed in winning numbers to form the government, they also made people from potential boycotted constituencies cast their vote.

It is being argued that the high voter turnout in the recent assembly elections in Kashmir was a result of the fear of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power. This notion, generated by pro-India political parties, was peddled by the media. Even though BJP had employed its volunteers in Kashmir and found candidates to contest elections, they still lacked the mass support which would be the key to winning. As the results came out, they reflected that barring one candidate led to all BJP contestants losing in the Kashmir valley.

The participation of people in the election process is ensured through a system of intimidation and fear. The machinations of military oppression, initially employed in rural areas, have been transported to urban locales by police. Hundreds of youngsters are arrested and booked under laws such as Public Safety Act (PSA). However, those who are pushed to the wall are released after local pro-India politicians intervene. Later, these people are expected to reciprocate the favour during elections.

Campaign speeches and songs expose the underbelly of elections in Kashmir. They are an indication and acknowledgement of institutionalised violence and fear.

Consider these lines from the campaign song of PDP.

Farooq Sahab yeli Delhi draav, STF heth wapas aave… Sye dyavnayo maar dilbaro, Jan Mufti Sarkar dilabro

(When Farooq Abdullah left for Delhi, he returned back with STF (Special Task Force). He will get you beaten, my friend, Mufti’s government is better, my friend).

The National Congress song follows a similar line of self-defeating poetics.

In power

The new political dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir has been termed as an ‘unholy alliance’ by some and a ‘historical opportunity’ by others. The coalition government of the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP, who are a part of Kashmir’s government for the first time, and the so called “soft separatist” PDP, has assumed office under the title of India’s first Muslim Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who in a recent interview with NDTV called himself an Indian ‘by conviction’.

In general terms, his commitment or PDP’s commitment to India cannot be fundamentally challenged nor necessarily examined, not only because of his conviction but also because of his very choice to swear by the constitution of India. However, it is paradoxical for anyone who considers the political space where he or she operates as disputed, and yet swears allegiance to a particular dominion and not the other.

Right after being sworn in as the 12th chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti expressed his gratitude to the Hurriyat leadership, the militants and people from us paar (the other side) – an implicit reference to Pakistan – for allowing the peaceful conduct of elections. A week after he assumed charge as CM, Mufti announced the release of political prisoners with no criminal charges. Hours after this announcement was made public, the Hurriyat leader and the brains behind Ragda years, (2008-10), Masrat Alam, was released. Though the uprising caused by him was spontaneous in nature, he later organised it and mobilised people across Kashmir.

The Indian media was quick to make a mountain out of a mole hill. The release of Alam was ordered by the court and required no extraordinary effort. Doing it right up, perhaps the first thing after the formation of his government, Mufti’s well calculated gimmick helped him convey what he long desired; a pro-Pakistan tag, given by Indian media.

Also, by releasing Alam, Mufti sent out two strong messages. One being that he is carrying out the procedure as stipulated by law and the second, that he is ‘friendly’ with the ‘separatist’ camp in Kashmir. That Alam is responsible for the killing of more than a 100 people during the recent uprising was another creation by the media, thereby generating a reason for his re-arrest and helping the BJP to stay relevant in the debate.

A common Indian man sees Kashmir through the lens of the media and thereby, subscribes to what is being written in print and what is shown on the television.

BJP, in its response, first claimed that they were not consulted on the matter, and soon, as the voices in the TV studios began to get louder, the prime minister said,

“I lend my voice to the outrage on the release of the separatist.”

Both parties are trying to maintain a balance of their predispositions and predilections. While PDP is trying to look good in Kashmir, BJP is assuring people in Jammu and India that it is not succumbing to the pressure of PDP to stay in government.

Also, PDP is now demanding the return of the mortal remains of Afzal Guru, who was hanged to “satisfy the collective conscience” of India. But there is enough evidence to suggest that it is only hollow-speak. In 2011, the resolution seeking clemency for Guru was not taken up in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, as it was not brought up for discussion.

A group of MLAs, mostly new and with little or no say in PDP, have signed the statement calling for the return of Guru’s mortal remains. This is a political gimmick, much like the one recently played by Ghulam Nabi Azad during the Rajya Sabha polls, to appeal to the core constituency in Kashmir, where people see the PDP-led government, for that matter any government, as a “sell out” for power.

