Delayed Dialogue

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By Khursheed Wani

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n September 14, lawyers in Kashmir boycotted courts as the long-term president of Kashmir High Court Bar association Mian Abdul Qayoom was being quizzed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Delhi. This was second time in less than ten days when the prominent lawyer travelled to Delhi to face the rigorous questioning. In between his two travels to Delhi, a visibly perturbed Qayoom narrated his ordeal of questioning on his political outlook and financial dealings, to his colleagues in Srinagar. They vowed to support him.

The NIA probe into alleged funding from across the border to separatists has entered into fourth month. The operation has not been limited to call and quiz but several suspects including the leaders and workers have been formally arrested.

Qayoom is one of the successful Kashmiri lawyers known for his separatist stance and close links with anti-India groups. In early 1990s, shortly after the outbreak of militancy, when the first secessionist political platform was forged under the name and style of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (not the group floated by Syed Ali Geelani in 2003 after his tactical separation from Jamaat-e-Islami), Qayoom was its founder chairman. This platform was later overhauled to float All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993 with teenage orphan Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, becoming the founder chairman of the 23-part amalgam. Qayoom also survived an attempt on his life when unknown gunmen opened fire on him in mid 1990s.  The incident is shrouded in mystery.

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ightening noose around Bar president points towards the severity of the NIA’s exhaustive operation. Laying hands on Nayeem Khan, Altaf Ahmad Shah, Shahidul Islam and Farooq Dar alias Bitta Karate can be understood in context, but the agency also detained various individuals from a farmer with online networking skills to a photojournalist credited with published works. In most of the cases, the charges are unclear.

Mian was summoned at a crucial juncture. The lawyer’s body under his tutelage has decided to defend Article 35 A of the Indian constitution at Supreme Court, which is under threat from a RSS-backed NGO that seeks its abrogation through a legal process. The Bar has already made its presence felt in the apex court through litigations on stopping the use of pellet guns in Kashmir. In presence of an obliging state government to overt and covert machinations against J&K and its majority population, these professional responses from the lawyers’ body have been appropriate. This is unlike the past stances occasionally adopted by the Bar when it appeared to be driven by misplaced emotions than professional response. The Bar’s approach in handling the notorious sleaze racket of 2006 involving ministers, legislators, security men, and government officials, is a stark example.

On the day when Mian Qayoom received the NIA summon, an unsigned paper was circulated through different media outlets and networking sites. The paper delved into his past, beginning of lawyer’s profession and details of benami properties. It is quite intriguing as to how the unsubstantiated claims in the paper were spread exactly on the day when the prominent lawyer was summoned. If the NIA summon and the leakage of mysterious paper is interlinked, it makes the process quite suspicious and intriguing.

The NIA’s target is to probe the sources and recipients of supposed terror funding. The agency has been given full support by the state government through police and intelligence agencies. Many persons who were under scanner in the past have been rounded up. The agency justifies its crackdown by claiming recovery of incriminating documents, cash, cash certificates and property documents. The claims have not been verified or cross-examined in a judicial process, which would ultimately decide on the veracity and genuineness of the massive crackdown.

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he ministry of home affairs has achieved the first objective of the NIA crackdown. It has instilled fear amongst the separatist rank and file, which was already under tremendous pressure through detentions, raids, surveillance and curbs on movement. The second objective of the campaign is to alienate the separatist leadership and present the leaders and workers as criminals who have indulged in money laundering and promoting their own interests. If the crackdown brings to fore some clinching evidences, irrefutable in the court of law, the desired results can be achieved. The past record of the government initiatives in this regard has not been too promising. Most of the people who were apprehended on similar charges earlier were exonerated by the courts eventually.

During the eventful tenure of the PDP-BJP alliance, every day throws a new challenge to the state population. With little improvement on the ground level as compared to the events of 2016, the population is confronting newest challenges on daily basis. The battle about sustainability of 35A has created a fear-psychosis. The outrage in Kashmir on mass executions of Muslims in Myanmar must be understood in this context especially after Aung San Suu Kyi equated Rohangya issue to Kashmir.

In the absence of a genuine political initiative to engage stakeholders, these apprehensions will grow with time and disallow the ground situation to improve. The onus lies with the government whether it continues with the NIA raids and fiddling with state’s special status or its initiates a political dialogue to explore viable possibilities. Rajnath Singh’s latest visit to Kashmir after a long gap, indicated Delhi is in no mood to initiate a formal dialogue. Apart from fully backing the security grid for whatever they are doing, Singh refrained from commenting on NIA operation and called it a job done by an autonomous agency.

(The author is a senior journalist)

 

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