Facing down the Mufti’s brinkmanship

It is wrong to view Mufti’s quarrels with the Congress party through a partisan lens

Although Pakistan had forever been attempting to stoke the fire in the Kashmir valley, it was in 1989 that it received its strongest dose of encouragement. Terrorists from the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front kidnapped the daughter of India’s home minister and demanded the release of some of their comrades. The Indian government capitulated. The home minister in question was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

Sayeed is now part of the ruling coalition in Jammu & Kashmir, and was chief minister under the time-sharing arrangement. His party rode to power batting for underground separatists and the terrorists among them. Now that the political winds have changed, and the Hurriyat looking more likely than ever to contest future state assembly elections, Sayeed fears that the carpet might just be snatched from under his feet. So he is on the march to occupy the ground once filled by the Hurriyat. By raking up the issue of troop withdrawals it is Sayeed now who sounds like Gen Musharraf’s spokesman.

It is fortunate that Ghulam Nabi Azad is not merely the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir but also a senior Congress party leader. That will make it harder for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to succumb to Sayeed’s brinkmanship. The stakes are too high, however, to count on party solidarity alone to ensure that Kashmir does not go back to chaos at this stage. Sayeed’s moves demonstrate that cares for nothing—neither his state nor the nation—more than his own political survival. It would be a shame if everyone else did too.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed must not be allowed to succeed to destroy Kashmir another time. The BJP and its allies would do well to throw their weight—publicly and in parliament—behind Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s position, and compel Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stand firm.