Aditya Sinha: Death of dreams, rebirth of disorder
All the gains from J&K's turmoil and heavy violence of the '90s have been undone by the PM's 'muscular' policy; we're back to square one
Two readers asked me last week where to find my book, Death of Dreams: A Terrorist's Tale, published by HarperCollins India in 2000, which also recently published, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, co-written by me and former spy chiefs AS Dulat of India and Asad Durrani of Pakistan. One youngster on Twitter said that Amazon no longer had Death of Dreams in stock, and on Saturday a gentleman approached me after a writer's workshop that I addressed (on interviews and on interviewing spymasters) to ask where he could get a hold of an e-book at least.
I was at a loss, for Death of Dreams was published before e-books had become commonplace, and the "unsolds" were "pulped" by the publisher who took over HarperCollins after mine. I wrote to the current publisher to see whether Death of Dreams could be revived from the dead, but I'm not optimistic.
Last week's column spoke of the BJP taking Kashmir back by 25 years, to the early 1990s. Then on June 19, the party withdrew from the coalition government led by the PDP's Mehbooba Mufti. Jammu and Kashmir came under Governor's Rule, and this time, it looks to be a long absence of an elected government, as it happened in the 1990s, when Governor's Rule lasted six years, only to be broken by the 1996 assembly election. Suddenly, Death of Dreams, a book that hasn't come to mind for many years, became relevant: it's the story of a Kashmiri militant active in the early 1990s, who dreamt of independence.
Babar Badr (his nom de guerre) headed the Muslim Jaanbaaz Force (MJF), named after a proposal by the late General Zia-ul Haq, and became notorious for kidnapping Swedish engineers from the Uri power project in 1991. Little surprise that he was on the most wanted list, and soon enough, the army caught him. After the usual humiliations, he was thrown into solitary confinement. He languished for a while until one day, he asked for something to read.
The colonel of the battalion where he was prisoner was far-sighted. He allowed Babar Badr access to his unit's library, and realised there was something different about this militant. Gradually he met his prisoner and held discussions on India, the two-nation theory, Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, azaadi, and other politics. He and his Major engaged their prisoner in discussion. The two sides' hostility melted away. It was an eye-opener for Babar Badr.
Babar was transferred to a civilian jail, where he stayed for a couple of years before he got bail and fled to Pakistan. He spent 1994 meeting a variety of people in several Pakistani cities from various walks of life. He discovered two things. The Kashmiris who were settled in Pakistan, some of them well-settled, advised him not to stick around. (At first he thought they were jealous and wanted him out of the scene, but he soon realised they were merely well-wishers.) He also had several long interactions with the ISI men overseeing the Kashmir operation from Pakistan: Brigadiers Fahd and Faisal (possibly cover names).
These ISI brigadiers were different from the Indian army colonel and major. They, according to Babar, were merely interested in giving him weaponry and a list of targets in India. When Babar tried to start a conversation with them about the two-nation theory or their slogan "Kashmir banega Pakistan", they looked bored and listless. They did not engage him intellectually, cutting him short to tell him to focus on his important work in India. For Babar, it was a snub, and another eye-opener. So when he did return to India in 1996, he decided after long discussions with associates and fellow travellers, to surrender to the government of India and renounce militancy.
Today, Babar Badr is a middle-aged family man who uses his real name, continuing an intellectual journey of exploration that was sparked by two Indian army officers, and raising a family where he wants his children to focus on their studies and be immune to the despair and conflict in their native Valley. His greatest fear is that his son will read Death of Dreams.
Babar's is a microcosm of Kashmir's story in the 1990s, of how its people of their own choosing spurned the choice offered by Pakistan and ultimately reconciled to life in India. All those gains from the turmoil and heavy violence of the 1990s have been undone by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "muscular" policy. We are back to square one. The past two years of Delhi's deafness and brutal repression have filled Babar with despair. "We are only waiting for the ultimate destruction," he said to me the day after the assassination of Rising Kashmir Editor Shujaat Bukhari. The dreams that were shattered once by Pakistan have been shattered again, this time by India.
Aditya's latest book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, co-written with AS Dulat and Asad Durrani, is now available. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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