Mufti’s relationship with the state of India dates back to his days as a home minister, during which he was influential in creating what Human Rights Watch called “India’s secret Army in Kashmir”, the STF.

The STF is a dreaded counter-insurgency force of the Jammu and Kashmir police, trained by Indian security agencies on the lines of US counter-insurgency mechanisms in El Salvador and later in Iraq, and is known to have killed many people. The imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a draconian law that gives impunity to Indian forces, also happened during his tenure as home minster.

In a statement issued in February last year, Yaseen Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) accused the Indian state for deliberately “allowing PDP to pursue a soft-separatist agenda.” The very creation of PDP is seen as a handiwork of Indian security agencies to counter the monopoly over Kashmir’s “mainstream” politics by the National Congress. If that is to be believed, then a pro-Pakistan posturing by PDP should not come as a surprise. In ideal circumstances, PDP would like to neutralise pro-Pakistan sentiments by invading into pro-freedom spaces in Kashmir.

A recent trend suggests that PDP is trying to kill two birds with a single stone. The controversy about a suspected meeting between a member of PDP and a Hurriyat leader, the release of Alam, and on occasions calling some pro-freedom leaders  ‘friends’, are all indications of PDP’s new strategy. PDP assumes that making a pro-Pakistan posturing or releasing pro-freedom leaders of Kashmir will help them mollify both.

Setting records with Pakistan straight

It is no secret that Pakistan plays an important role in the politics of Kashmir. There is no contesting the fact that Pakistan is a legitimate party in the dispute, as recognised by the international community and more importantly by the people of Kashmir.

Professor Abdul Gani Bhat, of the pro-freedom Hurriyat Conference, met Mufti days after the elections results were out. Even though the exact motive and details of the meeting are not known, it is being construed that Bhat had gone with a message from the other side. In common parlance of Kashmir, the other side, by default, is known as Pakistan. If this conjecture is true, the message could have been a note of caution for Mufti against joining BJP.

Winning 25 seats from Jammu, BJP had the required numbers to form an alliance with the PDP, which had emerged as the single largest party after winning 28 seats out of the total 88. At the start, it appeared unlikely, but in politics nothing is impossible. BJP was slow about the formation of an alliance since it was eyeing the Delhi elections. After being decimated by the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in the Delhi assembly elections, BJP shifted its focus towards the government formation in Jammu and Kashmir.

As the talks between BJP and PDP were underway with members from both sides, working on what is now known as the ‘Agenda of Coalition’, Pakistan sent out a strong message by denying a visa to the then PDP spokesperson, now education minister, Naeem Akhter.

During her first visit to Pakistan in 2008, Mehbooba Mufti is known to have received a warm welcome by the Zardari administration for the steps taken by PDP-led government, during their tenure for the restoration of ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir and trade across the Line of Control (LoC).

After a meeting that lasted about half an hour, Zardari called Mehbooba his “sister”. A year after, following the massive uprising in Kashmir against the Indian state, and PDP’s defeat in the 2008 assembly elections, she was denied a visa by Pakistan on “security grounds”.

No official response was given by the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi as to why Akhter was denied a visa. It is likely that the denial was influenced by the growing bonhomie between PDP and BJP, which ultimately resulted in the ‘marriage’ between what are called as ideologically opposite parties.

While BJP has an ideology, one wonders what ideology PDP has.

The statement thanking Pakistan for allowing the peaceful conduct of elections in Kashmir resulted in an expected uproar in India. While Congress termed him an anti-national, RSS’s Praveen Tagodia reminded him that he was a CM.

“At the mercy of Hindus and has no absolute power to take such decisions.”

A seasoned and shrewd politician, Mufti knows that he cannot make the Pakistani state unhappy for one simple reason, that Kashmir has a huge and growing pro-Pakistan constituency. Secondly, Pakistan has an influence in shaping the “separatist” politics in Kashmir and over the years PDP has encroached into that space. In order to further strengthen its base in that constituency, PDP is trying to get friendly with Pakistan.

