Beginning of the Islamization of Kashmir

Under Abdullah, the state government assigned new Islamic names to approximately 2,500 villages. For example, Anantnag was renamed Islamabad. And Abdullah (just like he did in the 1930s), went back to delivering communal speeches. The change in his stance is even more evident when in his autobiography he likened Kashmiri Pandits to “mukhbirs” or informers of the Central Government.  A public relations campaign was launched to influence the Kashmiri people through the medium of books and pamphlets that suddenly started appearing everywhere in Kashmir. Pamphlets titled “Tragedy of Kashmir” and “The Conspiracy of Converting Kashmir Muslim Majority into a Minority” (authored by an MLA) and books such as On Guerrilla War” by Che Guevara and Kashmiris Fight for Freedom by Pakistani writer Muhammed Yusuf Saraf started flooding the Valley. Following Abdullah’s death in 1982, secessionist groups marked their revival. In his will, Abdullah had asked for his body to be taken to the Arabian Sea than be buried in ‘enslaved’ Kashmir.[1]

Throughout the 1980s, the political leanings of the average Kashmiri Muslim was starkly pro-Pakistan and anti-Hindu. On October 13, 1983, the first international cricket match between India and West Indies was hosted in Kashmir. As Indian batsmen walked towards the pitch, deafening slogans of ‘Pakistan  Zindabad’ rented the air. During lunch break, hordes of people swooped down on the ground and damaged the wicket. Indian players were booed and jeered at and pelted with various objects during fielding. Several years later, Kirti Azad, an Indian player, recollected that that particular match was ‘like playing in Pakistan against Pakistan’.[2]

In 1984, Ghulam Mohammad Shah the brother-in-law of Farooq Abdullah and also his sworn enemy, snatched power from the National Conference and became the Chief Minister of J&K. In 1986, Shah decided to construct a large mosque, Masjid, within the premises of an ancient Hindu temple inside the New Civil Secretariat area in Jammu. Many people of Jammu took to the streets to protest with large demonstrations and marches against this decision. Shah on his return to Kashmir, in February 1986, told the people “Islam khatrey me hai” (Islam is in danger). This is said to have provoked the riots that broke out in Anantnag immediately after that. The Calcutta Telegraph reported that 129 Pandits’ houses were looted, burnt or damaged, along with 16 temples, nine shops, two paddy stores and two cowsheds. The Vijeshwari temple built by Ashoka was one of those destroyed. Some surmised that it was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who orchestrated these events, because Anantnag was his constituency. The Shah government was dismissed by the Governor, Jagmohan, after the riots.

Inadvertently, Doordarshan also became a medium of inspiring Islamic fundamentalist sentiments through its broadcast of the Afghan War. The Muslims in Kashmir saw the Taliban in Afghanistan fight the mighty power of the Soviets and drew inspiration. The impact of this was serious. In fact, government sources say that there was an order issued to Doordarshan not to present these scenes to the Kashmiri audience.

[1] Priyanka Bakaya and Sumeet Bhatti, Kashmir Conflict: A Study of what led to the Insurgency in Kashmir Valley & Proposed Future Solutions

[2] Rahul Pandita, Our Moon has Blood Clots

Pakistan and Jihad

According to American political scientist C. Christine Fair, the problem with Pakistan is that ever since its creation in 1947 it has been aninsecure’ nation. The other problem with Pakistan is that the Pakistani Army sees itself as the defender of the state’s ‘Islamic’ identity. Both these stances have locked Pakistan in battle with India.

Pakistan sees its acceptance of the status quo in Kashmir and failure to resist India’s growing supremacy in the region tantamount to the erosion of the Islamic state of Pakistan. Caught in an existential war so to speak, to Pakistan, defeat is not losing to India but failing to rise and strike again. Pakistan and the term jihad are synonymous. General Pervez Musharaff famously pointed out that jihad should not be mistaken for terrorism, for jihadis are “freedom fighters”, reiterating the fact that jihad represents Pakistan’s core state ideology.

Most believe that jihad in Pakistan was spawned in the 1980s following Pakistan’s war against the Soviet’s occupation of Afghanistan. But the truth is, Pakistan’s support to non-state actors to fight proxy wars goes back to 1947 when it sent tribal militia to invade and capture Kashmir. This was followed by Pakistan’s Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s call for jihad to be waged against India in 1965, supported by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who wanted nothing less than a “1000-year war”. The year 1971 saw Pakistan sending troops of mujahideens to bring East Pakistani insurgents under its control. This apart, Pakistan has also deployed Islamist militants in Afghanistan as early as the late 1950s to further its foreign policy in that country. It is safe to say that Pakistan, forever ‘disgruntled by an unfair Partition’ and its 1971 loss of East Pakistan, has used jihad to further its foreign and security policy.

