House in ruins

Published : Apr 07, 2006 00:00 IST

Destroyed in 1990 in the course of terrorist violence, this home in Srinagar's Jehangir Chowk now shelters squatters. -

Destroyed in 1990 in the course of terrorist violence, this home in Srinagar's Jehangir Chowk now shelters squatters. -

The dialogue process now extends to politicians on both sides of the Line of Control, but none can say when the war will end.

EVER since 1990, the shell of what was once a prosperous family's magnificent home has glowered at Srinagar's busy Jehangir Chowk: a memorial that reminds each passer-by of the two decades of malevolent jihadi terror that has turned their world into a house of horror. The house was set on fire by Islamists.

Life, though, has begun to stir inside the home, behind the wire fence that cuts it off from the street. Squatters have moved into the two wings of the home that still stand intact, and are building their lives amidst its ruins as best as they can. Children now play in the slush that covers the grounds that must once have been immaculately manicured gardens, while their mothers cook food or hang out the laundry to dry in the spring sunshine. In the back yard, rag-pickers load heaps of sorted plastic waste on to carts.

In March, politicians from across the ideological spectrum in Jammu and Kashmir met with their counterparts from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir at a conference organised by the international science organisation, Pugwash. Such conferences had taken place before. This time, though, Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, met with mainstream politicians from Jammu and Kashmir who recognise its accession to India: a move that left secessionists in the State seething - and participants in the dialogue euphoric.

President Musharraf's grand gesture seems to have paid off. Politicians ranging from the National Conference's Omar Abdullah to the People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti have thrown their weight behind the General's calls for a reduction of the Indian troop presence in Jammu and Kashmir and serious consideration of his proposals for self-rule. Both parties believe Musharraf's vision can be harmonised with their respective visions for greater autonomy within the Union of India.

Come May, some believe, the second round of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's round-table dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir ought to involve Musharraf and politicians from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Pakistan-backed terrorism, optimists believe, will taper off as a consequence of the intense pressure the United States has brought to bear on the regime. In other words, the house of horrors can be restored to the place of peace it once was - plank by plank, and brick by brick.

Is peace, then, just around the corner? Or will the drive to end the war in Jammu and Kashmir end in another cul-de-sac; in that place called stalemate?

This much is clear: things are changing. Which way they are headed is less than clear.

Off the Pugwash stage, top jihadi leaders staged an unprecedented week-long hunger-strike to protest against what they see as Musharraf's decision to abandon the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. At least 18 top commanders, including Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah, the Lashkar-e-Taiba's Mohammad Zaki-ur-Rahman, al-Umar's Mushtaq Zargar and the Jaish-e-Mohammad's Abdul Rehman, agreed to call off the protest only after assurances Pakistan would not abandon their cause.

Do these events herald an end to Pakistani support for the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir? Not quite. Indian signals intelligence officials say there has been no reduction in military communications traffic between terrorists and their control stations in Pakistan. Individual terror cells, witness the recent bombings in Varanasi or spate of fire-engagements in Jammu and Kashmir, remain active. Although newspapers had reported that the United Jihad Council (UJC) protestors were arrested, their infrastructure remains in place.

The happy marriage between General Musharraf and his Islamist allies has evidently been long souring. Lashkar chairman Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, for one, has been increasingly critical of the President. In a recent article, Saeed wrote: "After 9/11, Pakistan made a foreign policy U-turn to accommodate American interests. It was said that backing the U.S. would help solve the problem in Kashmir and protect our nuclear programme. But none of this has materialised."

Instead, Saeed argued in a recent sermon at the al-Qudsia mosque in Lahore, strong international pressures had built up for "the termination of the jihad in Kashmir". "Conspiracies," he asserted, "are being hatched against Pakistan's atomic programme." "President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who helped make India a nuclear power, sits across to discuss matters with Bush," the Jamaat ud-Dawa leader noted, "while the father of Pakistan's atomic programme, Abdul Qadir Khan, is rotting in a jail cell."

To Saeed, the recent visit of President George Bush to Pakistan, during which the U.S. reiterated calls for an end to jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, demonstrated the failure of General Musharraf's policies. "But we are happy," Saeed said, "for the situation is now more conducive to jihad." "It is [sic.] better our rulers give up their anti-jihad policies and reorient the foreign policy of Pakistan according to tenets of Islam," an editorial on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa website advises.

