The Army in Kashmir

A valuable first-hand account of the start of militancy in the Kashmir valley in 1988-89, showing how the Army’s ruthless high-handed role sent the situation spiralling out of control.

Published : Aug 02, 2017 12:30 IST

This book is a blend of what the author read, heard and witnessed. A well-educated IPS officer, A.M. Watali read widely and rose to become the Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Jammu and Kashmir. He draws on secondary sources, some of dubious worth. Bilqees Taseer’s recital of witnesses to the contrary cannot affect the undoubted fact that Sheikh Abdullah did not visit Pakistan after his release from prison in 1947. Movements of such persons cannot be concealed.

The author’s account of what he had heard must be subjected to the accepted tests of weighing such accounts. The same holds good for his personal testimony. He was a highly politicised police officer and freely advised Farooq Abdullah on matters political.

Watali was widely suspected of complicity in the rigging of the 1987 elections to the State Assembly, which provoked separatists to revolt. For an author, a memoir is an appropriate instrument in which to cite charges against oneself and address them convincingly. Of this there is no sign. Chapter 15 on “Fraudulent Elections” is well documented.

The National Conference (N.C.)-Congress coalition was formed on November 7, 1986, with former Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul as mediator. Watali was asked by Farooq Abdullah and the busybody Rajesh Pilot for his assessment. Elections were held on March 23, 1987. The Muslim United Front won a mere four seats, the N.C. 40, and the Congress 26. The author repeatedly mentions the role of “a senior lady Congress leader holding an important constitutional position”. She offered him money to be spent in the campaign. He refused. No prizes for guessing the identity of that “lady”, a despicable turncoat. Watali’s assertion that “rigging was resorted to in only about 10 constituencies” will not raise eyebrows. It will make people smile, if not laugh.

The book’s real value lies in its eyewitness account of the outbreak of popular revolt in 1988-89. He believes that the State police could have handled the situation. The induction of the Indian Army and a Jagmohan as Governor made matters worse. Watali is consistently critical of Pakistan’s role in Kashmir right from the beginning. His account of the initial phase of militancy in Kashmir from 1988 to 1990 is invaluable. It rings true. No study of the Kashmir problem can ignore Watali’s detailed and authentic testimony. “Militancy was curbed and brought within manageable limits by 1989. When I relinquished my office in October 1989, only 38 militants were on the wanted list, including a few guides who were operating only in border areas.”

He recalls: “In my conversation with both of them I had opposed the Congress-National Conference pre-poll alliance for 1987 elections on the ground that it would shrink the moderate political and religious space and strengthen the position of fundamentalists and hardliners.” That was political advice.

He mentions precisely the men who went to Pakistan, when and with what results. The procession began in October 1987. Army pickets on the Line of Control (LoC) cooperated, for a consideration, of course. Neither the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) nor the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) informed the State government and State police of any movement of Kashmir youth across the LoC, neither did the Army or the Border Security Force (BSF). All agencies seemed to have been blissfully ignorant of the happenings along the LoC and the impending insurgency in the State. Watali is severely critical of militants who committed crimes on the people. “I confirm that security arrangements were in place up to October 1989, when I relinquished my office. I am sure that the tragedy of 21 May 1990 would have been averted and the Maulana Mohammed Farooq would not have been martyred had the security arrangements continued and even [been] beefed up, given the deterioration in the overall situation in the city after December 1989 to January 1990.”

He records: “Tremendous pressure was put on Farooq Abdullah to allow the Central government to apply Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to the valley. The Central government intended, as became clear over the ensuing months, to exercise ‘Military Option’, which it considered the only viable option, to deal with the insurgency and directly take control of the operations . Farooq, however, resisted the pressure on our advice, as the situation did not demand promulgation of any such draconian laws, which could be misused.”

Particularly useful is Chapter 2, entitled “Military Option Exercised”. It has first-hand accounts of deliberations within Farooq Abdullah’s government on the Centre’s proposal. At the end of the day, “it became abundantly clear that New Delhi wanted to deal with militancy directly by exercising a military option, reducing the State government to the position of an ineffective organ. They continued to pressurise the State government to agree to the implementation of AFSPA and DAA. The State government, however, continued to oppose the implementation of these laws as we were convinced that the application of these stringent and draconian laws would cause the situation to escalate beyond redemption, as the security forces deployed in civilian areas were likely to commit excesses, leading to gross human rights violations, resulting in alienation of local population.”

