The great Kashmiri money game

The controversy and outrage over General VK Singh’s claim that the Indian Army used slush funds to pay some Jammu & Kashmir Ministers and politicians to maintain stability in the State is totally contrived, and was exposed by Wikileaks during its mega-leaks campaign way back in 2011. Indeed, several Indian newspapers and media sites had carried reports to this effect, but these failed to attract public attention in the absence of the context provided by the former Army chief’s revelations.

VK Singh’s expos?, on open secret in Jammu & Kashmir, has inflamed passions because Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been making intemperate statements against the accession of the State to India and demanding withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Experts believe Abdullah’s shoddy respect for the India is responsible for the sudden escalation of terror strikes in Jammu province and Srinagar Valley, where attempts to beat back a major infiltration by 30 to 40 terrorists accompanied by Pakistan Army Special Forces personnel have now entered the fourteenth day.

According to US State Department Cable ‘Kashmiri Politics as filthy as Dal Lake’, from envoy David Mulford on February 3, 2006, the Indian Government “recently broadened its Kashmir dialogue by holding several public and private meetings with non-Hurriyat leaders”. Besides increasing the net of separatist interlocutors beyond the Hurriyat, the talks aimed at “conveying the Indian Government’s displeasure at the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat’s recent endorsement of Pakistani proposals on Kashmir”. The talks have made little substantive progress and many believe they have only fragmented Kashmiri politics further. The cable adds, “Beneath the surface of these political developments, the corrosive combination of money and corruption continues to strengthen its grip on the lives and calculations of politicians, separatists, terrorists, police, Army, and civilian administration officials, raising the question of whether the Kashmiri elite has an incentive to find a lasting political settlement”.

The cable continues, “New Faces, Same Old Results?” that PM Singh and his top advisors on Kashmir policy met with Sajjad Lone of the People’s Conference in early January, the first time the Prime Minister had met publicly with a non-Hurriyat separatist leader. According to official sources, the Prime Minister privately met with Yasin Malik of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in November 2005. Malik himself corroborated this to the American embassy, claiming that Singh embraced him for reportedly speaking out against violence when Malik visited Pakistani Kashmir after the earthquake (ref 05 New Delhi 8791).

At a Press conference on February 1, Manmohan Singh admitted to meeting Yasin, which led to criticism from the JKLF. The Government of India expects to further this “Kashmiri dialogue process” with Shabir Shah of the Democratic Freedom Party being the next non-Hurriyat leader to meet the Prime Minister. Professor Riaz Punjabi of the Jawaharlal Nehru University reportedly told the US Embassy that the Centre was unhappy with the Hurriyat’s trip to Pakistan in January 2006, where Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq endorsed positions on Kashmir nearly identical to those articulated by General Musharraf and rejected by India, including “demilitarisation” and increased autonomy.

Kashmiri politicians, according to the US embassy cable, such as National Conference Lok Sabha MP AR Shaheen, had no confidence in the dialogue process and viewed it as a cynical attempt to divide politics in the State. Shaheen said the Hurriyat was upset over the Centre’s reaching out to Sajjad Lone and others. Sunil Sakdhar, President of Kashmir Samiti, also felt nothing would emerge from the talks. He argued that the “GOI was using the twin carrots of funding for favored political leaders and public meetings with the PM to create divisions between and amongst Kashmir’s political parties and separatists”.

In the section “Corruption Pervasive Within The Valley”, the cable notes that “Behind the political theater in J&K lurks the equal-opportunity threat of corruption and terrorist penetration of politics, business, and security forces. 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. For instance, a Kashmiri businessman told PolOff that Mirwaiz had acquired property in Dubai and the Kashmir Valley as a result of payoffs to him by various intelligence agencies (both Indian and Pakistani). We hear allegations such as these about politicians of all stripes in Kashmir”.

The cable adds, “Nor is the administration exempt from corruption. Rumor has it that some security force officers bribe their way into Kashmir assignments that give access to lucrative civil affairs and logistics contracts. On the civilian side, a recent newspaper article reported that the retired Minister of State for Irrigation and Flood Control is accused of embezzling funds and then using the money to construct two large homes in Srinagar”.