None of this polemic is new. At the Jamaat-ud-Dawa's annual Takmeel-e-Pakistan [Fulfilment of the Idea of Pakistan] convention, which was held at Lahore in August last year, Saeed articulated many of the same ideas. He called for mandatory recruitment of all Pakistani men to the jihad and the conquest of parts of India, and he held the U.S. responsible for not just the creation of Bangladesh but a still-unfinished conspiracy that would use India and Israel to "ruin Pakistan."

Signs that the Jamaat-ud-Dawa was attempting to integrate itself with the spectrum of anti-Musharraf forces in Pakistan were evident at the convention. It was addressed, for example, by Zaeem Qadri, a functionary responsible for the public relations work of former President Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League in Punjab. Maulana Saifuddin Saif, the secretary-general of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, also addressed the convention. By contrast, no representatives of the Pakistani state were on hand.

Also significant was the fact that a representative of the Pakistan-based leadership of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference was present - the political face of the UJC leaders with whom the Lashkar has now allied. The APHC representative, Abdullah Malik, asserted that the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir would continue "until the destruction of India". "Pakistan ka matlab kia la illaha il-Allah [the meaning of Pakistan is that that there is no god but Allah] still resounds under the guns in Kashmir," he said.

Islamists know that General Musharraf's position is more tenuous than ever before. On one side, his regime is confronted with potentially existence-threatening wars in Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province. On the other, the brief economic resurgence the Pakistan President succeeded in bringing about has also begun to diminish. Double-digit inflation has alienated Musharraf's supporters among the urban middle-class while feeding resentment among the growing ranks of the poor.

Sensing that General Musharraf's regime is edging ever closer to the abyss, many pro-jihad organisations have been joining the ranks of those engaged in providing the last shove. On March 17, for example, an audience of 25,000 people heard Saeed and other prominent Islamists, including Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam leader Maulana Samiul Haq berate Musharraf's policies on Jammu and Kashmir and his larger failure to "focus on jihad".

Within Jammu and Kashmir, too, traditional supporters of the Pakistani state have been distancing themselves from General Musharraf. In an acidic January 28 statement, Syed Ali Shah Geelani said that the Pakistani President had "no mandate to propose a political solution unacceptable to the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir." "It is the Kashmiris who will decide the future of the freedom struggle," the Islamist leader said, "not President Musharraf.''

What are ethnic-Kashmiri soldiers of the jihad thinking? Both the Hizb ul-Mujahideen's chief, Mohammad Yusuf Shah, and its operational commander, Mohammad Shahnawaz, have said in recent weeks that they are open to dialogue as long as the mujahedeen they command are the principal interlocutors New Delhi and Islamabad engage. Despite claims that the Hizb is tiring, though, the ground situation is profoundly ambiguous - and it is not hard to understand why.

Inside the hideout where Kulgam-area Hizb commander Mushtaq Ahmad Mir had spent the last hours of his life, the Jammu and Kashmir Police found documents that make clear one important fact: the terrorist group has good reason to fight. Mir, who was killed in a March 10 encounter, had issued 58 receipts to the organisation's local financiers, in the main businessmen, including fruit traders and contractors. Forty-three receipts were issued to individuals who paid Rs. 18,000 each; another 15 had committed Rs. 48,000 apiece.

From the Kulgam area alone, then, Mir had raised a more-than-respectable Rs.1.5 million for his Hizb unit. His expenses were also significant. The Hizb operative's diary records show that between November 13, 2005 and November 18, 2005, the unit spent Rs.75,080. Of this, Rs.25,000 went to compensating a businessman/sympathiser who had stored Hizb assets, and ended up losing his shop in a firefight with troops. Another Rs.28,000 went to the families of killed Hizb operatives to meet unanticipated expenses.

Most weeks, Mir's expenses seem to have been similar. Between December 13, 2006, and December 20, 2006, the terrorist spent Rs.84,086. Of this, Rs.52,700 went towards purchasing something cryptically referred to as "round 1700x31," possibly explosive fabrication components procured from another terrorist group. During the same week, the Hizb paid out Rs.5,000 a night to local residents who sheltered its units on December 12 and December 17, and bought new mobile phones for two operatives.

