Bribes and spies

Print edition : November 15, 2013

Throwing stones at a policeman during a protest, in Srinagar in September 2013, against the killing of five Kashmiri civilians in a paramilitary firing. There was a wave of stone-throwing agitations in 2010, which suddenly stopped. Now V.K. Singh has claimed that the sudden end of that agitation was the TSD's doing. Photo: AP/Dar Yasin

Former Army Chief General V.K. Singh. His disclosures only prove what Kashmiris always suspected. Photo: V. Sudershan

Ghulam Hassan Mir, Jammu and Kashmir Agriculture Minister, speaks in the State Assembly on October 7. He allegedly received money to oust Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Photo: THE HINDU;THE HINDU

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. In 2007, he alleged that most State legislators were I.B. agents. Photo: PTI

Union Minister for Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah at the Royal Springs golf course on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar on September 1. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Voters outside a polling station at Noor Bagh Srinagar constituency during the Assembly elections in December 2008. It is widely believed that all elections in Jammu and Kashmir are manipulated and the outcomes predetermined. Photo: nissar ahmad

General (retd) V.K. Singh’s disclosures, though motivated, reveal that New Delhi persists still in the policies it adopted in 1947—let loose spies in Kashmir with huge money bags. Thus armed, they will inevitably play dirty tricks.

THERE is something singularly revolting and despicable about a divorced wife spilling bedroom secrets in public. The former Army Chief General (retd) V.K. Singh has crowned his ventures in venom with sensational disclosures. In Kashmir, some have reacted in the manner of those caught with their pants down, screaming “obscene, obscene”. Their patrons in New Delhi gravely shook their heads to warn of threats to “national security” and “national integration”. Both must be very tenuous, indeed, if they rested on subterfuges and can be destroyed by their exposure. At stake is the fundamental principle of civilian control over the armed forces.

V.K. Singh will receive his just deserts sooner than he suspects. What the public interest requires is a calm appraisal of the entire record—the recent disclosures must be seen in the light of their background since 1947. What is the truth of the matter and what are its implications for policy on Kashmir?

The recent episode began with Ritu Sarin’s report in T he Indian Express on September 20. V.K. Singh served as the Chief of the Army Staff from March 31, 2010, to March 30, 2012. A little over a month after he assumed charge, he set up the Technical Support Division (TSD) as a unit under Military Intelligence. P.N. Haksar styled the external intelligence service he set up as the Research and Analysis Wing—some research, some analysis. V.K. Singh chose a similarly innocuous, if misleading, name for his baby. Some key personnel of the Army’s Intelligence Corps were attached to the TSD, which was headed by Colonel Munishwar Nath “Hunny” Bakshi. He handled key operations for which secret service funds were drawn from accounts of State Bank of India. The TSD comprised four officers and about 30 men.

Shortly after V.K. Singh demitted office, the TSD was wound up and an inquiry by a Board of Officers on its functioning was set up. It was headed by no less a person than Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia, D.G. of Military Operations. It submitted its report to the Defence Secretary in March 2013. Ritu Sarin’s report drew on that document’s exposures. They are stunning. An amount of Rs.1.19 crore was given to Ghulam Hassan Mir, Minister for Agriculture in the Government of Kashmir, headed by Omar Abdullah, to oust his chief. He floated the Democratic Party (Nationalist). That the Congress embraced him as an “associate member” though his membership was not necessary reveals the Congress’ true role in the State.

Mir denied the charge. As much as Rs.2.38 crore was given to one Hakikat Singh “on orders from Army Headquarters”. He set up a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which linked to another NGO which filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition that would have thwarted V.K. Singh’s successor General Bikram Singh’s appointment as Army chief. It failed. Its other activities need not detain us. But Ritu Sarin’s statement that the Board’s report found “unauthorised” covert operations by the TSD is important. Was the g overnment in the know? As we shall see, V.K. Singh himself provided the details with Falstaffian abandon as the story snowballed to his discomfiture.

Muzamil Jaleel from New Delhi and Mir Ehsan from Srinagar provided some shocking details in their report in T he Indian Express on September 21. The TSD had tapped the phones of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his colleagues in 2011 when he and the Army had a “protracted face-off” over the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The vile deed was detected by the State police in Jammu. “In November 2011… the 15 Corps Commander gave an hour-long presentation to J&K’s top security grid Unified Headquarters, chaired by the Chief Minister, where he said that the country will be forced to give ‘independence’ to the State by 2016 if the government lifts the AFSPA.” For good measure he added that this was the very demand “made by Pakistan, the ISI, separatists and terrorists”.