Jihad as State Motto

One of the most well-known army chiefs of Pakistan was General Zia-ul-Haq. General Zia took over as the Army Chief on March 1, 1976 and soon after became President of Pakistan following a military coup in 1977. It was under his reign, that Pakistan’s political and military narrative took a dynamic turn, altering the region’s history going forward. The former USSR had a long-standing interest in Afghanistan and had installed a proxy Communist regime in 1978 that caused a wide-scale uprising in Afghanistan. The USSR finally invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. This had a ripple effect in Pakistan when General Zia undertook a campaign of the Islamization of Pakistan to inspire his people to rise against the Russian occupation. It was he who changed the motto of the Pakistan Army to “imaan, taqwa, jihad fi sabilillah, (meaning Faith, Piety, Jihad in the path of Allah) from the original national motto “ittehad, yaqeen aur tanzeem” (unity, faith, and discipline). General Zia organized and armed the Taliban jihadists with the $3.2 billion he received from the USA for this very purpose.

Many Islamist organisations precipitated from this jihadi formula. Madrassas were created to institutionalize Islamic education throughout Pakistan. Among them were two Islamist militant organizations called the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (Mohammad’s Army. It was founded in 2000, sprouting from the same jihadi seed planted two decades before). These two organizations were formed out of the nexus between the Pakistan Army, religious political leaders and criminals spurred by the Afghan jihad.

Jihad comes to Kashmir

Once Russia withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups were rebels without a cause and they turned their attention to the jihad of Muslims in Kashmir.

These Islamic organizations have been ably assisted by Pakistan’s Inter- Services-Intelligence (ISI), that has provided training, and logistical, monetary and intelligence support. Kashmir has been a major agenda of the Pakistan Army and politicians. In fact, right since 1947, when the nation of Pakistan was formed and it invaded Kashmir, the Pakistan Army and government have viewed the acquisition of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as central to their military and foreign policy plans as evidenced by the wars they waged against India in 1947, 1965 and 1999.

It deserves to be mentioned here that the democracy that the Pakistani army serves up to its citizens as a kind of a greenhouse to sustain the delicate illusion of democracy is controlled, nurtured and then harvested by them. It is in the Pakistan Army and its stakeholder’s interest for a continued state of war to exist between India and Pakistan, so that they can continue to skim off money through their established channels of corruption.

Besides the elected government and the Army, there exists a third entity, the militants and jihadis, who aren’t necessarily subordinate to the Army that created and armed them. They have an agenda of their own and some of the jihadi organisations are completely independent and want to impose their own brand of Islam in Pakistan too. The terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the last many years are testament to this fact. The government may be in charge of the basic administration of the land but it has very limited powers in anything else. In short, Pakistan is “an army with a country instead of a country with an army”.

As Soumyadipta Banerjee states in Pakistan is desperately poor. Its army is rich beyond belief. How come?” (25 March, 2019, Daily O): “…not much has been written about how the army completely broke the backbone of Pakistan’s economy — and established themselves as the largest and most profitable business empire in Pakistan.”[1]

According to Banerjee, Pakistan’s Army currently owns some of the largest (more than 50) business enterprises across Pakistan, selling anything from biscuits and sanitary napkins to power and fertilisers. A majority of these business entities are ‘run in the name of charitable organisations’ and are directly operated by Pakistan’s senior army generals. 

Over time, it served the interest of the millionaire army generals to create a permanent state of threat to the Pakistani state and Kashmir has proven to be a useful device in that sense.

[1] Daily O article Pakistan is desperately poor. Its army is rich beyond belief. How come?

Economic Development of the State

Kashmir did not bloom as an autonomous State, from the point of view of the life of the common man. The people of India funded Kashmir’s four 5 year plans from 1950 through to 1970 with aids and grants that provided Kashmir little impetus to employ its own resources for economic growth. Kashmir is land scarce and labour abundant. Less than 30% of its land is tillable. Kashmir has developed into the lowest taxed state in India. In the 1970s the Indian government adopted a 30% grants and 70% loan scheme, under which Kashmir’s debt ballooned and a significant portion of its tax collections went in furnishing its debt.

Private companies did not invest in Kashmir as non-Kashmiri Indians and corporations were not allowed ownership of property in Kashmir. Whatever little industry that did emerge in the 1950s was promoted by the State and was inefficient and quickly lapsed into loss-making units. The State Government could not produce sustainable large-scale industry. The Kashmiri looked towards the State Government for employment of which the government had very limited vacancies.

All the above resulted in large scale unemployment and poverty. Kashmiris, who had educated themselves in India and abroad, had no opportunities for themselves within the State. This was compounded by the corruption that existed in the State Government perpetuated by the politicians and the bureaucrats. The Government of India was fairly lax in being provided statements and audits of the money that was received by the self-serving elite of Kashmir, emboldening them to run rampant with India’s money. In fact, there existed a nexus between the elite, bureaucracy and business class who took money from the Centre to keep Kashmir free of secessionists. Moreover, Urdu (the language of the elite), which was the State language, allowed only the elite to land plum government jobs and secure university education. This alienated the ordinary Kashmiri from those in power even more.

Powerless to do anything, the unemployed youth found a voice in the Pakistan-sponsored jihadis and Kashmiri secessionists, readily taking up arms to voice their angst.