These tentacles extend to politics and business. The cable reads, “Recent arrests indicate that wanted terrorists have secured positions in prominent Kashmiri political parties, including the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, and even Congress (ref 06 New Delhi 556). Their positions as councilors and elected party representatives allowed them special security access that gave them the ability to plot and carry out the assassinations of several Kashmiri politicians. Media reports also indicate that terrorists have infiltrated several leading business institutions. One of the principal suspects in the October 2005 Delhi bombings, for instance, worked as a senior sales representative for Johnson & Johnson in J&K. More recently, two officials of the Bombay Mercantile Cooperative Bank were arrested for being suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operatives”.

Nor are the police immune to terrorist penetration. “The J&K police, charged to protect Valley political leaders, have looked the other way when terrorists struck in the past. One close political section contact who was in the room when four assailants killed Kashmiri state education minister Ghulam Nabi Lone in October, and was himself almost killed, told us that over 27 security men had been patrolling the compound that morning, yet attackers entered, killed, and escaped unmolested. Doubts about the police worry the wife of the Mirwaiz, who told us her husband was much safer when he had his own private bodyguards prior to receiving protection from Government of India. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad recently replaced the head of police in the Valley for being too soft on terrorists. Two members of the Special Operations Group of the J&K police (District Pulwama) were arrested in late January 2006 for being Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HM) terrorists. They admitted to having conspired with HM to kill not only police informers but also the head of the Special Operations Group, all for $10,000”.

The US embassy therefore concluded that the “expansion of the dialogue process to include non-Hurriyat separatist groups is unlikely to produce any immediate substantive gains… The spread of corruption further undermines popular support of existing political parties and separatists. Money from Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies and from Saudi and other foreign extremists has further distorted Kashmiri politics, incentivised leaders to perpetuate the conflict, and perverted State and Central Government institutions. While this river of dirty money has led to a boom in Kashmiri household income and real estate prices, it also calls into question whether the Kashmiri elite truly want a settlement to their problems. The minute a deal is struck, some must surely worry that the funds will dry up”.

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On April 7, 2006, American ambassador David Mulford sent another cable, “Kashmiri Separatists Lack Clear Aim but Terrorists Still Target Democracy”, which referred to differences among the separatists over their response to the Prime Minister’s round-table dialogue in May. Fear played an element in their indecision as, “Terrorists continue to kill mainstream Kashmiri politicians, threaten separatists, and stir up mayhem in an effort to undermine the Indian democratic process before Legislative Assembly by-elections April 24. Mainstream political coalitions are also shifting, with the National Conference increasingly comfortable with Congress rule and the PDP increasingly paranoid.”

Most Kashmiris, in the ambassador’s assessment, “now largely renounce violence as a means to an end and seek normalcy and prosperity,” but have not yet figured out what to do next. “As dialogue with Pakistan and track II efforts continue, one separatist — Sajjad Lone — may covertly be fielding a candidate for a seat in the legislature. If he succeeds, at least one Hurriyat member will have dipped a toe into the waters of Indian democracy, and more may follow, vindicating India’s long term policy of giving all peaceful Kashmiris a real say in their affairs, albeit within the parameters of India’s Constitution.”

The US Political Counsellor’s discussions in Srinagar April 3-5 revealed division in the moderate separatist faction regarding Manmohan Singh’s dialogue offer at a round table in May in Srinagar. “Shabir Shah is fence-sitting… because he cannot bear to defer to Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, whom he views as a young upstart. Yasin Malik continues his effort to outflank the Mirwaiz by engaging in courageous and provocative diplomacy with extremist and terrorist groups across the border to urge them to support dialogue”.

The cable continues that the Mirwaiz meets regularly with Musharraf and makes news-grabbing statements at conferences to maintain primacy. On April 6, on returning from Pakistan, he called for the Hurriyat to host a rival roundtable discussion with representatives of all five regions of J&K (Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit, and Baltistan). But New Delhi invited Sajjad Lone to parley with the Prime Minister in Delhi. Shabir said consensus was impossible now — the Jihad Council in Pakistan itself could not achieve consensus about dialogue with India, and Yasin and Mirwaiz remained at great odds with each other.

As for Bilal Lone, he dismissed “Yasin Malik’s posturing against the Hurriyat, saying that Yasin should give up “a month of his Pakistani salary” to compensate the families of boys killed in Bilal’s home area by the army, instead of urging the parents not to take Indian compensation and jobs”. He said Shabir’s “massive ego does not permit him to subordinate himself to the younger Mirwaiz”. Bilal said extremist separatist SAS Geelani, whose Hizb-ul-Mujahedin henchmen he is convinced murdered his father, “continues to act on instructions from across the border to sow dissension and fear, along with violence and murder”. The United States should isolate them all “for failing to show the principled courage of the Mirwaiz Hurriyat”.