The correspondents’ report said: “The Chief Minister asked where did he fit in this matrix of four.” This incident reflects the Army’s style of response—impugn the integrity of critics. The prediction of Kashmir’s secession “by 2016” is in the same spirit. As for Ghulam Hassan Mir, these correspondents of repute called him a “manager” and “a politician for all seasons”.

On September 21, The Times of India provided further details. “Secret General Staff funds are also budgeted and cleared by the Ministry of Defence. But it was later found out that of the Rs.20 crore allotted to TSD in the two years under Gen. V.K. Singh, as much as Rs.8 crore could not be properly accounted for.”

On September 21, V.K. Singh spoke up. Money was spent on “stability work.” He accused Omar Abdullah of “mis-governance” and insinuated intrigue. “I am quite sure if you were to check up who all from the Arm y have met him in recent times, you will come to know why he has said this at this particular time” ( The Indian Express, September 22, quoting ANI). Was V.K. Singh keeping Omar Abdullah under surveillance not only when he was Army chief but even after he quit a year and a half ago on March 30, 2012? (Emphasis added, throughout.)

V.K. Singh boldly jumped into the political fray as the CNS/PTI report in the respected Srinagar daily Greater Kashmir on September 22 brings out. More importantly, he claimed: “If this Unit [TSD] was allowed to function properly, the cross-border terrorism you are seeing today would not have happened.” This was amplified explicitly, as he went on a roll.

On September 23, V.K. Singh told Arnab Goswami of Times Now: “The Army transfers money to all the Ministers in Jammu & Kashmir… there are various things to be done. As part of the stabilising factor in Jammu and Kashmir, as part of the activities to be organised.” Calculated vagueness cannot conceal the sinister import. Realising that he had put his foot in his big mouth, he withdrew it, just a bit. “ Maybe not all the Ministers; but certain Ministers and people who are given a certain sum to get a particular thing done. That job involves bringing stability to a particular area.” How? By bribing the local leaders?

Nothing new

Is this not interference in an elected government? The answer was swift and telling. Not “if a civilian government is unable to get the people together…”. That is the heart of the matter. Deny free and fair elections to Kashmir and buttress the government installed by New Delhi by the means indicated by General ( r etd ) V.K. Singh.

Now comes the most shocking but honest admission of all: “It is nothing new, for the last so many years since independence of this country, this has been going on and has been the practice” ( The Indian Express, September 24). It is this admission that sent New Delhi’s spooks and their henchmen in Srinagar running for cover.

More followed in an interview to Chander Suta Dogra of The Hindu (September 24): ‘”Not just Mir, but many other politicians in J&K are paid by the Army and other intelligence agencies for nationalistic work aimed at maintaining peace in the State. I have served in Kashmir myself and am aware of it. I know which politicians have been paid during my tenure. It is not unusual.” He also remarked: “ I t was all part of the larger game plan and two major achievements of the TSD were the panchayat elections of 2011 and the sudden end to the stone-throwing agitations in Kashmir in 2010.”

Thus, in one fell blow, he stripped Omar Abdullah of credit for holding the panchayat elections. No less significant is the other claim. The stone-pelting agitation very much had a “sudden end”. Who was his tool in this? V.K. Singh was in Kashmir, as GOC of the Victor Force in South Kashmir, Chief of Staff 15 Corps. Devender Singh Rana was Political Adviser to Omar Abdullah and is now head of the Jammu unit of the National Conference. He told Yogesh Sagotra of the General’s links with “political operators”( Greater Kashmir, September 24). Clarifications followed on September 24. It was not bribe money but money meant “to wean people away from separatist activities under the overall umbrella of sadbhavana (harmony)” ( The Indian Express, September 25).

More followed. The astute Josy Joseph reported that the TSD “has claimed to have carried out at least eight covert operations in a foreign country” ( The Times of India, September 24). It could not have been in Iceland. Did V.K. Singh act thus with the consent of his political masters? The TV channel Headlines Today “accessed” parts of Lt.-Gen. Bhatia’s report of over 200 pages. Its disclosures were precise. Between October and November 2011, the TSD claimed money “to try enrolling the secessionist chief in the province of a neighbouring country” and in early 2011 it claimed an unspecified amount for carrying out eight low-intensity bomb blasts in a neighbouring country” (Sandeep Unnithan and Asit Jolly, India Today; October 7). The veiled reference to Pakistan and its secessionist-torn province of Balochistan deceives none, not even the “nationalists” in the media. The TSD has a wider remit—“countries of interest”.

