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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 37 New Delhi September 1, 2018

In Memory Of Late Shujaat Bukhari

An Insider’s Courageous Rebuttal of Official Policies on the Kashmir Unrest

Sunday 2 September 2018


by K.S. Subramanian

Kashmir Intifada: A Memoir by A.M. Watali; Gulshan Books, Srinagar; 2017; pp. 543; Price: Rs 1495.

The author of this book, Ali Mohammad Watali, was the Deputy Inspector General of Police, J&K at the start of the popular unrest over official Indian policies in Kashmir. The discontent became manifest in 1988-89 with the departure of radical youths to Pakistan to take up arms against India and engage in pursuit of intifada or resistance. The book provides an indispensable eyewitness account of the initial stages of popular resistance over official policies in J&K in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The author believes that the State Police were quite competent to handle the resistance to repressive official policies without the induction of Central forces. However, the Central Government’s insistence on the need to induct the Indian Army and the appointment of the civil servant, Jagmohan, as the Governor of the State, accentuated the crisis situation.

The book is enormously detailed and comprehensive. The author perhaps needed an editor to spruce up the long narrative to make it reader-friendly.

The author is critical of Pakistan’s role in Kashmir since 1947. His account of the initial stages of militancy in Kashmir is of crucial importance for every student of Kashmir politics. He claims that under his leadership militancy was curbed and brought within manageable limits by 1989. ‘When I relinquished office in October 1989, only 38 militants were on the wanted list with only a few guides who were operating in the border areas.’

The author uses mainly secondary sources in the writing of this book. He was politically aligned to the top leadership of the ruling party, the National Conference (NC). He was suspected of complicity in the rigging of the 1987 elections to the State Assembly and even admits that rigging took place in 10 constituencies. Amarjit Singh Dulat in his book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, says (p. 106) that the militants’ fury over the rigged 1987 elections led to many radical youths leaving the State for Pakistan to take up arms against India.

The NC-Congress pre-election coalition was formed in late 1986 and the State Assembly elections took place in March 1987. Farooq Abdullah, the leader of the NC, and Rajesh Pilot, the Congress party’s Minister of State for Home in New Delhi, were in close touch with the author. The Muslim United Front won four seats, the NC 40, and the Congress 26.

The author did not support the NC-Congress pre-election alliance for the 1987 elections arguing that it would reduce the moderate political and religious space. He had the precise number of militants who left for Pakistan after October 1987. He says the Army units on the Line of Control did not prevent the militants moving to Pakistan. The Central intelligence agencies, the Army and the BSF units too failed to inform the government about the develop-ment. The author is critical of the militants who committed grave crimes against the people. He claims that security arrangements were in place upto October 1989, when he relinquished office. The killing of Maulana Mohammed Farooq would not have happened if the security arrangements had continued from December 1989 to January 1990, he holds.

The author contends that the Central agencies put heavy pressure on Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to enforce the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the State. The Centre appeared determined to use the ‘military option’ to tackle the insurgency and also to directly control the operations. The State officials disagreed and held that the imposition of draconian laws would have adverse consequences.

The author documents the excesses that flowed from these actions imposed at the instance of the Centre, which deepened the alienation of the people. The then Union Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, himself a Kashmiri, had succumbed to the Central Government pressure to impose the draconian AFSPA on Kashmir on August 1, 1990.

The book contains many significant details and important revelations which compel attention. The reader has to pay attention and absorb the details though the writing is sometimes repetitive.

The author’s significant revelation about a lady Congress leader who allegedly offered him money to rig the 1987 elections (which he rejected) is followed by the interesting story of Hashim Qureshi, who had hijacked an Indian plane to Pakistan in 1971 and afterwards had acquired Dutch citizenship and was apparently recruited by the BSF to work in Srinagar as an anti-insurgency expert. This was presumably an operation conducted by the R&AW. The chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Surendra Nath, however, ordered the State Police to search Hashim’s residence in downtown Srinagar for clues about his activities.

A copy of the order appointing Hashim Qureshi as Sub-Inspector in the BSF and posting him to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, then stipulating his attachment to the so-called ‘G’ Branch at Srinagar headed by Ashok Patel, an officer who later became the Inspector General of Police in charge of anti-insurgency operations in the early 1990s, is a major revelation. The news about the former hijacker being a BSF officer was sensational. How Qureshi was mysteriously brought into Srinagar is narrated by A.S. Dulat in his 2015 book: Kashmir: Vajpayee Years, (pp. 93-111).

