May 1999 News

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The rebellion of the Indian Kashmiri Muslim is Over

12 May 1999
India Today

The Lost Rebellion: Kashmir In The Nineties: By Manoj Joshi Publisher: Penguin

Manoj Joshi, senior editor with India Today, specialises in defence matters and strategic analysis. In his first book, The Lost Rebellion: Kashmir In The Nineties, he explores the rise and the fall of the insurgency in Kashmir, which has left more than 20,000 people dead this last decade.

Dr Joshi has concentrated on the handling of the security forces in the state over the years, and analyses the'blunders' he feels were committed by successive Jammu and Kashmir administrations as well as the Centre. He spoke to Suhasini Haidar about the situation in Kashmir over the last decade.

What led you to write a book about Kashmir?

Actually, The Lost Rebellion: Kashmir In The Nineties came out of research I did for a series of articles on insurgencies in India, starting with Punjab, and then a paper on the LTTE's activities within India. You could say I was looking at the various' mutinies' in India, an idea from Naipaul's A Million Mutinies Now.

At the beginning of this decade, when I first thought about writing the book, India was riven by all sorts of problems that were tearing it apart. The motivation for writing was that, as Indians, we never learn from our past. The problem is that we don't even know our past. No one even chronicles it properly. After all these years, is there a comprehensive book on the insurgency in Punjab?

So I said, just let there be a record_ however imperfect, but let there be some book that can serve as a manual for us on the happenings in Kashmir since 1989.

Dr Joshi, your name is normally associated with defence and security issues. Yet this, your first book, is essentially about the political situation in Kashmir.

Actually, it is a mixture of both. There isa very heavy defence component too. I have described the tactics of the militants, the strategy of the security forces. So, in that sense, my professional biases come through strongly. In any case, the last decade in Kashmir has basically seen only military activity, the political activity has been limited.

How difficult was it to research the subject of Kashmir, given the constant threat from militants, as well as the limited access to information that one gets from the army itself?

Well, I depended to a great degree on secondary and tertiary sources to write my book. I had translations done from Kashmiri press sources as well. From the army side, sure there is a lot of propaganda, but as a trained journalist I think I am able to make out when I am being sold a line. In fact, I would like to underscore this point: that this is not a scholar's book. This is purely a journalist's analysis of the situation in Kashmir.

What, according to you, triggered off the wave of militancy that began in Kashmir in 1989?

The trigger, of course, was the absolutely spineless manner in which Rubaiya Sayeed's kidnapping was handled by the central government. When V P Singh caved in to the militants's demand to release captured terrorists in exchange for the home minister's daughter, even the militants couldn't believe their luck.

And I think when they saw this tremendous victory, they realised the potential of their movement. I mean, it was ridiculous the way the government behaved. After all, just because the person kidnapped was the daughter of someone important, do we sacrifice the nation for her?

When the Germans offered to release Josef Stalin's son, who was a prisoner of war in German camps, in exchange for a captured German general, Stalin replied, 'What, a general for a mere major? Sounds like a bad deal!' That should have been our attitude too.

Of course, the next important factor was that our western neighbour, Pakistan, did its best to stoke the fires, to train these people, to give them physical material support. They realised that through their own Islamic groups they could motivate Indian Kashmiri Muslims to fight this as a religious war, a jihad, rather than just recruiting soldiers for the war against India.

These were the same tactics used by the Pakistanis and the Americans to fight the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. To them, Kashmir was a gateway to other causes.

Have you, in your book, tackled the alleged human rights atrocities in Kashmir?

Well, there are two elements to this. I mean, if you consider yourself a civilised human being, you are concerned about human rights, no matter where they take place in the globe. It is very difficult for any country to argue that they have the sovereign right to ill-treat people. Now initially when this whole thing started, and I have addressed this in great detail in my book, there were terrible human rights atrocities. And many of the atrocities were initiated by the militants against the Kashmiri Pandits.

The security forces, I believe, reacted in the wrong way. Of course, that is bad, because the State must never come down to the level of terrorists. But the ensuing international outcry did help our security forces to clean up their act. Particularly the army -- not so much the BSF -- did try to stop atrocities by their own men.

In my book, for the first time, I have named names, and listed army personnel who were convicted of rape, molestation, murder, etc. These names have never appeared anywhere else. Of course, things like the 'use of excessive force' and custodial deaths are still happening. But I think the army realised quite early on that if you want to win Kashmir, you have to have the people on your side.

I am sorry that the same doesn't go for the BSF. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, not one trial has taken place against atrocities perpetrated by the BSF.

In your opinion, what mistakes did the Indian administration make in its handling of Kashmir? What should have been done differently?

I think, given the prevailing circumstances, some sort of insurgency would have broken out. It was one of those tragedies that people have to go through. We couldn't have stopped it. Also, it is very easy to start a conflict, and very difficult to quell one. Nobody thinks of the end consequences, the loss of lives, limbs, property, etc.

What I think could have been done better is that the application of counter-force should have been more calibrated. To begin with, as I said, the way the central leadership caved into these people smacked of sheer incompetence.

Secondly, the State's handling of the situation was abysmal, whether it is your Cabinet, the bureaucrats, or any other officials. Then, the decision to send in the CRPF and BSF soldiers was wrong. Some of these soldiers had never seen action at close quarters at all. They were kept in Kashmir for months on end, and found that they were constantly being targeted by snipers. So they developed hair-trigger responses to everything.

I mean, a tyre would burst in Lal Chowk and these soldiers, who were always on edge, would release a whole round of bullets. What they needed was a highly trained force, trained to use discriminate force, who are psychologically steeled to deal with insurgency. Especially in Kashmir, where the insurgents were operating through a shield of civilians. For example, there was talk of using the NSG (National Security Guards), a crack commando force, but instead the NSG is busy guarding our politicians.

Does the title, The Lost Rebellion, imply that the insurgency in Kashmir is behind us now?

Yes, I think the rebellion of the Indian Kashmiri Muslim is over, in terms of militancy. It has been crushed, actually, and not just by India. Pakistan, also, when it found that them ilitants were not interested in subjugating their cause to Pakistan, withdrew its support. You can read about exactly how that happened in my book.

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