In the Name of National Security

The controversy generated by the former Army Chief Gen. V. K Singh’s claim that he had given money to J&K minister Ghulam Hassan Mir from the Indian Army’s secret funds needs to be critically examined. Denial and hypocrisy lay at the heart of the many narratives surrounding Gen. Singh’s claim. Former chiefs of the Indian army, retried from office since 1990, have come out with a statement that Gen. Singh’s claims are untrue. Politicians, both in Kashmir and New Delhi, have uniformly argued that the claim is false except those Congress leaders who say that if Gen. V. K Singh has done so, he has done it without the permission of the government. 

Senior BJP leaders and a number of right wing analysts in New Delhi are trying to impress upon us that we should not discuss this matter any further as such discussions will disclose India’s secret ‘counter-terror strategies’ to the public domain. Pushing the matter under the carpet is the best way to deal with the issue since it has ‘grave implications’ for the country’s national security, they argue. Some have gone even further arguing that not only are such measures (such as the army funding politicians) necessary in order to deal with delicate national security issues in a covert manner, but we should not even discuss such matters in public. For one, I am flabbergasted by the extent of our collective love for hypocrisy. Let me broaden this debate a bit further in order to tell you how hypocritical this whole affair is. 

What’s the truth? 

Unlike most other things about Kashmir, the truth about ‘interested parties’ funding people, political parties, NGOs etc. in Kashmir is not complicated. Kashmir is one place in India where the country’s ‘ covert agencies’ have engaged in a no-holds-barred display of buying and selling people and their loyalties: political parties being set up by secret funds, informers thriving under state patronage, governments put together and demolished at New Delhi’s behest, pro-India ‘dissident’ parties created out of thin air, election results manipulated to ensure the victory of ‘pro-India’ parties etc. etc. Are we to believe that none of this involved money? Indeed, Indian ‘agencies’ were not the only ones to have been involved in this buying and selling of political loyalties.  Pakistan’s ISI did match up in this game, often beating the Indians. It is well known today that the ISI has consistently funded not only the militants operating in the valley but also some of Kashmir’s political leaders. What’s even more interesting is that some Kashmiri leaders have been funded by both sides! Most Kashmiris, I am sure, know what I am talking about.

New Delhi has historically played a crucial, and often dirty, role in manipulating the government in Kashmir and it has managed to do so using money, lure of political office and brute force. It is this ‘managing’ of politics in Kashmir that finally led to the uprising in Kashmir in the late 1980s. Once the Kashmir insurgency broke out, New Delhi started pumping even more money in the valley apart from, of course, sending trucks full of gun-wielding soldiers. Pakistan’s ISI, as pointed out above, also began to pump money, men and guns into the Valley. They also gave an ideological color to the whole operation, which occasionally gave them an edge over the Indians. Over the years, the number of beneficiaries of this state-sponsored ‘money for loyalty’ scheme has only increased. Hence, for anyone to say today that ‘no, we don’t do that’ is a blatant lie.

What about the ‘good work’ done by the army? 

Some people have argued that when talking about secret funds given to the Kashmiri leaders for x,y,z purposes, we should not include ‘Operation Sadbhavana’ in its ambit because the latter is a transparent humanitarian mission which has done a lot of good to the Indian army’s overall involvement in Kashmir. That the funds earmarked for ‘Operation Sadbhavana’ should not be mistaken for the secret funds used by the army or other agencies is a justifiable argument just because they belong to two different heads. However, if Gen. V K Singh has used the Army’s secret funds to fund political leaders claiming that it was all part of ‘Operation Sadbhavana’, then facts should be established. But more importantly, we need to understand ‘Operation Sadbhavana’ for what it really is. The fact is that Kashmiris are clearly unhappy about the manner in which the Indian army has gone about dealing with insurgency in Kashmir. ‘Operation Sadbhavana’ therefore is an attempt to cover up the umpteen sins committed by the army in Kashmir. 

In any case, what the army does in the name of Op. Sadbhavana, i.e. ‘running schools and orphanages, improving the living standard of the Kashmiris by constructing roads and bridges, installing hand pumps and electrifying villages, giving them free medical services’ etc.  is really not their job. It is precisely to do these things that there is an elected government in J&K. The army must simply vacate the civilian areas in Kashmir.

While the use of secret funds to buy off loyalties in Kashmir is not a new phenomenon, the ‘national security’ discourse around the issue is appalling. When officials want to hide away dirty secrets, they label it national security and that is often good enough to scare the weak-hearted amongst us.