Do Kashmir’s murky ‘double dealings’ stop with Waheed Para?

New Delhi, June 14 : Two separately filed charge sheets—one by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in March 2021 and another by the Jammu and Kashmir Polices Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) in June 2021—against the Peoples Democratic Partys youth president have accused Waheed-ur-Rehman Para of being a mole of the Pakistan-based jihadist groups and the valleys separatist organisations in the Indian institutions of politics and governance.

If the allegations, strongly refuted by the young Kashmiri politician’s lawyers as well as the PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti, are to be believed, Para began his journey of the ‘double dealings’ way back in 2007 when he travelled to Pakistan, interviewed the outlawed Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin and subsequently broadcast it through his Pulwama-based cable TV channel.

Four years later, Para was inducted as the only member from Jammu and Kashmir into Ram Jethmalani’s ‘Kashmir Committee-2’. Journalist MJ Akbar, academic-activist Madhu Kishwar and a retired officer of the Indian Foreign Service, VK Grover, were other members of the Jethmalani panel which struggled unsuccessfully to rope in the valley’s political and militant activists into a dialogue process.

According to Jethmalani, the Kashmir Committee struggled for seeking the resolution of the Kashmir problem with the engagement of the separatists. It also visited the mainstream politicians apparently soft towards or friendly with the separatists and the militants with the notable exception of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC).

Even as Jethmalani’s ‘Kashmir Committee-2’ failed like its previous version of ‘Kashmir Committee-1’, which remained active from 2002 to 2004, Para made his entry into Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in the year 2014.

On account of his purported connections to some senior separatist leaders and the United Jihad Council chief Salahuddin, Para was soon installed as the President of PDP’s youth wing—the top political position he retained even after his appointment as Secretary Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council. Later, he emerged as a confidant of late Mufti’s successor, the PDP President and the former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Kashmir’s political history has remained chequered in the last 31 years of the armed insurgency. In the first seven years, there was no political representation and virtually a total disconnect between the people and the government. The bureaucracy and the security forces handled the militancy with a free hand from the Centre. It was during the President’s rule that the first Lok Sabha and Assembly elections after 1990 were held in the year 1994 and Farooq’s NC regained power with a two-third majority.

Looking jingoistic, Farooq called for bombardment on the terror camps in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Pakistan. While he contested the separatist narratives politically, the security forces in tandem with the J&K Police and the local counterinsurgents adopted a hot pursuit vis-à-vis militancy. Almost all the formidable militant organisations were decimated. Being linked to the separatists and militants became a big liability.

A tectonic shift in India’s Kashmir policy occurred in 1999- 2000 when Farooq managed to get his NC’s autonomy resolution passed unanimously in both houses of the State legislature. It coincided with the creation of Mufti’s PDP which, allegedly with Delhi’s permission and blessings, campaigned hard against Farooq and left no stone unturned to label his party as ‘anti-Kashmiri’ and ‘pro-India’.

Mufti held Farooq responsible for creating the Special Task Force (STF)—a previous variant of the counterinsurgent Special Operations Group (SOG), which in fact had been during the President’s rule in 1994—and charged his government with the large-scale human rights abuse. Most of the marginalised separatists and militants on the run rallied around the PDP. This ‘double dealing’ with the separatists and the militants on one side and New Delhi on the other side led to Mufti’s coronation as Chief Minister—interestingly with the blessings of the BJP as well as the Congress—even as the PDP bagged not more than 16 segments in the House of 87 seats in the Assembly elections of 2002.

Now, being linked to the separatists and the militants turned into a qualification, strong enough to enter the government. Flaunting ‘connections’ to the separatist and the militants, quite a number of the people assumed prestigious positions in the mainstream parties as well as the State government—first during the PDP-Congress regime in 2002-2007 and later during the PDP-BJP coalition in 2015-2018. In the survival of the fittest, Para turned out to be the smartest.

Being just a small tool of a big machine, he couldn’t have survived for a second without the support and blessings of the Indian security and intelligence agencies and the party and the government he worked with.

Watching the winds of power, the NC under Omar Abdullah’s leadership went for a copy-paste of Mufti’s and the PDP’s soft line towards Pakistan, the militants and the separatists so much so that the terror attacks against the NC leaders stopped. Over the years, NC got another stint of power—this time in a coalition with Congress—but Farooq too began speaking the language of the Pakistan-militant-separatist ecosystem. At a remembrance gathering at Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s tomb, he exhorted the Kashmiris to “also remember and respect the youths (euphemism for the militants) who have picked up the gun and who are laying sacrifices of life for the (Kashmiri) nation”.

For 20 years, until the deadliest attack on the security forces happened at Lethpora Pulwama on the Srinagar-Jammu highway on 14 February 2019, the mainstream-separatist ecosystem changed the valley completely for Pakistan’s advantage. While India lost its strongest advocate, Farooq Abdullah, Pakistan’s slogans and flags filled up the vacuum from Uri and Kupwara in Kashmir to Poonch and Kishtwar in Jammu in the street turbulences of 2008, 2010 and 2016. Arguably the worst was witnessed during the PDP-BJP regime which neutralised whatever New Delhi had achieved over 70 years.

All those who had contributed to Kashmir’s gun culture, legitimised terrorism, invited Taliban, smuggled in drugs and arms, operated the militants’ hawala channels and supported J&K’s secession from India found themselves encouraged and empowered. They occupied positions of power, from the parties to the council of ministers. Even when Omar was Chief Minister from 2009 to 2015, they all felt honoured and accommodated.

On one occasion, Omar was seen attending a marriage ceremony at the house of the most prominent character of the terror-hawala network, who is now in jail. It was for the first time that the J&K Chief Minister and a former ‘Prime Minister’ of PoK, had dinner together. Reports in the media said that the PoK’s ex-‘Prime Minister’, along with his host, was provided a helicopter to enjoy a picnic in Pahalgam. Some people conveniently hailed it as the ‘greater people-to-people contact’ but some indeed perceived ‘serious threats to the national security’ which ultimately began showing up in 2016-2019.

The two charge sheets frame a strong case against Para but leave pertinent questions unanswered: Why was there no scientific assessment of the profit and loss of the Vajpayee-Advani policy for 20 long years? How did all the advocates of the 1999-2002 policy operate without an iota of accountability during their services in India’s security and intelligence apparatus and thereafter?

Why permission of abusing India and discrediting her institutions of politics, democracy and governance was granted to the politicians who are now seen as a threat to national security and integrity? What were the Central agencies doing for 20 years, when the ‘amphibian politicians’ turned Kashmir into a veritable Pakistan? Could a non-entity like Para operate as an ‘agent provocateur’ for 13 years in isolation and without support from insiders in the system?

“Once ensconced in the safety of a recognised political party, which was in the control of the formal powers of Governmental authority, accused WRP (Waheed-ur-Rehman Para) systematically went about strengthening himself by craftily deepening his roots on two sides of the divide—India and Pakistan. The strategy was to make the India side believe that his links with the adversary is meant to help India. As regards Pakistan, accused WRP was their asset. The pretension was with India.

WRP had the permission of Pakistani establishments to keep throwing crumbs at the Indians allowing them petty tactical gains and systematically pushing the overall situation, slowly but surely, in favour of Pakistan in a strategic sense”, says the CIK charge sheet. “What played out over 13 years (2007-2020) was a saga of subterfuge, deceit and double dealing”, it says without identifying and charging any other character of the ‘network’.

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