Dismantle Kashmir’s war economy

In 2004, a group of Pakistani journalists, who were allowed to travel to Kashmir, were quite taken aback, even embarrassed, when a top Hurriyat leader, whose own brother had been killed by ISI hitmen, unabashedly spoke about how much he relished the smell of money that came from Pakistan. The huge fortunes built by separatists and terrorists in Kashmir is one of the worst kept secrets in Kashmir.

During nearly three decades of conflict in which thousands of people have died, families and properties destroyed, and an entire society traumatised, the one set of people who have prospered beyond their wildest imagination is the separatist mafia.

Over the years, Kashmir has been transformed into a war economy. Terrorism/separatism is now an industry around which an entire ecosystem has evolved. Simply put, separatism has long been an extremely profitable enterprise – no investment, low risk, high return – and the ‘mujahids’ are driven and motivated more by Mammon than by any messianic mission. For the younger lot of jihadists, in addition to ‘money for nothing’, the motivations is also ‘chicks for free’.

All this could be changing if the National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into terror finance and the money laundering network in Kashmir is anything to go by. For decades, the focus of the Indian security establishment in hotspots around the country has been more on seizing weapons than on cracking down on the funding networks. While in the West, security agencies followed the money to bust criminal syndicates and terror networks, in India the thinking was that the problem wasn’t the money but the munitions. Unfortunately, elements in the Indian security establishment have also contributed to the separatist entrepreneurship in Kashmir by plying the separatists with huge amounts of money in the fond hope of weaning them away from Pakistan and eventually winning them over – the former Intelligence Bureau chief in Kashmir and later Research & Analysis Wing chief, A S Dulat, has admitted as much in his book on Kashmir. Essentially what this meant was that the separatists raked in the moolah from all sides – India, Pakistan, within Kashmir, from foreign donors, and so on and so forth.

Little did the geniuses in the Indian intelligence community realise that this was a mug’s game because it only incentivised separatism by giving the separatist mafia an additional income stream without having to deliver anything in return. What is worse, the signals it sent to other Kashmiris was that not only was there no cost – physical, financial, material, political – attached to espousing separatism, there was actually profit to be made. Mind-boggling though it may seem, the separatists were treated with kid gloves and were given privileges (jobs for their kin, security for them and their families, medical facilities) and allowed to wield influence and build businesses that would be inconceivable in any other part of the world. With such goodies coming their way, why would the separatists ever renounce separatism and kill the goose that laid golden eggs?

There might have been a time when the Indian approach to rupturing terror networks by bribing them would have been valid, but it has clearly run its course. Those in the security establishment who thought they could buy the Kashmiri separatists have really nothing to show for all the treasure expended on this utterly pointless strategy. Persisting with it any longer will therefore be not just counter-productive but also destructive. As is clear from Kashmir, and to a large extent in the Maoist-affected areas, without cracking down on and smashing the funding networks, there is no way that terrorism can be defeated. Disrupting the flow of weapons is necessary, but by no means a sufficient condition in the war against terrorism. Even if the flow of weapons is stopped, it will at best give temporary relief because the lubricant that keeps the terror ecosystem operating – money – continues to flow undisturbed, precisely what has been happening in Kashmir.

It isn’t as though the security and intelligence agencies weren’t aware of what has been happening in the Valley. But there was an inexplicable reluctance to shut down the terror funding network, so much so that the government of India and the state government were even funding media organisations which were either insidiously or even openly supporting the separatists. Some of this mindless appeasement appears to have now ended, though the anti-India media continues to remain afloat on the basis of government advertisement. Be that as it may, the trigger for the change in policy appears to have been the remarkable sting operation carried out by intrepid reporters of India Today TV who totally exposed the shenanigans of the merchants of death in the Valley. The outcry after the expose probably gave the government the justification it needed for strangulating the funding of the separatists and terrorists. While demonetisation did have an impact on the violence in the Valley, it was always going to be short-lived because the entire scheme never attacked at the structural roots of the black and parallel economy which funnels money to the terrorists and separatists. The NIA’s campaign against terror finance has a far better chance of success, provided it is taken to its logical conclusion.

There have been such assaults on the terror economy in the past as well but they have never been taken to the logical conclusion, which is that the separatists and their financiers are prosecuted, the properties they have built from illegal funds seized and the network funding them crushed. The entire Jain hawala scandal had its origins in of the arrest of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. That would have been the best time to crack down on the money laundering network that was being used to fund the terror activities in Kashmir. Alas, the involvement of top political leaders, most of whom got off on a mere technicality, ensured that the terror funding network continued to operate with relative impunity. Even now, it will not be enough to just catch the moneymen of the separatist movement in Kashmir and shake them down to peel off the other layers of this entire network, the bulk of which operates outside Jammu and Kashmir.

In fact, among the most interesting aspects of the India Today sting operation was that the separatists who were exposed didn’t seem at all surprised or suspicious that they were being offered money by middlemen from outside the state to provide protection for their operations and even create disturbances to further their interests. If anything, the terror financiers saw their dealing with these reporters who were impersonating middlemen from mainland India as nothing out of the ordinary, almost as if it was business as usual. Clearly, without busting the money laundering networks in cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Mumbai etc. the entire NIA operation will not change anything at all. A few men may get arrested and face trial but it will be business as usual within a matter of weeks and months.

While the NIA has raided and arrested some of the hawala operators in other parts of India, it is important that the government take this campaign against terror finance to the next level. This will require curbing some of the well-known conduits for funding the separatists, including the cross-LoC trade, which is being misused not just for funding terror but has also become a source of smuggling drugs and even weapons into Kashmir. There are a range of new technical means that can be deployed to identify and apprehend the more shadowy operators who are involved in money laundering, most of which happens through normal banking channels. Most importantly, the NIA might have all the intelligence and might collect critical information from the people it arrests, but unless it can convert this into prosecutable evidence and ensure that the money launderers and terror financiers are punished and deprived of their ill-gotten gains, its efforts will be in vain. Equally important is the need for the government to reform the laws to make easier not only the prosecution of people involved in this nefarious activity, but also the seizure of their property.

Having initiated the critical task of choking off the funding of the separatists, the Modi government would be remiss if for any reason – politically well-connected money launderers, political compromise, and worst of all, a repeat of the failed attempts to woo the separatists – lets the crooks off the hook. In the fight against terrorism, curbing terror finance is today as important as clamping down on the weapons trade. Both these have to move in tandem if this war has to be won. Without destroying the war economy in Kashmir, bringing peace to the troubled Indian state will remain a pipedream. A concomitant of this policy is to reward those people who stand by India and speak for India, and at the same time put in place severe disincentives for those who espouse the cause of separatism and hold a brief for terrorists. Until this is done, and this isn’t a policy that should change with the seasons, India will not be able to change the narrative in Kashmir, much less turn the tide of violence in the troubled Indian state.







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