The man and his politics

It is only by piecing together the many statements by V.K. Singh that one can form an assessment of the man and the politics he personally conducted. On September 24, the very day he disavowed payment of bribes, he said also that almost all the Ministers in J&K are on the payroll of the Army, explaining: “The Army transfers money to all the Ministers to get various things” done as part of the stabilising policy.

He was explicit: “ Kashmir is a different issue altogether.” Why? “Because there are things which happen in J&K which are inimical to the country. We have a job—that is to keep the country together.” By bribery and corruption?

It was left to Farooq Abdullah to expose the Army’s active role in interfering in the conduct of elections. “I knew that they were handling voting.” People were threatened that their legs would be broken if they went to a meeting in Doda in 2002. “I don’t want to expose it as it would be against national security,” he said, adding, “I know my brother Mustafa Kamal got defeated in Gulmarg constituency because the Army played tricks there” ( The Indian Express; September 29). If this is what it does to a blunt outspoken unionist, do you blame the separatists for shunning the elections?

V.K. Singh received support from some in the Army. Lt-Col Manoj Channon of the Armoured Corps, who has served in Kashmir, candidly said: “Anyone who claims that payments are not made is lying through his teeth. Funding is done to ensure the territorial integrity of India and bring the misguided youth into the national mainstream” ( The Tribune; September 29). It has been well said that while the Almighty has limited the intelligence of man, he placed no corresponding limits on his folly. Trust V.K. Singh to make matters worse rather than leave alone the mess that he created. In Chennai on October 3, he asserted: “The secret you are talking… Whatever was revealed by me was revealed by former U.S. Ambassador to India David Mulford. It was published by The Economic Times on September 5, 2011. Please read it. Mulford said everybody in Kashmir gets money and I have said the same thing” ( The Times of India; October 4). His endorsement of Mulford flatly contradicts his own claim, disingenuous though it was, that the payments were not bribes. For Mulford had spoken of bribery and corruption.

The report was filed by The Economic Times’ excellently informed Srinagar correspondent, Masood Hussain. Mulford’s report to the U.S. State Department was based on the U.S. Embassy officials’ visit to Srinagar between April 3 and 5 in 2006. Sample these bits. “Corruption cuts across party lines and most Kashmiris take it as an article of faith that politically connected Kashmiris take money from both India and Pakistan” and “Security officers bribe their way into Kashmir assignments that give access to lucrative civil affairs and logistics contracts”. Mulford alleged: “Omar and Farooq Abdullah, descendants of the Sheikh who first figured out Delhi’s money game, live in fabulous houses in Srinagar and Delhi, wear matching Panerai watches, serve Blue Label to guests and travel all over the world first class courtesy the Indian government.” All this has won V.K. Singh’s endorsement now.

Incidentally, in his interview to The Indian Express, Farooq Abdullah claimed that he was a Sufi. One is reminded of Z.A. Bhutto’s flamboyant Cabinet colleague Maulana Whiskey Niazi.

It is tough: Omar

Having watched the steady flow of disclosures for over a fortnight, Omar Abdullah uttered a cri de c oeur in an interview to Harinder Baweja: “V.K. Singh’s allegations are making us out to be paid agents of the Army. We have all become suspects. It is tough enough to be a mainstream politician in Kashmir and now we have to deal with what he has said.” This was a giveaway. Why is it “tough” to be a unionist in Kashmir? It is because the people support the separatists.

Evidently, Omar Abdullah, a Johnny-come-lately, is ignorant of Kashmir’s history. For, he asked: “And what does he mean by 1947? Militancy is a product of 1990, so who was the Army paying before that and for what?” ( Hindustan Times; October 14). It was not popular alienation but Pakistan-aided armed militancy which erupted in 1989. Alienation in Kashmir existed since 1947. India exacerbated it, and Pakistan provided the gun in 1987-89.

Is he ignorant of the reason why his grandfather Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was not only dismissed as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on August 9, 1953, but kept in prison for 11 years, all at the instance of Jawaharlal Nehru, as recently published documents established.

Omar’s wail is belated. In August 2007, he himself charged, when in opposition, that “22 of 87 members of the State Legislature are Intelligence Bureau agents” (R.S. Gull in the Srinagar weekly Kashmir Life; October 5). For his information, the game was begun in 1947, not 1990. “Virtually all important security and intelligence agencies that operate out of Kashmir are flush with funds under the garb of source money or secret funds. The BSF, CRPF, Army and even the J&K Police have their own secret fund apart from the Intelligence Bureau, RAW and Military Intelligence, that have sizeable presence in the Kashmir Valley. Sources point out that while intelligence operations conducted by India have required secret funds since 1947, the importance of such operations increased dramatically, especially in J&K, from 1989 onwards when Pakistan-sponsored insurgency began” ( Asian Age; September 29, Rajnish Sharma & Sridhar Kumaraswami). Money is paid freely to politicians and NGOs.

