Slipping Control

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Stake-holding in Kashmir is diluting fast as everybody is facing its own bit of challenge: the militants, the separatists and the government. So where is Kashmir heading, asks Tasavur Mushtaq

The drizzling evening of March 8, 2017 shocked police when a dozen odd militants barged into a senior officer’s Shopian residence. The move caught the establishment unawares compelling them to ‘devise a strategy’ and advise cops to stay away from their homes.

The first incident of ‘harassment’ of cop families was marked by few shots fired in the air. It was followed by incidents of intimidation and house ransacking. “This has never happened,” Abdul Samad, father of a middle rung police officer, said terming it horrible. “We were never harassed even during 1990’s.”

Storming of cop homes started months later after rebel leader Zakir Rashid Bhat in December 2016 warned their families. Using video on internet, he said if police “continue to harass” “our relatives”, they will face the brunt.

 “You (police) have committed a big mistake by harassing our families, by involving our families. If you touch our families, we will not spare your families. You think your families are in Jammu so they are safe. Even if your families are in Kanyakumari, we have the capacity to kill them there,” Bhat had said in the message.

“This message”, a middle rung police official said, “differentiated Zakir from his predecessor Burhan “Burhan had quoted from Quran saying ”we will not bring any harm to your family like you have been doing because it is not wise.”

Year 2016 changed Kashmir, says a scribe working for Delhi based newspaper.  “The series of events had huge impact on overall politics of Kashmir,” he said.

South Kashmir, a PDP leader says was ‘simmering’ and after Mehbooba Mufti won by-election in June 2015, necessitated following her father’s demise and subsequently the killing of Burhan in July 2016; “the situation on streets and woods changed forever.”

Post July 8, 2016, the narrative of militancy and Kashmir’s political scenario is taking a different route, says a University Professor requesting not to be named. He argues that there is a paradigm shift.

Separatists came together to put up a united face. “The leadership sensed the people’s discontent and they shrugged off their hardline and moderate tags and have been issuing joint protest calendars ever since,” said a management student of Kashmir University, Sabreena Mufti.

Burhan, the poster boy of ‘renewed’ militancy operated in the middle ground between separatists and foreign militants. A former police officer argues that Burhan had hit the right chord by “fighting his own indigenous battle, operating at local level and surviving within his own means.”

“Militants died even before Burhan but the way he was treated is just because people related with him. He garnered support for being someone who is focused on Kashmir and did not get into the global situation,” said the retired police official. He got Hizb back to No 1 in Kashmir’s militant brotherhood.

Though initially, Professor says, Zakir toed Burhan’s line. Soon, he changed.

In his earlier videos, Zakir advocated to have a Sikh group of militants and also asked people not to harm the villagers where encounter takes place. “We request Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes. We take responsibility of their safety,” Zakir said in a brief video message in October 2016, insisting “look at Pandits who never left Kashmir. Who has harassed or killed them?”

But that was once upon a time. Zakir swiftly drifted away. In his recent video, the rebel commander stoked controversy by openly threatening the Hurriyat leaders and warned them not to term Kashmir’s freedom struggle as a political movement and threatened that he will chop their heads and hang them at Lal Chowk if they prove to be the “thorns” in the way of the militants.

The stunning video put separatists in a tight spot and had serious question mark on their credibility. Making his intentions clear, Zakir said “our Kashmir’s war, particularly of the Mujahideen, is only to enforce Shariah. It is an Islamic struggle. The people need not be confused.”

The first reaction to Zakir’s statement came through netizens. Facebook was flooded with messages condemning his beheading threat and it was termed as “immature.” “Hurriyat is fighting parallel battle politically and you cannot have gun talking all the time,” posted Ghulam Muhammad on his facebook.

“It is disrespectful to leaders who gave their life in nourishing this struggle,” wrote Iqbal Bazaz.

A day later Hizb, of which Zakir was a local commander distanced itself from the statement and termed it his “personal opinion”. In response Zakir released another 6.25 minute video in which he reiterates his stand and quit Hizb.

“If Hizb-ul-Mujahideen does not represent me, I also do not represent Hizb. From now on I am not associated with any organization,” said Zakir with confidence of having support of people.

“I cannot spill my blood for a secular state; I stand for Azaadi for Islam which is my aim.” The threat to separatists who believed in secularism ruffled many feathers. “He has made the leadership vulnerable to attacks,” an activist believed. Shocked, it took joint separatist camp few days to issue statement and when finally they did, they asked all political and militant organisations to fight for freedom with “vision and wisdom”.

As the reactions were diverse from the people at large, the emerging discourse is clearly an extremist view point. “Be it from New Delhi or now from militants fighting, the middle ground has shrunk beyond the expectation level,” said an official in state Home Department.

As the separatist camp was yet to settle down after Zakir bashing, a new video raised few more uncomfortable questions. A sting operation done by India Today reveals that “Pakistan’s role in Kashmir valley unrest in connivance with Hurriyat.”

The video stoked another controversy where few “separatist” leaders including Nayeem Khan, Gazi Javed Baba and Farooq Ahmed Dar (Bitta Karate) were caught on camera boasting about their influence, admitting sabotage and accepting money deals. Some of the leaders confessed that if funded adequately, they can repeat 2016.

Khan had travelled to Delhi to meet India Today reporters, disguising as potential sponsors. Surprisingly there was no word from separatists regarding the video. “This has put them in tight spot on either side,” said a middle rung bureaucrat. He adds that “the details Khan reveals may not be correct, but he is trying to portray his image as main player in managing Kashmir, sort of a mercenary.”

During the RDD function at SKICC CM Mehbooba Mufti faced hostile crowd. Women in picture running away from the venue while chanting pro-freedom slogans

While the security agencies have picked up threads and started investigations – NIA has issued notices, ruling PDP says it has blunted their argument for talks.

In SKICC Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had to face hostile women participants, she interacted and spoke to in the first go. “Even all women function managed by government is not safe for chief executive of state,” asks Mohammad Shafi. Mehbooba brushed off the incident as “mismanagement” and ordered an enquiry to see how fainting of one of 12000 ladies led to the crisis.

So, nobody seems to be in control of Kashmir. Hurriyat is being discredited, Hizb is not being taken seriously and space of mainstream has shrunk. Zakir told girl students to avoid stone-pelting saying “your brothers are alive”. But girl stone-pelting is still the best pic of the day!

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