In “Indians Playing Games”, the cable asserts that despite the violence, Bilal (Lone) was dismissive of the Indian dialogue process, saying “it is a sham composed of “paid agents” who attended the February session in Delhi”. He felt that by categorising residents as Paharis, Gujjars, Ladhakis, Hindus, etc, the GOI was practicing classic “divide and rule” strategy. Further, Bilal “complained that National Security Advisor Narayanan, whom he painted as the Svengali who orchestrates Delhi policy, was very dismissive of the Hurriyat and needed to “stop talking shit about us.” Narayanan, Shabir concurred, lacked imagination and did not take the Kashmiris’ aspirations seriously. Bilal said the Kashmiris should at least talk to Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has a direct political line to Sonia Gandhi, instead of a “cop” like Narayanan”.

Regarding the PM’s roundtable process, Yasin Malik complained to the Americans that “the GOI publicly engaging such a large group of Kashmir stake-holders undercut the authority of the Hurriyat and other separatist leaders like himself” and compromised his ability to “deliver” the jihadis to the table, or even to engage with them. He wanted more behind-the-scenes work, not media events.

The cable observed, in “One Ray Of Sunshine” that the only positive separatist voice was that of Sajjad Lone who, upbeat after attending the Pugwash conference in Islamabad, said “Musharraf is saying amazingly bold things lately”. Sajjad thought the Hizb-ul-Mujahedin might just endorse dialogue with India, but the LeT/Hafiz Saeed/foreign contingent of terrorists would never do so. Sajjad was questioned about his meeting with the Prime Minister, and explained that “the PM sincerely wants only the best for Pakistan and stiffens visibly when anyone berates Musharraf or Pakistan”. He felt that now that the PM has expanded the dialogue to include Kashmiri mainstream political parties, the APHC will eventually be obliged to contest the 2008 State election in order to keep their influence. He predicted that the 2008 turnout would be higher than in 2002, which had improved over the election before.

Yasin Malik, who told the US embassy that he again met Hizb-ul-Mujahedin commander Salahuddin and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba supremo Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan, reportedly said that though he continued to preach in favour of “the microphone over the gun,” “the (terrorist) groups will need the green light from Pakistan before they agree to anything like a ceasefire, which would be the first step to integrating them into the peace process. He suggested “your people should lean on Musharraf” to clear the way for such a gesture.

However, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti complained to the Americans that the Congress-led Government in J&K had reverted to its customary bad old ways in the build-up to the April 24 by-elections. The Intelligence Bureau, she alleged, had given Sajjad Rs 1 crore to support an independent candidate secretly affiliated with him. She apprehended use of money power to defeat PDP candidates and hand Congress and National Conference victories in the by-election.

In “Show Me The Money”, the cable notes that a recurring theme in the Embassy’s interactions with Kashmiris is how Indian and Pakistani money has made all Kashmiri political actors dependent on handouts. “Omar and Farooq Abdullah, descendants of the Shaykh who first figured out Delhi’s money game, live in fabulous houses in Srinagar and Delhi, wear matching Panerai watches, serve Blue Label to the guests, and travel all over the world first class courtesy of the Indian Government. Mirwaiz is alleged to have real estate in Dubai courtesy of Pakistan. The State administration gets rivers of money for development but the streets in J&K are appalling, even by Indian standards.”

Most tellingly, the cable states, “Army officers, we have heard, allegedly bribe their superiors for postings to J&K to get their hands on the logistics contacts and “hearts and minds” money. Sajjad lamented that the conflict remained lucrative to many, and he is right. CPI(M) legislator Tarigami also told us too many people have a stake in the conflict’s perpetuation. Praveen Swami, reporting in Frontline revealed that a militant killed March 10 had 43 receipts for Rs 18,000 ($450) each in “donations.” Fifteen more had paid Rs 48,000 (>$1100) apiece. The money associated with the conflict clearly remains a collective disincentive to its resolution and should not be underestimated as a factor in decision-making across the board. According to Malik, “Kashmiri politics is no longer about ideology, it’s all a money game.”

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