Making Hurriyat irrelevant

That PDP has made inroads into the pro-freedom space is not a mere speculation. Many individuals, one of them being Haseeb Drabu, the new finance minister, are known to have been close to many resistance leaders before joining pro-India parties and have been involved in various matters.

Thanking the Hurriyat Party for allowing normalcy during elections was a clever manoeuvre of PDP’s strategy of “soft-separatism”. As the state police was cracking down upon pro-freedom leaders during the run-up to the elections and detaining hundreds of youngsters from across Kashmir, Mufti spoke about democracy as “competing ideas of politics”.

In his campaign speeches, he asked for the release of Hurriyat leaders. At the same time, he wanted Hurriyat leaders to be ‘cautious’ about the entry of “communal BJP into Kashmir”.

Mufti played a psychological game with pro-freedom leaders, which he won to some extent. Syed Ali Shah Geelani issued a statement before the elections, asking the people to be aware of the “evil designs of BJP”. It is said that the PDP contestants used the statement as a pretext to convince voters to come out to cast their vote. His statement was twisted and reconstructed in a manner which made it appear as an endorsement for local parties, particularly PDP. Since all the leaders were incarcerated, there was no mobilisation on the ground which could explicate the statement in its true colours.

PDP’s self-rule, which is supposed to be a document for “peaceful resolution”, gained much traction in the years of waning militancy, mainly after 9/11. This document provides both India and Pakistan equal say in the administration of Kashmir, and in reality, makes the people of Kashmir immaterial, with no political power of their own.

Being Indian by ‘conviction’, Mufti is now trying to walk towards Pakistan on the road that leads through Muzzafarabad – the only roadblock for PDP is the Hurriyat Party. Now PDP cannot eliminate pro-freedom leaders, therefore it is trying to make them irrelevant. Become friendly with them, blur the lines and mix the green.

Create complete confusion

In the meantime, PDP will continue with their rhetoric of including Hurriyat leadership in the negotiations and peace processes which lead to nowhere. By doing this in the past, PDP has literally made substantial inroads into the Hurriyat-M (Mirwaiz) constituency while as Hurriyat-G (Geelani) continues to call such processes false and time buying tactics. Mufti will try to create a vacuum and a disconnection between the people of Kashmir and the pro-freedom leadership, by making symbolic gestures with no real substance to them and blurring the line between Hurriyat and PDP.

If Mufti succeeds in giving the ‘healing touch’ to the militants and at the same time continues to encroach upon pro-freedom space, then Kashmir is for sure headed for a mad innings this time.

But sadly, for Mufti and his alliance partners, this is not going to happen.

The likely scenario is that PDP would like to see an AAP like victory in Kashmir. But what AAP promised in Delhi, which is governance, PDP cannot promise the same since it will not sell in Kashmir.

Democracy, too, is rubbished in Kashmir as fhilaspheri (philosophy in a pejorative sense). So they will release prisoners, stone-pelters, and later dub them as miscreants or misguided. Once Kashmir erupts into singing songs for freedom and the Army stages a flag march in Srinagar, a 100 or 200 are killed, only then they will make BJP the villain and have a reason to break the coalition.

In 2008, PDP engineered a similar situation in Kashmir. After allowing the transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, it feigned innocence and broke its coalition with Congress. This time around they are preparing well in advance, with a strategy aimed at making Hurriyat’s representative character extraneous.

In the name of reconciliation, PDP may very well allow citizenship rights to West Pakistan refugees, as demanded by BJP, and change the demographic structure of Jammu and Kashmir.

While the Hurriyat leadership is in disarray, with factionalism having discredited them, the pro-India political parties will continue to exploit the growing cracks by convincing the likes of Sajad Lone to join what they call a ‘democratic process’.

With the likes of Haseeb Drabu, who is privy to secrets of the pro-freedom camp, it is now easier than ever to draw wedges in Hurriyat.

While PDP may continue to call itself a pro-peoples party, it has started from where it had left off in 2008. In less than a month, PDP has indicated that its mission is to bring Hindu and Hinduised India into Kashmir.

Basharat Ali

Basharat Ali

Basharat Ali is a freelance writer and blogger. He is doing his masters degree in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He tweets as @Basharat_Dar (twitter.com/Basharat_Dar)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.