The author provides a graphic discussion of the despicable Army violence against civilians on July 26, 1980 in Srinagar. The violence was unprovoked and unprecedented and was conducted in an organised manner. The Army-men attacked everyone who came their way, destroyed many private vehicles and taxis and killed innocent youths. They injured many. The author, who was in uniform, was also brutally attacked but survived miraculously.

The State Government appointed a three-member inquiry commission headed by a Chief Justice of the High Court. It held the Army guilty of unruly behaviour. However, the Commander, 15 Corps, Lt Gen. Jasbir Singh, exonerated the Army unit involved.

The State Home Secretary said: ‘In these incidents the Army jawans have dealt with the situation on their own, making free use of dandas, lathis, iron rods, hockey sticks and fire weapons, bypassing the civil administration as well as Headquarters Sub Area Command. About 100-150 jawans and others who participated in the melee have not maintained the high traditions of our Army....’

The Army’s members on such inquiry teams tend to be partisan. The author says: “How brazenly the Army member, a senior Army General, could falsify the senior and responsible police officers, who had won highest national honours, was inexplicable. He openly behaved like a Martial Law administrator.”

That explains why Watali opposed the Army’s induction into Kashmir in 1990. Later on, ex-Army chief General V.K. Singh disclosed that he had used secret funds to destabilise the J&K Government. The author observes: “The news item on the disclosures gives a glimpse into the gross indiscipline and arbitrary functioning of the Indian Army even at the highest level. It also is indicative of their political activities which are beyond their mandate of duty.”

The author describes the 1953 dismissal of the Sheikh Abdullah Government as a ‘Himalayan blunder’ and provides an account of the circumstances leading to it and involving many luminaries such as the then IB chief, B.N. Mullik, in order to remove the Sheikh from power. The subsequent dismissal in 1984 of the Farooq Abdullah Government, which was objected to on constitutional grounds by the then Governor, B.K. Nehru, was also a blot on the Central Government. Both developments considerably strengthened the anti-India sentiments in the State; the intifada became stronger.

In this context, the author quotes the distinguished writer, A.G. Noorani (p. 504), to make his points. Writing on A.S. Dulat’s book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, Noorani noted: ‘The book reveals all too clearly that India will continue to rig elections to the Assembly of J&K for as long as the Kashmir dispute is not resolved with Pakistan with the consent of the people of the State. Until then it will arrange matters to ensure: i) that no one occupies the office of Chief Minister of Kashmir without its approval; ii) that no Legislative Assembly will likely get elected in the State, which will cross the well-known red lines set by New Delhi, since 1951.’

Finally, referring (p. 512) to the official claim made in March 2014 that only about 100 militants were active in Kashmir, the author states that surprisingly 62 battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles (50,000 men), the CRPF (60,000 men) and the J&K police (80,000 men)—all making a total of 1,80,000 men—were deployed to deal with this miniscule group of militants. This figure did not include the regular Army and BSF deployment along the LoC. (Tribune newspaper, March 25 2014) This works out to an astonishing 1800 men per one militant. In comparison, the figure in conflict-affected Punjab during the peak of militancy in the 1980s had a ratio of only 10:1!

In chapter 15, the author provides an interesting and well-documented discussion on ‘Fraudulent Elections’.

In the last chapter, titled ‘Reconci-liation and Resolution’, the author would have done better to make a reference to the four-point formula evolved by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India to resolve the conflict over Kashmir, which is at the heart of the political instability in South Asia. Further, it is useful to remember that the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, in his book, Neither a Hawk nor a Dove (Penguin 2015), mentions that the top US diplomat, Henry Kissinger, has observed that the key to the solution of complicated international conflicts such as Kashmir does not lie in finding complete satisfaction for the contending parties but in finding ‘balanced dissatisfaction’ for both parties. The Musharraf-Manmohan formula, which aimed at finding ‘balanced dissatisfaction’ for both India and Pakistan, was sabotaged by vested interests. There has been no progress since then.

The onset of the Narendra Modi regime in 2014 has augured badly for peace in Kashmir. Majoritarian violence against Muslims in Kashmir has gone up with increase in human rights violations in the State as brought out in a recent UN report. (A.G. Noorani, ‘The Wrongs in Kashmir’, Frontline, August 17, 2018)

Despite its length and the high price, the book constitutes a courageous rebuttal by an insider of Indian policies on the Kashmir unrest. It calls for meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan as the need of the hour.

The book is a ‘must read’ for all.

The reviewer, a former Director General of Police in North-East India, is the author of Political Violance and the Police in India (Sage, 2007) among other publications.

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