The 1987 Elections

Farooq Abdullah came to power in Kashmir in 1983 riding on a sympathy wave following the death of his father, Sheikh Abdullah. Along with him, the candidates of Jamaat-e-Islami, People’s League and the People’s Conference, all pro-Pakistan parties, contested the elections. Abdul Ghani Lone, leader of the People’s Conference, was elected to the Legislature.

In January 1984, a crude bomb exploded while Farooq Abdullah was taking the Republic Day salute. A wave of protests followed and was accompanied by a host of arrests. In June 1984, Jagmohan, the Governor of Kashmir, dismissed the Farooq government. He was replaced by Ghulam Mohammad Shah, Farooq’s brother-in-law and political enemy, who won over a dozen or so National Conference MLAs to join his Awami National Conference. The dismissal of Farooq Abdullah, the first CM of Kashmir who openly called himself an ‘Indian’ and the swearing in of Shah as the new CM without a floor test in the Assembly, sent a message to Kashmiris:“Kashmir has been reminded that no matter how much it belongs to the mainstream of India, no matter how often its chief minister asserts he is Indian, it will always be special, always be suspect.”[1]

Shah’s government did not last long and was dismissed by Jagmohan in 1986. It was followed by a Farooq Abdullah-Rajiv Gandhi alliance that lasted for a short while. Fresh elections were held in 1987. These elections were marred by incidents of rigging, mainly in Srinagar, though the accusations from the Opposition portrayed it to be much bigger than it was. Srinagar though was the center of Kashmiri politics. The National Conference and Congress alliance won 66 of the 75 assembly seats. This was followed by protests by the Opposition parties, which had formed a coalition known as the Muslim United Front. The protesting Opposition leaders and workers were arrested, jailed and subjected to torture under the Public Safety Act (PSA). Among these were Yusuf Shah and Yasin Malik who, upon their release, crossed over the border and formed the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Valley wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). It is worthy to note that previous attempts by Pakistan-sponsored agents to recruit people for the Kashmir jihad had been largely unsuccessful till these elections. The rigging of the elections effectively did the job for Pakistan’s ISI, in giving them fresh recruits for the Jihad Machine.

Later, Farooq Abdullah said in an interview that he did not deny that the elections were rigged but he wasn’t the one responsible for the rigging, putting the blame on Rajiv Gandhi. Whoever did the rigging set into motion events that would have repercussions far beyond the scope of the elections and Kashmir itself.

[1] Tavleen Singh, “Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors”

The Kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed

On December 2, 1989, V.P. Singh was sworn in as Prime Minister, along with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as his Home Minister. Just five days later, on December 8, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front kidnapped the 23 year-old Rubaiya Sayeed, the Home Minister’s daughter. People of the Valley were shocked at the audacious move by the JKLF and sympathy poured in for Sayeed.

In a conversation with The Sunday Guardian on August 31, 2019, Governor of Kerala, Arif Mohammad Khan, who at that time was Cabinet Minister in the same government, said that the V. P. Singh government was pressurizing the then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to give in to the terrorists’ demands and release their comrades in exchange of Rubaiya Sayeed. Abdullah, though, was totally against the idea and warned the Centre about the same as he believed doing so would provide a fillip to terrorism in the state. He was of the firm belief that the terrorists would not harm Rubaiya as it would alienate public support. The father of one of the kidnappers had even reassured the State Government that no harm would come to her but despite this Mufti Mohammad Sayeed did the unthinkable. He “established contact” with the kidnappers through Justice M.L. Bhatt who then leaked the news to them that Delhi was ready to release the five terrorists as demanded.

Mr. Khan goes on to say that the Home Minister’s statement right after Rubaiya Sayeed’s release that the Kashmir issue would now be dealt as top priority, sent the wrong message to terrorists. It basically told them that if they kidnapped “a few more people, then you will receive more attention.”  Mr. Khan said that this incident brought to light the inherent “cracks in our resolve to deal with terrorism” and projected the government as a “soft state,” given to compromise.

“In their zeal to secure the release of Rubaiya Sayeed, they were ready to go to any extent… …… Also, those five terrorists were released before Rubiya Sayeed was released… I refuse to believe that Mufti, who himself was not only a Kashmiri but in Kashmiri politics since his adult days, was not aware of the Kashmiri ethos (of not hurting a girl). Therefore, I have my doubts—why did Mufti behave in this manner …..?[1]

The words of Mr. Arif Mohammad speak volumes. The incident showed militant groups that the Indian Government was vulnerable and could be arm twisted. More than that, this showed the possibility of politicians and militants joining hands for their self-interest. The events had built up an impression in the mind of the Kashmiris that they were just days away from freedom from India. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been accused by several fronts of encouraging separatist movements and violence in Kashmir. In fact, it is generally believed that the events surrounding the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed set the tone for the Kashmiri Pandit genocide that was to follow in 1990.

Sayeed, on his part, meanwhile tried to compensate for this debacle by adopting a counter-insurgency policy as per which President’s rule was proclaimed in J&K.

[1]Then Home Minister Mufti Sayeed protected terrorists in Kashmir” by Joyeeta Basy & Navtan Kumar for The Sunday Guardian


Leave a Reply