Alienation cannot be extinguished by military might nor suppressed by bribery. That is precisely why New Delhi cannot allow a free election in Jammu and Kashmir. Two recent statements on this aspect deserve notice. On September 22, the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) patron, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, said: “Central agencies have always been viewed with suspicion for their role in the electoral process and there is a general feeling that the Centre plays favourites and predetermines the outcome of the elections ( Greater Kashmir; September 23).

The political process

Dr Haseeb A. Drabu, former Chairman and Managing Director of Jammu and Kashmir Bank and a noted economist, explains in detail how it is done: “The political process in J&K has always operated in a ‘controlled environment’. First, before elections there is systematic disenfranchisement of the population to generate desired overall electoral coordinates. Second, during the election operations there is rigging, ranging from direct stamping to fixing results by engineering selective boycotts to help the chosen candidates. Third, post-election, there is manipulating of the elected government. It is the third ‘intervention’ that V.K. Singh has revealed.

“The initiation of J&K into the democratic fold was a sign of times to come. In the first ever election in Jammu and Kashmir, not a single vote was cast in the valley! The National Conference, ruling at that time with the help of draconian laws, like the Enemy Ordinances Act, ensured that they won 73 out of total of 75 seats uncontested.…

“The entire electoral demographics have been distorted! In 1989, Jammu region had 18.3 lakh voters, while Kashmir valley had 22.2 lakh voters. In a little over a decade, this was reversed.

“The population of Jammu region as per the 2001 census was 43.9 lakh while that of Kashmir was 54.4 lakh; that is, 20 per cent lower. Yet Jammu had 28.7 lakh voters while Kashmir has only 25.5 lakh voters. Despite lower population, the 37 constituencies of Jammu have 1.8 lakh more voters than the 46 constituencies in Kashmir. Who engineered this and how? Take the case of the Sopore constituency in the valley vis-à-vis the Jammu West constituency. During the 1987 Assembly polls, both had roughly the same number of voters; about 54,000. Yet, in 2001, the number of voters in Sopore was shown to have increased by just 1 per cent in 15 years. As against this, Jammu West shot up by 177 per cent making it the largest Assembly constituency in the state. How was this achieved and why? It may help to know that Sopore was the hub of separatist politics.

“All this is a part of the systematic disenfranchisement of the Kashmiris. Their weightage, despite higher population, is declining in the electoral arena. Correspondingly, that of the Jammu province is increasing. This is fraught with dangerous implications, be it communal or regional….

“It doesn’t stand to reason, therefore, to look for a solution to the Kashmir problem in the current framework of democracy, which, it turns out, is a web of deceit. It is the realisation of this fact that sows the seeds of separatism and provides sustenance to militancy; not unemployment, lack of infrastructure, or absence of sporting events like KPL!’’ ( Greater Kashmir; September 26) The Congress, the Centre’s plant in the valley, ensures, with its Jammu vote, that no Kashmiri party can form a majority without it. Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz boast about it incessantly.

These realities depress Kashmiris. V.K. Singh’s disclosures only prove what they had always suspected: (1) Since Kashmir’s accession to India on October 26, 1947, the Government of India has had a nest of spies in the State not merely for gathering information but also for covert operations against the State government. (2) For this, money was spent through the spies of the Intelligence Bureau and also through the Army—against its ethos and discipline—with the approval of the Prime Ministers of the day as two well-known, documented cases of 1953 and 1984 establish. (3) Kashmiri politicians were bribed systematically. (4) Popular alienation, far from abating has increased. (5) The result is the debasement of politics and the corruption of the electoral process. (6) It all rests on a profound contempt for the people and for democracy itself. (7) None of the tactics, so cynically adopted, has helped in finding a solution to the Kashmir problem.

Gen. V.K. Singh’s disclosures, though motivated, reveal that New Delhi persists still in the policies it adopted since 1947—let loose spies in Kashmir with huge money bags.

Thus armed, they will inevitably play dirty tricks. Experience has demonstrated that dirty tricks are no substitute for statesmanship. To that history since 1947 we must turn to learn the lessons which our establishment refuses to learn.