The next chapter documents the excesses that followed, alienating the people further. India’s Home Minister then was none other than Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. He was a stooge of Arun Nehru and a friend of Jagmohan, both partners in the 1984 coup. He moved in the Lok Sabha the Bill to extend AFSPA on August 1, 1990.

The book contains important nuggets of information, besides the exposure of that “lady” from the Congress who came to hold a constitutional position. He confirms the fact that Hashim Qureshi, hijacker of the plane Ganga to Pakistan in 1971, belonged to the BSF. The chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Surendra Nath “directed the concerned police to search Hashim’s residence at Nowhatta in downtown Srinagar for any possible clues.

The police, among other things, recovered copy of an order in pursuance of which Hashim had been appointed as Sub-Inspector in BSF and posted to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh but the same order stipulated his attachment to ‘G’ Branch at Srinagar, which was at that time headed by Ashok Patel, an Assistant Director who later on rose to the rank of IGP [Inspector General of Police] and was in charge of anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir in early 1990s. The news about the hijacker being a BSF officer got leaked and was published with Delhi dateline on front pages of all the national newspapers next day.…

“Though still a Dutch national, under what circumstances Hashim, who is now facing trial at Srinagar for hijacking the plane, was ‘allowed’ to come back from Amsterdam, has been revealed by none other than the RAW Chief, A.S. Dulat, later his handler, in his book: Kashmir: VajpayeeYears , [pages] 93-111. Interestingly, the career of a judge was jeopardised when he came into clash with a powerful agency for his unwillingness to grant bail to Hashim. The situation was, however, eased out with the intervention of some well-wishers of the judge.” A sad comment on the system.

Grave risk

One episode in particular shows “the system” in poor light. “It was on 26 July 1980 when a severe blow was inflicted on the psyche of Kashmiri people by the Army in an organised attack on unarmed civilians. They attacked every civilian who came their way, destroyed as many private and taxi vehicles as they could and killed a couple of innocent youth. This was the day when the angel of death stared direct in my eyes. But I miraculously survived and God Almighty gave me a second life.” Though in uniform, he was brutally assaulted by Army men. An inquiry held them guilty. The report was suppressed; Watali managed to copy it and he quotes extracts from it.

There is always a grave risk when the Army is let loose on our own people. In the words of the Army Chief Bipin Rawat, it goes “helter-skelter”. It did so in Hyderabad, Nagaland, Amritsar (Operation Blue Star) and in Kashmir.

In the instant case, the State government appointed a three-member inquiry commission headed by the Chief Justice of the High Court, Mian Jalaluddin, with Home Secretary Ghulam Shah as a member. They held the Army units guilty of unruly behaviour. The Commander, 15 Corps, Lt Gen. Jasbir Singh, exonerated the Army unit. Two civilians were killed and 15 injured in the incident. Watali, then Senior Superintendent of Police, and his deputy sustained serious injuries.

The Home Secretary found: “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 and that these 100-150 jawans and others who participated in the mello [ sic ] have not maintained the high traditions of our Army….” Are you surprised at what happened on July 23, 2017?

The Army’s members on such inquiries are partisan. This was no different. “How brazenly the Army member, a senior Army General, has tried to falsify the senior and responsible police officers who had won highest national honours for their distinguished services and outstanding performance in the service of the nation. He openly behaved like a Martial Law administrator.”

Army’s games

A pattern was set, and a culture of imputing was created. Witness Kunan Poshpora, Pathribal, and the rest. The latest in the series is Army men thrashing policemen in the valley on July 22 because the soldiers had been pulled up for not obeying the law. In Kashmir, the Army is above the law—and above the people. That explains why the people hate the Army.

That explains why Watali opposed the Army’s induction into Kashmir in 1990. He was confirmed in his view by the disclosures by the ex-Army chief General V.K. Singh of use of secret funds to topple the State government. His anger is justified. “This news item [containing 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.” Lastly, it is a sad commentary on the functioning of democratic institutions, particularly in J&K State, where the Army can, if it so desires, topple the elected government.

Of what use are constitutional guarantees when like Article 370 the “Deep State” (Army, I.B. and RAW) can make and unmake governments in Kashmir?

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