Although hard figures are difficult to come buy, similar diaries recovered from other terrorists killed in recent months suggest that terrorism has spawned a vibrant underground economy. South Kashmir's apple trade, train-route construction and flourishing businesses provide easy pickings to terror groups like the Hizb ul-Mujahideen, which in turn pumps back the cash to its overground operatives and ideological sympathisers. Often, funds are invested in businesses or land until they are spent.

Put simply, this suggests that Hizb commanders have hard-cash investments in continued violence. Wealth, in turn, continues to draw new recruits towards both the Hizb and the Lashkar. Although the flow of new cadre to terrorist organisations has diminished, police records of young men who have disappeared from their villages without apparent reason - a good index of just how many people have joined jehadi groups as foot-soldiers - make clear the flow still continues.

Consider, for example, the case of Kulgam - the area where Mir operated. Last year, four men from the village of Damal Hanjipora went missing, along with two from Yaripora and one from Kewa, near Qazigund. None, interestingly, disappeared from the town of Kulgam itself, suggesting that much of the recruitment is taking place from the ranks of the rural poor who migrate to the plains of Punjab for six months each year, to work as manual labourers. The jehad is riskier, true, but also better paid.

There is no real evidence that the Hizb is tiring of violence. Just on March 21, the Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested five members who had intended to carry out car bombings in downtown Srinagar. Days earlier, the Hizb ul-Mujahideen had issued threats to students and staff at the 33 Army-run Goodwill Schools in Jammu and Kashmir. The Hizb executed Abdul Rashid Khanday, a teacher at one such school, last summer. The dialogue process has done nothing, evidently, to change its agenda.

Within Kulgam, similarly, the terror group has continued to work to assert its authority. Since January alone, the Hizb has executed a local Communist Party of India (Marxist) activist, Aijaz Ahmad Malla, and two policemen who were home on vacation. Mubarak Ahmad Dar, a small-time cellphone thief, was punished by having two of his fingers amputated, while Latif Ahmad Sulfi, a mole placed by India's covert services inside local terror groups, was tortured and then beheaded.

Many within the Hizb rank and file would welcome a ceasefire - particular an older generation of leaders, like deputy supreme commander Ghulam Nabi Khan, who have seen their two-decade jehad secure none of the political gains it was intended to achieve. Still, a new generation o field commanders feel that the wages of war are greater than any payouts that may come with peace: not one of the organisation's division or district commanders is a dialogue enthusiast [see chart].

Ending the war in Jammu and Kashmir, then, might prove a good deal more difficult than some suppose. As the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader MY Tarigami recently noted, far too many people have an interest in its perpetuation. Underpinning the dialogue process lie chasms between opposing interests, like that between Islamists and the Pakistani state, or between the rank and file of the Hizb ul-Mujahideen and secessionist politicians.

The dialogue process also contains within it multiple struggles for political space within Jammu and Kashmir. For both the National Conference and the PDP, asserting that a settlement based on General Musharraf's self-rule proposal is possible is not only an ideological credo . It is also a tool with which to broaden their constituency within Jammu and Kashmir.

The PDP and National Conference's calls for demilitarisation, for example, are intended not as serious suggestions to bring peace but as an instrument through which the Congress may be embarrassed. For the APHC, in turn, the dialogue is principally attractive because it offers power without having to engage in the hard work of fighting elections. On specifics like the precise structures of autonomy they seek, both parties have been silent. Put simply, a workable consensus is still a long way in the future.

Scarred by decades of violence, almost everyone concerned with Jammu and Kashmir finds the idea of an orderly, antiseptic arrangement that would end the violence attractive. What is unclear is whether such a deus-ex-machina actually exists outside of the imaginations of conference-room strategists. As the furore provoked by National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan's insistence on the Line of Control being part of a final settlement demonstrates, long and complex discussions - and sometimes ugly political contestation - lie ahead.

As the dialogue process pushes ahead, the incentives to all participants to take expedient positions will increase - as will the risks that chauvinist and communal voices will gain in volume. No one concerned with Jammu and Kashmir disputes that peace is a good thing, but the content and costs of that peace remain no less contested now than at any point in the past. Dialogue, after all, is a process, not an outcome. All those who engage in it might do well to consider the stark fact that haste often precedes disaster.

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