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Lucrative returns of terrorism

The spoilers have got their voices back. 52 years after a devastating Partition; nearly thirty years after the creation of Bangladesh gave the unequivocal lie to the "two-nation theory"; in the wake of frequent reports from Pakistan of the militant ‘warriors of Islam’ murdering their fellow Muslims even in mosques and at prayer; nearly 28 years after the bloody and genocidal suppression of the uprising against Pakistani rule in Baluchistan; after decades of separatist violence in the North West Frontier Province, and after fifty years without representation for the people of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Northern Territories, Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat Conference has declared that the Muslims are a ‘nation’ transcending all boundaries of political nation states, and that the conflict in Kashmir is not political, but religious. Geelani’s voice is notable among those in India who feel it their ‘religious’ duty to push the line reeled out by Pakistan – the self-appointed ‘defender of Islam’ in South Asia.

Geelani has also spoken eloquently about the "feeling of being part of the millat, which attracts mujahiddeen from Saudi Arabia, Africa, Sudan, Afghanistan, etc., to Kashmir." He does not clarify why the millat has not found it incumbent to free the people of Pakistan from the succession of oppressive and corrupt tyrannies that have kept the overwhelming majority of its people in ignorance and poverty, and have pushed that country repeatedly and relentlessly to the brink over the past decades. Nor does he explain why, among the thousands who have been slaughtered by the terrorists – or mujahiddeen as he would prefer to call them – in Kashmir, over 85 per cent are Muslims, and in what manner this fratricide can conceivably bring glory to his Faith.

What Geelani does tell us, however, is that demagogues who will exploit, distort and abuse their religious identity in their efforts to establish personal political dominance have far from disappeared in the sub-continent, and that they could not care less if another couple of million lives need to be sacrificed to carve out their pathways to power.

It is interesting to note Geelani’s contempt for those who decided to stay with India "on the grounds that they would have plenty to eat and enjoy." But while the aspirations of the common man are thus derisively dismissed, Geelani and his fellow members of the Hurriyat Conference have not shown themselves to be above the seductions of "having plenty to eat and enjoy", and are all, today, extremely well housed and provisioned – infinitely better than they were before the strife began over a decade ago.

This is nothing new, nor is it unique to "Islamist Fundamentalist" leaders, or to Kashmir. The single truth that emerges from all theatres of contemporary conflict in India is that militancy, sectarian strife and outright terrorism are an extraordinarily profitable enterprise for the ‘leadership’ of militant groups and their front organizations, as well as for the mullahs, the jathedars, the pandas and the assortment of priests and religious ‘managers’ who align themselves with the ‘cause’, and for their mediators. The fact is that the slaughter of innocents – be it in Kashmir, Punjab, or the multiplicity of conflicts in the Northeast – is immensely lucrative.

The difficulty arises almost from the moment when the livelihood of a group or class becomes dependent on religious identities, activities or institutions – which happens the moment religions are organized around priests and places of worship. A process of cumulative distortion and eventual abuse commences immediately, and is checked only by the cultural awareness, the sagacity, and the truly religious discrimination of the larger mass of believers. Where the community is poorly educated, ill-informed, or mobilized through hysterical campaigns for the assertion of their ‘religious identity’, the polarization and eventual translation into sectarian violence is simply a matter of time. The question here is not the ‘emancipation of the community’, or even the restoration of a puritan religious or moral order, but of the domination of a community through obfuscation, falsehood and outright intimidation.

In this context, I find public and media attitudes to the claims of these ‘religious’ and militant leaders extremely curious. Hardened and cynical journalists, who look upon every politician’s statements – even the Prime Minister’s – with a healthy skepticism, will report the claims, the contentions and the posturing of terrorists and those who associate with them as true reflections of their beliefs, goals and strategies. It is difficult to understand how murdering people, or associating with those who do so, can add to the credibility of an individual’s political claims – but this is apparently what does happen in the media’s reportage on terrorism.

The people of Kashmir, the nation and the world at large could gain immensely if the conduct, the activities and the assets of the ‘warriors of Islam’ and their political and ‘ideological’ fellow travellers were scrutinized in some detail. There have already been a number of reports of the enormous wealth diverted from funds for the "Islamic jehad" into the private coffers of many of the Hurriyat leaders, and at least one such leader has publicly confessed to holding such monies "in trust" as his private assets (that he had spend a substantial proportion of these assets on his own comfort is, of course, easily glossed over). This is most certainly the tip of an immense iceberg, because it is precisely such a diversion of monies that oils the wheels of militancy and creates its primary incentives.

And it is not just money, but a range of ‘fringe benefits’ that encourage the ‘leadership’ to keep militancy alive – as was demonstrated fairly clearly in the Punjab experience. The Babbar Khalsa, for instance, projected itself as the most severe, intensely disciplined, indeed, puritanical Sikh organisation among the militant groupings. Its chief, Sukhdev Singh Babbar, however, was discovered living in a palatial bungalow in Patiala under an assumed identity as a contractor, Jasmer Singh. Babbar had a wife and three children at his village in Dassuwal, Tarn Taran. But he shared his ‘White House’ in Patiala with Jawahar Kaur, herself a member of a group of devotional singers, the Nabhe Wallian Bibian Da Jatha, famed equally for their talent as for their piety; an illegitimate son had been born out of this liaison. The White House was estimated to have been constructed at a cost of over Rs. 30 lakh in the end Eighties. If further evidence of the ‘holy warrior’s’ inclinations was needed, video copies of blue movies were also found in the house. Sukhdev Singh owned another bungalow, the Pink House at Rajpura, and a third one in the Model Town area.

In another prominent case, Sukhdev Singh ‘Sukha Sipahi’, alias ‘General Labh Singh’, the then KCF Chief, had developed a relationship with a married woman, Surjit Kaur, the wife of Gurdip Singh Thekedar. In July 1988, suspecting her ‘fidelity’, he and his associates gave her a severe beating and set her house on fire. Sukhdev Singh was later killed in a police encounter. His nephew, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, and an associate, Jagjit Singh Billa, believing the woman had acted as a police informer, killed her in October 1989.

Panjwar subsequently became the Chief of the KCF [Panjwar] group. He acquired a large bungalow in one of Delhi’s upmarket colonies and took up residence there under an assumed identity as Partap Singh. He had also acquired a brick kiln in Ghaziabad, and had invested a large chunk of looted money in the transport business. He ‘owned’ a half share in a rice-shelling mill in Jhabal, and had forcibly occupied some 20 acres of land in the same area.

As in the Punjab, there are innumerable ‘beneficiaries’ of the economics of terrorism in J&K – some of them obvious, others linked by a complex web of deceit to this bloody commerce. Instead of expending its entire energies and resources on the theatrics of the present ‘Peace Process’ – essentially a process of politicians trying to cut deals with murderers and lawless warlords – the media could do well to focus on the dynamics of this economy. That will be a more certain contribution to peace than all the reportage on who goes in the delegation to Pakistan, and who is left behind.

(Published in The Pioneer, January 6, 2001)





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.